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CONFLICT ON THE YANGTZE 



CONFLICT ON THE YANGTZE COVER

Beyond the end of the Second World War, after the Japanese surrender, the fighting never ceased in China … 

This is the fourth historical novel in the Warramunga series by Greg Kater. The events take place during 1946 when former army officer, Jamie Munro, and educated half-aborigine, Jack “Jacko” O’Brien, who head the Commonwealth Investigation Service in Darwin, are asked by Colonel John Cook, a senior commanding officer of MI6, to go to China and assist in the investigation of a drug cartel who are believed responsible for killing one of his operatives along the Yangtze River. 

During the recent war, Jamie and Jacko had worked in intelligence operations with Colonel Cook during the desert campaign in North Africa, as the Afrika Corps threatened Egypt, and later in South East Asia in the aftermath of war. 

The pair arrive in Shanghai via Manila in the aftermath of the Japanese occupation with Harry Williams, chief of the US intelligence agency, Office of Strategic Services (OSS), in the Philippines. They had worked with Harry previously in the Philippines on a case involving child smuggling (The Warramunga’s Aftermath of War). They are met at Shanghai’s Bund Docks by Johnny and Lee Drake, a half-Chinese MI6 operative who had lived in Shanghai, posing as a tea merchant, throughout the war. Jamie and Jacko learn that the current state of affairs in China is very complicated. They not only have to contend with the drug cartel but also with gangs, warlords and corrupt personages of influence. They are told the opium produced by the drug cartel is shipped to the Philippines for treatment and from there to the USA and Australia. To reach the centre of the opium operations it is necessary to travel hundreds of miles in a motorised junk up the Yangtze River where hostile, trigger-happy gangs and groups inhabit the riverbanks.

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ISBN: 978-1-921240-77-5
Format: Paperback
Number of pages:153
Genre: Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Image, used under license from Shutterstock.com. Michael Rosskothen/Shutterstock.com

© Cover Design—Zeus Publications 2019

Previous Works by Greg Kater 

The Warramunga’s War

The Warramunga’s Aftermath of War

Skills of the Warramunga


 


Author
-
Greg Kater
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published:  2019
Language: English


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Dedication

 

This book is dedicated to my business partner (Dolly) Fu Yuan who still oscillates between Australia and China.

Also to all my Chinese friends.

Acknowledgements 

I would like to thank Marilyn Higgins, Clive Dalkins and all the people at Zeus Publications for their friendly, helpful and competent work resulting in the publication of this book. I would also like to thank my editor Gail for her excellent structural editing and Julie Winzar for her fine editing and formatting. I am also grateful to my family for their support.


CHAPTER 1  

The pervasive stench of human excrement assailed the nostrils of the two men creeping through the wooded area of broad-leafed trees and wind-tossed willows and scrub, towards the distant settlement backed by low hills. By now, they were about three miles west of the Yangtze River, in Zongyang County. Through the trees they glimpsed the waters of Lake Zhusi to the south. Large high-stepping cranes and smaller water birds ambled around the edges of the lake. The mountains cradling the town of Tongling loomed large and hazy behind them.

Commander Daniel Stafford looked back at his companion, Lee Drake. He nodded at him and continued edging forward, both men crouching below the level of the scrubby undergrowth. On the plains to their left were rice paddies and ahead was a large open field. They could make out the large bulbs of the poppy seed pods in rows extending to the dun-coloured houses and sheds on the far side of the field. No Chinese red-tiled roofs. Just very plain buildings bathed in sunshine.

It was late morning on this early June day in 1946, and the temperature was rising sharply as midday approached. Sweat was running down Stafford’s back inside his shirt. He realised it would be like a cauldron exposed to the sun when they crawled through the poppy field, but he could see no other way of getting closer to the settlement. He noticed people moving around near the sheds. As he studied them through his binoculars, Stafford discerned that not all of them were Chinese. Three were obviously white men. English, American or both? he wondered, unable to distinguish their features at this distance. Putting down his binoculars, he looked around. Except for the buzzing of insects, it was extremely quiet here, unlike the previous night.

