recollect anything, he left the farm and we moved down to Brisbane I think. And there wasn’t much work about there, so we moved back to the South Burnett onto various farms and finally settled on a farm outside Wondai on the South Burnett. We were there for a couple of years and moved into Wondai where my father was engaged in
the building trade. I went to state school there, passed a scholarship in 1931 I think. Went to Kingaroy High School for two years. Commuted up there by train every day which isn’t ideal; half past five in morning departure, got home at seven o’clock at night, but I enjoyed it. My first job after
I obtained my junior certificate…There was no work really in the country but I worked for six weeks as a cotton picker outside Wondai, and then we moved to Brisbane, and then we went onto a farm out near Dayboro for a couple of years, then back Brisbane. Work was very scarce in those days. I worked at
numerous things. I was a bellhop at the old people’s palace for six months. I worked in the customs office for three years. I worked in a pineapple-canning factory for a few months and I went up to my grandparents’ place on a cane farm at Bauple near Maryborough. I worked there off and on for two years and then in the sugar mill for two years in the season.
Came back home to Brisbane. We were living at Eagle Junction in those days. Worked for a builder for about eighteen months. Then war broke out. In the meantime I was playing rugby league for the North’s football club. We won our premiership in the ‘39 year, a big year. Then war broke out. I went and enlisted.
I thought, “I won’t hear anything more about this for a while,” and to my shock, I suppose within a few days I had a letter saying, ‘Report to Water Street on the Saturday morning with your knife, fork and spoon’ type thing. So in I went and blokes were streaming in from all over the place. The Water Street drill hall was a big old place with about a twelve-foot high tin wall around it. And after you were sworn in they said, “Now you’re not
to leave the parade ground. You’re in the army now.” And I took them at their word. By this time there were hundreds of fellows there milling around, swarming in, and all the old shrewdies – this was on a Saturday afternoon by this time – they were out the gate and down to the [Fortitude] Valley, to the nearest pub. And anyway, it took all day to swear in about three hundred men. Come about half past four, five o’clock
all the fellows that had shot through were back inside and a mark was called out and the order was given to fall in. Well the abuse and language that went on, you know, and the pandemonium. Anyway, I’m standing up in the front rank and I heard the officer say to the sergeant major, “Wait till we get these bastards up to Redbank. We’ll pull them into gear.”
Anyway, they finally got a bit of order and we set off to march down to the Valley railway station. All these shrewdies from before, they ran ahead of us into the pub and as we passed they’d be having a beer, you know. Then they’d come out and run past us to the next pub. Anyway, finally we got to the Valley railway station and boarded just an ordinary passenger train, to the alarm of the few passengers on it.
A mob of young blokes all clamouring aboard, and we set off for Redbank. A funny incident on the way, I think it was around Indooroopilly, because every station the train pulled up to the fellows would pile off onto the platform and start milling around, and they had to get them back on. Anyway at Indooroopilly a couple of chaps walked out the gate and the officer in charge said, “Hey, hey, hey, where do you fellows think you’re going? You’re in the army now.”
“We’re going home.” He said, “No you’re not. You’re in the army. Get back on the train.” They said, “Go and get nicked.” It turned out they were two civilians actually. They weren’t in the army. Funnily enough I got to know both of them later on, and they served in the air force overseas. Anyway, we finally got to Redbank.
He landed in Townsville and another plane landed on top of him and he was killed. It was a shame, you know, he was a Spitfire ace. Anyway, get back to Redbank, we finally get down to the camp and the major, a Major Lubkey I think it was, called out, “Form yourselves into groups of eight for tent parties. And there’s a big heap of straw over there and a palliasse, go and fill it up.
That’s your bed.” Which we did. Anyway, finally they got a bit of order and I think we spent six weeks just preliminary training, elementary training and then they formed units, and they called for volunteers – whether you wanted to be an engineer, artillery or infantry, machine gunner. I volunteered for machine gunners and joined the 2/9th Battalion
which was formed then. And then I think we spent a few weeks doing elementary training and then they sent an advanced party down to Rutherford to a new camp, and I was on that. We were there a few weeks before the battalion came down. I think there was a meningitis scare at Redbank and they held the battalion back. So we were there for a couple of months on our own.
And then after the 16th Brigade had left Ingleburn for the Middle East, our brigade moved down there into their camp outside Ingleburn. And we were there for a few months and carried on with our training, which was pretty hard. We used to get weekend leave into Sydney every weekend. And then
in early May the order was given and we embarked on the [SS] Mauritania, which was a brand new ship. It had only done one maiden trip to America before the war. We had all this luxury, two to a cabin sort of thing. And off we sailed. Our first port of call
was Fremantle, we had a couple of days there, then we sailed of the Middle East. We only got half way into the Indian Ocean before Italy came into the war and that closed the Red Sea. They diverted our convoy round Africa. Our first port of call was Cape Town; we had three day’s leave there. And our next port was Free Town in Sierra Leone, off West Africa, and
we sailed on. I’ll never forget one morning we woke up and went up on deck and we were surrounded by the British fleet, and there was a ship going down in flames not far away, which had been torpedoed. Anyway, we sailed on and eventually landed in Gourock, up in Scotland. We went by train from there way down to the Salisbury Plain in the south of England, and we encamped there for about three or three and a half months.
