Person Sheet

Name Francis John "Digger" FARRELL
Birth 6 Dec 1919, MIRBOO NORTH. VIC
Death 25 May 2002, Traralgon Hospital Age: 82
Burial Cremation Bunurong Memorial park - Ashes in Korumburra
Father John "Jack" FARRELL (1887-1961)
Mother Elizabeth Ann "Elsie" TIESLER (1890-1948)
1 Alwyn Jean Helena (FARRELL)
No Children
Notes for Francis John "Digger" FARRELL
          School started in Korumburra, as this was near enough to ride by horse from Jumbunna Rd. Went to school at the Horsley's Estate primary school when it opened.

          Enlisted in the A.I.F. on 14th Mar 1941 during WW2. Training took place at Bonegilla Army Camp near Wodonga.  He was mobilized to New Guinea in February 1943, and arrived at "Milne Bay" aboard the "Willis Van Devanter" on the 1st March 1943, with the 22 INFANTRY BATTALION.

LIBERTY SHIP SS WILLIS VAN DEVANTER,. Liberty ships: World War 2 merchant marine The Liberty was 441 feet long and 56 feet wide. Her three-cylinder, reciprocating steam engine, fed by two oil-burning boilers produced 2,500 hp and a speed of 11 knots. Her 5 holds could carry over 9,000 tons of cargo, plus airplanes, tanks, and locomotives lashed to its deck. A Liberty could carry 2,840 jeeps, 440 tanks, or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition. Liberty ships were named after prominent (deceased) Americans, starting with Patrick Henry and the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Liberty's carried a crew of about 44 and 12 to 25 Naval Armed Guard. Some were armed with: One 4 inch stern gun Two 37 mm bow guns Six 20 mm machine guns Liberty ships carried 75% of the cargo used by our armed forces in World War II. They were essential to victory. When the Liberty ships were first put into production, it was thought that if they made it to their destination they had paid their way, making it back would be a bonus. As it turned out, they became the work horse of the American Merchant Marine.

Name                    Yard                    MCE    Builder   Way   Keel Laid   Launched   Delivered

Willis Van Devanter   California Shipbuilding Corp     88      37       1    27-Apr-42   19-Jun-42  10-Jul-42 -


The 'Willis Van Devanter' was scrapped in 1967 at Kearny, NJ


 Milne Bay was an awful place. It was virtually cut off from the rest of Papua, with the only access by sea and air. Jungle-clad mountains pressed in from three sides and swamps rimmed the coastal belt. During the months in which the base was set up, there were seasonal torrential rains and it was oppressively humid. All roads or tracks would quickly turn to mud, the edges of sealed roads became traps for the unwary. It was also one of the worst places ever discovered for malaria the disease classified as hyperendemic with up to 90 per cent of villagers infected. Other tropical diseases such as scrub typhus, dengue fever, and dysentery were also present.


          The building up of Milne Bay did not escape the notice of the Japanese. On April 11, 1943 the Japanese attacked the troops at Milne Bay with a force of 22 bombers and 72 fighters. The bombing started at six a.m. and ended 20 hours later at two a.m. Because of the lack of air support, many died during those initial days. Constant bombings and combat tends to bring out courage in some people and a paralysis of fear in others. There were many night and a few daylight raids, but the most determined effort to put the port out of action was made on the 14th April, 1943. The Japanese sent over about one hundred aircraft, whose objective was patently the harbour and shipping. It was a perfect day for acrobatics, and in the beauty of the battle of streamlined aircraft in a cloudless sky, it was hard to realize at the time that decisive issues were at stake. The R.A.A.F. went into action in a head-on attack, and the sky was full of aircraft twisting and turning and sometimes burning. Long spirals of smoke traced the end of the enemy and huge columns of water in the bay showed the viciousness of his attack with large patterns of bombs. Just as the air was full of aircraft maneuvering for attack, so was the harbour of ships. Wednesday, 14 April, 1943 Japanese aircraft attack on the Milne Bay area, severely damaged 1 vessel, beaching 1 vessel, and hitting 2 others, but doing very little damage to facilities in the area. AA defences and the 40+ P-40's and P-38's that intercept the enemy strike claim 14 airplanes shot down. 

