Archive number: 1117
Preferred name: Pel
Date interviewed: 19 November, 2003
You are listening to the interview audio
So Eric can you tell me what it was like growing up in Northam?
Yes what I can remember, damn long time ago. I was born 23rd July 1918 ten o’clock in the morning I can tell you. Things were
fairly affluent as far as my family was concerned because my father had an agency business in Northam and he did pretty well. And so until the depression hit up in 1929 my growing up years…
Sorry could we just stop there for a moment. If you could just tell me what it was like growing up in Northam, Eric.
For my sins I was born on the
23rd of July 1918 and my first eleven years, until the depression hit everyone’s life was pretty good in Northam as far as I was concerned. My father had an agency and doing well. Selling farms and sheep and livestock, good agencies.
And they went for trips, I went on two of them but I don’t remember them, over to Adelaide where they both came from. I don’t know, we seemed to have all of the pleasant things of life as far as I was remember. But I certainly remember the fertiliser hitting the windmill in 1929 when the depression came. Because my old man had about three farms and they were all share farmers,
he ran them with share farmers. And of course in those days that’s where all of his money was tied up. And his business went, over the depression, down hill, and the farms were pretty useless really in as much as wheat was about eight pence, about eight cents in our money, and wool was about ten pence, which was not much money. And so there was not much income coming in.
And we used to have one or two people used to come and help my mother, help in the garden and well all of that disappeared. And my brother had been at Guildford Grammar School for six years and consequently when I was ready to go, there was nothing left in the bloody bank. Well it wasn’t quite that bad. But I know the gardener went and the lass that helped my mother went.
My brother by this time had gone up to the stations we owned, and my sister left St Hilda’s and she went to nursing. My younger sister was a bit of an afterthought, she wasn’t old enough to do much and so you look and I’ll point as to who did all of the ruddy work around the place. I was the only one there, I used to cut lawns and feed chooks, and we used to have a couple of horses in those early days
and I had to feed and groom them. And we had a tennis court. And if the old man came home and wanted a game of tennis, I had to jump and have a game of singles with him. It was all, I didn’t think anything much about it actually, but looking back things were pretty tough and I know the bank, I don’t know if the bank did or not.
We lived on five pounds a week, which is now about ten dollars and that was a bit grim. I know I went to the local schools and eventually my old man sent me off to Guildford Grammar as a boarder, I had wanted to go there years ago like my brother.
Because Northam would have been a really small community at that time?
About eight thousand people. But we had a home,
it was better than a cottage, a decent-sized home with a tennis court in Albany. And we used to go down there six weeks straight after school broke up, until school came back. So we were pretty lucky really. And we escaped most of the heat of Northam, bloody hot place, really is. In the middle of winter it is the opposite, very cold. But Northam was a big
railway centre then, two stations, West Northam and East Northam. And of course, the Kalgoorlie Express thundered through there. And all of the eastern state traffic trans was going in those days. I remember one occasion, you asked me about growing up in Northam, in 1926 there was a murder trial,
Coulter and Traffine were two blokes charged with killing two policemen. You are much too young to remember this and so is Julian. There was two policemen looking for gold stealing and they came across these two blokes, somewhere out of Kalgoorlie in the bush. And I am not to sure what they were doing but they were breaking the law and they arrested them but
unfortunately the baddies, is this right?
Yeah yeah go.
Unfortunately the baddies overpowered these blokes, the two policemen, and killed them and dropped them down an old mine, cut the bodies up. Anyway everybody was looking for these two policemen; this is not a nice story. They eventually found the bodies down there because of blowflies coming up, that’s how they found them.
And these blokes were arrested, and it was a very famous trial in Perth in 1926, which my father was following very avidly. Now the daily news used to come up on the Kalgoorlie Express, that’s right came up about eight o’clock p.m. and home in Northam was about a mile away from the West Northam station and I had to,
Dad sent me off, go down get a Daily News so he could read it. So off I go, and halfway, I was on a bike and halfway there, I ran into a couple of my school cobbers [friends] playing hide and seek or whatever they were playing. I was what? Eight. In the local park, Bernard Park. And I joined them.
Anyway cutting a long story short, I did not get home until ten o’clock. And of course my mother was beside herself, my old man was frothing at the mouth, wanted to know where I had been, and I told him, diddle, diddle, diddle. And there was no can’t hit your kid and all of this business. He got fair into me, took his slipper off. Okay, so that made a note in my mind, so don’t do it again. Next day
eight o’clock, he wanted me to hop down to the bloody station again. And I met these same blokes down the park. And do you know what? Slow learner, I played with them again. I got home around about the same time, bloody hell. And the old man by this time had a decent old wad of grape vine, which we had a lot of grapes there. And I was truthful I told him. Anyway it wasn’t just the slipper that time,
I got a decent old whack where I was sitting. The third night and bloody hell I knew exactly what I was going to do, and guess what? That bloody train was late. It was late! And I was beside myself when I got home. And there was the light on the front, Mother and Dad there; I am not too sure what was in store for me the third
time, but I sung out from the front gate, “The train was late, Dad.” And Mother said, “Yes, Eric,” was the name of my father, “I heard the train whistle come in just a few minutes ago.” And the whole thing was saved.
Saved. I have never forgotten that. What brought that up?
I am not sure but I was going to ask you, was it really important for your family to have this connection with the newspaper?
Oh no, just that he was interested, I’m sure my mother wasn’t, she may have. But the old man was, he was a bit vague about it all but no I don’t think so other than he was just interested. A murder case in those days, it is every day now, but it was a big thing, a murder case. But that particularly, the manner in which they found the bodies, and they couldn’t find them for a while, it was a very famous murder case.
How did you feel about
school in Northam?
Well I didn’t know any different really, they were fine. I was happy I didn’t know anything else. I always wanted to go to Guildford Grammar School because I always used to come down with my parents and watch my brother in the inter-school sports and I thought, “Well that’s what I want to do”.
What sort of sports attracted you?
Me? Cricket; to a lesser extent football, tennis. Then or now? I was always keen on cricket, always. But I played football, tennis, we always had a court. I just liked it. I wasn’t very good at any of them. Table tennis, my father was the table tennis champion of South Australia,
so that was half compulsory in our joint. But I couldn’t beat him. That was all right. I remember very hot nights when we came back from Albany and it was nice and cool in February when school went back. It was a hot place Northam, it really was. There was no Fremantle Dock or anything; it was hot, very hot. And dare I say it, no sewerage in those days.
Not in Northam, there was down here I think but certainly not in the country. And the twenty-two-cylinder humdinger used to come around twice a week. Do you know what that is?
I would love you to explain it to me.
Well it is a horse and cart that used to go way up the back, pick up the you-know-what, take it down and put an empty one up there. And they used to call them the twenty-two-cylinder humdingers. Anyway
they used to come around about two in the morning and I’ll say Tuesday and Friday whatever it was. And we all slept out on the veranda and this bloke used to come along there and you could hear the ‘clip clop’ and he would wake us all up with a lantern, and particularly going down past us. And we didn’t get much sleep after that and that was two nights a week we didn’t look forward to.
That was just something that happened in those days. What else happened?
Was there a bit of produce swapping throughout the depression?
Oh no I am not aware of it no.
I am just wondering how that community really organised itself after the money really fell out?
No certainly, didn’t you mean trading?
To my knowledge that didn’t happen. But the farmers,
they were poor. Everyone was poor. I don’t know what happened down here; I suppose there was a few lucky blokes with. But quite frankly it didn’t do you any harm the depression it really didn’t. I sometimes feel, it is an awful thing to say, but the modern day kids, it wouldn’t do them much harm to have a small depression, you appreciate the value of money and things and life generally,
whereas today now, how did I get onto that?
I was going to ask you what was it like to eventually get to Guildford Grammar?
Well very strange actually because most blokes when they go there are young, twelve at the most generally speaking. But my type was an exception; there is an initiation ceremony for every new bloke,
I don’t think they have it now, and you had to, the first night, Saturday night you had to get in what was then the school hall and sing songs and they used to have then what they called a peanut race. I can’t describe that really to you, but you had to put a bit of stone,
in a certain place crawl up to the other end of the hall, get the stone, put it in your mouth and crawl back again, have a race. Now I am not going to tell you where the stone was but you wouldn’t want to put it in your mouth, put it that way, and that was the initiation ceremony, and of course I was around about fourteen, fifteen, sixteen and all of the other blokes were about ten or twelve, so from that regard it was an initiation.
But I loved it, the time I was there. Because changing from a high school to another school, the teachers were different, everything seemed to be different, you didn’t just seem to pick up the threads again. So I didn’t progress mentally very much while I was there but I played plenty of sport. I enjoyed it. I loved it.
Did you make any friends?
Yes I did.
You know school friends, old friends anyway, are the real friends, they really are. Some of them are gone, I remember my old man saying once, “The trouble is about getting old”, he was ninety-four, “is that you run out of friends.” That’s true. Never mind. We’ll join up again, down there chatter chatter somewhere.
So at what point did you actually finish school?
I finished when I was seventeen. And I wasn’t academic obviously.
Well you certainly enjoyed your sport.
I still do. But as soon as the day I left Guildford because
I was doing well in sport put it that way, and I thought I might have spent another year there. And what I call ‘the home for lost dogs’ was known as Elder Smith and Co [Company] those days, all of the blokes like me ended up either in a bank or a stock firm. And I ended up at Elder Smith, which is now Elders GM [Elders Smith Goldsbrough Mort] I think, it is the same but it is different.
So is it a stock firm?
It is a stock firm, sold wool livestock, quite a big firm. Have you heard of Elders GM now?
Elders Goldsbrough Mort, well Elders took over Goldsbrough and Mort and changed their name. But a lot of blokes from private school went into Elders, Dalgety, Goldsbrough, not so much Wesfarmers, and looking back I always think it was a home for lost dogs.
But I loved it the time I was there. Couldn’t go to university so I ended up in a place like that, and pretty hard upbringing there I can tell you. I don’t know if you know how much ten and six was in the old days? One dollar and five cents and that was my weekly wage. I started off, as indeed all of the blokes in Elders started off, delivering letters,
morning and afternoon, taking telegrams down to the GPO [General Post Office] , which was then Forrest Close down on the corner of William and St George’s Terrace. Telegrams had to be taken down there, you couldn’t hang onto those, hail rain or sunshine; letters all over the place in the city to save bloody stamps I suppose. And you do that for six months and then after six months, I got an automatic raise
fifteen shillings and sixpence which is one dollar and forty-five. And I was on the front counter, and that was a pretty big promotion for me, because you saw people coming and going and asking things, and it was much better being in there than out in the heat or the rain delivering letters.
How old were you at this time, seventeen or eighteen?
I was seventeen. Turned eighteen the following July.
And then, well I don’t suppose it matters what I did after that. I dealt with all of the inward mail. I didn’t deal with it, I had to distribute it around the office, which again I thought was pretty good, because you saw everyone and not going out in that delivering damn letters.
Had your family actually moved to Perth by this stage?
No oh no, they were in Northam. They actually moved at the
start of the war. And they went down, my father bought a farm at Kendenup at the start of the war, and he had sold all of those other farms to his share-farmers on very generous long terms. Because they were virtually unsaleable, oh it wasn’t so bad then in ‘38. But my brother had, he had been up on a station, Dagay, and
he was going to be a farmer. I never wanted to be a farmer, so Dad went down and I am not too sure how he financed it, but he did, anyhow, they went and lived there for a while and when my brother was ready to take that over, they went and retired in Albany. But the time when I was at Elders, they were at Northam.
So where were you staying when you were in Perth?