During this time the Battle of Britain occurred and we saw most of it overhead. We were in the path of their flight to London. It was really an unforgettable sight, really. The most planes I saw coming over one day, German planes, was eighty-nine I counted. They came over in orderly fashion and went overhead, and the Spitfires were amongst them
shooting them down. And they carried on and about half an hour later they came back all over the sky, scattered. And we took our hats off to those Spitfire pilots. We had a big drome just next door to us, Wallop drome they called it. Anyway it was getting cold by this time. We were just living in bell tents at that stage. We went up to Colchester, big,
brick barracks north of London. By this time, while we were in England, they converted the Vickers machine gun platoons. They took one away and sent them to the infantry and we were converted to Bren gun carriers. But unofficially we kept out Vickers guns. While we were in camp down on the Salisbury Plains a German bomber came over one morning and machined the camps
from a low altitude. Our gunners fired on him. Whether we got credit for it or not, I don’t know, but he crashed not far away. Anyway, shortly afterwards, they must have known we were leaving because we took all our Bren guns up to a port called Grimsby and came back to camp, and the battalion moved up to Colchester and we were there for about
six weeks. And then we entrained back up to Gourock and sailed for the Middle East, called at Free Town again, didn’t call at Cape Town. The first port of call after that was Durban. We had three days there. The people there said, “Don’t do to Durban what you did to Cape Town,” because the boys had played up there a bit, you know. Because there were a lot of Kiwis [New Zealanders] in the convoy too, from
New Zealand. Between Australia and New Zealand they gave Cape Town a pretty rough time. Anyway, after we left Durban half the ship went down with coastal fever, including me. We sailed on through the Suez Canal. We were on the old [SS] Strathaird, a ship from England. We ran aground outside Port
Said and it took a while to get off the sandbank there, then we eventually arrived at Alexandria in Egypt. We encamped about twenty miles out of Alexandria at a place called Mersa Matruh. We were there for a few months. We used to get day leave into Alexandria. By this time the first desert campaign was almost over but our battalion was sent down into the
desert to capture an Italian oasis, JeraBub. And that took us two days just driving through the desert, no roads you know. And the action there lasted about three days, and then we came back to our camp at Mersa Matruh. And shortly after that
they started sending RAF [Royal Air Force] to Greece and we were ready to go. I think we went in onto the ship when we were pulled back to our camp. And about this time Rommel started to come down, he was pushed down from Tripoli up in Libya, and we were rushed back into port, rushed onto a ship and rushed up to Tobruk. And we were only there about one day and, the
9th Divy [Division] it was, started coming back into the fortress and Rommel and his troops arrived on the perimeter. We were held back in reserve for a few days, then a few weeks later the Germans broke through and formed a salient [protrusion into the enemy’s position] in the perimeter, and our brigade, that’s the 9th , 10th and
12th were put in night attack to try and recapture it but it failed. And then a few days later we were sent back up to front the Germans in the perimeter. This time there was no barbed wire or anything between us and their front line. So one night, a couple of nights later an officer chap, Granny Suthers or Captain Suthers and a chap called Vince Ledbetter and I were
sent out to sort of survey where to run barbed wire. We just started to drive a few pegs when this burst of machine gun fire came and hit me. I got a bullet on the side of the tin hat unfortunately. It went in to the tin hat there and creased me around the head and went out the back. I’ve still got the tin hat actually with the bullet holes in it. I’ll show it to you later.
he said, “I think we’ve had enough for the night. We’ll go back.” Which we did do. And I went back to the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] to see if I could get the wound dressed, and old Doc McGregor said, “Do you want to go back to the field hospital?” And I said, “No, I think I’ll be right.” So I went back up to the front and we were there for six weeks I think, and then we were withdrawn. In Tobruk you weren’t out of shellfire range anywhere so it didn’t matter where you were, you could be shelled.
Then we went back into the front line and were pulled out again. We were there five months and then they started to relieve the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]. We were the first brigade relieved by a Polish brigade. I meant to say, when I had this coastal fever, when we landed in Alexandria I had a relapse
and I had a week in a British hospital in Alexandria. I was sent back to convalescent camp on the Suez Canal at a place called Moascar I think, and a week back in Palestine where we had our training battalion, and then back to Egypt to rejoin the unit. Anyway, after we came out of Tobruk we went back to Palestine. We were only there a few weeks.
The next thing we were on the trucks and we were up in Syria. Our first camp was at a place called Baalbek where there were some fantastic ruins of temples. And then we went on to Tripoli and we were in big barracks there for a few weeks, and then we were moved across towards the coast to a place called Al Abdah.
We had a few weeks there and then we went to a place called [Al] Ladhiqiyah up on the Turkish border. We spent the, it would have been the ’41 Christmas there. Shortly after that Japan came into the war. I think they were in the war by then. And then we packed up and transhipped, came by truck, all the way back down into Palestine. We were there for a few days. Then we
entrained back down to Suez with our Bren gun carriers and the battalion. We were there for a few days and we were put on the ship and sailed and went to Bombay. We were transhipped on to smaller boats then, and then down to Colombo. We were there for a few days but had no leave there. And then we sailed for Malaya, not Malaya,
Burma. We were out at sea for a few days and that’s when Curtin insisted that the AIF be brought home. So we came back to Colombo. We were there a few days and then sailed for home and landed in Fremantle. We had a few days there and then we sailed on and landed in Adelaide.
We went into camp outside Adelaide for three weeks. Then we entrained from there up to Tenterfield, and we were there for a few weeks and we got seven days home leave to Brisbane, or wherever your home was. And then we reported back to camp in Brisbane and went into camp out at Kilcoy. And we were there for a few months. The next thing one night we were packed up over night and on the boats
in Brisbane, and sailed for Milne Bay. We were there about two weeks and the Japanese landed in Milne Bay and our battalion was held in reserve. We were the last put into action there and forced the Japs out. Shortly after that I got malaria and was hospitalized back to Australia, down to Sydney.
Had a week in hospital out at Concord, back to Brisbane to a convalescent camp, and then by this time the battalion had done the Buna-Sanananda campaign and were back in Australia on the Tablelands. And on the way back I spent six weeks in Townsville in a camp there waiting to rejoin the battalion. Which I eventually did on the Atherton
Tablelands. And it was a terrific shock to me to go back because we lost hundreds of men at Buna-Sanananda, a lot of friends I’d joined with, which was really depressing. Anyway, we were in camp at Mt Garnet, I think, on the Atherton Tablelands.
The next thing we were on the ships and sailed again to Port Moresby and trained there for a few months. Then we were flown over to the Ramu Valley. We did the Shaggy Ridge campaign. Withdrawn from there and came back to Australia to the Atherton Tablelands. And we were there for quite a long time, nearly eight or nine months I think.
