The morning was spent foraging for food as the uncooked pig, because of the heat and humidity, had spoiled. After a meal of taro, Mr Moody asked for volunteers to look for more food. In the afternoon Les Fawcett, Jim Shack and I volunteered. We left around midday, saying we would be back in about two hours.
After about an hour we came to the area where the pig had been cooked. There, lying on the ground was the body of a soldier. Considering the possibility of a trap, we remained under cover a short distance away. The soldier was lying on his back and after observing him for a minute or so, we could see that he was breathing. Approaching cautiously, I was surprised to see it was Smacker Hazelgrove. I knelt beside him to rouse him. He opened his eyes and said, “Quick, you’ve got to get out of here, the Japs are in the plantation.” I said, “Yes, we know. It’s alright, you’re safe.” I asked him what he was doing back here. He said, “I’ve been shot. Laurie Robinson and the others are all dead and I’ve come back to warn you”. He was still lying on his back and there was no sign of any wounds. Thinking he may be delirious with malaria, I asked, “Where are you shot?” He said, “In the back.” With some effort he rolled onto his side.
The back of his shirt had several ragged holes and was caked with dried blood. Through the largest hole, in the right shoulder of his shirt, I could see a very large wound and on closer examination, I counted four other small wounds. I asked whether he thought he could walk and, assisted by Les, got him upright. He was very pale and very shaky on his feet. Leaving Les and Jim to carry on looking for food, I started the long walk back to our camp with Smacker. This proved to be quite an ordeal for him and we had to stop every few minutes. During the slow trip back he told me what had happened.
After crossing the river with me and Hutch, he and his party had found a suitable spot in the plantation to light a fire and cook the pig. They heard rifle fire in the distance (probably the Jap patrol firing on me and Hutch) and were sitting around the fire eating when they were surrounded by Jap soldiers with rifles and fixed bayonets. They were prodded to their feet and motioned to form a line. Before being led away, all their equipment was thrown onto the fire. Soon after, they heard what they thought was rifle fire but realised it was ammunition in one of the haversacks thrown on the fire that was exploding. This is probably what Hutch and I heard.
They were taken to a house with a red roof near the beach and led into a room where a white man in the uniform of an Australian Army captain was sitting at a table. He told them to put down their hands, empty their pockets and place all their possessions on the table, including identity discs, paybooks, watches, etc. He then told them to write on a sheet of paper, their name, rank, Army number and unit. When this was completed each had his hands tied behind him with fishing cord and a main rope joined each to the other.
Marching out of the house and seeing the landing craft, they presumed they would be put aboard for return to Rabaul. They had not gone very far into the plantation when they were motioned to stop. It was then that they saw, in the bushes, about 20 Jap soldiers with rifles and automatic weapons and realised what was going to happen. The guards forced them to turn their backs to the armed soldiers. They barely had time to say goodbye to each other when the Japs opened fire.
Smacker said he did not lose consciousness straight away but was pulled to the ground by the others as they fell. He closed his eyes and lay very still. Those who were moaning or struggling were shot again. The last he remembered before passing out was palm branches being thrown over him. He had no idea how long he was unconscious, but when he came-to it was very quiet with no sign of any Japs. Laurie Robinson was dead beside him, as were the five other members of his party. With great difficulty he managed to free his bonds, tearing the skin from his thumbs in the process. Making his way to the beach, he lay in the water to bathe his wounds. His first thought, he said, was to get back to warn us. Reaching the spot where Mr Moody gave him some pig and finding it deserted, the last he remembered was lying down until I awoke him. He did not know how long it took him or when he got out of Tol, nor did he know how to find his way back to our camp site.
He was most surprised when I told him it was two days since he was shot. I told him it was a miracle he had survived, just as it was a miracle we found him. Were it not for the fact that the Japs were still in Tol, our party and all others would have moved down the coast. As it would be unlikely that anyone would have reason to walk 50 yards off the track to where we found him, the possibility was that he may never have been found.
It was a shocked group who came to help me as a I arrived back at our camp, supporting Smacker. Max Pearsell (2/10 Field Ambulance) carefully removed his shirt, revealing four small bullet wounds and one gaping wound around his right shoulder blade. He bathed the wounds with Dettol and applied field dressings.