In Perth? At first I was staying, I boarded at the top of Walcott Street, 222 was the number, a very nice person. She was a doctor’s widow. She obviously had to have some income and four of us stayed there, three Commonwealth Bank blokes and myself. And we used to walk three miles every morning to save tuppence, that’s two cents. Because the minimum fare,
three pence, the tram used to come down Walcott Street into Beaufort Street, silly. And we used to walk every morning to save that, what did I say? Tuppence. Three pence we saved. We didn’t mind it. And that wasn’t close enough to all of the rest of the mob in Elders, who were fast becoming my friends. They were all boarding in
Perth, there were plenty of boarding houses up there then. So we left Mount Lawley and went to West Perth, which is a much shorter walk I might add.
What are the conditions like in a boarding house in those times?
Oh pretty good, I stayed with Mrs Kelly in Collins Street, West Perth. And we were part of the family, breakfast was ready and we had our rooms. I don’t think we ever, we should have, but I don’t
think we ever made our beds or helped like that. And you know you worked on Saturday mornings, and if you were lucky you played a sport Saturday afternoon. I played hockey. And Sunday was a bit of a dead loss. You didn’t have any records or anything to play. We used to sometimes go to the park and walk around in circles and come home again. Not much going on Sundays,
it was really a day of rest in those days, nothing to go and watch, see. You made your own fun. No pubs open, thank God, would have been disastrous. Oh no, Mrs Robinson in Mount Lawley, Mrs Kelly, it was pretty pleasant, they were kind people, elderly. Then we decided the
four of us, yes we were all at Elders, rent a flat. We soon found out that our cooking wasn’t too good and that didn’t work at all. We were all friends and remained friends, but we went to another place and I had better not mention the name. I had better not.
Anyway a great friend of mine, Doug Burgess, went to school with a woman by the name of Mrs White it was ran this boarding house, for the same reason, to get some money. And her son was on a Hale Scholarship, Hale School. And so the three of us lived there. And one of our friends turned
twenty-one. And I scraped, begged, borrowed, I don’t know how I got the money but it cost me about seven pounds, fourteen dollars, for a dinner suit. And of course we would be going to hockey balls and you know balls in those days were all at the Embassy, so it was a great thrill to have a dinner suit. And this
January it was, twenty-first birthday 1938 finished up down Cottesloe Beach about five in the morning with containers of beer and we sat down there grogging on. Seven o’clock we reckoned we would have a swim, and we didn’t strip, just took our coats off and dived in.
And here was my brand new dinner suit in the water with me. And by the time we got back to Mrs White’s place about eight o’clock in the morning, we were supposed to be going to Elders that day. Sand, seaweed, no boots on, Mrs White wasn’t too pleased with us, and of course we were still full. And we were asked to go.
That’s when we went to the flat, that’s right, went and tried the flat. But Charlie White just happened to be a part of that, his father was killed in World War I before he was born, very nice chap. And of course I am digressing a little bit, but when war broke out and Doug Burgess and myself enlisted he said, “I am coming too.” And his
mother said, “No you’re not,” for obvious reasons. So we went off and we didn’t know this at the time, Doug and myself, the next thing Charlie White turned up in our battalion - I don’t know how he got around his mother - as the battalion orderly room sergeant. Now that is the sort of bloke who does all of the, well all of the
company returns go to Charlie White and I am not too sure what they do. But it was sort of a clerical job within the battalion or there is also company orderly corporal who does the same. There are returns and who is away and all that jazz. Anyway, Charlie stayed there until, I don’t think he was on Kokoda, but he got a commission anyway.
And I think he had the opportunity of going to a safer job back there, but he insisted on going into action once before he folded his tent, well you can guess what happened, he got killed. And when we came back on leave, Doug and I went to see Mrs White and she refused to speak to us.
She reckoned we were responsible for her son’s death, he was an only child, only boy anyway. So it was a rather sad story. Nevertheless, we didn’t try to go back, she was too upset. We upset her; we didn’t get past the door.
Well she had to blame somebody obviously.
Well indirectly we were. But that’s how she saw it
and just refused to speak to us. So there you are.
I was actually going to ask you, did you spend a spot of time in the Cameron Highlanders?
Yep not much, that’s another bloody story. I was in the wool department of Elders; this is sort of going back and back, pushing a pen, and kept, those days I had to keep handling the ledgers. And I kept what was called
the bale ledger. The wool came in from the north and I had to record number of bales, the brand and so forth, and I got to know a lot of these stations up north by name. And I was bloody curious to go and see them, I heard about them and I wanted to see it. So very big deal, I approached Elders
to see if they would give me six months off to go away on a shearing team. And lo and behold, because it is slack in the winter, shearing up there, the wool season is over the summer in those days, they gave it to me. So I rang up the pastoral labour bureau and said, “Nineteen year old. Can you give me a job?” “Yes, four pounds a week as a rouseabout.” Now that was a lot of dough [money] for me.
You only got four pounds a week from Elders when you turned twenty-one, I don’t know what I was on, probably a couple of bucks or something. Anyway sure enough I go, joined the shearing team, run by a bloke who was pretty keen on tennis, Cliff Barker, he was the boss. And talk about a lot of scallywags in that shearing team. And we made Moora the first night. I don’t know how much detail of these sorts of things you want?
This is great. Carry on.
We made Moora the first night, six shearers, two rouseabouts, a classer, two blokes that skirted when they fling it on the table. Two rouseabouts we picked up the fleeces and swept the floor and did this and that. And a classer, of course that was Cliff Barker, and an expert, and a cook, an expert
who if the shearing cart ran down he would fix it. But it was also his truck we sat on the back of. I remember those boards in Moora, the floors of it were sleepers, the old wooden sleepers. Not that they were smooth, one there and one up there, must have been done by an Irishman because there wasn’t’ a smooth thing there. Anyway didn’t
seem to worry me much. Next night was in Geraldton, can’t for the life of me think where we stayed there. And then the next night Carnarvon I think, and I didn’t realise it then of course because that’s a danger spot because everyone gets on the grog. And we’re due out at Lyons River Station out by Gascoyne Junction, whatever it was. And Cliff Barker
had a lot of trouble getting the blokes on, he would have one or two blokes on the truck, go and get the others and by the time he got back, they were back in the pub again. This seemed to go on all morning from what I remember. But I was a good boy, I got half full and stayed on the truck. And of course everyone had grog, dreadful these sorts of stories.
It is part of what the life was like then, I mean you have made a pretty radical decision to go shearing.
I should have got a VC [Victoria Cross] in those days it was unheard of, looking back it wasn’t. Anyway halfway through one of these blokes, Lyle Rogers, who I shared a hut with consequently, said, “Listen son, if you,” oh they used to call me Hugh, don’t know why, “If you want to make the grade in this team, you have got to stand at the end of the trap there and drink a bottle of beer without taking it down. You have just got to
gulp it down.” “Yeah, I’ll have a go no trouble at all.” So down I go and gravel road of course on an old truck, and I stood there, and I stood there, and I saw my eyes go like that or felt like that, and steam came out but I stood there, because I had a lot of grog down here. Anyway I made the grade and I was accepted. And we went to Lyons River Station and
we shore there. Most of the quarters were quite…looking back on them they were bloody awful, hard, horsehair mattress. But they were clean; well we had to keep them clean. But I was offered the job, imagine this, you can either cut the wood for the cook or you can kill the sheep twice a week. You can have a guess what I did,
I cut the wood. God, I suppose you learn, I don’t know. See I cut wood not every day, but most days; that was my job outside the shearing shed the whole time I was with them. We went from there to Exmouth Gulf, which is quite a town now, nothing there then, that’s the name of the station. We went around the top to Mardie Creek, which is still there now I think,
right on the ocean I think, and then Ningaloo where the reef is. Of course we didn’t know that. But those three places were near water, and they were marvellous really because you can go and have a swim and a fish, it was cool. Then we came from there down to a station in the
Gascoyne called ‘Melidia’ about eighteen miles north of Carnarvon and I mentioned Cliff Barker was a keen tennis player and so was I. And this sort of came up during the run somewhere, and the two very nice daughters, daughters of the owner of the station
there, I didn’t know they existed at this particular time. I was only talking to one the other day, one’s dead. And lovely tennis court, nice homestead, I don’t know if you have seen these older homes up north, the lawns and, very nice, comfortable you know. Makes it worthwhile going up there I guess. And Cliff Barker came to me and said, “Look the two lasses
want a game of tennis this afternoon, would you make up the four?” and I said, “Yeah, righto.” I suddenly thought, “Christ, I haven’t got any gear”. I only had, I suppose I had two pairs of shorts, I used to wear a bag apron to keep the grease off, but I only had two pairs of shorts that I used to wear and a shirt. And I thought, “God I will have to scrape up one of these to try and get the grease out of them”.
And so Saturday morning, was I shearing then I have forgotten, doesn’t matter. I boiled them, I had not a clue what to do. I boiled them to get the grease out, and I found an iron and ironed them up and scorched the damn things as well. And when I turned up, I must have had my sandshoes, I have forgotten now. Turned up
and about half way through the first game I suppose I bent down to pick up a ball and phhhit. Right down the bottom, split right, and I didn’t have nay underpants on. My wife will scream if she heard that. But you know, I had a very funny game for the rest of the game of tennis I can tell you. Yeah well there you go.
Sounds like you made some friends when you were out.
None of them seemed to so much. The bloke Lyle Rogers, oh that’s another story, which I discovered. After Melidia we called into Carnarvon again and as a matter of fact, I got a letter to say that I had to come back, leave the team as soon as I could, because, as if I would make much difference, the season was hotting up and we want you back in the office. Big deal.
So luckily I was to leave Carnarvon. And the same thing happened into Carnarvon I suppose for stores and so forth all into the pub. Now unbeknown to me of course in 1931 there was a great big shearers’ strike, it was big news in those days, and one or two blokes did not go on strike, they went shearing, they were called ‘scabs’. This is ‘38 seven years afterwards.
And unbeknown to me, one of the shearers was a scab and they were despised by the rest of the blokes. I didn’t know about this then. Go into the pub, you know I was one of them then, a big bloke; I had turned twenty by then. And suddenly, in the middle of everybody, all of this noise, this erupted. This chap
Roy White was a scab [strikebreaker;non-union member] and this Lyle Rogers was a pretty, oh God he was a tough old bugger, he grabbed White and slung him against the wall, “Get out of here”, and language I did not understand much. I thought, “This is no good”, not having a clue about it, so I stepped in between. “Oh look, we’re all friends.” Next thing I was plastered all over the bloody wall, I soon found out about that. Anyway I left, came down on the Kaiba and they went on to
the Murchison. But anyhow I don’t think I have seen any of them since. One came from Miling, one from Geraldton. Oh yes I did one. Chap by the name of Duncan Muir; he was a damn nice chap, he was a farmer actually. He was a POW [Prisoner of War] in Japan and he got a soldier settlement place out at Jerramungup. I don’t know what he was doing, but anyway
he was a damn good shearer and a nice bloke and I did see him after the war, once I think. Just our paths had never crossed those days, where Northbridge is now was rather a seedy area. Different to what it is now. And you wouldn’t go over there really, not being snobby or anything, it just wasn’t where I went.
All of those blokes did, Lyle Rogers did, I found out afterwards that he spent half of his time in Fremantle Gaol and those sorts of things but they were all right as long as you kept them out of the pub. It was quite an experience.
From Carnarvon you got the call back to Perth from Elders?
Yes I must have got a letter I suppose. I knew I was leaving the team at Carnarvon to come back to Perth. Of course the only way you could get back then was by ship. Which damn near
broke me, I might add. It was a forty-eight hour, two or three days I think.
