There is a royalty amongst the 503d Veterans that is dependent upon no high birth, no riches, and no rank. It traces back to a troopship. Those who have attained this stature even have a Certificate, signed by Colonel George M. Jones and countersigned by Bob Atkins, attesting to the proclamation that they are...

"Grateful to this day for never having to set foot on the decks of the Poelau Laut again. "

Those who trace their origins to the Poelau Laut, described in the Certificate in less than complimentary terms as a "Dutch Tub" are those who departed from San Francisco and sailed off to war.  

20 October 1942    “Boarded Army Transport at San Francisco,California. Destination unknown.”

30 October 1942  “Arrived at Bolboa, Panama. Remained aboard ship. Sailed at 1300 hours. Destination unknown.”

Bless 'Em All

The destination was Australia, where after 44 days of zig-zagging unescorted across the Pacific, and after pulling in at both Brisbane and Townsville, they would finally disembark at Cairns,  Queensland on 3 December 1942. Ultimately, many men would come to look upon their time in Australia as their happy days, though 19 August 1943 couldn't come around soon enough for them, for on that day they left Gordonvale, Queensland, via truck to Cairns airport where they emplaned for a four hour flight to Port Moresby. But that, as they say, is another story...

Waters of the Tasman Sea
November 1942

View from the port side of the Dutch Ship
Poelau Laut

Photo of about 16 men, mostly paratroops of the 503d Parachute Infantry Regiment and possibly men of the 5th Army Airways Communication System. Two can be seen with life preservers.

(click to enlarge - CD only)

Photo by George Reed


Hello ...

I embarked Oct 20 1942 on the Poelau Laut.  You described the trip quite well...as you saw it. I did not know about the narrative of the alcoholics on board.  I remember the voyage quite well and if you want some details just let me know.

 Do you remember the initiation of personnel who had never crossed the equator?  I still have my certificate...UNDATED.  Do you remember the terrible storm in the Tasman Sea?  It was right scary if I do say so.  (I used my dog tags to measure the angle of the ship as it creaked and groaned).  The mess hall was a mess as the trays would slide from one end of the table to the other.  Do you remember the dolphins? and the mirror surface of the sea a few days?  I tell you this this to somehow show that I was on that ship.  Do you remember we pounded out rings from a quarter?  And finally...a dusty ride on the left side of the road as we debarked in Townsville in early December?   

 Best Regards
George T. Reed   (age 80 3/4)




SS Poelau Laut

View of the starboard side , showing the troop ship modifications, anti-aircraft guns, and life rafts.

(click to enlarge - CD only)

Photo via Don Abbott



Ken Chaplin
Hq Co 3d Bn G Co


The following men shipped out on the Poelau Laut on Oct 20th l942. All were transfers from the 502d. We all joined the 503d PIR,  Sept l942 at Fort Bragg.

Kenneth E Chaplin - G Co.

Frank Vetch - G. Co.

Sol Hut - Hdqts 2nd

Lawrence Gilpatrick - G. Co.

Frank Bowmen - 3rd Meds.

Thomas J, Breen - 3rd Meds,

We DID stop at Townsville, but never got off the ship. The ship's Captain  pulled anchor and sailed another 200 hundred miles north to Cairns where we disembarked and rode in trucks to Gordonvale. 

Ken "Chappy" Chaplin

Chet Nycum
3d Bn G Co


SS Poelau Laut

Chet Nycum Photo



For Airborne, we certainly spent a lot of time being ship-borne.


Don Abbott

Brigadier George M. Jones was widely known as ''The Warden'' during a good deal of his career in the service of the United States. Throughout that time only a few people knew the real reason for his having picked up this peculiar title.   Discussions with the General in his later life, before he died in December 1997, confirmed he was very well aware of where the title really originated. Don Abbott is one of a very select group of veterans of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment who know first hand about the incident where "The Warden" picked  up his title. It occurred during the voyage of the  "Poelau Laut."



I note your name is not in the latest 503 directory. You should consider joining and, if possible, come to the 2002 reunion in Branson, MO starting Sept 26. Yes, I was one of the "wardees" when Col. Jones got his nickname "The Warden". I agree with all your points on the trip of the Poelau Laut except one.

