Bermagui WW2 veteran relayed important information

Frank Wintle (left), Max Turner and Geoff Wallace, who met at the Lae port directorate during World War 2.

Frank Wintle (left), Max Turner and Geoff Wallace, who met at the Lae port directorate during World War 2.

LONG time Bermagui resident Frank Wintle served in World War 2 as a wireless operator in New Guinea. 

He worked in port directorates, sending and receiving morse code about the coming and goings of ships and supplies. 

He was born in Cobargo on April 19, 1925 and as he didn’t want to do school, after he finished his intermediates in 1942 he moved to Sydney and got a job in Trench Mission Products building transmitters and receivers for the armed forces. 

“As soon as war broke out I wanted to join the navy,” Mr Wintle said. 

At 17 he tried to join as a wireless operator, but couldn’t be guaranteed a place at his age unless he could receive four words per minute, so went back to work and attended morse code classes a couple of nights a week.

He enlisted on June 16, 1943, and went to Flinders Naval College in Victoria for six months of training after which he was shipped to Townsville on SS Taroona – an old Hobart to Melbourne transport ship. 

He volunteered to go to Saidor in New Guinea, where he was station as a wireless operator and served for a time on HMAS Watcher, a ferry from the Brisbane River.

He recalled when an air raid was on, the steel door over the wireless operator’s quarters in the stern was closed and there was no way to get out until someone opened it from the outside, which made it quite claustrophobic. 

Bermagui resident Frank Wintle served in World War 2 as a wireless operator in New Guinea.

Bermagui resident Frank Wintle served in World War 2 as a wireless operator in New Guinea.

“I wasn’t keen on the bombing at night time,” he said.

The Japanese pilots would aim for the air strip and fuel dump, and Mr Wintle recalls when they finally hit the fuel dump it made everything at the camp “a bit hectic”. 

HMAS Watcher was made from timber and leaked a lot, one day it leaked so bad a seaman spent four hours trying to pump bilge water out while the sensitive wireless equipment was evacuated onto shore.

The boat then limped off down the coast to get repaired, but eventually hit a reef off Port Moresby. 

At Saidor, Mr Wintle lived on tinned food such as bully beef and chilli con carne – known as goldfish. 

When the Saidor campaign finished in 1944 Mr Wintle got leave and returned home for a week, which “wasn’t long enough”. 

After leave he served briefly in Madang before going to Lae where he met fellow wireless operators Geoff Wallace and Max Turner, with whom he formed a strong friendship that lasted after the war was finished.

The trio got up to a fair bit of fun, and Mr Wintle recalled a US soldier who was selling jungle juice made from a still to the New Guinea natives, which was extremely strong, and as the authorities heard of his actions had to ditch the still before he was caught.

Mr Wintle and his friends had a rough idea of where the still had been dumped, so found it and started distilling their own jungle juice – but they didn’t sell it to others.

“My god, it was powerful stuff,” he said.

After Lae he had a short stint at the Neville Base headquarters before he was discharged from the navy June 15, 1946, which he was quite happy about. 

Peaceful life at Montague lighthouse

Montague Island, 1948. Photo from the Dreier collection, courtesy of Narooma Historical Society.

Montague Island, 1948. Photo from the Dreier collection, courtesy of Narooma Historical Society.

IN ADDITION to serving in World War 2, Frank Wintle of Bermagui was a relieving lighthouse keeper at Montague Island. 

He spent eight weeks in the job in 1953, where he stayed with his wife and kids and really enjoyed. 

He was working for his uncle in his concreting business, when his uncle passed away leaving Mr Wintle out of work, which is how he came to be available for the lighthouse. 

The head keeper would light the lighthouse at sundown, and cover the shift until 10 o’clock.

Another keeper would cover 10pm-2am, and then the other keeper would take the final shift from 2-dawn. 

Mr Wintle said life on the island was pleasant, as there were rabbits to hunt, fish to catch, and once a week a boat would come from Bermagui with supplies. 

He would have liked to stay on the island, but there wasn’t an option for his children to be become educated there.  

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