During that time I was sent down to Bonegilla in Victoria to do a machine gun course of six weeks. Rejoined the unit and then next thing we were on the ships again and we sailed and landed at Morotai Island for a few weeks. And then we sailed and did the invasion of the landing at
Balikpapan in Borneo, and that’s where the war finished. And they put all the fellows with five or six weeks service down on the beach waiting to come home because anyone, a married man or chaps from the country had priority on the boats and planes coming home. They just put us on the beach for six weeks and left us there to enjoy ourselves. All we did was nothing.
Anyway, eventually all the signalmen and that, we sailed for home on the old [HMAS] Kanimbla I think. It was a beautiful trip home just sailing through the islands doing nothing. We landed in Brisbane and they put us in trucks and around the back streets of Brisbane. No welcome home like the Vietnam blokes complain about, you know. Anyway,
we were pleased to get home. Up to Redbank and given seven days leave. We reported back and had a medical and then we were discharged. That was it.
Anyway, I came home and after our discharge we were milling around. All we used to do was go into the pub every day and do a session. We didn’t know what we were going to do. Anyway, this went on for about six weeks, and quite a few of our fellows were in the repatriation department then.
One of the chaps said, “Why don’t you come down and join the repat? We want more staff.” So we trooped down there, about six of us and all got a job there in veterans’ affairs, or the repatriation department in those days. Actually after the war that’s all I wanted, a nine to five job where I could wear clean clothes and be clean. Anyway, I spent three years in repatriation and
got a bit fed up. A lot of chaps were leaving and going back to their other jobs and so on, and I happened to be in Sydney on holidays and I went into W.L. Carpenters, they’re like Burns Philp in those days. They were a shipping company and owned a lot of plantations. I went back home and I just started work, and in a few days I got a telegram. “Catch the aeroplane on Saturday for New Guinea.” Which was a bit of a shock. Which I did do.
I went out to Archerfield, that was the aerodrome in those days. I sat there all day in heavy fog and the plane couldn’t take off so I went home, poor old Mum. Anyway, I went back in the next day and I took off and flew to New Guinea. Landed in Townsville, Lae, Madang and then on to Rabaul. And
from there I went on a small ship around the back to New Ireland, to a plantation there. I knew the chap that was managing it at the time, he was an ex-war service bloke. Spent about three months there and couldn’t see any future in it so I flew back over to Lae and went up to Bulolo, and got a job with the Bulolo gold dredging company. And I wanted to get on the dredgers
but they put me in the building. They were rebuilding Bulolo because during the war they burned it to the ground when the Japs got close, about four hundred houses and stores. They just burned everything. They were rebuilding the whole place. And I spent about twenty months with them. Most of the time we were down in Lae. We built a lot of houses for Qantas down there and storerooms and what have you.
I enjoyed the life there. When I first went back I wasn’t too happy but I was prepared to stop in New Guinea towards the end. Anyway, about this time I got word my mother was seriously ill and I flew home. She lived for about six months, and I had two young sisters living at home so I got a job in a couple of places in Brisbane just
to keep the home going, you know. I eventually got a job in the taxation department. I spent six years there and couldn’t see much future there. So I came down to the Gold Coast and went into the building trade down here. Built some flats at Main Beach and started building spec houses and so on. Got married and had four children. And by that time Main Beach
was getting too busy with the kids on the roads so we came out here. We’ve been here just on thirty years. That’s about it.
grew up and kept the place going. I went up there to school to take a bit of pressure off my mother, and eventually worked on the farm for a couple of years. But to get back to the army, I don’t know, probably around that area up there, there were a lot of ex-First World War blokes who I knew and got to know pretty well. And in those days at school
it was a big thing, Anzac Day and stories about them and so on. Probably that’s what influenced me. Why I wanted to be a machine gunner I don’t know. I often think I was lucky really, because just before war broke out I got to know a chap who was a captain in the militia, in the artillery, before the war, a chap called Doug Crawford. Anyway, at Redbank when they called for
volunteers for the different arms of the army he came to me and he said, “Harvey, when they call for the artillery I want you to come over to the artillery.” I said, “Oh no Doug, I want to be a machine gunner, mow them down.” “No, no. I want you to come over. I want you in the artillery.” “Oh no, Doug. No.” Anyway when they called for volunteers I went into the infantry. I was lucky really because Doug’s unit,
they went with us to England, the 2/4th Field Artillery, I think. They were sent to Greece when we came back from the Middle East and they all got taken prisoners of war. Doug spent four years in a POW [Prisoner of War] camp, which I probably would have done that too.
was a mixed goods train, you know. Flat topped goods wagons with a few carriages on the back. It used to come through from Brisbane overnight and get to Kingaroy about seven o’clock in the morning. There were literally, in those days, hundreds of chaps what they called ‘on the road’, swagmen, jumping the rattler [train]. They used to get on the train to move from town to town and there would literally be hundreds of blokes
jumping on the train and moving on to the next station or the next town. Because in those days they had no such thing as the dole, they gave you food rations. So if they gave you food rations at Wondai, you had to move on to the next town before you could get another one, which was Kingaroy I think. The people just kept moving and moving. People of all professions and types.
As I say, we couldn’t get work in Wondai. My eldest brother, he got an apprenticeship, carpenter, and he went with the builder to Mackay and worked up there for years. I got a job cotton picking for six weeks and then we moved to Brisbane. No work there and I went out onto that farm out near Dayboro then back to Brisbane, and that’s where I got an assortment of jobs around
the place. I went back up to Bauple and worked on the farm there and worked in the sugar mill for two years in the season.
on a couple of places there, Sandgate and then at Boondall. I can just vaguely remember Boondall, and then we went up to Rosewood and I think my father was carting coal from the mines to the railway. I can remember going on a truck one day and I went down this big open black hole. That was Rosewood. Then I think from there moved to Brisbane, to Fairfield, and
that’s where I started school. And from there we went to a place called, outside Nanango, Wanora, a really wild place, a dairy farm. And from there we went across to a place called Brooklands where a chap was establishing a new dairy farm. And then from there we went onto a farm outside Wondai. We were there for about eighteen months and then we moved into Wondai.
I think we spent six years there. Went to state school there for about four years and two years at high school. And came we came back to Sandgate originally for a while, and then went down to this dairy farm outside Dayboro at Mount Glorious I think it was, no Clear Mountain. There for about eighteen months and then down to Bald Hills and then to Eagle Junction.
