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    Australian Jungle Rescue Detachment 1944-45

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    Gentlemen -  I have a challenge...

    Does anyone have information about Richard Graves' 60 man Jungle Rescue Detachment in WWII? I've found only brief mention in Graves' Bushcraft book(s) and one fiction book which I would not trust as a resource for this project. 

    I have a battledress to an Aussie who joined the Canadian Army for Korea - his Australian records note frequent detachment to U.S. Far East Air Forces (and 13th Air Force) and I initially wondered what this could indicate, assuming anti-aircraft artillery, but his Canadian file which I finally received clears this up with a brief mention of 'participated in jungle rescue' and now I am down this path. Hoping someone has something better than what I've found.

    Per a 'stub' on wikipedia about Graves and the creation of the detachment:"In the Second World War, Graves founded and led the Australian Jungle Rescue Detachment of 60 soldiers, which was attached to the Far East American Airforce. These men conducted over 300 rescues, all of which were completed successfully and without losses."

    Also a mention in an American newspaper about an Air Force pilot that dropped off 'two Aussie jungle specialists' to aid in the rescue of a downed pilot.

    This is about it.  I have searched the New Guinea Forces and other related war diaries on the AWM website with no luck.  I pulled Graves' service file and was pleased to find his detachments align with Jillett's, but still no detail about the rescue detachment.  I really would like to find more.



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    I reached out to my favourite antipodean amateur historian who is the most knowledgeable person I know concerning the Australian military. It's his opinion that Richard Graves tales of rescue and his magic unit are exaggerations of the worst order. Which is probably why you can't find any viable authority mentioning it... or him. I quote:

    "A generation of Australian Boy Scouts grew up with Graves' Bushcraft books in the 70's. I was one of them. I haven't done it in a while but I reckon I can still whittle up a 'four pattern' snare trigger.

    When I was 14, Dad was posted to Canungra. Canungra was then the Jungle Training Centre and had been since WW2. By then I was a senior scout, called Venturers in Oz. Scouts were based at a place called Fogarty's Farm which was also the jungle survival school run in those days by Billy Bostock. Later Bill's role was taken up by Les Hidden's who became a bit of a TV star. That was well after my time by which the school had transferred to Tully in Far North Queensland.

    We learned a lot. I was taught Jungle Nav by Clem Ebner who'd been teaching it for decades. Even so, I got regularly lost (and still do) in the McPherson Ranges, with perfect maps, awesome compasses and a tally counter to measure paces. Billy Bostock taught us to make fish traps and spears. All based on indigenous skills and crafts.

    It was pretty much that experience that convinced me that Dick Graves was full of and had most likely never set foot in Triple Canopy Rainforest in his life. Pretty much nothing in his bushcraft books is relevant to Jungle.

    What I do know about Graves is that he was a WW1 Gallipoli Veteran. I know from the WW2 nominal roll that he was demobbed as a lieutenant in early 1945 from the 111th Tank Attack Regiment, a unit that never left Australia.

    A couple of things. A detachment of 60 to the USAF from the Australian Army is going to be commanded by a Major at the very least. You need a field grade officer to be responsible for Administration and Discipline. Goes double for when working with foreign forces. Graves is a bit light on in the rank department. Apart from Graves' forward to his bushcraft books I've never seen any other reference to a 'jungle rescue' unit.

    Which is not to say that USAF airmen were not occasionally rescued by Australians. Technically they were not 'rescued' by Australians, they were rescued by locals and the Australians facilitated their extraction because they had radios. This was done in the Pacific by Coastwatcher's and in PNG by ANGAU. Peter Ryan's "Fear Guide my Feet" is the seminal ANGAU work. Even then, before the advent of helicopters, extraction was difficult. In the Pacific it could be done by Catalina in New Guinea by Flying Boat if a big enough River was handy. The prospect of walking out by ill equipped and possibly injured aircrew was and is still a non-starter. See here.

    By WW2 the Australian Army had determined that the key to Jungle Survival was harnessing local indigenous knowledge. Graves knew nothing of this."

    Edited by Dan M
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    Hi Dan -- thank you for the information!  And especially for being honest about the prospect that Graves' tales may be a farce.  A great thanks to your friend as well.  His mention of ANGAU (a new term for me) is something new that I can look into and especially if they have war diaries online. 