Before I ask you about the ship journey we just have to change tapes.
Interviewee: Eric Williams Archive ID 1117 Tape 02
So tell me a bit about the ship journey from Carnarvon back to Perth?
Can’t remember much about it. The Kaiba was only eight hundred and fifty-eight tons, which was a small ship. It was a states ship, used to commute from Esperance right through to Darwin I think. Not Darwin, Wyndham. It was a pretty small ship.
The only thing I can remember about that trip was I was right up the front, the shark points, that’s the bow isn’t it? Doesn’t matter. I was watching the thing going through the water by myself and suddenly the ship turned and went into a huge wave, I got knocked over. Of course the blokes on the bridge never stopped laughing, they went straight into
wave and over she came. So I didn’t stand there again. That’s all I can remember about it really. I do remember that my cobber Doug Burgess met me, I don’t know why because he would have been working. Anyway when we came into Fremantle he was there. And I remember we walked over the Fremantle railway bridge and he said
that we ought to join the militia because things were not too good over there.
Was he a friend of yours from Elders?
That’s when I first met him yeah, lifelong friend as it turned out. He joined Elders a month or two after I did, we always boarded together and we were firm friends. As a matter of fact, when
we did join up my number was WX 4759, and his was 4760. And we were in the same platoon, officers of the same battalions, until he got transferred in Elders over east in the late 50’s. But we were still firm friends, he is dead now unfortunately.
With the joining up of the militia, had war broken out at this point?
No it was the end of 1938 and
we discussed this and it was a big deal to get into the militia.
What attracted you about the militia?
Well all of my cobbers were doing it, and there was a war there and that’s what you have got to do. We thought that was a big deal then. And eventually we enlisted, with these Cameron Highlanders
and being tall, I remember the first night I was there they measured me to make a special kilt. Had to go to Melbourne and all of that jazz.
You had to go to Melbourne for the kilt?
I didn’t but the measurements did, it was made over there. So for the first few weeks I didn’t have a kilt. There wasn’t much to it then, sort of parade drills and lectures and
latterly went to Rottnest [Island] for a week and Northam for three months I think
How often would you actually be a part of the highlanders?
How often did we meet?
Is it a weekend kind of thing?
I think it might have been. It just seems a bit often. I would think probably every week, I am not sure of that, I can’t remember.
But there was a night parade. Any rate, along came my twenty-first birthday, this is the sad story about the militia, saddish anyway, and because, yeah, my parents were down at Kendenup then.
This is July 1939, just in the Cameron Highlanders, and I had been to a few twenty-first birthday parties and naturally I wanted to have one. And my parents weren’t up here to do it, but he sent me up ten pounds, now that was a lot of dough those days, twenty dollars, a lot of money, to have a dinner party somewhere, which would easily cover it,
ten pounds. But I thought, I will rent a cottage up in Gooseberry Hill twenty-five shillings for the weekend. Two dollars fifty, for the weekend, two days, and I invited all of my cobbers up there. I got the biggest barrel of beer I could afford, and of course they all came up,
some of the cobbers, I played hockey with the Old Guildfordians, I don’t know how many came up, about ten or fifteen I suppose, enough to near wreck the joint. And that’s what we did. And early next morning when we were looking at that barrel and thinking, “God, I wish there was some grog left in it”, along comes the owner and says we have got an hour to get out, the neighbours had complained. I don’t blame them quite frankly.
And there was burnt eggs, anyway we got out and because we all smoked in those days, and I remember I had an awful lot of nicotine there which I am not proud of, and it was a damn long Sunday when we got back to Perth, we were scratching our heads, where can we get a hair of the dog [drink] to pick us up again.
Any rate I think someone, we only had two cars because we had eight in one of them I remember. And we, every Wednesday in those days I would have to go up to Midland with the stock department. Midland was the big sheep sales, cattle sales, pig sales once a week. And the Elders’ blokes, and Dalgety’s and
Elders used to go up late on Tuesday nights. Catch a train, walk a mile and sleep in some dreadful conditions, never mind, that was it. Get up at three o’clock when the first rate came in, which was the first trainload of sheep. I was on the sheep side of it. So you go up there on Tuesday night and you go over to Florrie Gibsons and you buy some butter and some cheese, I have forgotten now,
bit of bread, instead of buying up there, because you were given twenty-five shillings expenses. What's that? Four dollars fifty I think, five dollars. So we bought this and we didn’t catch trams or taxis, we walked out from west out to station, didn’t catch a taxi to Midland, we walked and we didn’t spend, we made money, we would make about a quid on it, something like that.
Which is a fortune to us. Any rate I remember this old chap that was in charge of Elders paddocks out there would wake us up, I will never forget his voice. “Come on, you bastards!” I won' say what he said, but always the same. And you would roll over and hear this bloody train coming in, and I was in the wool department, seconded to the
stock for that day, so I got all of the crook jobs. I wasn’t the only one, there was about two or three from other departments just to make up the numbers for the day. The stock department blokes had what we reckoned was a good job. When the sheep got off the truck, they would pair them up or they were writing down whose they were and the pen number, all of the cushy [comfortable] jobs. Me, six foot three, had to get into these bloody trucks, two-tiered, I suppose they would be about that high, one there and another one
up there, and I would have to get into there and crawl. Now in bloody wintertime, the sheep had been on green feed. You can imagine that the bloody floor it was like icing, full of muck. And if I slipped, look out: Phht. And I had to do this every week. And I had to crawl; I couldn’t do anything
else. Anyway off they came, bang, sold. And guess what? They had to be loaded up again to a fresh owner, or the butchers. And of course they are stubborn damn things, and if they didn’t go up, who would have to go and give them a push? Not these fancy blokes down there, I did. That was every Wednesday. What brought that up?
I don’t know but it sounds like one of the crappiest thing I have ever heard of.
That’s the polite way of putting it.
So are you actually doing this job while you have joined the militia with the Cameron Highlanders? Because you did mention that you…
Oh that’s right, I was up there. I was up there and I had a phone call from old HJ Foreman who was the accountant of Elders and was in charge of all of the boys including me. “Would I please come down and report to him immediately?” I thought, “God he has heard about that weekend”,
it was after that weekend, “Bloody hell, he has heard about that. He will tell the old man”. Look, I am between a crap and a shiver really. I didn’t mind leaving the job, I went and cleaned myself up and then I had to go home and get some decent clothes and I went in there and of course I was hiding the hand with all of this nicotine. “Oh”, he said, “Williams, you’re going to Kellerberrin and you have to
catch the train on Wednesday.” I was that relieved that it was not about my abortive, not abortive whatever you would like to call it at Gooseberry Hill. It didn’t sink into me. Kellerberrin, I didn’t want to go to Kellerberrin. It was out in the Never-Never [way outback] somewhere. You know, just joined the Cameron Highlanders and all of the bright lights and balls and
nice girls and friends, life was great.
You would have probably been looking quite smart in your kilt too by this stage.
I will tell you a story about kilts later on in Syria. Anyway I was shattered, couldn’t believe that I was leaving Perth. Anyway stupid, looking back I should have told them to go and get nicked. But I didn’t. The
train went up once a day, an old diesel, it was a diesel. And I left about nine o’clock in Perth and sat there and got gloomier and gloomier, went through Northam I remember, and got to Kellerberrin at three in the afternoon, I had never been there before, and I got out of the train and there was no one there, the whole street was like that.
And there was nothing, you could have fired a shot in any direction and I thought, “God what I have come to”. And eventually I dug up somebody from Elders and they showed me where they had booked a boarding house. But what had happened, they worked all day Saturday in those days in Kellerberrin and have a half-holiday on Wednesday and that’s why there was no one around. I was really shattered.
And I had to tell the Scotty, the Cameron Highlanders, I had just got the uniform, just. Just.
Did you have to pay for your own kilt?
No I don’t know what happened, there would be plenty of six foot three blokes they could pass it on too, I only had about a month there. But Kellerberrin was about the happiest twelve month I ever had there as it turned out. Lots of fun, you make your own fun in the bush.
By this time what was the situation going on in Europe, were you well aware of what was going on?
Well that was the end of, well obviously just after my twenty-first birthday, and war broke out 1st September wasn’t it? So war broke out four weeks after I was there.
Yeah and that Sunday when it did break out,
there was car racing at Dowerin. They used to have it every year, and we went from Kellerberrin, about three or four of us, over to watch them. And while we were there, we had just left to come back to Kellerberrin and we were told that [Prime Minister] Menzies had just declared war on Germany. And of course, there might have only been three of us there, of course
we were all going, all going to be killed and diddle, diddle, diddle. And we got to Whyle Catchment and our Elders agent there was a bloke by the name of Dick Brazier and we went to see him and drank him out of house and home. You’re going to think that I did nothing else but drink beer, but that’s not quite right. And his sister who I since know very well, she was the sister of a very old friend of mine
who ended up Chief Justice, Governor of Western Australia but he wasn’t then, Greg Bourke. Anyway we drank him out of house and home and got back to Kellerberrin and diddle, diddle, diddle.
I am just wondering the job that you were involved in, was that considered manpower at all?
No I never heard of it, I have heard of it since. But a great friend of mine, a chap from
Northam a chap by the name of Jim McKenzie had a farm on his own and he enlisted and his sister ran the farm. I am not; I had better not say that. But manpower, no. There was manpower if you wanted to take advantage of it.
So obviously you couldn’t join up in a place like Kellerberrin?
Well actually you could but I didn’t. I wanted to join up with
Doug Burgess and others. So next day…you didn’t pick up the phone and ring Perth but old Hughie Keys the manager wasn’t there, oh we worked most nights there too I might add, they used to call it the local lighthouse. I rang up Doug Burgess any rate and said, “When you are ready to go, let me know.” By that time it was the phoney war until
Germany invaded the lowlands. And then it became a deeper war there, prior to that nothing was happening really. There was a few ships sunk. At first it was the phoney war, and then in May Hitler invaded
Holland and Belgium and threatened France. Of course France had the Maginot line [border defenses] and reckoned they were safe. Of course Hitler just went around the side, simple as that. And so Burgess rang me and said, “I think it is time.” So I suppose I got permission to hop on a train, I would have had to. They weren’t going to stop me anyhow.
Came down and we both went around and enlisted.
Where was this?
Down on the end of William Street, that’s where the Repat [Repatriation] used to be down there, I don’t know if you would remember that. There was a drill hall, oh the Cameron Highlanders that’s right, there was a repat on the corner, because there was no freeway over there then. Foot of William Street and the Esplanade there, on that narrow corner was the Department of
Veterans Affairs and next to it was the drill hall. That’s where the Cameron Highlanders and that’s where the recruiting office was and we went down there and got our numbers and you then had to go back for the medical.
What sort of things did they do to you as part of the medical?
Oh I think pretty basic things, we were all young.
I was twenty-one and fit. And most blokes, not all but most, of that age, twenty to twenty-five, there was some old blokes there that I subsequently found out, got through. Our bugler he was fifty-eight. World War. He must have had a direct line to God or something, but he was a good old bloke.
I can’t remember, I suppose blood pressure. Oh eyes, and of course I had (UNCLEAR). I didn’t know then.
It didn’t stop you?
