19: Broome to Sydney - and the Parcel (2)
In spite of protests from the nurses and the recent attack on Broome, Ivan dressed and scouted round town for any possible air transport. He heard that a DC2 from Australian National Airways was leaving at noon - would the captain, please, take his party? "Sure!" grinned the Australian pilot. "Glad to." He took them to Port Hedland. Here Ivan managed to get his flock aboard a flying-boat bound for Perth and sent telegrams ahead, asking for further transport. Flying-boats were extensively used around Australian coastline those days. There were the Catalina's, the Dornier Do-24k's and the big Quantas Short Empire machines.
Quantas Short Empire flying boat 'Coolangatta',
delivered December 1937 - crashed Sydney October 1944.
At Perth the transport awaiting them was a Red Cross ambulance that whisked them straight to hospital. No question of their going on to Sydney, said a doctor, they were all in bad shape, all must be hospitalized, even Ivan.
For a hospital case Captain Smirnoff created the most flaming row that had ever been staged there.
"Doctor," he growled, "you're an Australian, I am a Dutchman. You cannot do what you like with me."
"Oh, yes I can. I have the medical authority to keep you here and if I say you stay, you stay."
"The bloody hell I do!" roared Ivan. "I am not a civilian, I am under military authority."
"I demand to see the Dutch Consul." He did, too, and a few hours after he was bowling briskly out to the airport where he found a Dutch transport plane, a Lockheed Lodestar, getting ready for a flight. "Can you take my party?" Ivan asked.
The captain shook his head. "No, I just can't."
"Well, half of us then?...Three?..." and when he saw the captain's head still shaking he burst out:
"Hell! Will you take me, then?" The captain grinned...he would stretch a point, and squeeze Captain Smirnoff in.
....Ivan told the others, still in hospital: "Don't worry, I'll be in Sydney tonight, I'll see that transport is sent for you." ....The planned route was via Forrest, Adelaide and Melbourne, but due to a failure in the hydraulic system, the Lockheed Lodestar had to make a safety landing in Ceduna some 500 kilometres before Adelaide. In Adelaide Ivan had a talk with general Van Oyen who jovially shook his hand and assured him that the authorities would do whatever possible to help the survivors further on to Sydney.
....Otherwise he had a pleasant flight to Melbourne, but there he also had a surprise visit from an official of the Australian Bank, with a detective in tow: "Captain Smirnoff?" said the man from the bank.
"I am here to collect the parcel you were carrying."
Ivan now told how the package had been lost.
The man from the bank groaned. "Any idea what was in it?" he asked.
Ivan said he had not the faintest idea.
"Just half a million dollars worth of diamonds," said the official. (This equals more than 20 million Australian dollars in today's money.)
Ivan whistled. He told the detective everything he could remember about the circumstances in which the package had been lost and gave details of all surviving passengers and crew. When he flew in to Sydney the KLM director and his wife had brought Margot to the airport to meet him. She was not able to speak, a flood of tears choked her as she collapsed into his arms. Later, at the hotel a celebration banquet was laid on, all the Dutch colony in Sydney was waiting for him - so were a couple of detectives from the Australian C.I.D. The detectives grilled Ivan for an hour, released him to join the supper party, and recalled him before he had his first drink. This cat-and-mouse business went on all evening, with Ivan missing every course in the luxurious meal and having to tell and re-tell his story till he was heartily sick of the sound of it. One side of Ivan's brain, appreciating the size of the sum involved, was working hard to help the detectives. The other side, seared by the recollection of events at Beagle Bay, was irritated by the fuss over a few stones when nobody seemed to be making any fuss about the dead - his comrades - the woman - the little baby. He loathed the detectives with their "Can you vouch for your crew?" - "What do you know about your passengers?" - "What is your own financial position?" He wished he had gone to hospital after all. Instead of Ivan tenderly caring for Margot, it was Margot who at last got an exhausted, brainwashed Ivan to bed, who sent down for a meal and insisted that he ate it. Next day Ivan was back at work and in the next two and a half months he and his fellow pilots flew KLM planes 640.000 kilometres in air transportation for the defence of Australia. He had to go, occasionally, to hospital, his wounds were troublesome, but he refused to let them interfere with flying; that came first.