Ronald Allan
Archive number: 1111
Date interviewed: 24 November, 2003

Served with:

2/28th Battalion
Ronald Allan 1111


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Tape 01


I understand you grew up in Subiaco? [Perth]
What was Subiaco like when you were growing there, growing up there?
Well it was a bit quieter than it is now. But we had the trams going down the main street, Hay Street and Rokeby Road and they used to go all the way down to Nedlands.


So you were just telling me that there were quite a few trams that were circulating around Subiaco?
Yes they used to go straight down Hay Street, from Perth, straight down through Hay Street into Rokeby Road and then down to Nedlands, but that tram doesn’t run now does it no.
Pity they didn’t keep them?
Yes it is.
What sort of things did you get up to as part of


your weekends?
My weekend, I’ve got a duplex down at Miami in Falcon, they call it, the other side of Mandurah, I go down there quite a bit.
Oh right that’s now, I was actually thinking about what kind of things you were doing as a kid?
Well we’d go down to the local park and play football or cricket or anything


whatever was on at that time of the year and we didn’t ride bikes at that stage but we used to get around. Go into Perth to the pictures and that sort of thing. And my father owned a theatre called the New Empire Theatre in Leederville. We use to go there on Saturday afternoons. We had


what we call our gang at that stage and we all had numbers, names, they called me the joker.
Why was that, why was that?
I was always cracking jokes I suppose. Yeah.
And how much did you like or dislike school?


I didn’t like school very much, I wasn’t a very good student. I finished up getting my junior, but I apparently wasn’t very intelligent I don’t think.
A lot of the folk that we meet just hated school?


But it sounds like you were pretty interested in sport though?
Yes I, I’ve been interested in sport right from the start. I played hockey, I went to Scotch later on, Scotch College and belonged to their hockey team, after, after I left school, for the old boys


hockey team, played A1 grade, just before the war.
How did the Depression affect you family?
My father was a pharmacist, and it was on the corner of Rokeby Road and Hay Street in Subiaco and it didn’t affect us badly


because we had a reasonable income coming in all the time. But we were aware that a lot of people were up against it, and we used to I know he used to have trouble in getting paid for some of his prescriptions and things like that, that he filed, but


actually it didn’t worry us to much, we always had a car.
Well that would have been reasonably rare?
Mmmm, in those days.
So how did some of your friends react to the fact that your family owned a car?
They probably thought that we were very lucky.
That must have pretty much stood out?


When you were in Scotch College were you part of anything like cadets or sea scouts?
Yes, towards the end I belonged to the cadets that they had there.
And what sort of things would you be doing as part of being a cadet?
Oh just drill work mainly. But it was only the last year or so that I was there.
When you say drill work, are you just square bashing sort of thing?


Marching, and they taught us how to drill. A long while ago now.
Did you enjoy it?
I think so yes, it was something different.
I was just wondering while you joined the cadets in the first place?
I have no idea, just probably because most of them were joining


Yeah, I am just thinking that maybe it was a whole lot of your friends and they joined so you followed suit?
Yes that’s right.
Was there any sort of weekend excursions that you could get up to with as part of the cadets?
No no not at that stage. I don’t think we had any, I think we did go to the rifle range once and did a bit of target practice and that sort of thing.


But there was nothing, no actual operations, attacking something, or that type of thing.
I’ve just heard that some fellows would end up, a weekend on Rottnest [Island] and you know camping out there, well you know boy adventure type things
Yes well I did that later on when I left school. I’ve got a photograph there that was in the paper just


recently, about the 16th Cameron Highlanders with some of group outside a tent at Rottnest in 1939.
So how did you get to be a part of the Cameron Highlanders?
Well when the war broke out, my brother and I decided to join the Cameron Highlanders. Because


obviously it was going to be quite an extensive operation and we just wanted to be in it.
Before we extend on that part of your life, what did you actually do when you left school?
I joined Dalgety & Company Limited, you know the pastoral company. We had agencies right throughout the country and that sort of thing.


And I was just doing office work really.
I am thinking it was actually quite a big company am I right?
Yes it was. It closed up in Australia about 20 years ago I think. Now they are mainly in fresh meat and that sort of thing in England. It was an English company.
So I am thinking were they like really big in the country areas?


So that is why it rings a bell, because I grew up in the country.
Yeah, a lot of branches.
And what sort of things did you do as part of Dalgety’s?
Office work mainly. I used to, you used to be an offsider to an auctioneer who used to sell grain, chaff that sort of thing down at the sale yards. Farms would send it down to Perth and we would


prepare it for auction and it would be bought by different operators round town, people who ran horses and that sort of thing. And then I would have to go back and arrange the debit and the credit to the farmer.
That is a reasonably responsible job. So how old are you at this stage?


About 18.
And around this time was there, was war starting to build up in Europe?
Well, there was a lot of talk about Germany and you would see a lot of film at the pictures about them marching and this sort of thing.


Are you talking about newsreels?
News reels yeah.
Would that be a topic of discussion amongst yourself and your mates?
It would be, yes, up to, yes occasionally they would talk about it.
What was the general atmosphere amongst your mates as far as if war was concerned, would they all decide to go?
No, I don’t think they


sort of decided amongst themselves that they were going to go. Some of them did I think eventually.
So what made you do the decision that you did as far as joining up was concerned?
Well I went into the Cameron Highlanders and I was at, we had a three months camp and


I thought I made up my mind then that I would join the AIF [Australian Imperial Forces] .
It is a pretty exclusive sort of an organisation the Cameron Highlanders?
Oh, do you think so?
Well, you are wearing a kilt for a start and you’ve got to pay for your kilt as far as I know?
No, you didn’t pay for it.
No, oh well that’s interesting because we talked to a couple of Cameron Highlanders and they were saying that they actually had to save up for their uniform?
Did they?
You obviously got a good deal.


I must have. Well the war had broken out by then and they were keen to get volunteers I suppose, but I don’t think we paid for the kilt.
So what sort of things did you do as part of the training with the Highlanders?
Well it was just mainly, we were at Rottnest on they do operations


with attacking a hill or something like that and it would be discussed afterwards, and they said well you should have done this and you should have done that, or did you have reinforcements for this. The detail of it would be discussed with the officers and that sort of thing.
How many fellows are doing this operation?
I think they had,


from memory, the best part of the battalion there, perhaps about 500.
That is not small?
Where were you camping out when you were on Rottnest?
I think it was where, where the airstrip is now, it was an open area, they had the tents pitched there.
How long were you


there, was it just a weekend or?
I think this particular time it was only for a month or so.
Any other sorts of activities did you do on Rottnest?
No it was mainly to do with existing as a, as a soldier and doing special


operations, they would arrange for one company to attack this and somebody would be defending without live ammunition of course.
Was there any sort of guard duty as far as you know some of the Rottnest battlements are concerned?
No. I think, I think there was a guard on the camp area, there usually is in the army.


Somebody on guard all the time, oh sorry about that. No, it’s just I know that they some Cameron Highlanders were involved in building up some sort of a fortification on Rottnest, that wasn’t your group then?
No, no.
And how much did you enjoy this sort of activity?
Well, it was something different completely as far as I was concerned. I


preferred to be outside rather than working at a desk.
Sounds like you weren’t too happy at the office desk?
No I wasn’t.
How about some of the people who were training you, what were they like?
Well they’d, the ones that were training us had probably been in the Highlanders for some time and they were experienced


so they were able, we would have the NCOs [non commissioned officers] and the officers and they were carrying out the training.
And how much respect did they gain from the men?
Oh, it was quite good I thought.
Was it very strict?
No, I don’t think it was very strict no.
How about your living quarters on Rottnest, what were they like?


We were in tents.
How did you, ablutions, what were they like?
Well, I think they had a shower area and toilets and that sort of thing, it was quite, quite good.
And the mess?
Well, I can’t remember


much about that, it didn’t worry me.
That is alright, food wasn’t important. No, it is just one of our general questions you know to ask what the food was like?
It would have been alright, I think.
Make any mates while you were apart of this group?
Well you got very friendly with the same people in the same tent. And I’ve got a photograph there, taken of


our some of the boys in the tent at the time, it was in the paper as I told you and one of them I was trying to find out what had happened to the rest of the group, so I rang him up and had a talk with him the other day.
What happened to the rest of the group, did you find out?
Well my brother was there, he died about 10 years ago.


The smaller one on, that was next to me, I believe he committed suicide after the war, he was with the 2/11th I think and the other one is still going of course.
That is quite tragic, suicide after such an intense –?
After being in action, yeah.
Yeah, it just seems kind of strange. So you mentioned that your brother was there


with you, did you actually join up together?
And how old is your brother?
He was five years older than I am.
What did your family think about both of you joining up together?
Well, my parents were away on a world trip at the time. They were in London when the war broke out.
So in other words you –?
We made up our own minds.
You snuck it in?
Oh no, I don’t think they worried too much about


So what was the next step as part of the Highlanders, after the Rottnest?
Well we both went back to our jobs, my brother was a pharmacist with my father, and I went back to Dalgety and about a couple of months after that, I went on a three months


camp. But I couldn’t go with the Highlanders, they wouldn’t let me go when they went on a three months camp so I had to go with the 28th Militia down near Fremantle.
Sorry why couldn’t you go with the Highlanders and ended up with the 28th?
Well the company wouldn’t release me to go.


Oh right, the company?
That must have been highly annoying?
Mmmm, annoying alright, but I suppose they needed, they couldn’t let all their staff go running around playing soldiers at that stage.
Because had war actually broken out by this stage?
Well, it is kind of surprising that they didn’t let some of their staff go a little bit more.
They probably, they might have let some of them


go. But they wouldn’t let me go.
So what was it like then, going and training with the 28th?
Alright. There is about a dozen, a dozen of us from the Highlanders that had to go, that couldn’t go before so they had to go with the 28th. We had a little bit of,


I mean they were, they found it a bit strange that some of us were getting around in skirts, but we soon settled down and quite enjoyed it actually.
Sounds like you got a bit of strife from some of the other fellows?
Yeah, but they were alright.


And how did the training differ with the training that you did with the 28th as to the kind of training?
Oh, it would be much the same.
And where did you do this training?
Down at Melville I think it was, Melville.
Was this a barrack situation?
No, no, it was just open area with trees and that sort of thing around.
Oh, so you were going home every night.


No, we would camp there.
So tents again? And how much were you enjoying this sort of activity?
Well it suited me alright, I quite liked it.
And what were you doing when you found out that war had broken out?
Well, this was after war had broken out.


I know I just didn’t?
When I was down there Colonel Lloyd was sort of recruiting people for the 2/28th so I had an interview with him and then I went home and told my parents that I was going to join the 2/28th and they looked a bit startled but


they agreed to it in the finish, signed the papers because I was only 20 then.
Is it under 21 you still have to have parents sign?
So what did you learn ,anything about armaments or as part of soldier?
Yes. Well we were training mainly with Lewis machine guns, which we used in the 1st


World War. And our rifles of course, which were the same, they used the same rifles that they were using in the First World War, they used them in the Second World War, the .303.
Did you like the armaments part of your training?
What do you think of the Lewis gun?
It was quite a good gun, the Bren was less


complicated, so it was a better gun to use I think.
Was it all so disappointing realising that you were training on World War I equipment?
No, I don’t think so. Much the same as you know using the, using the machine gun but no nobody complained about it.


Plenty of things to complain about, besides that.
Yeah, what sort of things were you complaining about?
Well in the tents, it was in the middle of winter then and I can remember heavy rain coming and I could hear water flowing underneath the tent, we were on wooden frames and the water was flowing through the tent underneath us.