And that’s where war broke out.
if a story was, because I was a bit young and I didn’t understand it too much. Say a Catholic was the head man of a place and there was a job going, it would go to a Catholic. Whereas Protestants would give a Protestant a job, and that sort of thing. And actually it happened to me in the sugar mill the first year. I got a job in a certain part of the mill and this other lad, he got
a job somewhere else but he wanted my job, and because the manager of the mill was a Catholic so he made us swap jobs. But as I was saying, Grandmother, they were strict Presbyterians. No drinking or smoking. Sunday was a day of rest – Sunday school in the morning and church in the afternoon.
You couldn’t play games and you couldn’t run around or anything like that, but you could sit and read. That was it for a Sunday, which wasn’t bad really, because in those days you worked six days a week on the farm and you were quite happy to have the day of rest. I used to envy my mates, going down to church on a Sunday, because we used to drive past in the sulky, past the big sugar mill dam, and all my mates would be in there swimming.
I would be in my hot clothes going to church.
“That’s good, nice and soft to lay on.” Within a week all the straw had compacted and moved into the corners of the palliasse and you’re sleeping on the hard ground. That was a bit of a shock to the system. Everyone was up before, the Reveille was at six o’clock, but I think everyone was awake long before then. Meals were just stew, stew, stew. I spent my first three days peeling potatoes in the cookhouse.
So if you want to know how to peel potatoes I’ll show you. It was just virtually route marches and physical training. We didn’t have, we weren’t issued with rifles or anything. Our first uniforms were big red boots, two pairs of socks, two pairs of khaki long trousers, and a grey flannelette shirt with no collar and no sleeves, and a white
rag hat. That was our uniform. We used to go on leave to Brisbane in it, and I think people probably thought we were on parole from Boggo Road [jail], or somewhere.
stew three times a day. There was one famous incident there. A mob from the north came in. When we first went in they formed what they called depot companies. A hundred men to a company, you know. I was in number 2 Depot Company. Anyway this crowd from North Queensland came in with some wild men amongst them. After a couple of days they had a mess hut and you went through and got your
dixie full of stew and sat at a table and so on. They got their stew and went straight out and emptied it in the rubbish bin. They paraded them again and put them through. Same procedure. The third time, same procedure. So they took them down onto the parade ground. I don’t know where they got them from, must have been a militia unit. They surrounded the parade ground with these chaps with rifles with fixed bayonets. We thought, “God, what are they going to do with them? Shoot them or something.”
Anyway, they gave them a couple of hours hard, parade ground drill, you know. It was all over. We didn’t get our rifles for quite a while after that. We did our first initial shoot at Redbank. They used to have a rifle range over the road. It might still be there, I don’t know. One of the funniest incidents
was there. What you used to do, you would be on the range and fire your shots and you’d walk up with the officer in charge, they had an officer up there, and he would explain what you’d done wrong or so on. Anyway, this day we were in the mounds doing a marking and this crowd had fired their five rounds, and they came up to inspect the targets. And one of our fellows, a chap called George Morris, he picked up these spent rounds from the mound behind the target,
stuck them in the holes in this fellow’s target. When they came up, George said to this fellow, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Look at your rifle. Your bullets are not going through the target.” This fellow was, “What? I don’t know. Major, Major.” He raced down and said, “Major there is something wrong with my rifle. The bullets aren’t going through the target.” He came back, “I don’t know what’s going wrong. You can’t be pulling the trigger hard enough. Look they’re not going through.” Major
Lovett came up, and he was an ex-World War chap, “What’s going on here?” He looked at the target and he looked at George Morris and he didn’t say a word. He just went back to the mound with the fellows. Rang up, and he said, “There’s a bloke up there on number five target who just made a fool out of me. Make him work.”
And just for the sake of the archive, can you give us a bit of a picture of what one of your late night training exercises would have been?
Well, we were in the machine gunners. Our positions were mostly static, you know, sort of defensive positions. The rifle companies would be out and they would come in, we’d be more or less a defence and they would come in and try to attack us. They used to have umpires to watch what’s going on and say, “You’re dead, you’re dead. You’re wounded.”
But we used to dig in our positions with our machine guns and be static. And I’ll never forget an incident one night. We had one of the machine guns set up and this chap, Bill McGough was number one on the gun, sitting behind the gun. And it was pretty late in the night or early in the morning I think, Billy Macintosh was our platoon sergeant then.
He used to go round checking on the guns and all the blokes were asleep on this gun and Bill came in, took the gun off the tripod and took it away and Bill never knew. He woke up and no gun. That’s Billy Mackintosh. He was the most decorated chap in our battalion. He got three decorations, MD [Mentioned in Despatches], MM [Military Medal], and MC [Military Cross]. He died
five or six years ago now.
You would just go and eat out in the open somewhere. And for days after this he would just come down low, about fifty feet and we could see him coming. We were walking down to get our leave pass to go to London and down he would come and brrrr through the camp. He didn’t injure or hit anyone but he put a few bullets through the cookhouse. But for days after that, anyone going past the cookhouse would get their bayonet and run it along the corrugated iron. Brrrr. All the cooks
would come flying. I’ll never forget one evening we were going down to get our evening meal and the air alarm went and they were just bringing out the stuff to the tables in the open air. We’d had our meat, it was just meatloaf. You got no fresh meat. And this bloke was carrying these two dixies of custard across. And he starts running with the dixies of custard. Where he was going to run to I don’t know.
One of our fellows was running after him. A chap called Tom Telleran saying, “Hey, hey, hey, wait a minute. What about my custard?” This orderly, he just went like a… “F… your custard.” Tom wanted his custard. That was one of our favourite things. Particularly in Tobruk, air alarm. If you saw someone running you’d run too because
usually an air alarm, an air attack coming. And someone just for a joke would start running and we used to head for the dugouts.
capture this Italian oasis. And we got on trucks then and there were no roads down there, just through the sand hills and what have you, and we just drove. The trucks were sort of a line abreast to keep out of each other’s dust. The first night we just stopped where we were and had a meal and the next day we drove on and got to the oasis. And the first night,
our platoon, we were sent up as escort to the colonel. He went up to make an inspection and reconnaissance of the place, and we went with him as protection. I remember coming back and our truck got bogged in the sand. We didn’t get back to the battalion. We just spent the night there in the sand hills and rejoined the battalion next morning, and the next evening we went up again.