    I'd still like to pick at this as I believe there must be some veracity to parts of Jillett's story, just not as I thought previously...do you think this is the case?  I would assume at this point that it is not a jungle rescue unit but jungle rescue duty and I quickly went down the wrong path searching in this way.  There is still some kind of tie between Jillett and Graves' service as their detachments from HQ NGF and 1st Australian Army align, as did some training including a camouflage school, which I first thought was for disguising artillery or anti-aircraft emplacements.  Jillett's Canadian discharge is pretty explicit about WWII service: "Employed in New Guinea - Philippines as jungle rescue crew."  I've attached this and will link to the Australian service files as well:







    Thank you so much for the help!


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    A bit more from my friend:

    I've read the NAA files on both Jillett and Graves. It appears I was wrong. Graves did do some time in New Guinea and appears that he was involved in "Jungle Craft' of some sort.

    I still don't rate him.

    My friend also asked if you would like a photo of Greendale Station which was the Jillett property and / or the Tambo war memorial which will have Jillett recorded on it.

    Cheers, Dan.

    8 hours ago, Trooper_D said:

    Thanks for that link, Dan. What a great story!

    Glad you liked it. Thanks for the accolade.


    Edited by Dan M
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    Hi Dan -- I would very much appreciate whatever your friend is offering.  I enjoy those personal touches to accompany items and research.

    I've reached out to one of my researcher friends here and asked him to take a lot through the morning reports for the FEAF and 13th AF units to which Jillett (and Graves) may have been attached.  I am not sure if, as foreigners, they would appear in the daily logs, but I have hope that they would and also that they're somewhat attainable based on the specific dates I have to reference.  I'll keep the thread updated with those finds.

    I did find this website which is mostly U.S. based, but very informative about the jungle rescue operations:


    Most mention of Australians on that webpage have to do with RAAF detachments, not AIF / ground forces, but I think there are still many original documents that I'd have to read through as they're not searchable via text recognition.

    Thanks for the help, Dan, and pass along the word to your friend as well.  I appreciate it.


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    • 2 weeks later...


    My friend was slightly confused about which Jillett you were interested in. Here's his latest reply:


    Turns out that the Jillett's were a large family.

    Richard Jillett was from the wing of the family that had no money while Arthur and his brother Robert were son's of the Jillett who had all the money. Google Jillett plus Tambo.

    The poor Jilletts were passing cheques all over Queensland pretending to be the rich ones.

    Both Richards cousins Arthur and Robert (rich Jillet's) joined up early and were both captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore. Robert died very close towards the end of the war on the Sandakan Death March. Big in Australia but probably not known anywhere else.

    One motivation for joining up might have been to escape their father - who they hated.

    Apparently, Arthur's first words to his family when repatriated as a POW were - "Is Dad dead yet?"

    Interesting family indeed!


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    Hi Dan -- thank you once again.  I have not researched much of the other Jilletts, though I was in contact briefly with the curator of the blog that your friend may have found.  It's a frequent return in google when searching.  There is a lot to read on their family history!

    The Jillett I am chasing is Richard Frank, born 9 Dec 1921 - so, from the poor end of the family.  Perhaps that was some motivation for his joining up?

    I appreciate all the help!


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    • 9 months later...


    I have more information on the JTD and a number of their men (Gillespie, Scott, Riordan, Goddard) in a daring, three week rescue in Dutch New Guinea in August 1944. On this rescue I wrote the book KAIS (https://www.amazon.com.au/KAIS-daring-rescue-swamps-Guinea-ebook/dp/B08643X9NJ/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=Kais&qid=1596743217&sr=8-1) and have been able to find the children of those four men.

    I haven’t been able to find their records, neither with the Australian Army, nor with the USAAF (5th or 13th AF) yet. As they were attached to the Americans, they must probably have reported to them.

    The picture was taken on 19 August 1944 after the succesfull rescue of the crew of a US B-25H of 418 NFS? They stand centre in front of the palm tree and far legt (US cavalry hat). Captain William Gillespie of the JTD is on the right (slouch hat) and far right the Dutch officer in command, Lt Louis Rapmund.

    Bas CBCEC5EC-DEB7-412B-8FE8-A3350F7313A4.jpeg.8f301ce0cb3ca57b2740814c9fbbf2a3.jpeg


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    4 hours ago, Baska said:


    I have more information on the JTD and a number of their men (Gillespie, Scott, Riordan, Goddard) in a daring, three week rescue in Dutch New Guinea in August 1944. On this rescue I wrote the book KAIS


    Hi Bas -- thanks for the reply, this is incredible.  I'd love to support you and purchase your book - is amazon the best place or is buying direct from you better?