They had sailed up the Yangtze River from Nanjing through the night on a converted motorised junk, miraculously avoiding the occasional sandbanks in the river. Their progress was accompanied by the crackle of rifle fire on both sides of the river. Bandits, Kuomintang government troops and Communist forces all shooting at one another in the dark. Except for sporadic bursts, the shooting had died away at daybreak when they disembarked from the vessel on the western bank of the river. The vessel was owned and skippered by an American experienced in navigating the river, who had somehow survived the Japanese occupation.

Stafford had an athletic build, was of medium height and his bright blue eyes and tanned face were topped by straight, light brown hair. He was an operative of MI6, which had sent him into Shanghai after the surrender of the Japanese to attempt to track down a suspected conspiracy smuggling opium out of China into the USA, Australia and the Philippines.

His colleague, Lee Drake, was also with MI6. While his father had been British, his mother was Chinese, and so during the Japanese occupation, he had been able to pass as a local, living in the old Chinese city west of the Bund in Shanghai. Through various channels, he had transmitted information on the situation in China through to London during the war without being detected by the enemy, although he had had a number of narrow escapes. He was thin and wiry, possessing more strength than his appearance suggested.

‘I need to get a closer look,’ Stafford muttered, looking at Drake. ‘There’s no other alternative. I’ll have to crawl through that damned poppy field. You feel like following me?’

Drake nodded. ‘You’ll need someone to watch your back, boss.’

‘Okay. So be it then. Let’s go, Lee.’ The two of them set off on all fours into the poppy field. The sun beat down on their backs from a cloudless sky, the foliage of the poppy plants providing little shade. Halfway across the field, Stafford realised that if anyone was alert in the settlement ahead, they might detect their presence via the small clouds of insects rising out of the crops ahead of them, continually signalling their progress. Expecting to hear a shout of alarm at any moment, Stafford was painfully aware that he and Drake had decided to travel light and were only armed with pistols for this reconnaissance.

A hundred yards from the small settlement and with the sun still slightly behind them, Stafford figured there was no chance of a light reflection from the binoculars, so he slowly brought them up to his eyes and peered cautiously over the top of some poppy bushes. Probably, on account of the heat, there were fewer people than previously moving around outside the buildings. He focused on one individual, a tall, heavily built man with a ginger beard and wearing a broad-brimmed hat, stressing something to a shorter Chinese man who was nodding vigorously. The ginger-haired man could be heard faintly, speaking in a sort of pidgin English, but with a marked cockney accent. Aha, thought Stafford, I know where you’re from.

He looked back and shrugged at Drake, who was just behind him. He wasn’t sure how he was going to get a look into these buildings without being detected. If they stayed where they were, they would be cooked by the blazing sun. Making up his mind that he would have to return to take a look at the sheds in the dark, he signalled to Drake to crawl back the way they had come. Drake nodded and set off back in the lead, crawling towards the trees at the eastern end of the poppy field.

If anything, the crawl back was worse. The sun was hotter, the insects seemed more numerous, sweat stung Stafford’s eyes, and his knees were bleeding as he tried to keep as silent as possible.

Suddenly, he heard a shout behind them and the sound of heavy boots running towards them. Looking back, he saw several men running about 200 yards behind him. He yelled at Drake and they both leapt to their feet and ran as fast as they could away from the pursuers.

Three shots rang out and he sensed a bullet passing close to his head. Within 50 yards of the tree line, a bullet struck him in the shoulder, making him stagger. Drake looked back, but Stafford shouted at him, ‘Don’t wait for me! Get away, for God’s sake.’

Drake took off and disappeared into the woods. However, just before Stafford reached the tree line, another bullet crashed into his back. He fell headlong onto his face, blood flowing out of his nose. ‘Bloody hell!’ he cried just before blacking out.

 

* * * *

 

It was a balmy June afternoon in Darwin with cloudless skies and fresh onshore breezes when the Avro Lancastrian from Dili touched down at the airport northeast of the city. Two jeeps drove up close to the aircraft as soon as it arrived at the terminal and two men and two women got out. There was a cheer from the small group standing next to the vehicles as newlyweds, Jack ‘Jacko’ and Monique O’Brien, emerged from the aircraft.