That’s when the rifle companies put in their attack. Actually most of our casualties at JeraBub were caused by our own artillery. We had British artillery there, four guns a troop. The idea is they fired and then the infantry comes so far and they lift their barrage and the infantry goes on. This company went too far ahead and got caught in their own artillery. That’s where we lost most of our men there.
This good friend of mine, Jimmy Smith, he sort of looked after me when I joined at Redbank. He was one of the first there, killed. Lost both his legs, blown off, poor old Jim. Apparently he had been a medical student before the war and they couldn’t afford to carry on with it. He ended up a wharf labourer.
And you would share your tin of bully beef and biscuits with a mate for breakfast and lunchtime, and at night time they would try and bring up a hot meal which was virtually just bully beef. They used to do all sorts of things with it; make stew out of it, rissoles. We didn’t get fresh vegetables. Not till really late in the
piece. And you never got your meal at night until late. At night time they used to have what they called stand-to. An hour before dawn everyone had to be awake standing-to with their rifles ready, and an hour after sunset just standing-to, because those were times most likely for an attack. And after that was over you sent men back. The cookhouse would be back, a mile back, and they’d bring up these big dixies of hot food at night. They were about this big and round
say, with stew in them or what have you, and tea, black tea usually. And each platoon would send a couple of men back to bring up the… These dixies would feed one section. They would bring it up and you’d have your meal then, so you probably wouldn’t eat until eight or nine o’clock at night.
We went out and put in some pegs for where to run the wire. And me being the tallest I just started to drive the first peg, star pickets they were. We had them in those days. And next thing I saw this string of lights coming and they seemed to float like that. Next thing they were flashing past me. It was a machine gun burst with tracer bullets. Next thing I
got this whack on the head and I was knocked head over heels, and the others came over to me and they couldn’t see anything, it was dark…a bit of blood, and I put my field dressing on under my hat, and old Granny Suthers said, “I think we’ve had enough for the night.” So I went back to where the front line was and then I went back to the RAP to the doc. That was back a few
hundred yards and they had a look at it and said, “That’s not too bad. You’ve just got a cut there.” And, “Do you want to go to the field hospital for a few day?” I said, “I’ll be right. I’ll go back up to the front line.” So I went back and I was walking back and all of a sudden I realized there was a minefield between the front and the second line, only a few hundred yards. I realized I was in
the minefield. So I got down and felt my way out of it. When you’re burying mines there are just three little prongs sticking up. And I got out of the minefield and found my dugout and just got settled in there, just got to sleep and the next thing something woke me up. It was this bloody enormous centipede crawling across my face, and I let him go. And anyway,
he eventually got off my face and I killed him. But I reckon that was one of the worst nights I had had.
then and we were there about two weeks and the next thing I think we heard gunfire, and someone said the Japs have landed across the bay. Well we didn’t go into action for the first week. The militia battalions, they were stationed round, they took the first attack and they just kept getting pushed back and back and back.
And in the meantime we had moved down to the strip and we were on guard there with our machineguns. And that’s where the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] did a fantastic job, those Kittyhawk squadrons. Just flying, landing and loading up and off again. They only had to fly five minutes and they were machine-gunning back. Load up…off…off…all day. Anyway, the Japs were getting close and closer and decided to
evacuate the RAAF back to Moresby overnight, flew all the planes off. We thought this was getting a bit serious. Anyway, they came back the next evening just on dusk. That was one of the saddest things I saw. The planes all landed safely. They only had flares along the strip and it was getting pretty dark,
and this one chap came in and almost landed and took off again, and came round and almost landed and took off again. He must have thought he was on the wrong side of the flares. Anyway, the next time he came in he landed on the other side and he was just near us and he flew straight into the coconut trees. Killed of course, the plane blew up, and his name was Davis, Flying Officer Davis. But while we were on the strip there with the machine guns the Japs strafed it a few times
the real man in the front. I reckon every one of them should have got a VC [Victoria Cross] because see, really at Milne Bay, I doubt if anyone that got wounded or killed saw a Jap. I didn’t see a live Jap, only one live one actually. Because everything was point blank. There was just thick jungle and you just fired madly, blindly into it. And as I say, a lot of the chaps got wounded wouldn’t have seen
a Jap. I know at night time what used to happen is we would form a tight perimeter with our backs to the sea, and the company, whoever you were with, just virtually men side-by-side round in a tight perimeter like that, so that no one could get through the lines. Someone would fire a shot or something and the next thing everyone would be firing blindly into the jungle.
You never knew if you were being attacked or not. Well that went on for three days I think, till we finally got to the last place and the Japs had gone. They had been evacuated over night. Some of them had escaped over the island to the other side. And then we came back to our original camp. That’s where I got malaria there. Most of us had malaria.
You’d see the look on their faces looking round all the time and looking up and one of them said to me, “Watch the trees.” Because the Japs used to get in the trees, the snipers, and snipe from there. That’s the first thing I noticed is how alert they were. They warned us to watch the trees and be careful.
I think it was on the second night there we just formed a perimeter for the night, and there was just a track alongside the beach through the coconut groves and the jungle, and this chap walked out on the track behind us a hundred meters down. Hands up, and said, “Don’t shoot. Don’t shoot. I’m Chinese.” And he looked Chinese to me.
Anyway Captain Anderson beckoned him in and he came in through the lines and we were all sort of standing around him like this. He was standing just there and the next thing Anderson said, “Shoot him.” And they just shot him in cold blood. I reckon he was Chinese because they had a lot of carriers and that, they had conscripted to carry their supplies. See then it was kill or be killed really, because orders were given, “No prisoners
taken.” And there weren’t any taken at Milne Bay. We lost one man there, unaccounted for, right through the war. We only had one man ever lost, unaccounted for, and they never ever found his body wherever he was.
