Refuge in the Tide of War

Under the cover of darkness on 26th September, 1943, a group of naval servicemen in three canoes, paddled from Palau Subar into Singapore Harbour. This was their second attempt, having been hampered by strong tides a few nights before. The “clink” of metal on metal as they attached their magnetic charges to the hulls of their targets, must have raised a sweat as they turned their backs. The explosions heard at dawn the next morning marked the success of Operation Jaywick which maimed several ships in the Japanese fleet during WW2. In the quiet of dawn on Anzac Day 2015, a group of kayakers from the River Canoe of Club, NSW left the boat ramp at Brooklyn to paddle to Refuge Bay on the Hawkesbury River, where navy servicemen had trained in preparation for the operation and from which members of “Z” special unit were chosen. As the sun rose on Anzac Day, backlighting the clouds with a lemon yellow glow, we paddled six kilometres to Refuge Bay, nowhere as far as the naval paddlers who had paddled from the west coast of Borneo across the Java Sea into Singapore harbour a century before. The current was swirling and soupy with debris following the recent heavy rain, but not as strong as the currents that had deterred the first attempt of the naval paddlers. As we paddled into the bay, a number of small vessels had sought refuge from the open flow of the Hawkesbury River in a similar way to which the Japanese navy had sought refuge in Singapore harbour and reminiscent of the refuge the bay offered to navy personnel before enduring the tide of war. We found the plaque signifying the place where naval personnel had trained in preparation for Operation Jaywick. Their rudimentary campsite was located above the beach near the waterfall flowing from Cowan Creek. Gazing beyond the cliff toward the campsite I can visualise the men climbing up and down a rope to access the beach where the canoes were concealed. After laying sprigs of rosemary on the plaque and reflecting on our own family connections in times of war, we paddled back to Brooklyn. On my drive back to Sydney, I listened with a greater understanding to the radio reports of the ANZAC commemorations of the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915; to the selflessness of servicemen and women in times of war and peace; and for the suffering of families who have lost children, siblings and partners. Thank you to Andy Singh for organising this memorable trip to Refuge Bay on behalf of the RCCNSW.

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