No. Well I was - ‘six six’ was perfect eyesight in those days - I was six three, but I had no glasses. But there was nothing, I don’t remember the physical really. I know we had to go back there twice and we had to slap our hand
on the bible and swear allegiance to old King Billy you know. But I really don’t, I do remember the medical but I can't remember what they did much, all the basic things I guess heart, blood pressure, samples, I know another cobber of ours had dreadful flat feet but he go through. I don’t think he had an ankle just a bend in the
just a bend and it went out like that, to get in the infantry like that, I don’t know. But there was nothing untoward about it. That was about a month apart I think. But the second time we had to keep going, oh yes I did, I think we had three days in Kellerberrin Club, which I couldn’t afford to
go around there much. Gave me a silver propelling pencil with my name on it, where it came from, diddle, diddle, diddle. I have still got it, don’t use it. Back to Perth and up to Northam.
What were the conditions like in Northam?
I don’t think they would compare much with now but they weren’t bad. We
arrived from Perth 25th of June and we were met there. And we were lined up and marched to the camp, which was three miles toward Perth.
That’s a fair hike if you’re marching.
I suppose it is. It would be now but we didn’t think much of it, we
marched for twenty-four hours once but we marched and of course a train from Kalgoorlie had just arrived full of Kalgoorlie blokes and we were sober, they weren’t. They had a bloody lot of trouble getting them to march out there. Anyway, we marched out there in civvies [civilian clothes] and the first thing that all of the blokes out there
we were in giggle suits [protective dress, fatigues] , you wouldn’t know what a giggle suit was, but instead of being in everyday camping, in the Northam Camp and so on, you had two issues of giggle suits, which is a sort of a khaki colour, about that colour, I suppose a bit darker. Everything was giggle. A giggle hat which is a hat you see kids wearing down the beach, of the same material, and
a thing with brass buttons, cheap ones, did up here and the seams and army boots. Beetle crushers. And they are all lined up there, some of them we knew, a lot of them we didn’t of course. And all of them sang out, “You’ll be sorry. You’ll be sorry.” I will never forget that as long as I bloody live. Marched all the way up the bloody hill there and, “You’ll be sorry.” Didn’t know what it meant or anything but there you go. And we got into a queue,
we didn’t know what we were. I don’t know, but we wanted to get into the Cameron Highlanders equivalent and that was the 2/16th [battalion] . And there as we were going through was a chap by the name of Arnold Potts [later BrigadierA. W. Potts, DSO, MC] who was an old 16th bloke, he was a complete and utter, that’s another story there about Pottsy; he was our idol as it turned out.
And he rejoined again. Wasn’t much of a farmer but he loved soldiering. Fine bloke. And I don’t know whether he said, “Right oh you’re for the 16th.” I cant remember, but I know meeting him he was an Old Guildfordian, and I knew that and of course I introduced myself, I did get to know him quite well afterwards. Anyway we ended up in C Company of the 2/16th. Others went to
artillery; I don’t know where they went for artillery. There was Field Park, which was vehicles, but we were down the bottom and they had these huts. There was Don Company down the bottom, C Company, which was us, three platoons, B and A [Companies] and then up the top
was headquarters. They had six platoons there: Transport, Sigs [signals] , Don R section [dispatch riders, motorbikes] , etcetera, etcetera, Ack-ack [anti-aircraft] , all of the bits and pieces. And we were in a hut, which was maybe, I don’t think it would be any wider than this room. And in a company, there is a hundred and thirty, hundred and forty, and
of course there was five officers, they didn’t sleep there of course. The orderly room corporal didn’t sleep in with us, the three sergeants had different quarters up there somewhere and the storeman, he slept with his stores. So there would probably be about a hundred and twenty blokes there. And the first thing you had to do was get to open-ended bags and go to a haystack
just out there somewhere and stack it with straw and that was our mattress; our palliasse. And we were issued with dixies, two plates that clapped into each other, and a knife fork and spoon. I suppose we had a pannikin, I cant remember that. Two rugs, may have been more than that, come to think of it, no pillows.
What else? Well we had our own shaving gear; I suppose that got cut down pretty well, no fancy stuff then. Uniforms of course that fitted where it touched and the giggle suits.
Were there enough uniforms to go around?
Yeah. Well that photograph you saw in that uniform, they were pretty rough. Officers had nice uniforms
but they were a ,you have probably seen them in your travels. They were button up here, an army button. Button down pocket there and button down pocket there. Trousers, almost a heavy serge, dreadful bloody things really, all right in the winter but not too good in the summer. Fortunately later on we were allowed to wear shorts in the desert.
Anyway we got those and it was try that on and try that one. And we got all of those sort of stores and we didn’t do much until you know they started to, we were allocated to platoons, there was 13, 14, 15 platoon in our company. And 13 Platoon which Burgess and I were in with the city blokes. 14 Platoon were country blokes you know Mandurah, a lot of Mandurah blokes,
Mount Barker, anywhere in the country. And the 15 Platoon were the goldfields crowd. And they were different. They were good blokes but gee they were different.
Different in what way?
Well they were mainly miners and pretty independent sort of fellow that were making in those days a lot of money. I don’t know what they were doing, they
were running these trips and digging, in those days no machines. And I don’t know what else a miner does; I suppose they were horse-drawn in those days I don’t know. But they made a lot of money and of course had a lot of money to spend. And they were wild, pretty wild in those days and they were pretty hard to discipline. One of the things we were taught early on
was how to dig a trench and of course being the army it was all done by numbers. There was three separate movements by the pick and it was done by platoons I think. And whoever was demonstrating it put the pick in there and it was called something, something or other, make and break, you banged it in there and then you pulled it towards you, there was three movements.
And of course all of these blokes from Kalgoorlie had been doing this every day of their lives, digging. And well, you should have heard the comments about it. And at the time it seemed pretty bloody basic even to a bloke like me, how to put a pick in the ground and break up the dirt. But there it was. And that poor unfortunate instructor had to go through it. But you know if they went to Kalgoorlie on leave, which they did do, they would never ever
come back on time. They would be AWL [Absent without Leave] , I would say ninety percent of them you know. I remember one chap; they were all right if they weren’t on the grog. One chap went into Northam by the name of Jimmy Dorham; I don’t know whether I should mention his name. He was a pretty tough sort of bloke, and not very much of a bloke really, Kalgoorlie bloke.
Not much of a bloke?
I didn’t think so.
There are good blokes and there are all sorts of things. He was a standover merchant, he was a bully, big bloke. And you had to line up for mess, and there was the cookhouse and the tables there where we had our (UNCLEAR) and we would line up and
there was always an officer, the orderly officer of the day or one of our own officers, I can't remember. Anyway there was always an officer and a corporal; I was a corporal by this time. And I don’t know what this, Yorky Patchett was his name and he was a Scotty, northern England, and I cant remember Dorham was making a noise, he was hung-over, and he was told to be quiet by Yorky Patchett.
He was sort of half on parade, and I remember Dorham just chucking his dixie [cooking pot] on the ground, which was empty and made a bit of a clatter, and he charged straight up to Yorky Patchett and ‘bang’ in front of everyone. Well, he ended up in the cooler [jail] for twenty-eight days. But that was the sort of, he wasn’t typical of them, but that’s the sort of
thing they were, very independent. Damn good soldiers. By God they were, a lot of them got decorations. But in Northam they hadn’t sort of worked out the army properly I don’t think, I don’t think any of us had. But they were good blokes, they were all right.
What was the mess conditions like?
Pretty basic I think, I can tell you what they were
later on but (UNCLEAR)
(UNCLEAR) I think a lot of stews. I think tinned fruit. Not every meal of course. I don’t know what we, bully beef came into it a lot, we used to call it tinned dog. What did we have for breakfast? It would not have been too flash.
It might have been fried eggs and bacon sometimes but pretty rough. There would be porridge I suppose. Porridge, full stop; porridge rain, hail or sunshine. Mostly stew but I can’t remember in Northam, I can remember in the camps we were in in Palestine and the Owen Stanleys and Syria and so forth but I really can’t remember
what we had in Northam but it would not have been too bad I don’t think.
What sort of training did they give you at Northam camp?
Of course a lot of parade bashing you know. Learning how to change step and how to slope arms [rifle drill] and they had all sorts of fancy calls for when you are marching in line of column; you had to do
a left turn or march straight line. I can’t really remember what they were; I was in there, not giving the orders. We did a lot of drill and that is basically to create some discipline. They had to have discipline of course. We did route marches to keep fit, the rifle range which was eight hundred yards long.
We were taught from a tripod like that how to aim a rifle, not to have it slightly like that or that, how to look in the V [backsight] and all of that jazz, all pretty basic. The rifle range we learnt to, how we would have to lie, aiming a rifle if you were aiming that way, feet spread out and all of that jazz. And when we learnt all
of that we were given what was called the ‘tradesman’s trot’. You may look surprised but it was the rifle range was eight hundred yards long, and they had mounds every hundred yards. So the view of the target and the one back there was eight hundred yards, and of course you had to adjust your sights. So we were taught all of that. And then they had this, what was called the
tradesman’s trot. And you started off back here lying on the ground. And aiming, you always had your own target, and I think you had, I am not sure two or three shots each at that range. And you had to run, right? Go on?
Yeah yeah, I just heard movement.
Well he is allowed to move isn’t he?
Not loudly though.
Then we had to run with our full gear, full pack, ammo [ammunition] , haversack [small pack] and water bottle, all of that jazz. And we had to run from here to the next mound, which was seven hundred, and we would have three more shots, I think lying down I am not sure. And then the next one was six hundred and we had to kneel, and then we would have to run to the next one and we would have to kneel.
And finally when we got to the hundred yard one, we were ‘huh oh huh oh’, because we had been running with the full gear on, diddle, diddle, diddle, and we had to stand. I can tell you the bloody rifle is going like this by that time. We hit the target I suppose but just. And that was called the tradesman’s trot.
Sounds pretty rough.
Well it is not, I probably gilded the lily [exaggerated] a bit but I can tell you it was very hard to take aim at the end of it.
Oh we had our needles. None of us had needles before we had needles. Flu was one I think, flu and something or other else. They were all right, but funnily enough a few blokes fainted. None of us knew, we were all a little bit in trepidation I think about having a needle, I don’t know, but some of them did faint and it was sore for about twenty-four hours.
And then smallpox, little bit of paste there and duh, duh, duh; left a mark, permanent mark, and a lot of blokes keeled over for that you know because they had quite a reaction to it. But that was, some got away with it, some didn’t. The blokes that didn’t get away with it, they got a bludge in hospital, half their luck. Well they didn’t go to hospital; they had days off, or a day off or something. And then there was
a flu swept the camp, I know I got it and I had a nice old bludge in Fermoy [?] Hospital for eight to ten days. And that was very pleasant I might add. Well you know raining out somewhere and I was in a nice warm bed and others, but that went right through the camp that flu. And towards the end of September, there started to be a few little signs that
perhaps our stay was coming to end in Northam. We were issued with, we all had to have our hair cut short. Everyone shaved the lot, everyone from the CO [Commanding Officer] downwards. And that we thought in those days, we must be going to the Middle East, desert heat and so forth. And that’s right
a march through Perth was coming up which is usually just before you go away. And we, the march through Perth, our march and I think probably all of the others, you come down by train, get out obviously at the station. You line up and march up Forrest Place down to Barracks Street, up Barracks Street towards the river, down Hay Street, I have
got a photograph of this somewhere, down William Street, and along the terrace back to Government House and that’s where, the Gov [Governor] or whoever it was, I have forgotten who took the salute. And of course that march you had to have fixed bayonets, you know bayonets and the end of your. And that made a hell of a difference, marching with that thing over your shoulder that extra weight was, and we were told by
old ‘Factory Box’ as we used to call him, Baxter Cox, he was our CO, that it was about a three-mile walk. I am not sure, it was a bloody long walk, but we couldn’t possibly march with that and there was a drill to change arms so you could spare this arm. And we practiced that and practiced because old Baxter Cox was very anxious that everything had to be done spot on.