And that lasts, I’ve forgotten now…might be an hour or so and then they go off but they keep repeating themselves. So I was put in hospital there. They had nurses up there by then. They had a field hospital there and nurse. I remember them coming round late one night, the doctors an nurses checking on all their beds and looking at their sheets, whatever they call them. The doctor was saying, “Yeah, this one
goes, this one stays.” He came to me, “Yeah, he goes,” and so on. The next day we were put onto the hospital ship, the [HMAS] Manoora I think, or the [SS] Manunda. And we sailed and went straight through to Sydney and by the time we got to Sydney I was over it. There was no preventative malaria in those days. They gave you quinine when you got it. Anyway, I was over it and I had a week in Concord Hospital,
came back to Brisbane and had a week at the old racecourse, they had a camp there. I only lived at Eagle Junction so I could go home. The next thing I was on the train back to Townsville, and got to Townsville and I was getting a taxi. I just used to lay in the tent then. I didn’t go to the doctor. I was in Townsville for six weeks and during this time the
battalion and brigade had gone round to Buna-Sanananda and done that campaign. That’s one of the most depressing times in my life there. They started printing casualty lists and there were literally dozens and dozens of our blokes being killed, great mates and I just sort of thought, “God, the war, all the fun’s gone out of it.” Anyway, they brought the brigade back to the Atherton Tablelands and we went on and rejoined them.
And I got there and practically all my old mates had gone.
And you’ve mentioned the Americans a couple of times. What was your opinion of them as soldiers?
At Milne Bay there weren’t any actual front line men. They weren’t too popular at Buna and Sanananda I believe, because there had been an American division which is twenty-thousand men almost, and they’d been sitting there for weeks and did nothing. Every time when they went to advance the Japs would fire and they’d just go to ground and that was it.
That was when they brought the 18th Brigade round and they took the boys up by destroyer, landed them down at Oro Bay I think, and they had to walk up twenty miles lugging their gear through rivers, and what have you. They gave them one day’s rest and then put them into attack. And the 2/9th Battalion was first in. It was all over in one day,
what the Yanks had been trying to do for six weeks. Of course it carried on from there. That was the first action but the 2/9th Battalion took the objective the first day. From then on, you know, I think the next day there were terrific casualties. There was an American general there, Freyberg. It was documented, I’ve got it in my books there.
He was in the First World War too apparently, and he said to the Australians that he had never seen men going forward, taking so many casualties and keeping on advancing. So the boys are very proud of their record there.
How did your duties change, I guess, on a day-to-day basis going from someone who was in a machine gun platoon to someone who was commanding it?
Oh well, the main thing is you had to check the fellows and make sure everything was okay with them. And make sure they took their Atebrin tablets. By this stage we were getting anti-malaria tablets, you see. And every evening you had to go round every man and make sure he took it. Oh, and generally look after their wellbeing. Keep the
platoon records up and so on. Who was sick and what have you. And when it came your turn as duty platoon, battalion guard or what have you, you had to pick the men. Who was going to be the runners, and who was going to be mess orderlies, and who was going to be battalion guard, and make sure you rotated them properly because they didn’t like getting their turn
out of turn, sort of thing.
You mentioned in Tobruk you had to deal with centipedes and fleas and lice. I know you had mosquitos in New Guinea but were there any other kinds of bugs and insects that…?
The only ones in Tobruk were flies and fleas. I know of the first position that we were in we were just back behind the front line but we used to get shelled, and everyone had his own dugouts. Mine was flea ridden. So I thought I’ll fix this, one day. I had my boots off I think. I got some petrol out of the carrier and threw it down into the dugout and stood back and threw a match
and it just came out like a blast. Scorched all my feet, blistered the tops of my feet. And the next two days, next thing we were up in the frontline and I thought, God, I’m not game to report this to the medical because they’ll think it’s a self inflicted wound or something. So for a couple of weeks I went round in sandshoes. Because they used to issue us with sandshoes in Tobruk on patrol, because the boots were too noisy stumbling
through the camel bush and what have you, so we used to wear sandshoes, a lot quieter.
And then from there they went to Borneo and they landed up round the top end somewhere. I think at Labuan. No, he was pretty fortunate really. The older brother, he joined up and was posted on Moreton Island and he wasn’t going to see the war out there so he got a discharge, which I was pleased. Three brothers in the
army. And next thing he was back on Morton Island building army huts and whatever over there. He had flat feet anyway, so he wasn’t suited for the infantry. No. He was unlucky though. He was a builder and he was working out at Blackwater about thirty odd years ago. He used to work night and day and he had a blackout on the building roof and
fell off and crushed his vertebra there. It partly crushed the nerve. He was a quadriplegic for months but he just kept working and working and eventually he got on his feet again. And he was made supervisor of all Blackwater’s building on the coalfields. He did a bit of physical work but he has had it now, he is confined to a wheelchair and bed. He’s got a …his wife Thelma, she fell over a couple of years ago and
broke her hip. Eric’s confined to a wheelchair and bed. His son left his job out on the coalfields and he has been full time carer for them, and he can’t get a penny of help. They won’t give him a cent. And he gives Eric all his injections, washes him, bathes him, dresses him, puts him on the toilet,
moves him in and out of bed. Poor old Thelma, Eric’s eighty-seven and I think Thelma’s eighty-eight and they can’t get a penny of assistance. That’s what they were screaming about on the news. You might have seen it. All these home care people looking after elderly people, and they won’t give them a cent. If the two of them were in an age home, where they would be without Maurice, it would cost the government a fortune.
Whereas he can’t even get that home care, forty or fifty dollars a week.
I suppose you had to do something until you got your next order, didn’t you?
Oh yeah. Mainly you just waited round and thankful for the spell. But while you were over the other side waiting for the war to finish virtually, I had a chap in my platoon who built a boat, a fantastic rowboat out of some timber he found. We used to go rowing out in the bay and the locals used to put out these fish traps. At low tide they’d run this line
of little low fences out and then the fish trap…no, at high tide they’d do that. When the tide went out the fish would all head out and they’d all end up in this trap. We used to go out there and raid the trap and get fresh fish. Monkeys, first time I’d ever seen monkeys. They’d come racing through the camp at night. I’ll never forget, apparently one stage in Borneo one of the rifle companies was going through the
jungle and they came on a bit of a stream, and one of them was down washing his hands or having a drink or something and he had this peculiar feeling someone was watching him. And he looked and here’s a big orangoutang on the other bank watching him.