So there wasn’t so much of a heating facility going on then in the tents?
Much of what?
Yeah did you have, how did you heat the tent?
No heating.
So this is one of the things that you were complaining about?
No, no, because when you say get 12 people in a tent, it soon warms up.
What were you sleeping on?
I think they had


rough made beds out of I don’t know what it was actually, they were wooden, wooden beds but they were more very fragile, they were and we just put our, rolled our blankets on that.
What sort of uniform were you issued with, were you issued anything different to the kilt and the?


working uniform.
So I can imagine doing some soldiering exercises in a kilt would make it quite difficult?
Oh yes wouldn’t be any good in a kilt.
What would you find annoying about the kilt?
I didn’t find it annoying, it was just different, that was the trouble. Most of us that joined the Cameron Highlanders had a Scottish background I think.


Did you have a Scottish background at all?
Where did that come?
My father came from Edinburgh, Scotland.
Was that part of a requirement to join the Highlanders?
No, no, I don’t think so.
So am I right, you only had 3 months training in the camp?
Yes, yes.


What happens after that?
Well we joined, I joined the 2/28th infantry AIF battalion and they formed the battalion actually down there at Melville. And after about three or four months, they went up to Northam.
So you are apart of that group that is going up to Northam?


What are the conditions like in Northam camp?
Well they are a bit better, because we are in virtually in sort of long sheds and they would have probably 30 men in a shed and they were just on either side of the, of the shed, that is where you would put your bed roll down there.


Any place to keep your belongings?
You keep your belongings in your, with your bed roll.
How about the mess and ablution facilities?
Yeah, they were quite good.
Anything about your training in Northam that really stands out for you?
No we did quite a bit of


exercises, you know, attacking and that sort of thing. And also drill practice as a battalion and that sort of thing. We actually had a band too, which helped a bit.
Helped to a bit to keep you in step?
When you say you are organising these exercises how would that play out, would there be one


person in charge and teaching you how to do it or would you just follow?
They would have a company of say three platoons and there’d be about 28 men in a platoon with 3 NCOs [non commissioned officers] and a sergeant and an officer for each platoon. Well, one company would probably be attacking another one, they would


just have blank ammunition and we did plenty of practice at shooting at the, on the range, there was a range on there near Northam and we got used to using the .303 with live ammunition and the Bren gun, we didn’t have too many Bren guns around but


we all got used to handing it at that stage. And then we left there to go to the Middle East in January 41.
Did you have, did you suspect that you would end up in the Middle East when you did your training?


What did you do for pre embarkation leave?
Drunk a lot of beer actually, oh no, we had family parties and that sort of thing.
How did your family react to you being put over n the Middle East?
They weren’t too happy about it, but they accepted it.
And is your brother with you?
No, because he was manpowered at that stage, being a pharmacist.


Oh right, pharmacists manpowered. Well he must have been a bit disappointed by that?
He was, yeah.
So can you tell me a little bit about what it was like to go onboard the ship to go to the Middle East?
Well we came down from Northam by train


through to Fremantle. We were unloaded there and got onto small, small boats to take us out to the Aquitania and then we were put into the Aquitania, I think I was down on G deck


and that is right down the bottom.
What A, B, C, D
Yeah, anyhow when we finally took off we used to go up on deck on night, take our blankets and sleep on the deck in the open there, because we were going through the tropics then too, it was pretty hot.


How unpleasant was it down there on G deck?
Well it was very muggy down there because the Aquitania was built for the Atlantic, going across to America back and forth, and it wasn’t too good in the tropics.
I didn’t know that. How were the facilities onboard?


Well they were quite reasonable, we had a good mess and good reasonable food.
What do you do to pass the time?
Well they had us doing rifle drill and all sorts of things. And of course at night they had a


pretty strong gambling arrangement, the boys used to get, I can’t remember exactly where it was but it was some place, it was very open and a few tables and things and they, they used to gamble there.
What sort of gambling games?


is a long while ago.
Not a big gambler then, is that right?
Not a big gambler, no.
So you never did any good?
So if you did any good you would have remembered which game it was that you did good on?
Yes yes. I think they were playing two-up mainly.
So where are you headed too, I mean obviously you are headed to the Middle East but?
Yes we went to Colombo and we were transferred onto the ship called the Nieuw Zeelande, the


Dutch ship and then we went through and up to El Qantara in the canal.
Did you get any time onshore in Colombo?
Yes we had a day onshore.
This would have been the first time you were overseas?
What sort of impressions did Colombo have upon you?
Well it was unusual,


we hired a taxi and one of the chaps had been to Colombo before and he said, “We will go out to this place because it is a bit nicer out there,” so we travelled out to, I can’t remember the name of it now, but it was interesting just to see something different.
When you say it was interesting was it the people, the place?


The people and the place and the food and that sort of thing.
Yeah, what did you think of the food?
Well it was mainly, if I remember rightly, it was mainly fruit that we had. And also I do remember, when we were in Colombo itself we had a race with the, what do they call them


rickshaws. And I remember the little bloke that was pulling our rickshaw, he let it go and we all fell over the back. That is just one of the things I, I remember about it.
How long were you in Colombo?
Colombo? Only for the day.
Well you managed to fit quite a bit in for the day?


we did.
So now you are on the Dutch ship?
Nieuw Zeelande.
Yeah right. What was there anything different to the ship as to the –?
Well it was much smaller of course and there wasn’t a lot we could do in regard to drill work and that sort of thing because there wasn’t room there. But we did have quite a few lectures


by the officers on different aspects of soldiering. But they couldn’t do, they couldn’t do very much because there just wasn’t the room there.
Any idea how many fellows were onboard?
Well there was just our battalion, there would have been about 800.


What is the destination that your, where are you going now, was it Palestine?
We were heading to the canal and we got off at El Qantara and went from there by train into Palestine. The 2/11th, or the 6th division had been there before


and we were very amused with the young Arabs at the way they could swear.
They knew all the swear words?
They knew all the swear words from the 6th Division apparently.
What were some of these towns like?
Well El Qantara is just a very small


crossing really on the canal, so there wasn’t much there.
It would have been completely different to Australia?
Yeah, oh yeah.
How much of a culture shock was your arrival, how much of a culture shock?
I don’t remember about being shocked about everything.
Just taking it in your stride?
So you are camping now in Palestine?
Can you tell me a little bit


about the camp site there in Palestine?
Well it was their winter when we arrived there and we were in tents, I think the 7th Division had prepared the camp for us, put up the camps, and everything was already for us to move in. But the –


terrific, it was very muddy at the time because of the rain and you could only walk say 50 yards and your shoes, your boots would build up with mud. That is one thing I remember about it, it was very muddy.
Did you have cement floors there or was it –?
No, just tents with wooden floors.
What sort of conditions was it like in the tent. Did you have any furniture


or beds?
No. I can’t remember what we had. No I don’t think, oh we might have had those slat beds again, made of slats they were about this wide and about that high.
Well that is not too bad. What is the climate like are you in a very much a desert environment there?


Well, it was winter and we had a fair bit of rain at the time and we did a few exercises to. It was all much the same as being in Northam or Melville, they were doing the same sort of training, although we did get Bren guns there too. That was something.
How much


are they training you as far as desert conditions are concerned?
We didn’t have any desert training at all. But we did leave there, it must have been after a couple of months and we moved to, through to Alexandria and then up to


lets see, where did we go to, Misurata by train and we there, we met the 2/11th, another Western Australian battalion and we played them a football match, I remember that, they nearly killed each other.
A long way to go to get a football match going?
Yeah. And then we went by truck to Tobruk


for training, that is why we were going up the desert for, for training.
How available is water during this time?
Well there was no problem at that time. We, I think we had reasonable drinking water at that stage and then we moved into Tobruk.
What sort


of a rationing situation do you have?
Interviewee: Ronald Allan Archive ID 1111 Tape 02


So why were you on your way to Tobruk at this time Ronald?
We were told that we were going up there for training.
What kind of training were you expecting to do up there?
We didn’t know, but I suppose they thought it would be a good idea


for us to get some desert training of some kind. I mean the training is always very much the same except the conditions maybe different as far as we were doing our training. Anyway, I think we were getting a bottle of water per day per man at that stage when we got up there.
Is it difficult


drinking a limited supply of water in the desert conditions?
I think it is, it depends on what sort of activity you are doing. I think you can train yourself to exist on less water than you would say here. It is probably not good for your body, but I


think that is one of the things they were training us to do, as little water as you could manage.
What kind of things could you do or learn to manage the rations of water?
Well just don’t drink it. When you, when you felt that you must have something to drink and we, of course, we did have


tea and generally you would probably get a bit of extra moisture then.
It must be difficult to condition yourself to drink less though?
Yes, mmm.
How did you travel to Tobruk?
By, on the back of 3 ton trucks.
Was it a large convoy?
Only just the battalion,


the battalion, there is probably, lets see there would probably be, there is three platoons in a company, in company headquarters, you would probably have three trucks for that. And there’s A, B, C, D and headquarters company, that is five companies, so there’d be about 15 trucks, wouldn’t it.
Were the roads treacherous?


If I remember rightly, the bitumen road went a fair way up, but some of it we just had to drive on ordinary desert road, pretty dusty.
Did you fear an air attack at all?
No no, because it was, I mean the 6th division had just been in there and


they had driven the battalions well and truly back, and we just thought, well we are going up there for training. But we were in Tobruk probably a few days when we heard that the Germans had landed further up the coast. And


we expected them to come down. And then they made Tobruk a, a more or less a fortress because at the outer edge of the town of Tobruk you’ve got the concrete posts that were built by the battalions, years ago


and each post had two firing areas at each end and a deep area that was bomb proof and artillery proof down below. So we moved into those and it wasn’t long before


we were surrounded.
That must have been quite overwhelming, given that you had gone there to do training and now you were surrounded and fortifying?
Yes, well. We were given live ammunition at that stage and we thought we could defend it, we had good firing areas and good positions.


And then they had another row of fortifications behind that they had dug in, that they had dug, so we were quite prepared really.
How long were you under siege?
Well we were there six months, and we came out and we were relieved by some British troops.
What kind of contact did you have with the enemy during those six


Mainly contact by patrol at night, we would be outside the wire at night, we had lots of patrols at night trying to maintain that area as our own and occasionally you would make contact with the enemy.
How large was the area known as no man’s land?