Here is an extract from: Australia in the War of 1939-1945. Royal Australian Navy 1942-45. by G. Hermon Gill, Canberra, Australian War Memorial. 1968. It is Vol II of the Official History of the RAN, at Page 281:

"Milne Bay came into the picture on the 14th. of April ( 1943 ) when, in its twenty-fourth air raid, 40 to 50 bombers and about 60 fighters attacked, and concentrated on ships in the bay. These included the British Gorgon, and Dutch Van Outhoorn, Van Heemskerk, and Balikpapen. The last mentioned two arrived just before the enemy aircraft, escorted by Kapunda ( Lieutenant Commander Dixon ). The corvette brought the tally of her class in Milne Bay for the raid up to three --- Whyalla ( Lieutenant Commander Oom ) and Wagga ( Lieutenant Cracknell ) being already there. Warning of the impending raid, and intimation of its size, were given when the enemy aircraft were approaching over the Trobriands.

Commander Branson the Naval Officer in Charge, took advantage of the breathing space personally to tour the harbour in the air - sea rescue launch Lauriana dispersing ships and taking all possible precautions to avoid offering targets.

The enemy arrived overhead about 12:15, 30 high level bombers in close formation and 10 dive bombers, with an uncertain number of fighters. The high level aircraft opened the attack by dropping a pattern of about 100 bombs right across the anchorage. This, however, had been cleared, so that no ships were lost in this attack. Van Outhoorn suffered damage from near misses by high - level bombers, had 8 killed and 20 wounded, and was succoured by Whyalla, who did a fine job with anti - aircraft fire. Gorgon was hit a number of times by dive bombers, and set on fire, with her engines out of action. Six of her company were killed or died of wounds , and 28 were wounded. Dixon took Kapunda alongside, ran hoses on board and helped with fire fighting and in berthing the ship; and finally took her in tow for the mainland, helped by the James Wallace.

Two of Kapunda's officers later recalled that " progress down Milne Bay was slow and erratic while the correct length of tow was found, even with the tug's assistance. Our tow was of six thousand odd gross tons, and we were only nine hundred; furthermore she could only be steered by emergency hand steering aft. China Strait was negotiated safely, though she took one or two frightening sheers. Once clear, she veered three shackles of cable, making the length of tow approximately five hundred and sixty feet. The tug went ahead of us, passed her towing hawser, so that we towed in tandem, a total length of fourteen hundred feet, from the tug's stern to the merchant man's stern... Certainly God was with us, for the next few days the Coral Sea was at its best, smooth as glass, enabling us to average the excellent speed of 7.1 knots from start to finish."

In commending Kapunda and her ship's company for their help in saving Gorgon, Branson also praised that ship's Chief Officer James Bruce, Major Brew of the Docks Operating Company and Able Seaman Larkin ( one of the DEMS gunners ) for their removal of an unexploded bomb from among the ship's cargo of ammunition in N0. five lower hold.

As stated above, Van Heemskerk arrived in Milne Bay with Kapunda just before the raid--- and there she remained, beached, a total loss, also as a result of dive -  bomb hits. She was the first casualty suffered by LILLIPUT, of  which she was Stage 28. (December 1942 saw the commencement of Operation LILLIPUT, which over a six month period saw the transportation of 60,000 tons of supplies and 3,802 troops from Milne Bay to Oro Bay, escorted by Australian corvettes.) Wagga put up a gallant fight to save the Dutch ship, going alongside and putting nine hoses and a fire party on board. But the fire had too great a hold, and Van Heemskerk finally blew up at about 5 PM. In this raid apart from the loss and damage to ships, four Allied servicemen were killed, as were 12 of the merchant ships' crews. In all--- servicemen, civilians of the Small Ships Section and ships' crews--- 68 were wounded. Forty four Allied fighters intercepted and the enemy lost ten bombers and three fighters, three of which were victims to anti - aircraft fire. Wagga and Kapunda suffered superficial damage. Of the work of these two and Whyalla on this occasion, Branson remarked in his report: " we were indeed fortunate to have the assistance of the three corvettes."