We did not unload at Townsville. We put in at Brisbane and Townsville but didn't get to go ashore. Remember the fellows diving into the Bay at Brisbane against orders?

I was just thinking of that "Cruise" the other day. Remember the nights with the sing fests with everyone lounging around the deck? Some of that harmony would be impossible without the 2000, plus or minus, people we had.

Don Abbott


George Reed
Newark, Delaware
Sept 3 2002

Hello Chappy,

Thank you for the e-mail. To clear up what outfit I was in, I was in the 5th Army Airways Communications System (AACS). I just happened to be on board the Poelau Laut when it was launched October 20, 1942 at the Golden Gate. I don't remember who else got on when I did but we went to Panama and picked up a lot of paratroopers...I remember that. All of us AACS group got off at Townsville. I understand all the paratroops got off at Cairns or someplace further up the coast. Sorry to get you confused but at least we were "in the same boat" at one time.

I was at Pope from about January 1941 to July 1942. I worked in the control tower and downstairs I sent and received Morse code (encoded) messages. When I went to Australia I worked in the ground radio station as an operator. Actually I lost track of all you boys (who had the nerve to jump), after I got off at Townsville... which I recall vividly, etc. I did NOT know you were still on board...for another day or so!

It took exactly 42 days from Frisco to Townsville, and I guess...another day to get up to Cairns. I know absolutely nothing about the ship after Townsville.  It's good to meet another soldier who shared the Poelau Laut.

It got kind of scary as we went just north of New Zealand, for about a week. Some of you boys just stayed on deck and watched the waves. ! You remember trying to eat during that storm and the trays would slide from one end of the table to the other... Do you remember we had a hypnotist perform...he had one poor soldier dancing with a broom thinking it was his sweetie back home. The ship was crowded so maybe you missed that down in the hold.

George Reed

SS Poelau Laut

American troops climbing the Poelau Laut - from a book on the Dutch Merchant Navy during WW2

Photo via C.E.A. van Boeckel

Charlie Rambo
Captain 503d PRCT
Reg HQ Co.
Communications Officer

Hi George,

I was on that Dutch Ship (Poelau Laut) and well remember all of the details you well described. I was a brand new lieutenant and was housed on one of those doghouses on the upper deck which had many comfort problems but nothing like the troops who were down in the hold. I will add to your list as many of the details as I can remember.

I don't know how many of the troops knew that we were chased by a Jap submarine for quite a while. The Captain requested that Colonel Jones round up a group who had never steered a boat or a ship and have them report to him on the bridge. He figured that never having never done that, they could zigzag so severely that no submarine could follow us and therefore could not get a track on us with their torpedoes. IT WORKED.

Also we had to have garbage ready to dump overboard, and would be dumped overboard each night when the Skipper bellowed over the PA system "DOMP DA GARBITCH"  in his Dutch accent. When the dolphins were in the area or there was Jap activity--he would give the command at different times. THAT WORKED ALSO.

We made stops at different Ports--- Brisbane, Townsville -- we were denied permission to dock because they said there was no room for us. Finally we reached Cairns and were allowed to dock. Then another problem came up. The Australian "wharfies" (Longshoremen) were on strike (not uncommon in Australia), and would not unload our ship. When we appeared on the deck with machine guns and told them we would unload our own ship--they decided to unload us.

There were other instances - like it was the rainy season in Australia and we got soaked putting up our tents. After finally getting the tents up we all,  maybe not all, decided to go into Cairns with our canteens and check out the Aussie beer.  We soon found out how strong it was as we all went into the staggered motion.

Charlie Rambo
Captain 503d PRCT
Reg HQ Co.
Communications Officer

Artwork of "Poelau Laut" by kind permission of the Artist, C.E.A. van Boeckel, who provides us with this further information -

"Poelau Laut" was built by Nederlandsche Scheepsbouw Mij., Amsterdam (9272grt; 158x19m; 14kn; 58 passengers in 1 class + 1000 deck). Sailed in West Europe-East Indies fast cargo service and pilgrim trade. Used as troop transport between 1942-1948. Scrapped at Hong Kong 1959. Sisters: Poelau Roebiah, Poelau Bras, Poelau Tello.










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