They put us on trucks and shot us round the back streets of Brisbane up to Redbank, and they gave us seven days leave. We reported back to Redbank and they gave us a medical and wanted to know if there was anything wrong with you. Pretty feeble actually, because I don’t think they wanted to know. If you said you had something or other you could claim it later on
for a pension entitlement. They gave us an IQ [Intelligence Quotient] test and told everyone they could do anything they wanted to as long as they tried, sort of thing, you know. Anyway, we eventually got out and didn’t know what to do because most of us were round twenty-one when we joined the army. A lot of us didn’t have permanent positions or any training.
We used to meet at the old Globe Hotel in Brisbane every day and did the session there. I did that for six weeks and some of our fellows that had been in the battalion and got out earlier, wounded and what have you, were working in the repatriation then. And one of them, he was fairly high up and he said, “Why don’t you come down to repat and get a job?” “I wouldn’t know what to do.” He said, “You’ll be right. Come on, we need men.”
So a lot of us marched down there and the next thing we were all employed as clerks.
to come home really, we were six weeks. Six or eight weeks after the war finished before we came home. I don’t know whether the occupation force had gone to Japan by then. They probably had, I can’t recall that. But there would have still been a lot of troops left through the islands. But veteran affairs, repatriation, was a madhouse then.
Chaps coming home…In those days you could get a ten-pound ‘tools of trade’ grant and everyone was coming in claiming it and medical. I was what they called the appropriation ledger. We paid all the accounts and we were getting all the accounts coming through and approvals, and literally it was a madhouse. Of course all the fellows, we were all a bit restless and in those days,
they only employed ex-servicemen at repat. The bosses were First World War. For a while there, every lunchtime a lot of us would go out and forget to come back. Go out to the pub and come back hours later, sort of thing. They were pretty understanding, they never said a word. We all settled down in the finish and did our job.
And quite a few of our fellows were living on the coast then and we used to meet them there and do the session and go and have a pie. There was only a pie shop down Orchid Avenue in those days, have a pie and go and sleep on the beach, or if any of our mates had a flat somewhere we’d go and crash there. Anyway, we had a good friend, a chap called Charlie Lees. He had a band at the old Southport Hotel. It’s gone now. We got to know
him pretty well. He was a fantastic guitar player and he had been in the commandos during the war. And we used to go round there. Anyway, I don’t know where Peter was this weekend but I went round there one night. Charlie was working at the pub playing and Audrey, his wife, was home and this girl was there. I got to know her and she just lived round the corner. Anyway, I used to come down weekends and
visit her, and that was my wife. She used to go away working. I knew her for about three years before we got married. She used to go away working on the tourist boats up North Queensland in the tourist season, and about three years later I decided I’d had enough of the taxation department and bought a block of land at Main Beach and decided to build some flats there.
I wasn’t married at this stage. I had no thought of getting married. It took me seven months to build the flats virtually on my own. I had a bit of help, but anyway, shortly after that Nola and I got serious and got married. We lived in the flats for awhile, eighteen months till the first boy came along and then built various houses around the coast,
lived in caravans while we were building the houses. Built about six houses on Main Beach I think, and a couple of blocks of flats for people. By this time we had the four kids and Main Beach was getting pretty busy then. We lived up the end of a main road and the little fellows were running across the road to friends’ places so we decided to get out of it. Came looking around out here. Well this
was all bush. There wasn’t a house within half a mile of us except one over here. School down here, there was dairy farm down here and dairy farms over there and all bush through up here. And I knew one of the blokes who was developing this estate, Keith Spleigh. It was his house over here, and he told us about the estate and we came out here, a lot of the blocks were sold and he said, “The best block’s still not sold.”
So we bought it. We only had it twelve months. We were still living at Main Beach and the next thing the main roads came out with this plan to build a big highway through here, going through here, taking the two blocks below us and right through here. We thought, “Oh we’re going to end up in the same position as we did at Main Beach with a highway beside us.” So we went up to the main roads and told them the circumstances and they said, “Oh well we’ll buy it off you.
How much do you want for it?” And I just asked for what we paid for it. They held it for nearly three years. There was a lot of controversy over the highway. Bruce Small owned all down here and he was jacking the prices up on the land that main roads wanted, so in the end they scrapped the plan. We heard about it and we raced up to main roads and said, “Could we buy the block back?” They said, “Yes.” And we said, “What do you want for it?” And they said, “Seeing you didn’t pressure us in the first place
you can have it for what you paid for it, four-thousand two-hundred dollars.” And then in the mean time they had paid rates on it for three years and so on. So we ended up building here.
not brutal but pretty strong with. The chap that was the manager of the plantation had boss boys telling the natives to do what you told them to do. If any of them played up, this particular bloke, he’d say to the boss, “Bash him up.” Oh no, “Fight him.” And he’d go over and belt him up. I mean really get stuck in to him. Well that wasn’t for me.
Anyway, I think it was about that time that I got a note that my mother was dangerously ill and only had six weeks to live and so on. So I made my way back to Rabaul and rang home. They said, “Oh no, don’t come home. She’ll be right for a while. So I flew back over to Lae and then I knew a couple of chaps who were working up at Bulolo gold fields then. They had come up. So I flew up there and went in and saw the manager and he said, “This is pretty unusual.
We recruit people from Australia, they don’t walk in here looking for work.” Anyway he said, “What do you want to do?” I said, “Oh I want to get on a dredger.” He said, “Everyone wants to get on that. That’s where the money is,” sort of thing. I said I’ve done a bit of building, and they needed carpenters badly so I worked for them for eighteen months in the carpentry. And in the end we worked in Bulolo for a while and then we went down to Lae and built this big
depot for Qantas. About twenty-three houses and storerooms and recreation rooms, plus a lot of places for Bulolo themselves down on the wharves, barracks and houses and what have you. Don’t tell my wife this but I met a girl up there, a schoolteacher. She was white by the way, and we became very good friends.