Well it would probably be, at different areas it was it could be up to a mile, no man’s land could be a mile apart from the enemy. You could see them.
That is not a lot of ground separating you from the enemy is it?
It is a fair way, but we did maintain a lot of patrolling at night to


to make sure that they didn’t encroach too much on that area. But then they did break through further up and we had what they call the salient area where they broke in and they were held by, it wasn’t our battalion, we were not involved in that, but they managed to hold them


and then the battalions were moved around at different positions and you’d all have a turn in what they called the salient. I could show you a picture of, in the back of that draw there, door there I’ve got an area.
Maybe we can have a look at it together later on. Why was the term salient used for the salient area?


there was the row of posts like that, now they had broken in say here and they had a salient into, into the, into our area, so it was called the salient.
That must have been cause for quite a bit of concern in regards to your defences?
Oh yes. When it happened, yeah. But they, I believe they allowed the


tanks to come through and then the, the battalions or the infantry dealt with the attacking troops who were following the tanks. And then when the tanks got back the artillery dealt with them and knocked them out. So it finished up they had a salient area and the normal concrete posts


except for this area where the salient was.
It sounds like quite a feat?
Mmmm. We didn’t like going into the salient because we were much closer to the enemy there.
What experiences did you have in the salient?
We were on one end of it, one edge of it shortly after the salient was formed and we


were under a lot of shellfire then from their guns and their tanks. You could see their tanks move along the escarpment at the back, and if they saw any movement they would be shelling.
What was your day to day existence, while you were in the salient?
Well we would try and have, those had been on duty during the night, they would be sleeping. And we


had a roster of people, four hours on, two hours on and four hours off.
How difficult was it maintaining that roster, it sounds pretty intense?
It wasn’t too difficult because it was only a couple of hours and then you got relieved you see. And you would probably able to back and have a, go down below in the concrete


area and have a sleep.
What were you doing while you were rostered on so to speak?
Well, you would have to be watching your front, especially at night, in case there was any attack coming.
Would you have to report an attack if –?
Oh yes yes. You would wake everybody up if there was an attack, but we didn’t have any difficulty like that. They seemed to concentrate on the salient,


and try to make the, make progress there.
It must be quite a lot of fear while you are anticipating an attack?
Well, it depends on how confident you are in your own abilities to hold the attack off. Most of, most of the blokes


didn’t have too much fear.
What was morale like?
Pretty good.
What boosted your morale and what kinds of things did you do to hold up your morale?
Well we were out, if you are out on patrol and you went along up and down a certain area in your front say 3 or 400 yards out,


it would give you confidence when you came back into the post to know that that was free of the enemy.
So you could rest easy?
You could rest a lot easier. If you knew that there was a patrol out there at night to give you waring of any.
What, what were the real dangers of being on patrol in no man’s land?
Well, you might run into some of their outposts or something


like that and they would, they would fire on your maybe. You didn’t have a, you didn’t have a lot of trouble you just kept that area free by patrolling it all the time.
I believe that the Australians were the only ones to conduct these night patrols?
Were they?
In no man’s land?
Well the Indians


were there, as well as Australians, but they only had a small section at one end of the post. But there was mainly the Australians.
I understand that the enemy didn’t practice patrolling no man’s land?
Didn’t see much of them doing that no. They didn’t. I remember


striking an Italian outpost one night and he said, yelled out, “Estanner!” which must have been ‘stop’ or ‘who’s there?’ or something and so I told the boys to open fire on him, you couldn’t see where he was but they had a fair idea of where he was and the next thing we


know, he jumped out of this hole and he ran like made, so we just left him.
What was vision like in no man’s land?
Well if the moon was out you could see probably the length of this room quite clearly. If the moon wasn’t out you were groping a bit,


it was pretty dark. I stopped, stopped once to have a wee into a camel bush and I forget what happened, oh that’s right, I got bitten on the leg by a spider or something and then I didn’t know where I was, if I was that end of the patrol or that top end of it. And I was abused


by the boys, “You lost us again, you bastard,” anyhow I gathered my thoughts then we took the patrol up further up and then went in and struck part of the same company.
What was your rank at this time?
I was a corporal, acting sergeant as a platoon


commander, because we didn’t have an officer at that stage.
When were you promoted, Ron?
I think I was made a corporal before I left Fremantle and I was made an acting sergeant in Tobruk.
How did you take to being promoted?


Oh, I didn’t mind. But somebody had to, had to lead these patrols and have a bit of authority over the other sections, there was about 10 men in a section when they were complete.
How did you assert your authority or take responsibility for those other men in that dangerous situation?
Well they would look to you to


do the right thing. So there was no, no effort to have them to do what you asked them to do.
So there was a lot of respect for your authority?
I think so, mmm.
What about the responsibility that you’re accepting and the pressure that puts you under to make the right decision?
Well, it didn’t worry me. It did worry me at the time.


I was 21 then. I had grown up.
Do you think that your age was an advantage, being such men in such dangerous circumstances?
Yeah, because you were fitter, you were fit enough to stand up to the conditions.
What kind


of fatigue – or I don’t know even just even emotional strain – did you see or witness any of the men suffering during those circumstances?
Yeah, if I think we had one bloke that he finished up, we sent him back to Tobruk itself into the hospital but apart from that we had no, no problems with that.


Have you found it with other interviews, that they had problems?
Well, it is recognised that there were some men that showed more emotional strain than others, but it does sound quite rare or uncommon. I know that in some of the general hospitals though, they had a special ward?
No, well you know you got to understand that these blokes had volunteered to join the


army to go to the Middle East and fight so they mentally they would be prepared.
So you had become known as the Rats of Tobruk at this stage had you?
I don’t think so, I think it was later on that Lord Haw Haw [German propaganda broadcaster] gave us that name.
Would you listen to his broadcast at all?
Sometimes yeah.


But generally, the BBC broadcasts were printed out and circulated around the, they called it the Tobruk Truth, sort of a newspaper, but it was only a couple of sheets of foolscap.
What were the contents of the Tobruk Truth?
Oh the bombing of London


and the rest of the war different areas. Greece and Crete.
Was there a regular update on the state of the siege?
Of this siege, our siege?
Yeah, of Tobruk?
Yes, yes, well I think there was yeah from memory.
Were you optimistic that you would see the siege through?
Yeah, mmm.
What gave that level of optimism?


they, they attacked at the area created that salient and that was an area where there was some higher ground and they took, they took that but the rest of the area was quite flat so once they took the higher ground it made it more difficult


for our own troops. So unless there was any further higher ground I don’t think they’d worry about it, they were trying to push that salient all the time, but they had plenty of opposition.
What events lead to the closing of the siege of Tobruk?
Well we, we went out of the, out of


there at about the end of September 1941, they were relieving us with British troops and they were relieved again by South African and the Germans made another strong attack and they took the, took Tobruk much to our disgust.


It must be disappointing after the six months of hard yakka [work] , to see if fall?
Yeah well they might have had different ideas to us, you see, of defending. We defended it by having patrols out at night and making sure that we got plenty of warning of any push they made, well the South Africans might not have done that I don’t know.


Who decided that you should be relieved?
Well, just by the Middle East Command, because we were all getting sores and the food wasn’t too good, we had bully beef, they had some onions, they used to mix it up. And the smell of it would just about put you off. And biscuits


and bread, they did have bread, which was burnt half the time because if they were cooking the bread and they had an air raid they would leave the bread to burn. But they still sent it out to us.
How much had your hygiene declined in that six months?
Well we didn’t have much water, a lot of water,


most of the time we only had the one bottle per day, per man. I can remember that the water truck coming around at the post where there was no action and we decided that the best thing to do was to engage the chap that drove the truck in conversation, while some of the boys


would sneak around the back and get a bit of extra water. So I suppose all the posts did the same thing.
So how often were you bathing or shaving?
We were still shaving, mostly, washing of clothes was a bit difficult. And I can remember one bloke I had to tell him to take his shirt off and throw it away because


he had grease all here and all over the place. So I said, “Chuck that shirt away and put another one one.”
Did you have ample clothing?
Yeah, well, you would have two of everything. You would have two pairs of trousers, two shorts, two shirts,


two singlets, two of everything.
How often would you change between the two?
Oh well, some of them would wash fairly consistently. We had drums of seawater delivered to each, each post. And we had used that for washing of the clothes.


That is a good idea, conserving fresh water?
Yeah. We didn’t have enough fresh water.
Were there any health issues or concerns?
Health issues?
What do you mean, colds or flu or something?
Yeah or any other medical complaints?
No no, not really.


No, they were all fairly good.
Any other kind of complaints, like I hear there was an outbreak of fleas?
Well, when we moved, when we first moved into these posts that the Italians had used, a lot of them, they must have had dogs, I think and there were lots of fleas in them, but we cleaned them out after a few days.


How did you eradicate the fleas?
I can’t remember now, we would just sweep them out, I suppose, just keep them clean.
Any other kinds of infections at all?
Yes, well they had what they called ‘wog sore’. If you knocked yourself or something it would turn into a sore.


I remember I had, I can’t remember, I had one here that is right, were I dived into some barbed wire when we were shelled at some stage and I gashed me leg here on that, that didn’t heal up for about 3 months afterwards.
Did you have any kind of first aid kits?


Yes, each post would have a member of the band who was the first aid man. Also some of them would, besides getting wog sores that wouldn’t heal, when infected they became very yellow,


due to the diet, I think, what would they call that?
Jaundice or something?
Jaundice, yeah. Some of them were being affected by jaundice, by the time we came out.
So how were you treating the wound on your leg?
Well, we’d just take the scab, keep on taking the scab off


and trying to put some antiseptic on it, cover it up or get it to heal if it would.
It would be difficult to keep something like that clean under those conditions?
Under those conditions yeah. So I think that was one of the reasons and the jaundice they decided


to relieve the Australians after about six months. And we had heard some of the battalions had already gone back to Alexandria and Palestine?
How did you, what did you think when you received the news that you were being relived?
We were very relieved. We were quite pleased about it.
Do you remember the day you left?
What was important for you?
We left at night.
What was


important for you to do before you left your post or vacated your post for the next?
Well we were withdrawn from the front line post and we were in a camp behind, all behind the lines and we were relieved there by British troops,


and that night we were taken by truck down to the port and went on one of the destroyers back to Alexandria.
Do you remember showing, exchanging any words of wisdom or advice to the British troops replacing you?
Yeah, well we had to tell them you know what to do. But the Australians were a bit casual


with everything, and it shocked the British troops a bit. Because there was a box of ammunition there covered with dust and dirt and I remember the Sergeant Major that I was talking to being shocked to see the ammunition like that. He had about four blokes working on it, cleaning all these bullets. But still


back there behind the two lines of defending our place, you wouldn’t need the bullets anyhow. That was the attitude of the Australians, but they cleaned them up straight away. It was the right thing to do I think.
Who was the Sergeant major you were talking to?
He was a British one.
What was his name?
Oh, I wouldn’t know.
What did you think of the command while you were at Tobruk?


The command of it?
Well, we thought it was quite good because each unit was being relieved after a certain time in the front time then they’d come back and be in the blue line for a while and then they’d go back in the front line. They were moving people around quite well I thought.
We will just pause there for a moment, I’m going to –. Who was in command of your


battalion while you were in the siege?
A chap by the name of Jack Lloyd. He was our battalion commander. He – I think he was sent back after a few months, back to Australia and he was made a brigadier, oh


who did we get after that? We had a couple anyhow. A chap by the name of Luffrey [?] I think.
Why did Jack Lloyd leave his position?
Well, I think because he had experience of commanding troops in action and at that stage, the Japs are coming into the war and he was sent back to Australia


and made a brigadier.
Just getting back to your departure, was there any sort of shellacking from the bombs that were coming in?
No, we didn’t, the night we left you mean?
No no, we were lucky, I think it was a dark night


without moon and we were quite expecting to be bombed but we managed to get away without it.
Sounds like an anxious departure?
Anxious time.
Was Tobruk being bombed by the Germans from the air often?
Every day, two or three times a day at least. You could see, you could see the Stuka


bombers coming down and hear the noise of the bombs. Actually, not long after we were surrounded a plane, a German plane came straight over our post, the boys had said beforehand, “Look we can’t set up the Bren gun in these


posts,” so I said, “Well, set it up on the ground outside” which was a bit silly really. And this plane came over and I grabbed the machine gun and took aim at the plane and I could see the pilot talking into his thing and I thought, what is a better part of (UNCLEAR) and anyhow I left


the gun and if I had of opened fire on him I couldn’t have missed him, I would have knocked it down I think. But as I jumped into the post I was followed by a stream of bullets from their machine gun at the back of the plane.
Had you stayed at the gun do you think you might have been caught in that strafing fire?
Mmmm, I would have got them, but they would have got me.
What condition was the harbour in,


from the air raiding?
Well there was quite a few sunken ships there, even from the start. But they were able to clear them and use them, use it all the time and supply the – bring the supplies up mainly by war ship.
Why do you think the harbour wasn’t bombed the night you were left or you didn’t experience an air attack?
Well they


didn’t, they didn’t shell or bomb the mainly they bombed the harbour during the day, sometimes they would do it during the night, particularly if you could see the targets, probably a moonlight night. We went out on a fairly dark night, if I remember rightly, and it had no problem at all.
What was the


atmosphere, what was the name of ship that you left on?
I think it was the Vendetta if I remember rightly. It is a British war ship, a destroyer.
What was the atmosphere like onboard when you were leaving?
Oh, we were happy, I remember I went to sleep on top of the table in one of the messes and the ship was swerving


all the time in case of bombing, and I was sound asleep and I rolled off and fell on top of the bloke lying on the stool next to me. Which was really amusing really.
Did you both wake?
We both woke up in a panic.
What were the


instincts, still pretty highly –?
Yeah, motivated, yeah, that’s right.
False alert. Where were you taken onboard the Vendetta?
In the harbour.
Where were you taken to?
To Alexandria.
How long was that voyage?
We must have gone on the ship about midnight and it was well and truly


daylight, probably six hours, six or seven hours.
What else happened onboard the Vendetta before you were ready to disembark at Alexandria?
Well we couldn’t move around at all, it was just a case of sitting tight wherever you were.
Was there much space?
No, not a great deal of room on a war ship.
And what was your,