And of course this changing of arms, to make it all uniform, a thousand blokes, wasn’t that easy, hard enough to keep in step. Any rate we practiced all around the Northam hills and diddle, diddle, diddle. And the night before we were to go down to the march the next day, we were issued with a new colour patch, I showed you. Which is the old 16th colour patch on the grey background, which is the 2nd AIF [Australian Imperial Force] .
That grey background. The old 16th, or the old soldiers had just the colour patch and nothing else and if you were in the Second World War you had that grey background. I think the militia didn’t have, or they didn’t. And of course somehow or other it was a big deal that we wore the old 16th colour patch. Rectangle, navy blue
and we were issued with these. And we had to take off our old ones, which was a grey background, the diamond was the 7th Division and it was mud brown over blue, which was the brigade and division, we had to take that off and sew on the new ones for the march the next day, so you know what everyone did, sewed. They had to be an inch down from there and this
and diddle, diddle, diddle. And we were all there measuring out.
Interviewee: Eric Williams Archive ID 1117 Tape 03
So you have never sewn in your life and you are trying to place these patches?
Oh that’s right. Are we rolling yet?
Of course we are all doing this, me included, bad needle stitches. Anyway one of my cobbers, we all tried them on, they were an inch below and all this jazz and this bloke put his on and do you know where he had sewn it on? Right on his bloody elbow.
You wouldn’t believe it would you? You were told to have it an inch from the seam there and he puts it on his elbow. Anyway it had to be all undone and we measured it for him and next day down to Perth for this march. Line up, bayonets all on the thing. And we started out, diddle, diddle, diddle, you know. Our arms start
to ache, “For Christs sake, when are we going to change arms?” Didn’t issue the order and we had to march the whole bloody way and our arms were just like lead. I will tell you what, a 303 rifle [Lee Enfield calibre .303 rifle] is not too light with a bayonet on the end of it and we marched the whole bloody way without changing arms, and I think our arms were pretty well numb. Anyway we did it.
Where did you march from and to Eric?
Where? From the station up Forrest Place,
left Murray Street down to Barracks Street, up Barracks Street towards the river. In those days, there was no mall in Hay Street, I have got a photograph of that somewhere; down Hay Street to William Street, down William Street to St George’s Terrace. And outside Government House was the, we had to salute.
And then of course we had to march on, where the hell? Oh down by Plane Street I suppose, Victoria Avenue, we were able to slope arms and our arms were pretty bloody crook. I have got a photograph of that, any interest in that?
Yeah we will take a look later this afternoon. We might copy it with the camera if we can.
Well you remind me if I can find it.
So were there lots of people along the sides of the street?
Yes. If I find the photograph you can see them including my wife. Of course we didn’t know each other in those days. She was just starting at the Commonwealth Bank and sat out on one of the ledges, woo, you know. Yes for those days, I hope I can find that because you can see the dress, what the era was. But I remember Hay Street was, we marched down the middle of the street and either side
suppose, not unlike the Anzac Parade this year if you like, that sort of crowd. They all turned out, all waving and all of the jazz. But we all had our colour patches on.
Little did they know you were suffering.
They wouldn’t have known no, but I tell you what the blokes marching did. It really was an effort. Baxter Cox in that book of ours reckons he forgot to
give the order but that’s crap, he didn’t forget.
What are some of the orders during a march that you used to follow?
That sort of a march or?
See on a route march, you don’t march like that.
Can you maybe give me some descriptions of different marches?
Well I can tell you some later on, a few of our bloody marches. When you are on a route march, it is a lot more relaxing in that you are in a giggle suit which is a lot more comfortable, was for us.
And you had a slouch hat in that march and our rifle was slung over our shoulder, we could talk, you had to keep in step of course and we just walked. And on the hour, on the hour at ten to, we had what was known then as a smoko; everyone bloody well smoked, they were issued to us. But for ten minutes we would lie down, back to back
and have a spell and get off our feet and then right on the knocker, “On your feet.” And off you go again. And we did a lot of that around Northam, mainly to get fit. Mainly, we did you know what we called section and platoon exercises which is pretty minimal really, a platoon is about forty blokes and a section is about twelve. And you
could have a section creeping up the gully, trying to get a hold of enemy, woo the enemy up the top. And we would end up firing blanks at each other and all of that jazz, all basic army training. And then a platoon would fight each other, and so on up. And by the time we got to, just before the desert, the whole brigade was involved. But we marched and
training for that march in Perth, we marched miles and miles. I know we were in Northam Camp and there is a place called Catrane Eline [?] , which is about five miles out of Northam on the way to Toodyay, maybe more than that. And we would walk towards Perth from the camp, and I remember we walked across farms, I wonder if they got permission they must have. And we hit this road
on the way to Toodyay and this is fifty minutes, spell, “On your feet,” off again. And of course we would stop for lunch, the army truck would be out with a bowl of stew or whatever, mainly stew. And we marched all day that day. And we would do that twice a week, all to get fit for this bloody march, and to keep fit. But not much went on, you would talk and watch the
sweat drip running off your nose, pretty dull. But a bit better than that bloody parade ground bashing where you did drills. I went to an NCOs [Non-commissioned Officer] school in Northam. Half the time it seemed to me, I don’t know if you have seen the batons, an officer baton is about that long and they carry it on parade.
I don’t know what the purpose of it is but all officers have it. And WO warrant officer I think too. But anyway at the NCO school, it was a school to get a stripe, and we were taught amongst other things, to change step with one of these officer’s batons. Now there was nothing very difficult about it
but I was the only one in the squad that could do it. The others just didn’t understand that when you changed step your arm stayed the same way as well, and I had to get out for about a bloody hour; I had to demonstrate to the rest of these fellows, who were all lance-corporals like me, how to change step with an officer’s baton; very stupid thing but that’s what happened.
Did it sink in?
Well I mean you only had them when you’re in Australia, I suppose
they had them in the Middle East. I didn’t get involved in that side of the business until New Guinea. With the blokes I suppose it did but I don’t think it affected the war I can tell you. What else about Northam? What have we got here, Northam city, training, oh yes there is a little thing there, a couple of things.
What have we left out there Eric?
Two things, the 2/28th [battalion] , which was a 9th Division, we always reckoned they were deaf because they didn’t hear the bugle, they joined up about two months after us. Anyway they were up the top and we were just about due to get onto embarkation and we had a few footballers with us, and they had a few
better actually, league players. Anyway there was a football match, the 16th and the 28th to be played Jubilee Oval in Northam and a lot of…what's another word for bullshit?
A lot of rivalry went on about this because we were all given leave to go and watch it and so forth.
And sure enough it was played in pretty rough spirit. 16th and 28th, there has always been rivalry between the two battalions. And it ended up in a draw, which is probably appropriate. Anyway, right behind the, I don’t know if it is still there now, was the Trans-Continental Hotel, right behind the playing area, Jubilee Oval.
And I suppose ninety percent ended up in that pub, seemed to be anyway. I suppose others went into Northam, I don’t know, but I went into that pub and most of the others. And the next thing that started was a two-up school, you know what that is don’t you? And this went on because there was plenty of grog inside. And I cannot for the life of me remember
how it started but a box-on [fight] started, but it was a free-for-all, I can tell you. But being a total coward as I am, I scattered, I didn’t stay to see the end, the provos [provosts, military police] came in, I don’t think much came out of it.
So they were trying to settle the draw were they in the pub?
Well I don’t really know how it started, but it doesn’t take much for a group of blokes like that to have a stoush. But I
don’t know really, but I know there was a good old box-on, it started as a two-up but ended up in the boxing. I shot through, this is on the eastern outskirts of Northam in those days, still is, I shot through into town.
We’ll just pause there for a second if you don’t mind Eric.
We just burnt down the Trans hotel didn’t we?
I had just disappeared into town hadn’t I?
I really cant tell you what the, I think the provos [military police] broke it up and we all went back to Northam to camp I think, in various stages I might add.
Was your family still in Northam while you were there?
No they left in ‘38 and went farming at Kendenup, which my brother took over and my parents went down to Albany. Spent the rest of their days there.
So what was it like returning to Northam for training when you had grown up there?
Well the only time you went to Northam was when you had a night’s leave and dare I say it there was only one place you spent your time, the pub. But you had to go there; I think it occurred every night there was always someone on leave there, so every night there had to be a
patrol in there to quell any surge, you know make sure there isn’t any problems from the army for the locals, you know just.
Was there ever a stir between the locals and the…?
Oh no never I think, I believe they quite enjoyed the army there, spent a lot of money there and they were there as part of the war effort I suppose. I don’t know, but never anything like that. But I
think they used to go through, I am just guessing now I was not involved. But they used to go through, each platoon had a section, which was twelve men, and the section would be on duty, in charge of corporal maybe a sergeant, I have forgotten. And they would march up and down the street, just to be seen and be there if anything untoward happened. And occasionally it came; I was then a corporal in charge of a section,
we had to go in and do this. And I think we went in from probably say six or seven o’clock until, well lights out were ten, I suppose we came in at ten then, I cant remember. So then I suppose we saw a bit of Northam, same as it was when I saw it really.
Hadn’t changed much?
But there you go.
Well if we move along to Perth and you were marching through,
Yes. What happened after the march?
Well I am pretty sure this is right. There was an organization in Perth a sort of a, basically a kiosk but it was much better than that. Of course later on in the war, there was a lot of
servicemen in Perth, Yanks [Americans] and Brits and so forth and our blokes. And there was a place at 14 Gipps, it had a name but I don’t know that I can remember it, where you went and bought a cup of tea and something to eat. Really it was for servicemen, blokes on leave and that. And that organization was there when we marched, and it was possibly down the
Esplanade, I can’t remember, where we had a tea and possibly a bun or something, I can’t remember, then straight back onto a train back to Northam. Well if you let them loose on Perth then you have to round them up again. No there was nothing untoward after the march, I know we did have that great I think it was probably tea, it couldn’t have been anything else, and then straight back onto the train, straight back to Northam. And that was pretty,
not long before we went away, it usually was a week or two before you were going away. The only other thing that I can remember about Northam, when we got there, there was a Fremantle special, a dog. Wouldn’t have a clue what breed it was, it was a bitser, nice dog, reasonable height and we used to call him Dasher. And he hooked onto us, he must have been in the camp when we got there I think.
Any rate he was adopted by the battalion, Captain Dasher. He had a collar around his neck and we got three pips from the officer quartermaster or whatever and put them on. Three pips a captain. And he used to go into Northam with some of the troops, put a dog bowl down there and fill it with beer and Dasher used to lap it up, and he was of course carted back to camp.
And he was always around the camping area the whole time we were there. We became collectively, you know, he was with us. Captain. And when we were going away we wanted him to come with us, of course that was a no-no. Quarantine and a dog you know, diddle, diddle, diddle. Anyway to hell with that, we wanted him to,
so we decided to smuggle him. And a chap by the name of Joe Cosgrove who was a cook said, “I will fix it.” So he got Dasher into a kit bag, I don’t know if you know, a kit bag stands about that high, where you put all of your, you didn’t have pyjamas, all of your surplus stuff any way. You know your second giggle suit and second pair of boots, all of that stuff.
It was about that high and you tie it across the neck. Any rate Dasher went into one of those. And we were all going onto the ship, we had everything on us, this kit bag and also a sea kit bag for the stuff we wanted on board, ten days or whatever it was, called a sea kit bag. This stuff over our shoulder was going to be stored down below, we could see that, until we got to the Middle East.