Sarah, Jacko’s half-sister, and their friends, Jamie and Carna Munro, hugged them enthusiastically, while their radio operator and general factotum, Garry ‘Sparky’ Speck, climbed into the aircraft in search of the baggage.

‘You back. You back bikpela brother!’ cried Sarah excitedly.

‘Great to see you, Sar. How are your school lessons?’ asked Jacko.

‘Aye yu, lessons good. Spik proper Ingliss now,’ she said, then carefully asked, ‘How are you, Jacko?’

‘I’m very well, thank you,’ he replied. ‘How are you, Sarah?’

‘I’m very well, thank you,’ she said with careful concentration, followed by a shriek of laughter.

‘How was the honeymoon?’ asked Jamie.

‘You shouldn’t ask such personal questions,’ scolded Carna, winking at Monique and adding, ‘You both look well. Is Dili a nice place to have a holiday?’

‘Yes, beautiful, but like everywhere else, still with ruins from the war,’ replied Monique. ‘Even the lovely beaches had shipwrecks everywhere. But we didn’t really care.’

‘I didn’t notice,’ said Jacko, winking at Jamie. ‘I only had eyes for my lovely wife.’

Monique blushed. ‘We stayed in a lovely old Portuguese hotel close to the beach. It was like nowhere I’ve seen before.’

‘I hope you were able to keep all the criminals under control while I was out of town, Cap,’ Jacko said to Jamie.

‘It was hard, Jacko, but we managed,’ Jamie laughed.

Jamie and Jacko had met on the battlefield during the Syrian campaign in the early part of the Second World War. When Jamie was wounded, Jacko had carried him to a field hospital and later, they had worked together in intelligence with Colonel John Cook of MI6, based in Cairo, exposing and capturing German spies as well as successfully using false radio signals designed to confuse Rommel’s Afrika Corps during the North Africa desert campaign. Jacko, a well-educated half-Aboriginal of the Warramunga tribe in the central Northern Territory, had been a non-commissioned officer during the war and had a habit of referring to all officers as ‘Cap’. At the end of the desert war, Jamie and Jacko had worked in intelligence together in the Pacific theatre. Following the defeat of the Japanese, they had, with the cooperation of MI6, set up in Darwin the northern Australia operations of the CIS, the Commonwealth Investigations Service. Since then, they had been involved in eliminating the operations of a number of gangs involved in criminal activities in the aftermath of war. These operations had necessitated travel to the Philippines and Malaya as well as to different parts of northern Australia. Jacko’s half-sister, Sarah, a young Warramunga Aboriginal from Tennant Creek, had proved vital to some of the operations because of her remarkable tracking and bushcraft skills. She and Jacko were particularly close.

Jacko had originally met Monique, whose mother was Syriac and her father French, in Cairo during the war in 1941. It was love at first sight, but the two had not been able to start a real courtship until her parents, the Rousseaus, had migrated from Egypt to Australia in early 1946.

After recovering all the baggage from the aeroplane, Sparky drove one of the jeeps, with the three women happily chatting together. Jamie and Jacko went in the other jeep with the bags.

‘I guess the girls will be pulling us to pieces in the other jeep,’ said Jamie with a grin as he followed them towards the Darwin waterfront.

Jacko nodded, chuckling. ‘As long as they put the pieces back together again.’

‘I’ve had a message from Johnny Cook in London,’ Jamie told him. ‘It seems that MI6 has lost one of their operatives in China. He wants us to go there.’

‘China!’ exclaimed Jacko. ‘Wow! Where in China?’

‘Johnny said it was somewhere west of Shanghai,’ said Jamie. ‘A few hundred miles from Shanghai along the Yangtze River.’

‘Sounds mysterious,’ said Jacko. ‘Why would he want to involve us?’

‘I’m not sure, but I’ll be talking to him on the radio this evening,’ said Jamie. ‘We have a sched at 6 o’clock. I’m sure I’ll get more details then.’

‘Okey dokey,’ said Jacko. ‘However, if we have to go to China, it might not go over too well with Monique. She’s got visions of us spending the next few weeks looking for a house.’