I don’t know, greeting from the crew like?
Oh they were quite good.
Did you talk about your experiences with them or where they?
No, no, they were too busy I think running the ship.
Were you fed and watered or?
Yes, we had a meal onboard which was quite good.
Was it better than?
Better than what we


usually had get. I think twice we got fresh meat in Tobruk that is all.
What was the meal like that you were fed onboard the Vendetta, can you remember?
Oh I can’t remember now, I can’t remember what it was, probably breakfast. But I remember it to be alright, very nice.
What happened when you disembarked at Alexandria?
We went straight onto trucks


to the rail, that is right, we went on trucks. I remember being on a truck with a mob of blokes and somebody saw an Arab women and we had to hold him back because he was going to jump overboard. He hadn’t seen a women for six months.


I can tell you, there is quite a lot of humour in these Australians.
Can you give us any examples of that humour or funny incidents?
Oh no, but I mean it is on all the time.
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall. What was the condition of Alexandria Harbour?
Oh very


busy and quite a few ships there, war ships.
Any sunken ships at the time?
No. No I think it was pretty well defended.
Had Alexandria been bombed, at this stage?
Well I think they may have been bombed but I don’t think it was very serious there.
Because I know that there were a few brothels bombed down the track,


I think it was rumoured that there were more Australians lost in the brothels of Alexandria than in the desert?
Were there? Oh I didn’t hear that. I don’t think that that would be right.
Where were you headed once you had reached the rail?
We headed for Palestine. We were there within a day or so.
What was that rail journey like?
Oh, it was quite good,


What kind of trains were you transported on?
These were passenger trains with cab, you know just ordinary passenger trains, they were alright.
I have heard some of the veterans complain that the wheels on those trains must have been square?
Well they could be too, I found them alright.
You didn’t find them that rough after six months in Tobruk?
No, pleased to be moving.
Interviewee: Ronald Allan Archive ID 1111 Tape 03


I understand that you met the 6th division who were on their way to Greece, can you explain what that was like to meet up with the 6th Div?
Yes, well we all knew quite a few in there, in the other battalion. So there was quite an exchange of –


they were telling us all about their desert campaign where they had been in action and as I said we had a football match against them, Australian Rules of course, none of this rugby business. And I think it was only about a point of difference in the finish. But they were very rough, both sides.


How long did you have with them?
Only about the one day.
Well that’s good that that you managed to organise a footy match in that time?
What happened to them on their way to Greece?
Well, they went to Greece and then they went to Crete and got knocked around a bit in Crete. Most of them got back.
How much information are you getting as far as the battles


progress is concerned, when you are in the field like you are?
Well you, you do get certain information and you can tell yourself how things are going.
You can tell yourself how things are going?
Well, you can see yourself how things are going, depends on where you are, what part of the battle. If you are


actually in an action, you would have a fair idea of how things are were. And it is up to the commanding officer to let their troops know if things change at all.
Sorry, carry on.
It is alright.
I am just wondering with you know like the 6th when they ended up in Greece and Crete, were any of you aware of what they were going through ?
Oh yes,


because we were getting the world news on a paper which they called the Tobruk Truth. It come out every, I am not sure how often it came out, but I think it came out every couple of days anyhow. We get the information.
With Italian artillery, can you


describe what sort of ammunition they had?
Yeah well they had ammunition that when the shells landed they would be mainly all up in the air. So they weren’t very affective. I think the German, the German guns were much more deadly than the Italians. But I think the best


gun of the lot was the 25 pounder that the British used. The Germans had the 88 millimetre, which they used quite a bit. They used it as an anti air craft gun as well as anti personnel and it is very effective when it explodes above the ground and showers down with


shrapnel. I know our boys weren’t very happy when they were under fire by those. Most of them used to cart pieces of tin around so they could dig a hole, put the tin over the top and put sandbags over the top of that.
What was the most common injury?
Well, I suppose under


shrapnel would be pretty common, bullet injury, bullet wounds, depends on what they were doing, but in the static position they were experienced enough to protect themselves so they wouldn’t be injured by guns. Although when I was away from the battalion I was at the cadet,


officer’s cadet training unit in Cairo. I know they had quite a few casualties from the 88 millimetre in the battalion. That is a gun they were not used to until they got to El Alamein.
Whole new kettle of fish?


What were some of themunitions like say from the Ita lians?
Yeah well they [their grenades] were almost like November the 5th crackers, they weren’t much good at all. Our grenades were very effective. You could if one exploded


here, this whole area around here would have shrapnel lying around. Whereas their grenades would just bang and go up in the air sort of business. Noise I think they were counting on noise more than the actual shrapnel. Because when you throw a grenade, you have got to be careful that you don’t, you’ve got to take protection yourself.


So if we would throw a grenade, we would yell out that we had thrown the grenade and everyone hit the ground and hope for the best.
What would you yell out?
Of course, I thought maybe "duck". What are the safety procedures for grenades and if you see one coming at


you what do you do?
I don’t think I ever saw one coming at me because most of our fighting was done at night. At El Alamein too. Our grenades were, you could hold them quite well in your hand, I think they weighed about three pounds. They had a pin through here and a


gadget over there that the pin was holding and you could pull the pin out and hold that with your hand and throw it.
You have to get that right pretty much don’t you?
Oh well, you are trained to do it.
What was the injury that you most feared getting?
Injury, bullet injury through the stomach,


or I didn’t think about it much, until I got hit. I reckon I was pretty lucky and I probably wouldn’t get hit.
Why wouldn’t you want one through the stomach, is there any particular problem with that?
Well if anyone was hit through the stomach, they’d be lucky to survive. If you got hit through the shoulder for instance you would survive,


hit through the leg as I did I got one through here, through my (UNCLEAR) in the pocket and although I couldn’t walk, I survived. The Germans, I was about 100 yards inside their lines at the time and I was picked up by them, and eventually they put a


plaster on me, a spiker plaster if you know what that is. Right up to here and down there to immobilise the leg.
What were some of the –
How did I get onto that subject?
We were talking about injuries, I will just rewind you back a little bit, when you were at Tobruk what were the aid stations like?
We didn’t have aid stations, we had a member of the


band who was trained to a certain degree to carry a stretcher and to treat wounds, first aid, and they were in each post. There would be one man on each post from the band.
And what sort of transport would there be if someone


was injured?
Well, depends on where you were, they would carry you, they would either carry you back or they would put you on a truck, a utility.
And how far away are you from a really big medical facility if you are injured?
Well, in Tobruk they had to go into the hospital into Tobruk itself.
So is that like a couple of hours journey or


Oh they’d get, I should say about 1 hour.
So I can see why you don’t want to get hit in the stomach?
What were the Poles like?
The Poles, the Polish people, they were quite good. As soon as they got there they were mainly artillery, I think, and they had a ration of shells for each day,


so they wouldn’t run out of shells, this is what the British artillery were doing. And as soon as they got there, they fired off every shot they could at the Germans, hoping that they’d hit them, but no, they were good.
Could you manage to communicate with them at all?
No, well I didn’t contact any of them,


being artillery.
You mentioned earlier that there were night patrols, can you explain to me what would happen on an average night patrol?
Well it was pretty boring because you wouldn’t strike much trouble, but you’d need to take a patrol out, say, 500 yards, and then


move in an area back and forth for a few hours just so that you were controlling that area.
Did you ever find any enemy out there?
Only once.
What happened on that occasion?
As I told you, I think he yelled out to, he yelled out in


Italian, “Estanner!” Which must be ‘stop’ or something, or ‘who are you’, I don’t know. We fired on him, he must have been out there on his own. The next thing you know he is sprinting like mad.
How big is that no man’s land area?
Mostly in Tobruk, it was very big, at least a mile I should say.


But when you got to the salient, it was very close.
Were there any mines around this area at all?
Yeah. We laid mines right along the front but we knew where they were and you’d be careful to avoid them when you went through at night.


How do you lay a mine?
Just dig a hole and stick it in there.
Right, it can’t be that easy?
Well, we were using Italian mines about that long and explosives inside them and we’d just dig it out with a shovel and put it in the ground and just cover it over.
That is quite simple, is there any


precautions that you’d have to take when you are laying a mine?
Well just be careful that you don’t go and lay it and tread on it.
Would there be any way that you’d signal that you’d put a mine in the ground?
No. Because we don’t want them to see that.
Well how then can you tell where it is?
Well you’d have a fair idea where it is and there’d be usually paths through that minefield.


Is if from memory that you know what those paths are?
Well what is the terrain like, how much shrubbery, and how easy is it to identify the landscape?
Well in Tobruk, there is lots of camel bush about that high every few yards that was the desert.
And are you remembering


the terrain by the outcrops of camel bush?
Well when you are on patrol you mean. Well you would just go out through the mine field and then go about 500 yards out and then work up and down like that, and they were doing that patrolling right around the front all the time to make


sure that they controlled that area and if the enemy attacked at that time, the patrol would see them straight away and they wouldn’t get, they wouldn’t be surprised you see.
Any accidents that would happen with mines?
I had to see one bloke from, he, I don’t know whether he did it on purpose, but


he got a wound, we had to cart him back, send him back to the hospital.
How much of that was going on, like fellows purposely injuring themselves to get out of the situation?
Very little, very little as far as I know. One bloke in Tobruk, he went past his


post and he said, “Off to hospital,” he said, “Look what I got,” he had a sore finger or something and he had a wound anyhow, and whether he shot himself or not I don’t know. And he was very pleased to be getting out.
How would some of the other men view folk who managed to injure themselves on purpose?
None at all that I know of.


What did you think about the British?
At El Alamein we had more of them but the British artillery in Tobruk, they were really good. They had, they were regular troops you know permanent troops and


they certainly knew how to use their 25 pounders.
Is, when you say when they were good is this all just about accuracy?
Yeah. They would have, they would have an OP, what they call an outpost chap, who would be in touch with their guns and let them know where there were


targets, tanks or whatever what have you and distance and that sort of thing. And then they would fire a few rounds and then he would direct them to you know another 100 yards, or too far, or something like that. They were quite good, they were regular troops, and experienced too.


Very good guns, the 25 pounder.
When you weren’t under fire how do you pass the time in Tobruk?
Sleep if you could, talk, meals, you would pass the time alright.
What would you talk about?
All sorts of things.


Oh I don’t know now.
How about mail, how often would you get mail?
Fairly regularly mail is coming from Australia, come up from Alexandria on the ship. So at least it would be once a week.
How would it be distributed, because I am imagining that you are all over the place?
It come out with the rations.
So do you just have to sort through all the letters and find yours or?