Any rate that’s where Dasher was going and I don’t know quite how Joe was going to get him out of it because the kit bags were…he was going to anyhow. And he had just got him on board, I think the dog whinged or barked or something. Anyway he was discovered, and out came poor old Dasher wagging his tail, and Joe I am not too sure, but he slipped or tried to disappear into the
crowd, I don’t know, but he broke his ankle. So Dasher and he remained behind. I don’t know what happened to Joe, I think he caught up with us, he was a cook and we didn’t see him again anyway. We didn’t see Dasher again either, don’t know what happened to him. He got on board but only for about five minutes. Dear old dog. Wasn’t that old I don’t think either.
He nearly made it.
He nearly made it yeah. He would have been seen on the ship it wouldn’t have,
probably just as well really, because he would have been destroyed I suppose, come to think of it.
So did family and friends come to farewell you when you boarded the ship?
No one knew. We were told, bloody army, we were told the night before, we knew something but we didn’t have a clue what was happening, and the very night before, our platoon commander
came and gathered us all around the hut, “We are leaving going overseas tomorrow morning. We are joining the Aquitania and the rest of the brigade will be there, 2/14th from Melbourne, the 2/27th from Adelaide. And we are all going on this big ship.” And of course it was an absolute secret, Japanese have big ears and all of that crap.
So we got on the train with all of our gear on obviously, well no one else was going to carry it. By the time we got down to Perth, it was crowded. Absolutely crowded, this is Perth not Fremantle. Crowded with girlfriends and wives and sweethearts and mums and dads and right across all of the carriages, we all had nicknames, our platoon
was ‘Pross’s Pups’, Jack Pross was our, and 14 Platoon was Goldie’s Goldies. “Good bye we’ll be back soon,” all sprawled across, I think it was chalk. Supposed to be a secret. You get down to Fremantle it was an even bigger crowd, the whole of West Australia almost. Stupid. And here we were creeping around almost in sandshoes, no one would know. So yes there was
a bloody lot of people there. But you weren’t allowed to, we were untouchable, but I remember seeing a couple of familiar faces in the Perth Station. Quite good fun really, we were all excited.
Confetti and streamers?
No, oh no. Couldn’t have anything jolly like that. It was just a great adventure it really was. We were all excited,
young and silly. But it was exciting.
So what was the voyage like, this was your first time at sea I expect?
Yes it was. Well the Aquitania was a big four funnel, it was a modern ship in those days. There was some big ships going between London, Paris and New York, you know that’s about all those passenger liners
were good for in those days you know. In our convoy there was the Aquitania and I don’t really know what the tonnage was. And there was the Mauritania, which was a similar size, and the Queen Mary, we were there, Mauritania was there, where the hell was the Queen Mary? Up there I think. And right in the middle was the cruiser the HMAS Perth,
and of course we all thought that was pretty good. We had never seen anything like that before and there it was just there, and it wasn’t bad, a very comfortable ship. I really don’t know what the size of it was. What was the Queen Mary, about weighty thousand tons or something, something like that. Well this was, it might have been about sixty or something like that. But it was a comfortable ship for the officers. We were all right; we were downstairs in cabins. I don’t know whether we, I cant remember.
What kind of cabins were you in?
Oh well the passenger ones cleaned out, we all slept on the floor and all of that jazz.
How many in a cabin?
Look I really can’t remember I am a bit vague about that, but it had a damn good red canteen there, which we had an hour a day I think.
That could have something to do with the lack of memory?
Yeah it is nothing to do with old age of course. They used to give us
I think it was on the Aquitania you probably see, I never see them now, the full bottle, they are all stubbies and cans.
The 750 millilitre?
Yeah, well they used to be cut in half, so say that is the bottom of the bottle and that is the spout up here, they cut those things in half and that’s what we drank out of, the bottom half. And we got, I think one of those, half a bottle, might have got two, I have forgotten now.
But of course it was a black out, we had lights on but all of the portholes were covered, absolute blackout and looking out, if there was a light showing, you would soon hear from the HMAS Perth. But it was very comfortable you couldn’t do much on board.
Was it fairly crowded on board?
Yes. I think all of our brigade,
I can’t remember, it was quite a big ship, I think all of our brigade would be on it, which would be five thousand. Look I really don’t know. But we had comfortable quarters and reasonably good tucker.
What was the tucker?
That’s a good question isn’t it? I can’t remember.
It was quite good though. I can tell you what the army used to give us, but it was better than the army, I can imagine it, make it up, but it was quite good. It was better than, we sat on benches, it was quite comfortable and we enjoyed it. And we had a lot of lectures about what not to do and what to do.
What kind of lectures?
Well some of them, the I [Intelligence] blokes had a lot to say, the intelligence blokes, which was the platoon and headquarter company, and you know, for instance, the basic thing, if you’re captured all you are allowed to tell your enemy is name, rank and
army number that’s right. That’s all you can tell him.
And you know for instance, that would go on for half an hour, what would happen to you. And I remember one bloke saying, “Well what happens if you do tell them?” “Well”, they said, “you get shot.” That impressed me I can tell you. But that’s really what the rules of the convention, Geneva, that’s all you were obliged to do. I don’t know what happened to those POWs I really don’t.
But they would tell you that, and they would tell you a little bit of the background of the next port, which was Bombay. I remember them telling us that, “When we get to Bombay…”
Well before we get to Bombay, can we talk a bit more about the conditions on board? While you were on board, were you doing any exercises or training?
Well there was no room for…we did exercises sure.
Because you know I think we were about ten days on board I think, we zigzagged, we never went in a straight line because that gives a sub [submarine] plenty of time to line you up. But if you zigzagged, at the appropriate time is to zigzag you don’t give him time to line up. And of course all of the convoy did that except a very
fast ship and they could lose a sub anyway.
What was the sensation like of being a passenger with the ship zigzagging?
Oh, no sensation, I mean you were heading that way and all of the others were, and whatever the time was, five, ten minutes, you would see the bows move over and head that way; there was no sensation, the sea was pretty good. They were big ships; they could handle it all right.
Any of the blokes seasick?
I don’t think so. Oh there was one little thing that happened, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, about ten o’clock, we all had to be in bunks by ten o’clock, there was a shout of, “Man overboard!” and of course the whole show had to pull up, not just one. Am I right in saying that? We did anyway.
And our ship swung around, no it didn’t, it stayed down, the Perth went back couldn’t find anyone. And then they had a roll call and of course everyone was on board, there was no man overboard at all. But that stuffed up the system for about an hour. They think it might have been, because we all had life jackets on. They think, or we were told it might have been a spare life jacket going overboard. But that was just nothing really.
I can’t remember much about the life on board; we had lots of time to talk.
What was the daily routine, what time did you get up?
Well there was always exercises. We met in, we had a company area and we met in platoons. I don’t know what happened to the, the officers were all upstairs, plus a few
others like the headquarter company. Signallers wouldn’t, oh yes I suppose they all had to do, we did not see much of them. But we certainly had to do exercises every day. We had a lot of lectures. You are going to ask me what the hell they were about and I can’t tell you, all to do with the army. A lot of them about what is going to happen. I know we were told a lot about where we were going, Palestine
as it turned out, and about the wogs [Middle Eastern people] and how to treat them, what not to do and where not to go and a few things like that.
Were you lectured on venereal disease?
No. We all knew about it anyway.
You didn’t need lecturing?
No we. Yes I think the doctor did, quite honestly now that you mentioned, I think the doctor told us, but mainly where not to go in Bombay.
And I can tell you just about everyone in the battalion went down and had a look. They wouldn’t have gone any further than that, I can tell you, it was shocking. A place called Grant Road. Anyway.
What was on Grant Road?
Well that was where all of the brothels were. And they were all behind cages, dirty and filthy. And they told all of the battalion,”You must not go down Grant Road.” I think we all had a day’s leave, two days or something. And of course, the whole bloody battalion went down there and had a look,
but none of us would go in there, not in a million bloody years. Jesus. I tell you what, if it went in there bread, it would come out toast.
Did you say women behind cages?
Well behind bars. Absolutely. Anyway that’s what the army said what not to do and of course you go and do it.
How long were you in Bombay?
We got to Bombay, I don’t know we got there, we were anchored just outside Bombay, we could see it. And a very red sun came up in the hills over here, and that was my first impression of Bombay, a ring of fire. Of course there was a lot of haze around Bombay, very hot and humid over there, and this haze made the sun look very big. We see a big sun come up here in full summer.
Anyway we got alongside and I certainly had a day’s leave and I think we were there for about two days alongside. And the first thing I can remember about Bombay was the poverty, they were walking along the street, there were beggars everywhere, I had never seen that before.
And I remember a bloke had huge hands, he was withered from there down. And he sort of walked, crawled on his hands, and his legs just dragged behind him, they were just bone wrapped in skin. And that was not uncommon that sort of poverty, beggars, they were called ‘untouchables’ I think by the local
language. And there was a lot of that there, and that made a big impression on not just me, but on everybody, because we had never seen that. Not likely, I hope we don’t. But there was a lot of them begging, we just wandered around I think, because pubs were no good to us and no transport. We did go out to a, I suppose by gharry [Indian horse drawn carriage] - gharry is thing with a
horse, big wheels, quite comfortable, a lot of those, they were the sort of local taxis - we went out to a huge swimming pool there. I think it was a British swimming pool, I don’t remember seeing any Indians there. And I remember seeing that and late in the afternoon the word somehow got around, we heard about it anyhow, it was not long before we were due back on the ship.
There was a canteen in the town hall and there was grog there. You know pretty hot, pretty dry, lots of walking so we needed to quench our thirst. Anyway we found this town hall and there was West Australian beer. Those days Swan and Emu I suppose it was, certainly Swan beer, of course the local beer you wouldn’t have a bar of it,
it was just foreign to us. So we did find that, but couldn’t stay there too long I can tell you, you weren’t allowed to. There weren’t any real highlights there. I think someone else went on leave the second day. And the third day we caught a train to go to a British camp a hundred and twenty miles away through the hills called Deolali,
D E O L A L I. When we got there, getting there, I remember everywhere we stopped the locals mainly the untouchables, I suppose I can call them I know that’s what the Indians called them, were all along the track wherever we stopped begging. And again they were
skin and bone, very sad. But they were all there, I don’t know how they knew we were coming, I don’t know.
How did you actually react to them begging?
Well we had nothing to give them. We didn’t have any food and we didn’t have that amount of money, and we were told not to give them money because if you did, you would be
absolutely mobbed, and it was quite right too. On one of these stops where the train stopped I think, one of our blokes threw them three threepences or something like that, which was not much, three cents or something like that and the whole crowd focussed on him. And he was not in trouble but it certainly confirmed
don’t give them money. We didn’t anyway, we couldn’t and we were certainly told, it was a bit of a (UNCLEAR). But it was very sad. We have subsequently been back to India, my wife and I, and the same thing happened. We were told by a guide not to give money, not to react in any way. And we saw someone else, I think it was an American I think, and they just converged on him.
Very sad, but that’s the way they live, that’s the caste system.
Did you visit any sort of cultural locations?
Never heard of them, God, better things to do. But there was a, when we got to Deolali we had ten days there and it was an British Army camp and pretty damn good by our standards. Some of the blokes
reckoned when they first woke up, there was local black servants bringing them a cup of tea. It is in our history, I didn’t see it. Its going over the top a bit, but that’s what the Brits would have done I think, employed the locals. When we were there all we did was parade-bashing, drill. It was pretty hot, pretty easy time there. And there was a place,
I can’t remember it, but there was a bit of culture there. But they went there because it was more interesting than our camp. But we were told not to go to a place called Nasik. It is a holy city I suppose, I didn’t go. “Out of bounds don’t go.” So guess what, ninety percent go over there.