Heavily outnumbered that day, two Australian squadrons brought down at least 22 enemy aircraft. With U.S. Lightning's also in the fight, they shot out of action a total of 30. This was the third swoop by the Japs in four days. On April 12 they mass-raided shipping at Oro Bay, losing 23 of the 45 bombers and fighters engaged. On April 13, 100 of them attacked Moresby and 37 were destroyed or badly crippled. Back at Land Headquarters, General Sir Thomas Blamey told war correspondents that the Japanese were making a bid to regain air supremacy. "The next few weeks in New Guinea," he said, "will be important to all of us." But the Japs didn't come on. The Japanese air raids in the south Pacific come to an end as a raid against Milne Bay results in the sinking of two transports. The offensive is considered a failure due to the extremely heavy losses suffered by the Japanese air crews. After Milne Bay, on April 15, they licked their wounds and remained on the defensive.

  Digger was to come home early, after only ten weeks at Milne Bay, records indicate 'hardship' as the reason. Diggers father, Jack had applied for him to come home. His mother was ill and the family was having trouble working the dairy farm without him. He left New Guinea 9th May 1943, and  was demobbed by 20th May 1943. When he arrived home his skin had turned yellow from the treatment to prevent Malaria in the tropics. (Atebrin: It proved to be effective against all malaria species. The war in the Pacific during WWII would have been impossible without Atebrin but unfortunately it had an extremely discomforting side effect of yellowing of the skin.) He also appears to suffer malaria like symptoms i.e. a "flu-like" illness, e.g., fever, muscle pain, nausea, headache, fatigue, chills, and/or sweats.

         He lived with his sister 'Hilda Watt' for many years, in Clancy's Rd, Korumburra South, before he married. Played cricket for "Outtrim Cricket Club" for many of those years. He drove one of the first Toyota motor cars in the district before they became more popular in the mid 1960's.

        Digger bought a farm on the South Gippsland Highway at Bena, overlooking the Jeetho district. His sister Gwen and brother in-law Charlie, share farmed on it from about 1947 till 1967, when they purchased it from him..

 Digger travelled the world thru out his life, and often came home with 8 mm film of his travels. Early trips included the Pacific Islands, Japan and India. Film nights with digger giving commentary on local behaviour and customs were truly enjoyable. The quiet farmer had observation skills and could speak so well delighted and surprised us all.

       Lived most of his life in Korumburra and Korumburra South. As digger never had children and lived for next to no cost with his sister, was able to earn his income from share farmer's on his farms. Added to his from income growing potatoes on these farms. Since he owned one of few hay balers in the district, contract baling was a full time summer occupation. Hay balers were to progress from self powered units, to power 'take off' from the tractor. To a small child, as I was at the time, one of these resembled an  iron dragon in appearance. I believe it was a 'New Holland' model which had a hay compressor which lifted up with a head with large triangle shaped teeth. He could tune these noisy rocking monsters to produce hay bales in any conditions, on some of Victoria's hilliest country. He safely steered large tractors and baler without losing control. Often the land was so steep that the square hay bales would go rolling down the hills immediately they left the baler. The sight of 5ft 4in tall Digger, in control of these machines was a joy to watch.  My first paid job was to drive a tractor with hay rack, for Digger, to arrange the grass in rows for the hay baler to pick up. This paid about 1 cent a bail .i.e. $10 a thousand.

 His collection of machinery also included a blue "Fordson Major" tractor which could be modified with a bulldozer type blade on the front for minor earthworks. This tractor seemed to stay with him for years after it appeared serviceable. Digger would create small water dams on his farms using this tractor. Large metal chains could be added to the rear wheels to assist with traction when doing such work.

         He could also turn his time to building farm sheds, trailers as demands required. Mechanical repairs came naturally to him and he maintained all this equipment with spare parts where possible.

         Since he did not marry young, he was probably shy of women, until he met the very very outgoing Alwyn, who was anything but shy. Alwyn and Digger shared interest in music, exotic liqueurs and mixed drinks, which adorned their house. Christmas was an explosion of lights and decorations. Alwyn was able to join Digger on his trips around the world and frequently to shows in Melbourne. Both seem to be delighted by a trip to Graceland's, the former home of Elvis Presley. As a visitor, you left the world of farm machinery in the front drive, and entered a house that sparkled with gold and ornaments.


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