Oh no, no, they would sort them out for each post before the got there.
How much would you share each other’s mail?
Not at all.
Very little, they might talk about some, something that has happened at home in the mail.
How about Red Cross packages, would you get any of those coming in?


We did at El Alamein, I think, we didn’t get much at Tobruk, no, they probably couldn’t bring a lot of extra stuff in besides rations and ammunition
What were your actual day to day living conditions like when you were in Tobruk?
Pretty rough.
Can you describe what it looked like?
Living conditions?


Well I mean where are you sleeping, where are you?
Yeah well as I explained, if you are in the concrete post there’d be two firing spots and down below in an anti bomb shelter, you’d probably sleep down there, and it was almost as long as this room I suppose,


and about that wide.
Would it get quite hot during the day down there?
No it would be cooler down there, it was pretty cold at night sometimes in the desert.
Would you have enough coverings and blankets to keep yourselves warm?
Yeah, we all had two blankets each and a ground sheet most of the time.
So when Julian [interviewer]


left you, you were on your way to Palestine. So where, which part of Palestine are you heading for, is it the same camp you were in before?
No, no different camp. Kilo 89 it was called, the previous camp was Casa, Casa Camp.
Can you describe what Kilo 89 looked like?
Just a lot of tin sheds really, for battalion headquarters and


the troops were in tents. And the messes were tin sheds.
How much of a relief was it to get back into so called civilisation?
Oh, it was wonderful.
What was the first thing that you did?
Had a good feed.
In Kilo 89, were there any women there at all?


No, there were nurses in the camp next to us, but we couldn’t get near them.
Did you try?
We were talking to some nurses that were around that area, was there any communication at all between the two camps?
Not really, no.
And how long were you actually in that


Kilo 89?
About 3 months and then we went to Lebanon.
And why are you being transferred from Palestine to Lebanon?
Well, the possibility of the Germans coming down the other way through Turkey, through Lebanon


to get the [Suez] canal.
What were your expectations of that action, as you were heading over there?
Well the 7th division had been through a month or so before in the Lebanon campaign and we were going up to sort of dig defences up in the mountains, and it was very


windy and very cold, just under the snow line.
Were you issued with any specialised equipment to deal with the cold?
Yeah, we had five blankets each then.
That is quite a lot to carry?
Oh well, we were in tents, but we had five blankets each, but still some of them sold their blankets to get grog.


Well, how much, how much drinking was there during these actions?
Oh, not much drinking during action.
But when you had some time off I mean, were you issued with alcohol at all?
No, well by that stage I was in the, using the sergeants’ mess and they had alcohol, but the troops would have, you


know, a canteen where they could buy food and extra things and chocolates and grog, beer.
So what, they’d run out of money and use blankets?
Was there any sort of bartering that would be going on?
No, no, not that I know of.
Just also knowing about the souveniring trade, was there any, you know how you


find a dead German you know, so you souvenir something from him was there much of that going on?
No, I don’t think so.
What do you think about [German General Irwin] Rommell?
He was a very clever German general. The Germans are very good.
What is the general consensus from the men of Tobruk about Rommell?


Well they thought, they thought he was a very good General and but he was using a lot of Italian infantry. I didn’t think much of them.
The Italians?
What is your main beef with the Italians?


we attacked them one night I remember and they were screaming like women. So we didn’t think much of them, they weren’t very good fighters, perhaps they didn’t want to fight, I think.
So what you are saying is on the bravery scale the Italians are not rating very highly at all?
Not as far as we were concerned, no.


So what what actually were you doing, what sort of actions happened when you were in Lebanon?
Well, we were up in the mountains mainly digging, digging defences in case the Germans were going to come down that way.
What sort of an area did you cover when you were digging defences?


Well it was a mountainous area. Just below the snow line, and it was blowing cold wind all the time, it was freezing.
That is a bit of a rough trot?
Mmmm, bit rough, but it was really cold.
When you are saying that you were digging defences, does that mean that you were creating a trench situation so –?
Yes, yeah.


And I know, I remember one stage in another company they were digging the trenches and getting them all fixed and putting sand bags and filling them with sand, and putting them in around the trenches, and at night the Arabs were coming in and taking the sandbags. So they got fed up with that


and one night they got in the trench and waited, and when these Arabs came they opened fire on them, they didn’t have any trouble after that. But they, I think they killed two or three with them.
What is the story with the sandbags, how are they valuable?
Well, I suppose they were a bit short of


things or you know, clothes and things like that, they were probably using them for making coats and things, I think they were doing that, probably making coats,
When you were talking to Julian [interviewer] I think you mentioned you had a week’s leave in Alexandria, am I right or am I wrong?
Yeah, we had about a week when I was going up, because I come from


Sorry, from where?
Going up to El Alamein.
Oh right so this is, the leave in Alexandria is between Lebanon and El Alamein? Christmas, OK. Can you tell me about Christmas in Alexandria?
No, we weren’t Christmas in Alexandria, it was in Palestine, we had Christmas.
Oh good, tell me about Christmas in Palestine?


Well it was, we were all in tents and they had Christmas dinner for the troops, and it is traditional for the officers and NCOs to wait on the troops at Christmas dinner. So we did that, and


then they had Christmas dinner at the sergeants’ mess and the officers’ mess later on. And they had, they had Christmas service for, you know, church service and I remember we had quite a few Catholics in our company and quite a few of them used to go to the Church


of England service, preferring it to their own. I don’t know why.
Did any of the men use the local padre?
Well he was sort of one of the boys, the padre, and he spent most of his time stopping them from


swearing I think. They would say, “Christ this is so and so,” and he would say, “Why bring him into it?” This is Brian, Brian McDonald I don’t know whether you know of him at all, he was our padre, he has died now.
So what use do you think there is for a padre under –?
I think it, I think it is useful for some people,


where they could go and talk to him or he could talk to them about problems, there might be problems at home, you see. But I think it was a good thing to have a padre in each battalion.
Getting back to Christmas in Palestine, were there any sort of entertainment that you created for yourselves as part of Christmas?


I can’t remember any, no no, only drinking.
Well that is fair enough?
That is entertainment.
Was the food any different for the –?
Oh yes it was quite good in Palestine, when we got back there, we had more fresh meat and vegetables and things like that.


sorry, I’m just confused as to where we are up to, because we jumped into Palestine, so you’ve gone from Palestine to Lebanon and Lebanon to?
Well I left them in Lebanon, where I went down to Cairo to the officer cadet training unit. The British unit.
Right, why were you chosen to do this?
Well, I assumed


because I had been in charge of a platoon in Tobruk in action and a certain amount of experience I suppose and we were getting more reinforcements then from Australia because you, you get a lot of illness sometimes and people asked to be transferred out to something else, because they


want to be with their brother or friend or something. So we got more, a lot of reinforcements and also officers came with them of course. But any experienced men were selected for the OCTU [officer cadet training unit] because of their experience in, in action. Because they knew


that once they got through, they’d be alright.
So what sort of things were part of the training?
The, at the OCTU?
Well there was a lot of map work and exercises because they had troops from British units and South African units, they were all mixed up there,


but it was all mainly infantry training.
When you say map work, can you embellish upon that?
Well they would just, they would take a map of perhaps part of the Western Desert, or something like that, and explain all the requirements of what you should read into a map and you know


the type of country, you can look at the map and read that, an army map, and know what sort of hills there are and how high they are and what it is like.
Would there be any training as far as –?
Moving through, through the country by map, yeah. There was front training of that.
What did you think of some of the other folk that you were training with?
Well, it was


quite good to, to know people from South Africa or England or, you know you could talk to them about different things. Different countries.
Where had the majority of those fellows come from, were they from any particular action?
Some of them had been in action yes, there was


one chap that I knew there that I was quite friendly with, he was a Scot who was in some special unit that they were dropped behind enemy lines, and they had to find their way back by with information.
He was a pretty reckless sort of bloke, to go out drinking with, I tell you.


Did you actually receive a commendation card at some point?
Can you tell me about that?
One, I got one in Tobruk through one action, apparently I had been recommended for a military medal. But finished up getting a commendation card. And then at El Alamein –


Sorry, what was that particular action?
Oh it was mainly fighting patrol, company fighting patrol, the whole company went out one night and at El Alamein, I got one for the battle of El Alamein.
What else can you tell me about the training you went through in Cairo?


Well, you were trained by guards, sergeants who were very strict and hard on you, that they were mainly for drill training. Then they had some officers one from South Africa and different places, they were there for teaching map


reading and discussion of how to handle troops and that sort of thing. And then they had, I think they had one Australian if I remember rightly, an officer and one English officer, so you’d be in a group of about 30 men and you’d be with them all the time.


Really it was training that I’d, I’d had a lot of experience with, so I probably helped to train some of the other blokes that were infantry they were perhaps artillery or communications or something else, so they knew what we were doing.
What was the accommodation


situation like, when you were training?
Well, it was in a barracks, so we had beds and sheets and things like that, so it was quite nice really, and a nice mess.
Four star hotel?
Yeah, like a hotel.
And how long were you training in Cairo?
We were there for a couple of months, and then it was just when


the Germans had progressed down to El Alamein and they moved the officer school into Palestine, so we were there for another month or so. So it was about a three months course.
So you went from Cairo and you had to go back to Palestine?
Mmmm, because there was danger of them breaking right through you see.
Did you manage to get any time off in Cairo?
Oh yes, a bit of time.


What did you think of Cairo?
It was quite a nice city, mmmm. Pretty good restaurants around.
Anything else that stood out for you in Cairo when you were on leave?
No not really but we used to use the horse and traps as taxis to get


around and go to a film or something lik,e or pictures, but you didn’t, we didn’t have a lot of leave.
Like maybe one day a week or –?
Yeah, about like that, yeah.
Do you feel that you really gained any new knowledge at all from this particular training?
Oh, I think so.
Like what?
Interviewee: Ronald Allan Archive ID 1111 Tape 04


Ronald what happened in your battalion while you were at the OCTU?
Yes well unfortunately they had a bit of trouble, because you probably know about it, have heard about it, Ruin Ridge.
Yeah what can you tell me about it?
Well only what I've been told, they, they attacked Ruin Ridge and they took the ridge. Some


casualties, but the troops that were supposed to come up on their left and their right, the tanks didn’t come up on their right and they were more or less out on a pinnacle and the, the German tanks surrounded them and the Colonel decided to


turn it in [surrender] when he saw the, some of the casualties that were happening. They had, they had no no chance against tanks, of course. One of the officers saw the tanks and they thought they were the ones that had come up but they were captured tanks, they were English tanks alright, they were captured ones.


And he got in his utility and driver and went out towards them but he blew him up and killed him and there were other casualties, and I think the colonel decided there was only one thing to do and that is, they had to turn it in, they had no chance against these tanks. And they had no troops on either side of course, because


that is how they got stuck out in that post, on Ruin Ridge.
At what risk was Alexandria at this point?
Well, there was some risk, there was some risk that the Germans had broken through at El Alamein as they tried to do two or three times and there was a risk that they would go straight back to Alexandria. And that is when they brought the 9th


Division down, down the Australian division, and I think they had a lot to do at holding the line at El Alamein.
Can you describe the line there?
Well there is, the front line was about, well I suppose half a mile apart from the Germans, and they, they,


the Germans in front of us were the 90th light division, the German division. And they attacked on our sea company front the first day we were there and but the sea company front managed to hold them off alright, with the use of some artillery and their own weapons. And they were dug in probably about


3 or 400 yards out of C Company. And that night I was detailed to go out with my platoon, and some of the other companies had a couple of platoons out as well.
Which company were you in?
B Company, 10 platoons. And they, we attacked this


German front unfortunately I had a few a couple of my men killed during that attack, a sergeant who was right beside me, he got one through his stomach and all his clothes were alight, it must have been a Spandau bullet, you know, a tracer bullet.