    I have pretty much accepted that I won't be finding much about Jillett.  It seems like a misfit unit that no one really took responsibility for historical records and they were simply there for a crucial job.

    Feel free to email or message via my website.  I am sure I will have more questions after reading your book and especially if you have unique sources.



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    Hi Robert,

    What is the URL for your website and what your email? I can be reached at bas[at]kreugerinkultuur.nl and the story of the crash landing and rescue is at www.airwarnewguinea.com

    As I gather you are in the US, Amazon.com would be the best place for you to buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/KAIS-daring-rescue-swamps-Guinea/dp/B086B9SS66/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1593872297&sr=1-1

    The picture is from the file on the JTD I have found. The other one is of the B-25 in the swamp. The rescue team had to walk for days to get there and get the crew out.


    Jillet knipsel.JPG

    B-25 Jungle Crash0002.jpg

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    • 5 months later...

    Half a century ago – almost to the day - Richard Harry Graves died on Wednesday 3rd February 1971.

     Some unkind comments about him occur above.  

    Some of you do not ‘rate’ Richard Graves, or you consider that his, ‘… tales of rescue and his magic unit are exaggerations of the worst order’, or consider his experience and written works irrelevant to the jungle, or his Australian Jungle Training/Rescue Detachment  a ‘misfit’ or even a mirage; not supported by ‘viable authority (?)’.  

     Please re-consider.

     Official details of the origins, development and success of what evolved to be known as the Australian Jungle Training Detachment (AJTD) - including its important rescue role in NG, DNG and as far as the Philippines - are in the National Archives of Australia (NAA) at:


     The file is:  Personnel for Junglecraft Training  Lt R Graves, Capt Gillespie (Series: (AAA) MP742/1     CS 323/1/1437.

     For simplicity, I will refer to this file as 403485 and its 39 pages as they are NAA numbered. For example, page 30 (P.30) is the - HQ Allied Air Forces SWPA Minute of 06 Oct 44 to Commanding General, USAFFE, headed Personnel for Junglecraft Training.  Para 1 describes Graves as the leader of the detachment.  Para 2 declares that his detachment, ‘…also served as jungle experts in parties sent out by the air rescue squadron’.  Para 4 states, ‘ The services of these men has proved so valuable in junglecraft and rescue work, that the services of additional men are urgently required’.

     Carefully read all of File 403485. It clearly documents Dick Graves as initiator and founding officer in charge/officer commanding (whatever) of the detachment/school from mid Jan 44 to 29 Dec 44 (P.31, P.21), after which his offsider Captain William Macintosh Gillespie took charge, until the detachment was formally wound up under ‘Mac’s command in 09 July 45 (P.8, para 1). 

     In late 1943, Dick Graves, after orchestrating a request from GHQ SWPA, persuaded the Director of Military Training (DMT), Australian LHQ to send him and six ORs to train US forces in NG (P.31, also note P.4, P.5).  Graves and his team then trained in North Queensland for six weeks and left for 5th US AF Combat Training Center, Nadzab, NG on 30 Mar 44 to, ‘…to train personnel in survival in the jungle’ (P.31, para 2). The assignment was initially for 30 days but Graves was ‘rated’ highly by the yanks and he arranged numerous extensions and two expansions of the detachment. Importantly, he comprehensively documented the courses (much of his work, not seen in his bushcraft books, filtered into the Australian Army Survival Pamphlet 1967).

     On 27 Jun 44, Graves again got DMT approval to recruit (P. 24, para 1 ‘to me’) – this time an additional 35 ORs and 1 officer (P.11) (Grave’s plan seemed to be for an offsider officer to take 15 of the team to Hollandia, as 5 US AF ops moved west).  The offsider Graves chose was Capt ‘Mac’ Gillespie who arrived at Nadzab in late July and would serve with Graves in charge until 31 Dec 44, when Graves was classed Med Cat B1 (P.21, para ? (Graves engaged in several ‘Catalina hops’/missions that exacerbated a back condition and returned to Australia 08 Dec 44).

     Some of the purists commenting above might baulk at the idea of Capt Gillespie serving under Lieutenant Graves, but the B25 / ‘Kais’ rescue mission of 02 – 20 Aug 44 outlined in Kreuger’s book (cited in comments above), involved Capt ‘Mac’ Gillespie being commanded (outstandingly) by a mere Dutch Second Lieutenant (Louis Rapmund).  Gillespie dispensed with the formalities.