‘Yes, well, I’ll know more this evening,’ said Jamie. ‘Carna might not be too keen on me going to China either. Although the war has ended, there are reports of full-scale battles between the Kuomintang government, the communists and the many bandit gangs all over China. I don’t know how true they are.’

‘Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, Cap.’

‘You’re probably right, Jacko.’

After Jacko and Monique had freshened up in their room at the Hotel Darwin, they all met on the verandah of the hotel overlooking the Esplanade and Darwin Harbour. The sun was setting in a blaze of colour reflected off the calm waters of Darwin Harbour, stirred by a gentle breeze. By the time Jacko had finished entertaining the others with amusing embellished anecdotes of interesting moments in the Portuguese colony, Sparky announced that it was 5.45 and he would warm up the radio for the schedule with Johnny Cook in London.

‘What is the time in London?’ asked Monique.

‘It’ll be 10 in the morning when it’s 6 o’clock here,’ said Sparky, heading off to the room where the CIS radio was set up.

‘We’ll follow in a couple of minutes,’ Jamie said to Jacko.

‘Monique, Sarah and I would love to come with you to hear what Johnny Cook has to say and what is so interesting in China,’ said Carna, giving Jamie a beguiling smile.

‘Okay, okay. But you’ll have to be quiet,’ said Jamie.

‘You won’t even know we are there,’ replied Carna.

Sarah beamed at her.

When they had all gathered in the radio room, Sparky twisted several dials on the large Hallicrafter radio before picking up the microphone and starting to talk.

‘MI6 London. MI6 London. This is CIS Darwin. Come in. Over.’

After some static, a voice came through from the other end. ‘CIS Darwin. This is MI6 London. Johnny Cook here. How are things Down Under? Over.’

Sparky handed the microphone over to Jamie, who replied, ‘Jamie Munro here, Johnny. Things are fine Down Under. You should come here one day and learn to walk upside down for a while. Jacko, Monique, Carna and Sarah are all here. What’s the news of China? Over.’

‘Hello all. Yes, China. As I mentioned before to you, we have lost one of our operatives. His name is Daniel Stafford. We don’t know whether he is alive or dead. We do know he was shot west of Tongling, a village on the Yangtze River a few hundred miles from Shanghai. He was investigating a large field of opium poppies three miles west of the river, and a small settlement which we suspect is processing opium from the southern provinces, Guangxi and Yunnan, as well as locally grown stuff. This is being smuggled by boats along the Yangtze to some point near Shanghai and then shipped to the USA, the Philippines and Australia. Over.’

‘How do you know where Stafford was shot?’ asked Jamie.

‘He was with another MI6 agent, Lee Drake. He was also shot at but managed to escape back to Shanghai. Drake’s a good man. He saw Stafford fall. Over.’

‘Can’t the Chinese government do anything about it?’ asked Jamie.

‘We suspect the Kuomintang government, under Chiang Kai-shek, is probably complicit in the smuggling operation,’ replied Johnny. ‘Chiang needs money for his constant battles against the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party, and he probably gets a big kick-back from the opium sales. Nobody can accuse the Chinese Nationalist government of being incorrupt. Over.’

‘Gonna be a bit difficult if the government’s behind it,’ observed Jamie. ‘Over.’

‘I think it’s more like parts of the government turning a blind eye,’ said Johnny. ‘We know the government has links with bandit groups in the region. There are a number of foreigners involved in the opium operation as well. Drake told us that one of them is English, Cockney. We’re going to have to find out who else is involved and terminate it if we can. Over.’

‘Yeah. It looks like you’d have to destroy the processing plant at that place on the Yangtze,’ said Jamie. ‘What’s the name of the town again? Over.’

‘Tongling. Over.’

‘Yes. Tongling,’ Jamie said. ‘Then I guess if you can round up the people who are operating the boats on the Yangtze River, you’ll have it nailed. Over.’

‘Easier said than done,’ said Johnny. ‘But essentially, you are correct. I’m going to need your help though. My MI6 agents in this part of the world have their hands full with the desperate problems in Europe as a result of the aftermath of war. Especially in eastern Europe. You chaps are by far the best intelligence agents in the eastern hemisphere. Over.’