And let's see, we took 10 prisoners, and my instructions were to go as far as I could, which I thought was a bit stupid, I asked the colonel before I went out, I said, “How far do you want me to go?” He said, “Well go as far as you can,” he probably thought I wouldn’t get past the first row of Germans. But we went on a bit further to see if we could get some more


prisoners, we were out there to get prisoners. We got 10 altogether, and I shot them back through one of the back sections. I had three sections, two in the front, one at the back and all of the machine guns in the front sections.
Can you describe some of those instances in which you captured the soldiers?
They just turned up and put their hands up,


turned in, and put their hands up. We would kill some of them before we got there. They, they gave up and then we –
Were you surprised that they just gave up?
I was quite pleased to see that they had given up. We shot them back through the back section, but 10 of them got back, but we went on a bit further and went


into a Spandau machine gunner, who really knew what he was doing. You got to fire low at night, because the inclination is to fire too high in the dark and he was firing low alright and he got me in the leg and he got a few others of the platoon. And


that is when I was taken prisoner.
What condition was your platoon in when you were injured, wounded?
Well, the back section would have been alright, they were taking these blokes back in the left hand section, they lost contact a bit and they must have pulled out. But the right section they fought on pretty,


pretty well. And quite a few of them were killed and wounded, pretty fierce. The Spandau German machine gun was a very rapid firing gun. It was a very effective gun. The Germans had good weapons, much better than ours I reckon.


Although the Bren was a good gun, because it was a deep throat noise when you used it, and it gave you a lot of confidence when you could hear it. Whereas the Spandau was, was a fast firing but a lighter, lighter sound. A very fast firing gun. And this bloke, he stopped us with just one gun


and we had quite a few wounded, so we, that is when we were captured.
Can you describe the instance in which you were captured?
Yeah, well we were all wounded and just lying on the ground, and they came through with an attacking force, the same as we would, all spread out and


ready to fire. But we decided to put our hands up, there was no point in starting to try to fight them when we were all wounded and on the ground.
Whose decision was that?
Mine. It is no good getting casualties by being silly. And I decided that the best thing we could do


was to put our hands up.
What were your numbers at this point?
About 10, 10 I think. So the next morning, they brought a, a German jeep type vehicle and the corporal on my


right hand section, number 1 section and myself were both wounded and were put in this, in the back of this jeep and taken back. I didn’t see the rest of them what happened to them, I thought they were taking us back for questioning, but they were taking us back to have our wounds dressed. We went, we


travelled all that morning and every station we called, you know, where they were treating people, they were full up, they had people lying on the ground all around, Germans mainly. The 9th division had (UNCLEAR) a bit and we finished up at


one spot. I was left on the – it was near the – it was all day, it was that night I was on a stretcher outside a dressing station, the wound hadn’t been treated and I must have gone to sleep, because the next thing I knew I was inside a tent outside an operating theatre


and I saw the doctor, I was the last one there. And I saw the doctor, and his troops all walking out and I said, “Hey how about me,” and he came over and he said, “What is your trouble,” because they could speak English as well as the English can. And I told him what the trouble was and how long it had been since I was wounded. So he said, “Come on, we’ll fix him up.”


And he took me in and operated and put this big plaster, which must have taken a couple of hours to put on, from the tip of my foot up to here all on that one side.
Can I ask you what thoughts are going through your mind now that the enemy has taken you in and under their care?
Well, I thought that they’d


generally the information that we’d had about the Germans and the Italians, the idea was not to be taken by the Italians, because they were pretty rough in the way that they handle you. But the Germans do the right thing. And well they have to, I suppose, because they know we are taking some of their troops and we’ve


got some of their wounded, so they’ve got to do the right thing and look after the wounded.
So what was the ongoing treatment like from the staff there once you were plastered up?
Well, I didn’t get much treatment because the push was starting to come through, they had broken through at El Alamein and although we had been taken back, probably


about three or four miles the hospital, I suppose you could call it the field hospital I was in, they took everybody into trucks and took them up the road to Misurata and as we went along the road we were being strafed by our own RAF [Royal Air Force] planes.
Were there many casualties taken from the strafing?
No, not too


many. I found it very awkward because I was the only one that couldn’t walk and every time they were strafed, we’d have to, they’d all get out of the truck and run off to the sides and take cover and I was left there I couldn’t, I was still in the truck. And I thought, “Alright they are ours, they won’t hurt, I hope!”


But it worked out alright.
Who is with your out of your platoon at this point?
I didn’t have anybody. When I got to Misurata and I heard someone yelling out my name and it was my corporal who was in, he was in the same hospital, it was not a real hospital it was a, just people on stretchers all over the


place. And there were a couple of nurses there, one went crook at me straight away and said, “Why are you, why are you Australians killing so many of our German boys?” I said, “Because they are trying to kill us,” a bit silly, but the other one sat next to me and held my hand all night. I


was delirious by that stage.
What had led you to your delirium, what had led to your delirium?
Well, the wound and the treatment I suppose, there was a fair bit of infection in there.
Were you receiving any further medication?
You must have lost quite a lot of blood too, during the wounding?
I didn’t, it didn’t luckily, it didn’t hit the main vein.


and I held my hand there and pressed it on the pressure point there all night the first night, it didn’t bleed very much at all.
Is this while you were being detained, before you were taken to the general hospital?
How were you detained during that period, that over night?
Just on a stretcher.


And the other men that were with you when you were captured?
Well, I don’t know what happened to them. Later on, they were all taken prisoner of war. They were wounded too, but they were – I don’t know why they took me and the corporal in the back of this vehicle,


back to be treated. Whereas all the others needed treatment too. But I suppose they took anyone who would be an authority and have them treated first. I don’t know what the Germans do.
Were the others that were wounded and not treated suffer for not being treated?
I don’t know,


they were all wounded in the legs mainly.
Did they survive as POWs?
I think so, yes, most of them did, finished up in Germany.
How long, how long did you remain a POW for?
It was about a, I would say about a week.


And the push came through, and the Germans told me that they were leaving that hospital and they were taking the ship from Misurata and they were going, they left me in charge of the hospital, they said, “There is 200 wounded here and we are leaving you in charge.”
How were you going to do that from your hospital bed?
I couldn’t do anything, I was delirious anyhow.


But whilst we were waiting for the push to come through, the, they left one doctor behind. And he came to me and said, “There is a lot of Indian prisoners of war, they have broken out of their camp, and they are demanding, they were going to take all of our water from the hospital


would you talk to them?” So I said, “I will talk to them, yeah.” So they brought them in and as soon as they saw me, they stood to attention and saluted, and very well trained troops apparently and I explained the situation to them, I said, “The push will be through very shortly, and as soon as they get here I will make sure that there is plenty of water sent straight to you,” and they saluted and


said, “Yes, OK,” and away they went. That impressed the Germans a bit. And but that night, first night that I knew that it ever rained in the desert, so they would have got plenty of water from that.
That is a nice eventuation?
How did you spend the rest of the remaining time waiting for the push to come through?
Just lying


on the stretcher, I couldn’t, I couldn’t move, couldn’t talk to the corporal, he was too far away, he could yell out and that is all, I could see him. But the push came through after about three days I suppose. The rain had held then and I managed to get to a dressing station,


a British dressing station and then I requested that we, the corporal was with me by then, I requested that we be flown back to hospital, because it had been sometime since we had any decent treatment.
What was your first encounter with the troops when they arrived?
I just, it was British troops and they came in and spoke to me


and I told them who we were and that I had a corporal here too and they said, “Oh well, we will get you to a dressing station straight away and see what your condition is.”
How were you transported to the dressing station?
On the stretcher.
You weren’t put into a truck or a jeep, were you put into a truck or a jeep?
No, I think they just carted me on the stretcher to a dressing station


that wasn’t far away.
Can you describe the dressing station?
No, I just remember being there and they checked me over and they said, “With that plaster on you may as well stay as you are until you get back to Cairo.”
What was the staff like in the dressing station?
Well, they were alright.


They were British troops, I think.
All male staff or was there –?
Yeah, all male staff.
What kind of, pardon?
No nurses.
Unfortunately. And what kind of care were you given, what did you spend a few days without food or water or?
Oh no, we had water and food


and no, it was alright. And I got, they put us on a plane full of wounded, a DC3, and flown back to Cairo.
1st Class?
Yeah 1st class alright, and back there and into a British general hospital.
At Cairo?
Mmm. Where I stayed about 3 months, 3 or 4


Can you talk me through that period, from your arrival through to your eventual release?
Yes, we, corporal I was in the officers’ ward and there was lots of tank people there in the hospital, artillery people, British mainly.


And they had nurses too, which helped a bit. They took the plaster off me and operated, I had six different operations in that hospital in three months.


And I had a temperature all the time, until about a week before I left, to go back on the Australian hospital ship.
That must have been a difficult period, going through that many operations?
In that short amount of time.
And there was, we had Christmas there too.
How was Christmas celebrated?
Oh yeah, very happy Christmas.


It was quite good.
How did you celebrate?
We just had Christmas dinner and that is about all. And they would give you one drink of alcohol a day.
What kind?
Oh I think it was rum. If I remember rightly. It is hard to remember, it was a long while ago.
Oh you are doing a good


job. You were given a rum each night were you?
I think it was rum, yeah.
And were there any new acquaintances that you made at this time while you were recovering?
Only, you speak to the people on either side of you.
Do you remember those characters?
I can’t tell you their names now, English they were, Woodbines.
I am not familiar with that?
You are not familiar with the word Woodbine?


Yeah. I have never heard them called Woodbines?
Haven’t you?
Oh we used to call them Woodbines, because they smoked Woodbines all the time. It must be a West Australian name.
Yeah, it must have just been particular to you guys?
Yeah, Woodbines.


Is there anything else for you to tell us about your experiences in the hospital there while you were recovering?
Yes, I used to be visited by an Australian women, what was, her husband had been appointed in charge of


Egypt by the British Government for the time of the war. And I am just trying to think of his name now, was it Page? Anyhow she used to come and visit me and bring her secretary too, sometimes. She would come in about twice a week.


How would you spend those times together?
Just talking. And she had a little dog too, about that size, and she brought the dog.
What kind of dog was it?
Oh an Australian terrier, I think.
You wouldn’t have seen a pet dog for a while I suppose?
No I am just trying to remember the name, I think it was Page.


Can you describe the hospital, perhaps your ward and the layout of the hospital?
Yes, it was a number of floors and our ward was in the 2nd floor I think. It was actually


a hospital in peacetime, taken over by the British army. And it must have been about 60, 60 in the ward. Round about 60, I should say. A lot of them had their legs off and they had been in


tanks, which hit mines and damaged their legs badly.
Were you acknowledged for your actions at all when you were taken POW and wounded?
How do you mean, acknowledge.
By authority, acknowledged for you know your way your conduct?
During the battle?


Yeah, I got a commendation card for it.
Where did you receive that?
Well, it was sent to my people at home.
So it wasn’t given to you?
No no, personally no.
Ok. Do you still have that?
We will have a look at it later?
It is just inside that door there.