     Similarly, the assumption made by a commentator above that a group of 60 or so must be commanded by a Field Grade officer (Major +), especially operating with forces of another country, is a naïve, peacetime generalisation. This was war. Graves initiated, built, grew and commanded the AJTD throughout 1944 and drove mission creep by integrating AJTD with US rescue squadron missions as far as the Philippines. Note the trips from Nabzab of those listed on AJTD strength of 22 Dec 44 (P.20–23) – most involving rescue work / ‘Catalina hops’ in DNG - one example being newly arrived Gillespie’s  ‘blooding’ on the Kais mission; with Scott, Goddard and Riordan (P.20-23). Also, note the Nov 44 deployment of an ‘Australian Jungle Survival Detachment’ (WO2  T W Scott + 10 ORs) to conduct behind the lines rescues in the Philippines with US 5276 Composite Rescue Squadron (P.21 para 7; P.25, para 4).  The word about Australians being handy to have on difficult rescues spread to the yanks from at least Mar 44 – the Hentsridge factor?  But that’s another story, especially for those who have declared boldly that, ‘ …walking out by ill equipped and possibly injured aircrew was and still is a non starter’!

    It was Grave’s force of personality, experience, salesmanship, networking ability and plain cunning that made and grew his detachment.  It was Dick’s baby. Of interest in File 403485 is Grave’s handwritten note of 22 Aug 45 to DMT LHQ (P.3, P4).  Here, Dick requests a copy of the GHQ SWPA Commendation to the Australian Jungle Training Unit  (P.10, P.33).   Why?  Dick decided to convene a ‘breakup’ dinner for 50 members of the team on 08 Sep 45 (Brisbane?) - on completion of their final leave - and hand each of them a copy, as founding commander of the detachment.  Perhaps Sgt R. F. Jillett  QX32292 was at the dinner.  He is listed on AJTD 22 Dec 44 strength (P.23). 

     Therefore, gentlemen, an Australian jungle training detachment that rescued aircrew in NG, DNG and through to the Philippines, for at least a year, did exist.  Lieutenant Richard Harry Graves founded, grew and commanded it throughout 1944.  Graves drove mission creep with the 50 men he picked and the reputation he built.  So, if you like, his was functionally the Australian jungle training and rescue detachment – the important thing that is how the US clients saw it and used it.  It never was a ‘unit’ in the purist regular army sense; just supernumery to HQ NGF, then Aust First Army, and existing from extension to extension (P.20, P.28) – like the 60 day extension requested by ‘Macarthur’ on 27 Jan 45  (P.27).

     Incidentally, a Graves grandson who, like me, is a former naval officer – let’s call him CMDR T – is quite realistic about naming ‘orphan’ teams, having commanded small training detachments in the middle east and north asia in this century. Other than the odd posting note and a couple of minutes, you would be hard pressed to put together a picture of their work, even of their existence as entities. And when actually working ‘on the ground/sea’, you have to call yourself something that makes sense to the locals (and to supply bods). So, you use a succinct (and hopefully sexy) name that your client understands - The Australian ……. Detachment.  That’s how a lot of history ‘works’.

     In any case, AJTD numbers grew from 7, to 43 in Dec 44 and over 50 in 1945.  Furthermore, it was not a ‘misfit’ unit but a highly commended one - note documents in support of the GHQ SWPA Commendation (P. 33): from 8th Fighter Gp (P.34), HQ V Fighter CMD and HQ 5th AF (P.36), as well as HQ FEAF (P.38).

     But the measure of a man is not just a decade of committed and active wartime(s) service.  Post war, from early 1947, Dick and his ‘gang that will teach you bush, branch and bark’ grew the Bushcraft Association (BA) that boasted membership of well over 100 and trained hundreds in bush craft from a base camp Dick arranged south of Sydney (BA had to vacate for national parks in 1968). 

    For more information on BA and AJTD and Dick’s many other works, a reliable profile of Graves is in the Oct 15 issue of Australian Bushcraft Magazine. See Richard Graves – The Father of Modern Australian Bushcraft (pp. 57– 66) at  https://archive.org/details/AusBushcraftMagOct15Free/page/n53/mode/2up).

     Finally, Gentlemen, let’s not jump to confusions.  If this forum aspires to be a gentlemen’s forum then be gentlemen:  mind your manners and display some scholarly discipline, especially when you are scratching around for facts. Above all, avoid insulting the memory and legacy of one who served his country, friends and family most ably through war(s) and peace, and even in death – through endless royalty cheques!  

    Richard Harry Graves will be published, admired and defended by newfound friends, long after his critics are gone and forgotten. 


     AJH      psc BSc MA(ANU) PhD

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