‘I thought the Royal Navy had gunboats on the Yangtze River,’ said Jamie. ‘They could take care of the boats, couldn’t they? Over.’

‘That was before the war, Jamie,’ said Johnny. ‘We do have some ships at the mouth of the Yangtze and in the Huang River, but they’re only there to protect any British people and possessions. The US Navy has a few ships in the Yangtze with Chinese government approval. It’s all a bit tense and sensitive at the present time. China is now an independent country, although it’s not always easy to know who’s in charge in the regions. Over.’

‘What would you like us to do?’ asked Jamie. ‘Over.’

‘I’d like to meet up with you and Jacko in Shanghai in the next week. I haven’t worked out how to get you there yet,’ said Johnny. ‘The best way might be for you to fly to Manila first. Then, with the help of our American friends, we can fly you to the Itazuke Air Base in southern Japan. We could then have a small navy ship take you from there to Shanghai. I’ll have to check it out and let you know. Over.’

‘What should we take to wear?’ asked Jamie. ‘Over.’

‘It’s summer and hot. Just summer gear and some long trousers for wearing in the Shanghai hotel,’ replied Johnny. ‘Anything else? Over.’

‘The name of the Shanghai hotel? Over,’ said Jamie.

‘We’ll probably book you at the Astor House Hotel north of the Bund. I’ll confirm later,’ said Johnny. ‘I’ll be calling your old friend, Harry Williams of American intelligence, soon to arrange a flight for you from Manila to Itazuke. That’s all for now. We’ll speak same time tomorrow. Over and out.’

‘Over and out,’ repeated Jamie.

‘Astor House Hotel!’ exclaimed Jacko. ‘That sounds very grand.’

‘Many of those buildings were built before the First World War,’ said Jamie. ‘Having been involved in a recent war zone it might not be too grand. But no matter.’

‘It sounds to me as if you’ll be leaving us girls behind, no?’ commented Carna.

‘Reluctantly, yes,’ agreed Jamie. ‘The situation in China is quite dangerous now, with government troops, communists and bandits in a state of civil war.’

‘But not too dangerous for you?’ exclaimed Carna.

‘We... er... we’ll be careful,’ said Jamie.

‘We’ll move around like ghosts,’ said Jacko with a broad smile. ‘The Chinese baddies won’t see us.’

‘Me come! Me come!’ cried Sarah.

‘You’d better stay here, Sar,’ said Jacko. ‘We’ll call you if we need you.’

‘You need me, bikpela brother,’ said Sarah with tears forming in her large eyes. ‘All way need me.’

‘I’ll find out, Sar,’ said Jacko with his arm around her shoulder. ‘If we need you, we’ll call you. In the meantime, you should continue with your schooling here in Darwin.’

With an angry look in her eyes, Sarah mumbled something under her breath and glared at Jacko, her lower lip quivering.

‘If you are flying to Manila first, you can take Carna and me and leave us there,’ said Monique. ‘My parents are there. Papa is setting up a furniture factory in Cebu and a sales office in Manila. That’s if Carna wants to join us, n’est-ce pas?’

‘Of course, I’d be very happy to join you,’ said Carna happily. ‘You might need my Filipina skills and I’ll be closer to my Jamie there while he chases after his baddies in China, no? But I don’t want to leave Sarah here on her own. Is it ok if she comes with us to the Philippines and I’ll take over her English lessons?’

‘Tank you, tank you, Car nah!’ cried Sarah. ‘You real prend.’

‘Okay. If that’s not a problem for you, Carna,’ said Jacko.

‘No problem at all if you don’t mind, Jacko,’ said Carna. ‘We’re all happy for Sarah to keep us company.’

‘She’ll be happy to be with you, Carna,’ said Jacko, winking at Sarah.

‘Should be plenty of room on the aeroplane if MI6 is organising it,’ said Jamie. ‘I hope you girls don’t take any risks in the Philippines.’

‘I know my former country better than that, you silly man,’ Carna replied.

Jamie looked at the others and said, ‘I think we all need a cup of tea.’

 

 

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