Alright. So how long is it before you actually leave and get to come home?
It must have been, let’s see, I went in there November the 11th when I got in there. Because the first thing I remember, they came round for a donation for November the 11th. That amused me. And then I left there early March I should say


the next year. And I went to –
Were you well and truly recuperated by now or –?
Oh no I was, they put another big plaster on me, my leg hadn’t healed completely, infection was very bad.
Was there, can you maybe go a bit more into the nature of the treatment you were getting, considering that you had bad infection and you were receiving further operations?
Well they would dress it each day, dress the


wound each day, and how many times, I went down six times to the operating theatre and they used to have to carry you on a stretcher down the steps, there was no lift. I always thought I would slip off. But they would take you to the operating theatre, and they would clean it up a bit and get rid of as much of the


infection as they could, I have got a big hole in the back here and another big hole in the front where the bullet went right through the tin of tobacco I had in my pocket. I will show you that too.
How were you brought home?
On the, hospital ship, Australian hospital ship.


Do you remember boarding the hospital ship?
Mmm, yeah. It was good to see the Australian faces again. They looked different, did you know that. Australians look very different to the English people.
Much better looking.
Better looking, I think.


Anyway, it was very good to get in Australian hands again, and we went down, they had, the thing I worried about is that they had the lights on at night, in the hospital ship. And there was another bloke from our battalion he came to see me and I said, “You got a sharp


knife?” and he said, “Yeah I got a knife here,” and I said, “Well if we get torpedoed will you cut me out of this bit of plaster, otherwise I will sink straight to the bottom,” when I got home it took them all afternoon to cut me out with big shears.
Where was that done?
Hollywood [Hospital, Perth] .
How long did you spend there?
The rest of that year,


and some of next year I think.
Apart from being pleased to see the familiar Australian faces and being back in Aussie hands, what was the voyage like on the way home, compared to with perhaps the voyage there?
Oh, it was a little bit rough in parts but it was quite a good trip.
Rough ocean conditions or?
No, yes, rough ocean


conditions. A little bit at times, it didn’t worry me, I don’t mind ships moving around.
Did they develop a large ward on the ship or?
No, well I don’t know, they must have had a big ward. But I was in the officer’s ward.
Can you describe the officer’s ward for me?


It wasn’t very big, they only had about three or four officers there, I think. It was a long while ago.
Fair enough.
1942, 43, 43 when I got home.
What can you tell me about arriving back ?
Well, I was on a stretcher


taken down the onto the wharf in the stretcher, I was sitting on the wharf there. And I remember some of the wharfies coming to have a look, a sticky beak. [curious] Yeah.
What was your reaction?
I just looked back at them.
Did you tell them to mind their own business?


I knew when to keep my mouth shut then. I was pleased to be home.
Was the wharf alive with people waiting to greet?
No, I was taken up to Hollywood by ambulance and into, into the ward there, ward 13 and my mother turned up very


shortly after that.
It must have been a very emotional?
Yes, I think she was pleased to see me in one bit.
What was her reaction to seeing her son lying there in hospital recovering from wounds?
She was just pleased to see me. Then they cut me out of the plaster


and treated. I didn’t have any more operations, they just dressed it each day, they thought it was healing and the doctor would come along and put a thin piece of metal into the wound to see how deep it was.
I bet you appreciated that?
Yeah, I had a few x-rays on the bone, the bone was starting to heal alright.


What other kind of comments did you receive from the doctors about your specific nature of your wound and?
Oh, they just said it was healing.
Was there anything uncommon about the wound and the treatment that they were applying to your wound?
No, no, they were just dressing the wound underneath and on top. And then, well it took a


couple of months anyhow, for it to heal, and I was getting physiotherapy on the leg too at the time.
What kind of physio treatment?
Just massage, heat and massage then.
What was say the daily routine for you while you were recovering at Hollywood?
You would have breakfast the first thing in the morning.


And then they would come in to dress the wound and then they would come in to give you a bath in bed and they would just wash you all over and then the shift would change. Once I, the nurse would come in and say, “Have you had your bath yet Mr Allan?” I would


say, “No,” I would have another bath. And it was quite good, because I had a few Americans in the same ward and you could talk to them, talk to different men in the place.
They were a long way from home, why were they being brought to Hollywood?
Well they, there were a lot of Yanks here then.


They had been injured here?
No I think they just there was something wrong with them, put them in hospital.
So what was the nursing staff like at Hollywood?
Very good, they were good.
A lot of those girls had been overseas hadn’t they?
Some of them had been yeah. In the Middle East they had been.
Did you share stories of the Middle East together?


Oh no, not really, I don’t remember talking about it.
What kind of things would you talk about when they would be treating you or –?
Oh just about the leg mainly. “When is it going to get better?”
Would they have a few kind words to say?
Oh yes, yes, they were quite good.
I understand that


you became well acquainted with one of the nurses giving you physio treatment, is that correct?
Who told you that, who told you that? No well I, yes I asked her to come, she used to come home with me, I used to go home on the weekends sometimes. And she’d come down on the Sunday, and play tennis


with us. Oh yeah, well you get to know the physios pretty well and they treat you everyday, you know for a couple of months.
Were you receiving a lot of visits from family, how often did your mother visit?
Oh, every second day, and my father would be in at least once a week and then I went


home and I used to go to Hollywood and have physio treatment each day and go over the showgrounds, and they would have an ambulance going over. And then I got discharged and then I went back to Dalgety, I was working there, and I used to go up for treatment each day to Perth Hospital. And I got to know the physio so well there and married her


in the finish.
What was her name?
What was her name? What first name?
And how was, how long was it before you were married?
About 12 months, I suppose.
And where was the wedding held?
Christchurch, Claremont and the old padre did the job, he used to be a first padre in the battalion,


Brian McDonald.
And the Reception?
Cottesoe’s Civic Centre, was it? I can’t remember now. No, the reception was at the home, at my mother’s home and I went –
Interviewee: Ronald Allan Archive ID 1111 Tape 05


So, before we left for lunch, we were just talking about when you were in the military hospital, you were there for 12 months, that is a really long time, is this all, sorry?
In Hollywood, you mean.
Let’s see, I came back in March


I had already had from November till March in the British General Hospital in Cairo, (UNCLEAR) and was still getting treatment 12 months later, massage, and going to the hospital there everyday, going to


Hollywood everyday. And then I got discharged in January of, January of 42, 43, 44, 44. That is right, January 44 I was discharged.
Because that is quite a long time to recover from your injury?
Well they didn’t have any antibiotics, they didn’t have any sulphur


drugs or anything like that to help you and it got badly infected because I didn’t get any treatment for 24, over 24 hours. I suppose it built up then. And then they put the plaster on and they don’t give you any treatment on the wound while the plaster is there.
You had a


long road to recovery. Did you like before you had your injury did you actually consider taking up a career in the military after having such extensive experience?
No no. No, I wanted to do something outside like, I forget what they call it now, surveying, that is what I was aiming at


but I couldn’t do that not being able to walk very well. So I finished up back at Dalgety’s.
And what was the – because I mean some fellows we have talked to have got some sort of a repatriation deal or different things they could do after they came back from the war, did you consider?
Through the ‘repat’ [soldier education scheme] ?
Well I would have, I would have liked to have done


surveying through the repat, but I was no good I couldn’t, I couldn’t walk, couldn’t bear to stand up long enough.
How long was it being you in hospital and the war ending?
Well it ended in August 45, so it was about another 12 months or more,


18 months.
So what was your reaction when you heard the news?
About it ending? I thought, I thought well that is over, finished. I had no doubt that it would finish like that.
Did you think it would actually continue for as long as it did?
I think I did think it would go on for quite a while, because they had well trained troops and weapons and that sort of thing


the Germans and they were always very well organised. So it took a long while to get, get them under control, didn’t it.
When you started hearing some of the stories about what happened in Germany with some of the POWs, and also the Japanese, were you surprised?


Prisoners of war. No I wasn’t surprised, I was a bit surprised about some of the Japanese, the way they treated some of their prisoners of war. Poor old mob.
Because it was interesting what you said earlier that if you had a choice between taken prisoner by the Italians or the Germans, you’d pick the Germans every time. So did it come as a surprise to you that


they had quite an extensive war crime?
Well, it was mainly with the Jewish people wasn’t it, that they were so bad, but the prisoners of war were treated reasonably well, I think, in Germany. Are you recording this now?
Yeah. What do you think about


the decision to drop the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Well, I think it was a good idea, because it finished the war straight away and the Japanese, if they got control of Australia for instance or some of the other countries, what would have happened then,


it would have been terrible. You wouldn’t be here now.
Do you think that there was actually a severe threat that they were going to invade Australia?
Oh yes I think so yes, they intended to invade Australia eventually.
After the war did you join the RSL [Returned Services League] or any such bodies?
I did, in 1944 I joined the RSL,


but it was mainly all the war blokes from the First World War so I dropped that after a while. And we had our own association, battalion association, I was the first secretary I think, no treasurer, treasurer, that’s right. First treasurer, and I have since been president for two years


since then. And I’m vice president at the present time so I’d be in again next year.
Well done? And what sort of activities do you have as part of your association?
Well we do sort of help the widows if we can, although Legacy, I belong to Legacy too, and they mainly do that.


But if one of our chaps, one of our chaps die, we make sure and just check on the family and see how they are placed, how the widow is placed. And we have a number of get togethers through the year with the wives, one luncheon. And other times just as a reunion.


That is pretty good, we even have dancing girls there sometimes, belly dancers.
So it is not boring?
No, it is alright.
What sort of things do you do for Anzac Day?
Well we have a dawn service, and we have our own dawn service, which is just after the main dawn


service in Kings Park. We’ve got a memorial in Kings Park. Have you seen it at all, it is down towards the university end in a triangle there. Anyhow, there is an artificial flame going up, and notices about what it belongs to and that sort of thing.


And it is an artificial flame, like is it a statue?
Yeah, made out of plastic, more or less.
About 8 feet high, I suppose.
I haven’t been to Kings Park for a little while. When was that monument put up?
About 1954. I think I was president at the time when they did that, yeah it would be about 54.


How do you think being involved as part of the association helps veterans?
Well, they like to get together and talk and see how each other is going and of course they were very close friends. You make very close friends with all the men that you are with in


action. So it is a good thing to keep it going, I think, after the war.
Why do you think there is such a close bond between, well, mates?
Well, they had been through the same sort of experiences together, and that is enough to make people want to


stick together.
What do you think about Australian mateship, do you think it is any stronger than other mateships within other nationalities?
Oh, I never thought about that.
Neither had I.
It is pretty strong, and I should say anybody who has been in action together they would remain good friends.


about humour, you mentioned that the Australians you were hanging around were well funny buggers, how did you use humour in order to get through like really difficult times?
Well the humour seemed to be there all the time. Amongst themselves, they’d see the funny side of something straight away,


it was just, they’d turn even bad situations into something funny.
Can you give me an example?
No not really.
I think we are just going to have to pause there for a moment, we have got a bit of a buzz, which is your fridge.
If you have been wounded, a lot of the wounds were fatal, so probably the wounded were not


too many of those hanging around. But I think the – are you recording now? – I won’t say it. I am very disappointed in the repatriation department. I have been on the same pension for years,


100%, plus the 5th schedule, and this leg has gradually got worse and given me a lot of trouble, arthritis, because it has done extra work all the time to go up stairs, this leg does all the work, going down stairs, this leg does all the work. But oh no, the repat [repatriation department] can’t see that, and they won’t increase my pension.


So I just wrote and told them I was disgusted and that was it. They can have it. I don’t like it.
I can understand where you are coming from.
And half of them in their department are Indians or immigrants into Australia and they are just working and they are worse than anybody. They can’t, they can’t see your point of view.