And sure enough by about four in the afternoon there was a riot, they must have got into some local grog or something, upset the whole town., the whole system, and they got into trouble those blokes. I say ninety percent; there was quite a few of them. They really got into trouble because they did not want to upset the locals, probably Hindu I suppose.
But I know there was the same thing as the Trans Hotel, box-on. It was a shambles I believe, I was not there. That did not improve our situation very much with the locals. But that ten days went pretty quickly. There was some Brits there as well, they had a different army to us. They were all spit and polish
and jumping to attention. We were all right, but they were a rather different army, probably a better one.
Were you tempted to eat any of the local food?
No, you know what would happen if we did? Do you?
I could take a guess but,
Well you’re dead right. Actually it would be a bloody good bludge if you could get away with it. But oh no, you would get the trots [diahrroea] within two minutes. No I can’t remember about the
Were you warned not to eat anything?
Yeah I think so. I believe so I am sure they would have, because, well it is not really attractive anyway.
You don’t like curry?
Well not the Indian stuff. Anyway, no we didn’t. I think we were pretty free of those sorts of things then, later on we
got our share. No I really can’t even tell you, probably we were on British rations there, sixty years ago I can’t really remember.
That’s fair enough.
But I know the camps were very comfortable generally and we saw a lot of the Pommies [English] and their drilling and screaming and standing to attention. But, we had a bit of that, not much.
A couple of the blokes that were in the quad, in the cooler, they were out every day getting drilled, up and down in the bloody heat. We sat in our tents watching.
Why were they in the cooler?
Well various things. For instance probably going over to, I am only quoting that as a, among other things. That happened towards the end of our stay there. It may have been abusing an officer or AWL somewhere.
Interviewee: Eric Williams Archive ID 1117 Tape 04
We will start rolling again, so you left ten days and then what happened?
Well all in reverse, back by train to Bombay. But I remember we went through, probably call them hills or mountains, it was very pretty, undulating, very pretty. And for pretty well all of us had never been to a foreign country before and that aspect was exciting.
We were young and we reckoned we were campaigners by then but we weren’t really. And we got another day’s leave in Bombay and that was nothing spectacular, I mean what do you do in a strange place when you haven’t got much money. Five bob a day the blokes were on, I was on nine bob a day being a corporal. That’s under a dollar, fifty cents or ninety
cents. So you couldn’t, you wouldn’t want to go shopping, I think we all sent off postcards to our family, that sort of thing. But we had a day to fill in there and we went looking for that canteen again and found it, back onto the, that’s right. We got onto another ship, because getting near to the war zone, Italy was in the war by that time, we got onto a smaller ship. I suppose the Aquitania was heading back to Australia.
Anyway we didn’t see it. We got onto a dreadful bloody ship by the name of the Rejula. The line that owned it was called the British India line and it was run by Indians. It was a dirty ship. There was only our battalion on it, and of course there was a lot more ships in the
convoy. Conditions were bloody awful, to put it politely. The gentleman officers upstairs were alright, they had the officer’s cabins. But we had to sleep down below in hammocks; they were the mess tables there. And by this time, this hadn’t happened in the Aquitania but in this ship they had cleaned out all of the crap and there was just
bare things there, it was cleaned out and prepared for troop going. And you had the mess tables there and benches for sitting and strung above were our hammocks where we slept, and bloody hot down there. We were getting near the Red Sea, we were over the Equator by that time, and it was hot.
And the food was dreadful; you can ask me as much as you like what we ate there, I can tell you it was dreadful. And by the time, I would say we were on that about ten days, we went to the Suez Canal and disembarked half way up there, so we were on about ten days. And I can tell you that the food was that bad that there
was, it wasn’t a mutiny that’s silly, but a bit of a revolt. They jacked up they wouldn’t eat it. My vivid recollection was cold greasy fatty bacon. I know you’re just going to have lunch. Cheese that was green, I reckoned it was mobile, it was green it really was, it was not fresh.
I don’t think we had any eggs. We had goat, we were sure it was goat and it was born about the same time that I was, it was that sort of, day in day out. Not hot. Greasy foul, typically what an untouchable would prepare for themselves; they wouldn’t have cheese or bacon I suppose. And that was day in day out and it was awful to eat.
And finally the blokes jacked up. I cant remember, there was an orderly officer came around every day and I suppose after about the fourth or fifth day, we had to line up for inspection and everything had to be clean and our hammocks rolled up and where our sea kit bags were kept that would be in a certain shape with all of our crap.
And this bloke came around, the orderly officer and, “Any complaints?” “Yes.” Came out. And it came out from I don’t know how many blokes were down there in that particular section, I suppose there was fifty men or something like that, a thousand men in a battalion. And in that area any rate, and they all came around and I think he thought he was going to be clobbered.
I think so. And that was the sort of type of mood of it.
Clobbered or eaten?
Eaten, quite right, I hadn’t thought of that. Chuck him on the barbie [barbeque] . But it did improve after that, but not much. Still that green cheese, I can see it now. If that wasn’t mobile I wasn’t there.
So did the food improve or did you just have to grin and bear it?
No probably it was a bit hotter, didn’t improve really.
See the first lot, the early days it was all cold. It probably was hot and it was cooked last week. But it was greasy, you can imagine it. I don’t know what, wild pig I suppose, different pigs to ours, different bacon, but it was bacon, very fatty, rind on, hair sticking up out of the rind. You wouldn’t like it. I don’t think Julian would either, but it wasn’t good.
So what was your destination on board the Rejula?
Well now let me think, I know where it was but there is something about that. We left Bombay, that was right, and of course being typical army we weren’t allowed, we didn’t know but of course we knew where we were going, up the Red Sea and all of that jazz. But our destination was a place called El Qantara. Still there, I saw it when we came through the Suez not that long ago.
Which you disembarked, right in the middle of the Suez Canal, that way to Cairo, that way to Palestine, but before we got there I remember we were told that we had to be about halfway up the Red Sea, we were in range of the Ities’ [Italians] planes. Now they were in Ethiopia then, where they lived.
And so the Italians were there and going up the Red Sea you came into their range if they wanted to come over and bomb us. So we were told to be very careful about blackouts and so forth, which we should have been. And a lot of blokes instead of sleeping down below, where most of us did, they used to sneak up and sleep on the deck after lights out.
And one bloke was a bit of a character, his name was Lloyd Woods, quite a character. He used to sneak up every night and I don’t know what happened, but along came the orderly officer and here he was with his hammock swinging out there and there was, its on deck, and there was the ocean down there and there were the officers’ cabins there, and you couldn’t sleep there because it would stop the air going
in through the officer’s port hole, probably that’s how they found out he was there. And we were, could have been two or three of us leaning over anyway, on deck waiting to go to bed. And this bloody Woodsy was there lying in his hammock, settled down for the night, and along came the officer, “What are you doing there? Righto, what's your name and company?”
“Private McLeod 2/14th.” “Note that sergeant.” And off he went. And of course none of that existed. 14th weren’t even on board; but he got away with it and he was always known as ‘Private McLeod the 2/14th’ after that. He just made it up on the spur of the moment and got away with it. Private McLeod the 2/14th. Any rate he got away with it. And when we got within range, about a day after,
the range of these things, a lone plane starboard I think it is, that side, came out of nowhere, and nobody seemed to know and we were all a bit concerned. And suddenly it went straight into the sea. Crashed. I have never known to this day why, or who it was or what happened. But a dirty great big cloud of smoke went up. We kept on steaming on.
Never know to this day what happened, just went straight into the sea. He was coming all right and suddenly something went wrong and he just went bang. And I have never known to this day, I don’t know if somebody does. That’s what happened, just went straight into the sea about two or three miles from us. Don’t know if he was a goodie or a baddie.
Welcome to the war zone.
Might have been a bit further than that. But we could certainly see it.
And then we went up to Port Taufiq, which is the bottom end of the canal, and of course going through the canal was an absolute novelty to us. You go in from Taufiq you go up that way and you take a half left turn and you go up there. And it was rather extraordinary feeling really
we were going on this way, and of course convoy you all went in single file. And the ship in front of us had turned the corner and there it was going up there, and just sand, nothing else just the canal. And all you could see it was ship up to about here, and you could see the funnel and a couple of masts and the upper deck just going through the sand. You couldn’t see the canal of course; it was all flat. It was rather a strange feeling just seeing that there. We went up, and in
the middle, there is a huge lake called the Bitter Lake I think, and a lot of ships in there waiting to come and go. It is big enough, I don’t know how many ships you could put in there, twenty or thirty I suppose, but there was ships there in various convoys. And the 2/11th Battalion, which is a West Australian battalion, was already in Palestine,
and a chap by the name of Captain Jackson came on board and from there to El Qantara which was probably six hours steaming, I can’t remember. That’s where we disembarked, that was halfway between Bitter Lake and Port Said. And he came on board and told us all about the dos and don’ts of Palestine. “Take the lock [bolt] out of your rifle when you got to bed and put it under your kit bag.”
Chain it, it all had to be chained, we were all in EPIP [English pattern, Indian product] tents which are quite big. I don’t know how many was in it, six each side I suppose and two big poles there and there. And we had to run a piece of wire rope around these two things and chain our rifle to the rope so,
the wogs wouldn’t come and steal them, that’s why you had to take the bolts out, and told us that sort of thing. And told us not to wander off in the village, don’t drink their grog, don’t eat their food. We were beginning to wonder what sort of a joint we were going to. It was all factual, really. It was all right. But he told us all of the don’ts and not too many goodies, the weather, and where approximately, the name of our camp and how we were going to get there,
by train. Told us all of those things and our blokes later met similar convoys and told them the same thing. Told us, familiarised us about Palestine. “Don’t go into the orange orchards.” Plenty of orange orchards there; of course we lived off oranges. What to do on leave, what not to do on leave; Tel Aviv, Palestine, Haifa, that sort of thing.
And we eventually got to El Qantara, which was a transit place really. I think a ferry must have gone over. Yes, there was nothing else, a boat thing carrying transport I suppose the canal would be like from here to the highway wide, something like that. Have you seen it?
No. Well I have seen it on television.
Its not, well of course
where the ships go through, it comes in like that and where the ships go through, no they can’t pass each other, reassemble at Bitter Lake. It is quite wide and damn well built, I must admit. And we were disembarked on the Palestinian side which was just sand.
And it must have been, it was late in the evening when we got there and we were given a damn good feed. Spinney sausages. Now you wouldn’t know what a Spinney sausage is would you?
No, can you tell me?
Yeah. It’s a sausage, there was a chap by the name of Spinney in the British Army World War I and it is only hearsay, but it is right I am sure, the Brits were great on producing sausages.
And he realised or made an assessment that there was a bloody good market for sausages in the Middle East, this is World War I. He must have been a cook or chef or something like that. And the wogs used to like them too. And when the war was over he stayed on in, I am not sure if it was Egypt or Palestine, and made sausages.
Spinney sausages, he was a very rich bloke making sausages for the wogs, for the locals. There were Brits there of course in Palestine see. Anyway when we got off the ship, there was a great big feed of Spinney sausages and mashed potatoes, it was just like dining at Buck House [Buckingham Palace] or something, it was beautiful. Anyway we had a good feed of those
and we had our kit bags by then.
What was in your kit bag?