She’d had a pretty sad life. I think she’d lost a fiancé up there, killed during the war just across from Lae at Salamaua. We went out to the Lae cemetery one day and she was wondering around. I didn’t know this at the time, but she was wandering around looking at the graves. I said, “What are you doing?” She stopped at a certain grave and it was here ex fiancé buried at Lae. Betty
much notice of it, he could go down and they’d give him a ten-pound voucher for ten pounds of trade tools. He’d go out…no, we didn’t give him a voucher. How did we work it? I think he went out and got the docket from the firm, wherever he was and he’d come into us and we’d pay it. Literally thousands of them, and apart from that there’s be medical claims
and all sorts of things like that, and purchasing supplies say for the artificial limb factory. They were buying masses of materials to build artificial limbs and doctors’ bills to pay. There were three of us on what they called the appropriation ledger, appropriating money, and every month we used to estimate how much money we needed for the month
and we would send in a claim for it. You never ever got it right. You were always under and you had to send in another one. Actually two chaps had been in my battalion. There were a heck of a lot of 2/9th Battalion blokes working there. And the two chaps I was working with were 2/9th, so it was sort of a home away from home. There were a few girls working
there. There was a family of three Irish girls working there. They had migrated out from Ireland. I can’t tell you their names now. We used to give them hell.
solid timber. All our casualty lists are there and so on and where we served. But it’s worth seeing. I’ve only been in there a couple of times but it’s worth going in and having a look. Oh the battalion, we’ve raised a bit of money. Recently they’ve put two…I haven’t seen them but they’ve put two big seats in Anzac Square with the battalion motto on it or something. No.
but the memorials up at Marysmokes, Kilcoy and on the Atherton Tablelands and so on, Redbank. The old reunions are fading away now, I’m afraid. The best one was our fiftieth one. And this is the tragedy of it all… There was this woman and her husband was in the army, I can’t think of her name.
She was in Toowoomba. There has been a few chaps who have tried to have a go at writing a history of the battalion. The first chap was a Major Court of the battalion soon after the war. He was a schoolteacher and he died. Then the postal sergeant started to do it and he had a fantastic collection of material I believe, a whole port full. He died and I believe his family
dumped the port of material. And then now this woman decided she’d have a go and we all took material to the fiftieth reunion and gave it to her, and she started it and she’s never finished it, and she won’t return the material to those blokes. Apparently she said, “All I wanted to do…” She wrote part of it, half way. Apparently she said, “All I wanted to do was to get my thesis at the
university.” A uni degree or whatever they get. Well most of the blokes are dead now but she’d hung onto all of their material. Terrible. One bloke even put up twenty thousand dollars for her to do the book. She’s never done it. So I’m afraid the history will never be written. There’s one fellow wrote a… He was in the intelligence section, Bill Spence from South Australia,
and he was a dying man. In the last few years he had. And a couple of years ago he sat down and wrote as much as he knew about it. What did he call it? In the Footsteps of Ghosts. How that name came about, he joined the battalion. He was south Australian and they were going to the 2/10th Battalion which consisted of more South Australians. And they were coming up the desert
in the train, these box trucks and all on the inside of the trucks were names carved and written of chaps from the First World War. They had obviously been used as trucks then. And this one chap, Wog Dixon we called him. He said to Bill Spence, “I feel as though I am walking in the steps of ghosts.” That’s what he named the book.
They came to the 2/9th by mistake. They should have gone to the 2/10th Battalion. Anyway, a few months later they said, “You can all go back over to the 2/10th Battalion if you want to.” “No, we’re stopping here with the 2/9th.” And they all became very good friends, you know. Bill wrote a good book.
He has written a lot of war books. He wrote the history of Milne Bay mainly. What did he call it? [There] To the Bitter End, I think. He came up to Brisbane and interviewed a lot of us and got photos and materials and what have you. He’s written a story. Another chap in Mackay, he wrote his version of the battalion. What did he call it?
Not as a Conquering Hero, I think. And who else? Oh, another chap from Gympie. You might have his name to be interviewed. A chap called… Anyway, he wrote his life story, childhood, and through the war, and since the war, very interesting.
I’ll get his name shortly. We were good mates. He got an OAM a few years ago, an Order of Australia Medal, for service to this Gympie community. But he would be a good man to interview. He got badly wounded at Buna and was B classed there. I think he saw the war out as a, what do you call them? Not coast watchers but
listening posts, out in the never-never, you know.
I thought, “I won’t see the distance out.” I’ve got bad knees. They said, “You’ll be right.” And they said, “You’re leading the march, the battalion.” I said, “What?” So I had to lead the boys out. There were only about twenty of us there, you know, but I was out in front striding along. I saw the distance out all right. Des Rickards is the chap from Gympie.
He’d be worth interviewing. So this chap down here, Alec Marshall…a few months ago they
sent a delegation to New Guinea, to Milne Bay and opened a memorial there. I was nominated to go for that but they only took about twenty from all over Australia so I missed out. This Des Rickards, he was nominated. But they took a few fellows who hadn’t been there. That’s what some of our fellows were a bit sour about. One of our fellows did go.
All they saw was the tops of coconut trees, anyway, out of the aeroplane.
oil is behind the whole show really. America is that dependent on those Arab countries for oil, it’s not funny really. I think they’ve bitten off a bit more than they can chew there. They don’t know what to do about it. They’ve lost more men there since the war finished, haven’t they? It’s amazing there hasn’t been one Australian lost. I don’t know what they are doing there. Still,
no, they might know more than us but I do think they are a bit hasty rushing into it. They stirred up a hornet’s nest with the Muslims anyway. Just when you think of it, as I say, at the reunions we often say we had the best years. We never had all this looking over your shoulder that people have now. You never know when
there’s going be a bomb attack or what have you. I still think we are pretty safe in Australia but with all these different migrant groups they’re letting in. I don’t think they’ll ever integrate really. Even though I like the Chinese, they keep to themselves, don’t they? I don’t remember a Chinaman ever being in the army and there were a lot in Australia during the war.
It would be interesting to know how many migrants are in the services really.