They don’t want to see it.
Do you think also there is a bit of a generation gap too, that there is an issue?
Well, there shouldn’t be, they are supposed to be there to help the people who are ex servicemen and have a disability due to their war service. They think that everybody is trying to take them down, if you have a genuine


need for a bit of extra finance because of your injuries, they won’t see that point of view at all.
Have other members of your association gone through a similar experience?
Most of them don’t think like I do. They are a poor old mob.
Do you think that it’s, the service has got worse over the years or did it start off good and


get bad or what is the story?
I think after the war it was a lot better, it has probably gotten worse as time has gone one.
Well just backing it up a little bit here, we were talking about Anzac Day and I would like to know what Anzac Day means to you?
Well, it is one day of the year that people


are supposed to remember those that have fallen and what they, what they, the ex servicemen has done for them during the war. It is quite a good idea to have one day at least.
Do you think Anzac Day has changed much over the years?
No, I don’t think it has changed very much, we still


march and have a service. I haven’t marched for quite a few years, I can’t. I’ve put everyone out of step I think. But I do go to the dawn service, our own dawn service at, it is about 6.45, I think, on Anzac Day at Kings Park.
Did you actually loose any close mates at Ruin Ridge?


At Ruin Ridge?
Yeah, because I am thinking while you are away doing the officer training?
Yes, some of them were killed at Ruin Ridge that were in our company and in the platoon. I was in 10 Platoon nearly all the time and when I came back from the OCTU, I took over as commander of 10 Platoon.


A lot of them were wounded and came back again into the same position. But you know, you sort of expect to lose friends like that and you don’t worry about it too much, as long as you don’t think, “Well I’m going to be next.”
Did you ever get nervous about the fact


that you might be next?
In the – when you are in action?
Yeah. You know when you are coming to the end of a time say at Tobruk, and you think, oh yeah I will bite it on the last day, that sort of?
No, no, I never thought that. At least I didn’t.
Did you ever have any superstitious kind of things that the men would do?
No, no, they weren’t superstitious


at all.
Like you know, lucky charms and things?
No. No, they just learnt to keep their heads down.
One of the tapes before lunch we started having a conversation about when you were at officer training, how they were teaching you, how to deal with troops, how do you deal with troops?
I think probably


everybody has got a different idea but I think you have got to consider their point of view, and how they are going to react to certain things, if you are going to command them properly, especially in action. Even so they grizzle like mad they always do, but that makes them happy and I never used to take any notice.


But I think the main thing is to consider their point of view. And balance it with what you need to do.
What sort of things would they be grizzling about?
Well, if I got them lost for instance, they would grizzle about that and start to worry what was going to happen to them.


And if you put them on duty, they used to, I was the acting sergeant major of B Company as soon as we got out of Tobruk, and I remember one chap quite clearly I used to work out from A to Z and had all these duties and then they took half the company away and put them in guards in another


place, and I still had to do all the duties. So this day I thought, well I won’t start on the As, I will start at the end and work up and I finished up putting one bloke on duty on guard, he came off and went straight back on. I never heard the end of that, even after the war, every time I would see him he would remind me.
That is quite funny that he held a grudge about that.


Did you see much of the Salvation Army?
Well, can you tell me a bit about what you saw them doing and how they operated?
Well we didn’t see a lot of them in Tobruk, but in El Alamein, the day the battle started they were right behind us and they brought coffee and all sorts of things up to us.


And I think we, they took mail and they were quite good, the Salvation Army. I always give them something.
There is always a pretty positive response every time we ask about your experience with the Salvos.
And when we were in Palestine and places like that, they always had a separate little organisation that you could go to.


It might just be for playing billiards or something like that but they, they were very good like that. They backed up the troops well.
When you say they had a bit of a base where was this, was this in places like Cairo. Did they have little bases in places like Cairo?
No, I don’t think they did.
I was just wondering where they were, because obviously


they are in small towns, or large cities?
Well they were, they would be with the troops or close to the troops I think.
When you are out there, what do you miss the most about home or Australia or the comforts, is there something that really stood out for you?


I think your parents and brothers and that sort of thing. You don’t see any of your family. If you don’t get any mail, it is a bit disappointing sometimes. But I think the main thing that you miss is your family. Because I was quite young too, I was only 21.


In Tobruk, I turned 21 in Tobruk. I had a lovely birthday.
What did you do for your birthday?
Well, there was only one other bloke that knew it was my 21st birthday because I had put my age up 12 months to get in, and I wasn’t going to tell anybody that I was not as old as I showed in my


So what did you do to celebrate your birthday?
I didn’t do anything special. I think I went I went down to battalion, I went down to company headquarters to see if I could get some better food for the troops, that’s all, and I got shelled on the way down.
What happened, what just –?
I was


walking down and I was a bit silly going close to a row of lamp posts and –
Why is that silly?
Well, from their maps they could get a fair idea exactly where you were, and I was shelled and we just go to ground and if you can just about tell where any shell is going to land,


and I woke up to it and I got further away from the posts and I had to go about half a mile at least down to company headquarters, couldn’t do any better anyhow.
A lot of effort on your birthday for no apparent outcome. Considering the fact that you are really quite a young bloke, well younger than some of your mates,


how did you handle leadership?
What do you mean?
I mean, you know, you progressed further than some of the other blokes that you were training with so, what was it about you, you think that put you on that level?
Oh probably education,


and I, I don’t know I think it was probably, I was able to handle them and talk to them and arrange for them to do things and without too much argument. They get used to you after a while, they call you everything, but you don’t take any notice of that.


Well, it has got to be tough, being in a senior position when you are in such an incredible situation?
Well, somebody has got to control it, the worse the situation, the more control is in need. So I didn’t have any difficulty.


Well, what sort of attitude did the men have to superiors?
Well, they were generally went along alright with what they were instructed to do, some of them, some men were even up high, were a bit stupid, they handled people like


children. We had a schoolteacher who was a company commander and he treated, he treated all the troops like schoolboys. They didn’t appreciate that very much, it is only my idea, I never discussed that with anybody, but I think if you consider their situation all the


time and you do your best for them under the circumstances, they will always respond.
Did you have some mates that went through with you through most of your experiences like that ended up in Tobruk and also El Alamein?
Mmmm, yeah, quite a few.
What was that relationship like with them?
Well, they knew me very well, and I knew them very well so


we were quite good friends.
How do you think that helped you along on a daily basis?
I think it helps all the time. It doesn’t matter whether it is day or night, if you’ve got to get orders from somebody up above you and pass them onto them. As long as you


take into consideration their situation and you tell them what they have to do and explain the situation to them, they generally go along with it.
Was there ever a situation where there was some sort of a fight against one of the commands?
No. No we never had any trouble like that.
What do you think


was the best part about being away in the Middle East?
The best part of it?
I don’t know, I suppose when you went on leave or go on leave to Cairo or something like that, it is interesting, see the pyramids, see places you know of interest.


In the Western Desert, I have trouble all the time with hay fever and but when I was in the Western Desert I didn’t have any trouble at all, it was beautiful.
Well, there is no plants, I suppose, is there?
No, there is certainly no pollen.
That is the most interesting answer we have ever had to that question.


Can you remember any really wonderful acts of heroism that you actually saw?
Oh no, not really. I don’t think, you know, you rarely see that sort of thing, they help each other quite a bit,


they wouldn’t consider it to be heroism. They, they just stick by their mates and will help them under any situation.
This might sound like a bit of a strange question but what is it like to be shot at and all this artillery coming at you on a daily basis, does it screw around with your mind?


as long as you know that you have got reasonable protection against artillery. And mortar, mortar is the worst of the lot as far as you can’t hear them until about half a second before they land, but shells, you can hear them coming. And you get so used to them you can say, well that one is going to land 20 feet over there


or 30 yards over there, that one is going to land here, that one is going to land over the back. And if you don’t hear them, well you are probably finished. But you can usually indicate where they are going to land if you are under shellfire constantly. So if you have got protection in the way of a narrow trench and head cover and that sort of thing,


you know you are reasonably safe unless it lands exactly on top of you, which doesn’t usually happen.
So the object of the exercise is to build the trench right?
Yeah, have your protection right, if you know you are going to be under a possibility of shellfire.
What was worse for attacks, was it the day or the night?


Because you wouldn’t be able to see them coming at night, would you?
Well you can see them when they start firing, because you can see the flashes, I don’t know I think, much the same I should say, daytime you can see them coming, night time,


well, if you have got outposts to protect you against a surprise attack. It is pretty much the same because you would be advised, you’d be able to open fire on them.
When you, you know it is quite alarming that there was so much artillery


coming at you all the time all the time. Did you make any future, I can’t create a sentence, any future effects?
Bomb happy, bomb happy, you mean, we called it bomb happy. No, amongst experienced troops, I don’t think it worried them that much, if they knew that they had the cover.


Can you explain to me what 'bomb happy' looks like, if you are watching some guy go through it?
No, no they’d just be, well I don’t know, I don’t think I saw anybody that was bomb happy, but I should say that they would be very nervous and fearful, but experienced troops don’t get like


that, they know that they can get protection pretty quickly. You had a few miners in our company. I remember one night we were out on a patrol, protecting one our outposts and we came under shellfire, they were twice as fast as I was at digging a hole to get into,


twice as fast, they were barracking me, “Come on Ron, hurry up, hurry up,” and I eventually dug this hole with a bayonet and shovel out with your hands and hop into it. But they were, they could dig, they were used to it, I think.
You got beaten by a bunch of miners. Is that what you do you actually,


if you are caught out, you just start digging a hole?
Well that would be if you’ve got to stay there yes. You’d get protection, you must have protection all the time, especially if you come under shellfire.
What is the best sort of protection that you can have?
Well, a narrow trench with a top on it. With sand bags over the top of that.


Where there any cases of trenches just caving in, you know, how sand –?
No the soil in the western desert was sort of, it wasn’t exactly sand, it was more like it would turn into mud, not like sand when it gets wet, it


doesn’t stick to you. So I think it was quite alright to dig a hole and get protection that way. It wouldn’t, it wouldn’t cave in.
When you were on the ship, sorry I don’t remember what name ship it was when you were coming back to Australia, how much of that journey do you actually remember?


Well virtually it was the same as being in a hospital. I remember talking to some of our blokes who were also on there and they were walking, walking wounded sort of thing. They would come in and talk for an hour or so,


and knowing that you were going home, that was the best part of it.
Do you think that the care was appropriate from your experience?
Oh yes yes, yes it was very good.
What was the nurses and doctors? – God, I can’t speak today!
The nurses, they were quite good, they were trained nurses on those hospital ships.
With all


that you have experienced as part of Tobruk and El Alamein, did you come out with any philosophy inside your own head about what you went through, or you know in retrospect?
No, well it was quite an experience I suppose. I think it probably


strengthens you as far as mentally if you can manage to survive. I have never thought about that.
Do you think that what you went through actually helped you in future life?
I think it did, yeah.
In what way?
In that you can focus more


on what you wanted to do and what progress you wanted to make in business for instance, it helped a bit like that. And talking to staff. I was a departmental manager for Dalgety’s in the merchandise department before I retired


and I think it helped there too.
When you came back from the war, did you talk much about your experiences in it?
Not very much. No. I remember my daughter saying when I was talking to a chap here that was in our battalion who was in this village and he was inclined to talk about it


more than I was, and my daughter was there and she said, “Well, that is the first time I have ever heard you talk about the war.” Yeah, there was not much point really.
What do you think is the point of war?
Well it’s –


the only answer I think to straighten things out between countries to date. They don’t seem to be able to talk it out.
Do you feel that your experience was worthwhile as far as the world was concerned?
Well I hope so, I hope I helped a bit,


because Hitler or Japan, you wouldn’t want either of those to control things throughout the world.
Well Ron, thanks very much for talking to us for the archive, it has been a pleasure.
Well that’s good. Do you think I did alright?
Yes you did, it’s hard to.


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