Oh all of our spare stuff, stuff that you didn’t need. We were issued with two pairs of boots, second pair was in there. Spare rugs I suppose. We had our uniforms, that serge thing they gave us in
Northam. We were in shorts by this time, issued shorts, stuff that you did not immediately need, that’s why we had a sea kit bag, which was only a light thing, and about that big. We put what we wanted for on board the ships and our kit bags were stowed until we got to Egypt or Palestine. Most of them were pretty full. That’s an interesting question.
I seem to remember John L Sullivan underwear [long underwear, named after the boxer] going in there, do you know what a John L Sullivan is?
Do you Denise [interviewer] ?
I can produce a pair for you. They are neck to knee underwear. Neck to knee, sleeves, for the cold weather. Not you know an athletic suit, but they came down to about there,
they were made out of, Denise would know, I don’t know, pretty thick stuff, and they came down to here and they were for the cold weather. And they are still pretty handy; I wore them in England. I am sure we had an issue of that and that was in there, we wouldn’t need them in Palestine.
How much stuff were you carrying on you?
Well you all had a rifle. You all had a bayonet. This side was your, a bottle of water about that big, water bottle which we could fill up once a day, that was there, we had webbing around here which carried our ammunition. I had a Tommy gun [sub-machine gun] by that time I think.
I think I had it then, a Tommy gun is a little short thing, it is.44 ammunition, pretty heavy.
But is it a good gun?
Oh absolutely. I wouldn’t have had a rifle. I don’t know how I got that, I was not issued with it but I got it anyway. You know, fire from the hip and you can give them a burst I mean you are never going to stand up and fire those rifles, some bugger would get you before you got aim. But you had webbing
and you put your webbing in that. And of course attached to your webbing was the stuff for your bayonet and a clip on this side was for your water bottle. We had a huge haversack in which you carried your blanket and your groundsheet for the rain you know, your tin hat which strapped on the back of it, strapped on the outside with webbing, all with webbing. That was heavy that
damned thing. We had a little haversack, which was attached to the side. We had to carry our rifle; we had to carry that kit bag. I wouldn’t know, it was a bloody lot, it was heavy but we didn’t know any different. But having all of that gear, after we had finished our Spinney sausages,
we had to get on that infamous bloody train. Cattle train it was. Cattle trucks. Do you know what cattle trucks are? They are about as tall as this room and they carry cattle, transporting cattle by rail. Eight of us had to get in one of these. With all of our gear, which took u p a lot of room. Kit
bag and your rifle and your pack, well you just left that there, and there wasn’t much room for eight of us. Anyway we had eight to a truck. We left there about dark I suppose and we got into camp at about three or four in the morning, so we probably had about eight or nine hours I suppose in that damn thing. We stopped once. Our CSM [Company Sergeant-Major] , don’t ask me where he got the grog from
but he was full. He got out to sort of tell everyone to get out for a you-know-what. He just fell on the ground and couldn’t get up. I remember that. We were more concerned about where he got the grog from than what happened to him; anyway he wasn’t our mate or anything. But that was that, we did have that stop, and we will all swear on a stack of bibles
that the wheels on that train were square. It was rough, bloody square, they couldn’t have been round they were square. It was the roughest trip we had ever had, we weren’t too happy when we got there. And when we got to Julis, which was our camp, it had been raining heavily. And when it is wet, Palestine is mud, more
mud and more mud. Mud everywhere. Beautiful soil but when it is wet, it is a sticky mud. So we got out not feeling too happy, pretty short fuse I suppose, sitting in that damn truck all night. You had to get out and try and find, we were told actually when we stumbled through this rain and mud to find our tent.
Julis Camp, I think the whole brigade was there, I know the 14th was there, I suppose the 27th were. Anyway you had to find the right tent and it was raining and it was muddy. You can imagine the mess we were in, mud that bloody thick on our heels and everything was wet and we had to make our beds. A few short fuses went off that night I can tell you, it was dreadful. And of course the next day was spent
just cleaning it all up and digging a trench all around so the water wouldn’t flow in.
So how many men in a tent?
Six, might have been eight. Would be no more. Would it have been a section? A section is about eleven. Look I don’t remember, I think a section
which would be about ten or eleven, five each side I think, I suppose it would have been, they were pretty close together. We had, it wasn’t on the ground then when we got there, there were three wooden planks, sitting on two little, about that high off the ground I suppose, two little shoulder things that kept us about that far off the ground. And I suppose,
I can’t remember, I remember seeing these wooden boards and there could have been a palliasse on it I don’t really know. I can’t remember where we got our palliasse from, I remember them in Northam, we had to fill them up. But I can’t remember where the straw was or how we came to get our mattress. It was pretty basic. And of course, we had to chain and lock our rifles on that thing and find a place for our kit bags.
God, talk about a shambles, everyone was wet and short-tempered, but we got over it.
Short-tempered with one another or with officers?
Oh everything. We had just had, whatever, even if a mosquito sneezed you would go crook at it. Everyone was just bad-tempered.
Had a gut full?
Had we ever. God that was a
rough train, square wheels, we reckoned it was square. Poor cattle.
So can you describe Julis camp?
Yeah of course in those days the army, British Army, had been there for what? I don’t know how many years, many years since the First World War so that they were full camps.
We were in,
Sorry, World War I vintage was it?
They were there in the Middle East, yeah. Gallipoli and so forth and they had a mandate over Palestine and they were still the bosses when we went to it. Not the Commonwealth but they were the bosses, the Rajahs, certainly when we were there and that started I think before World War I. And there was many
many camps, we were just south of Tel Aviv. I think that south down towards Gaza was getting a little bit drier and drier so there was plenty of open space for camp. And all of the latrines were there so we didn’t have to dig any of those and there was a picture theatre there.
The Brits had built them initially, and that, being established it was not a bad camp, actually it was quite a good one. With big tents, and mess rooms, and the latrines were good, we used to play two-up in the latrines that’s how big they were, on pay night only, we were all broke after that. Battalion headquarters, they were
established, good tents, and 2/14th which was the Victorian crowd of our brigade, I don’t know where the 27th was, they must have been there somewhere, I didn’t run into them. All of the tents were here to that wall away, twenty yards, all within that sort of area. What did we have, lanterns I think?
Yeah we didn’t have electricity but we were quite comfortable.
What kind of training or exercises were you doing there?
Well after we sort of got ourselves cleaned up and dug in and sorted out and all of the rosters, you had perimeter guard to keep the wogs out, and they were done by platoons I think, each platoon took their turn. You would go on at five o’clock and relieve the one that went on yesterday at five o’clock.
And there was a guard hut there where we, two on and four off. Being a corporal, I didn’t actually do this, I used to make sure they bloody well got out there and back. There was a platoon officer and a platoon sergeant and three corporals. And you would have an area probably
there to the gate or that sort of distance where you just walk backwards and forwards all night. When you got up there, you would have to make sure that the bloke doing the next lap would have to meet up with you and make sure he hadn’t been knocked off or anything. And he would go and meet his bloke and this chap would go and meet that bloke, and this went on twenty-four hours a day, all day all night. And, well there was not much to it except you just walked by yourself for two hours and then slept for four,
well theoretically, and back again for two hours. Anyway after all of those rosters were sorted, we went on a route march to start with, because we had been on a ship I suppose, the good living I suppose they reckoned, so we did a lot of route marching and got to know the lay of the land and the wog villages which we were not supposed to go into.
What sort of things did you see in the local villages and what was the landscape like?
Oh there were a lot of, particularly north of us, there were a lot of oranges. I don’t know whether you have heard of Jaffa oranges? Jaffa is right alongside Tel Aviv, it is the old city and they are beautiful naval oranges. It was undulating flat. Now is that an Irishman’s way of putting it? It was not just flat like the desert, but it was undulating and there were wadis, what the locals call wadis, riverbeds,
dry. But it was not mountainous or anything like that, far from it. Not there. But it was quite nice. The army would have drooled at the mouth, to see the, make all of those busses go out there and walk all over them and hide behind them and play games. It was ideal for that, infantry training. But it wasn’t, there was some hills over towards Jerusalem, pretty hills. But where we were was undulating
flat, I really can’t, I don’t think, quirting [?] if you like. Quirting is not flat but it's not hilly is it?
No, I know exactly what you mean when you say undulating because I get asked all of the time.
But we went for a lot of, we went for a twenty-four hour route march once. This was towards the end of Julis, I don’t think it was anything special just a
keep us quiet, I have forgotten. But we started off, look I can’t remember we had to go for ten minutes off and fifty minutes on for twenty-four hours. And we were there November, their cold part, which was,
the nights were bloody cold, and we were full battledress, full battledress of course wasn’t the full kit bag or the bloody big haversack. We didn’t carry ammo, just rifle bayonet, water bottle and this other little thing that side which was, this was a haversack this was a whatever-it-was [pack] . And that was on our back and that carried our rations which was bully beef and biscuits,
dog biscuits we called them. They were pretty tough. And we marched, and that’s when we saw, we marched through, we being our company only, I think other companies were other places probably. When we went through wog villages daylight, that’s when we saw them and they were pretty smelly, pretty basic,
I had I guess you both seen in the Middle East, where you have seen some of these poor buildings and so forth, Afghanistan is one I think. We saw a lot of that, living in thatched huts and chooks everywhere and donkeys and they smelled. Probably marvellous to the locals but they smelt, same as in India, they smelt a special smell. And we saw those and I mean no way you would want to wander in there.
No way. They were, we used to talk to them when they were wandering around, or sit down for a smoke, but they were always wandering around. I don’t know how they lived.
What sort of things did you talk about with the wogs when you got a good chance?
With them? Didn’t speak their lingo. We learnt a few words, most of them dirty words, a lot of them.
That seemed to be all they were interested in learning. “Saeda George” was G’day. Everyone was George. Beggar came up, “Anna maskim myfiss ballos”, I am poor, have no money. You know those sorts of things. I tried it out once when I was in Egypt, and I was very quickly, a few of my sayings I learnt from the war, and I was very soon quietened by our guide
looking at me, and, “By that, you are going to end up in trouble”. “Righto”. I can only guess probably what I was saying was an insult I suppose. But I remember the wog looking very surprised but that’s another story. But no, we couldn’t converse with them; they were peasants really. There was a lot of English spoken, particularly in Tel Aviv, well they were Jews there, but those type of, not many spoke English you couldn’t, but we were friendly with them, got on
with them. We were told and we certainly made sure that we didn’t offend them in any way. Lived together.
Any interesting stories from the time that you spent in Julis?
Well oh yes let me just think. That day we went, when we did that twenty-four hour march, in the middle of the march somewhere, we had our ten minute stop over in a wadi.
Now a wadi, this particular one was as deep as this room, a bit wider than here, dry, no water running through it. And getting in that space down there, it was even colder I am sure it was. We were just frozen, even marching, it must have been zero or something like that, very cold.
And do you know what? We were made to march, properly, not at ease as the other one is called, back at the camp and a hundred yards the other side, discipline because all you wanted to do was get back into camp. About five in the afternoon, and not our platoon, the 14 Platoon were told they were then on guard duty, so it must have been a bit before
five, they then had to go and get dressed in a proper uniform and report for guard duty at five o’clock, which was pretty tough I reckon but that’s what they had to do. Pretty tough to march a hundred yards through the thing, after walking for twenty-four hours and by God it was cold. What happened in Julis? Several things. Every week
there was a battalion orderly officer, orderly sergeant and a battalion orderly corporal, they were selected from, I don’t know how they worked it out, but it was a rotation system. And this particular day, I was battalion orderly corporal, which meant you go out and have a look at the latrines, you went and inspected the tents to see that
they were neat and clean, have a look at the cookhouse to see that that was clean and checked on the guard. And you were meant to go and take a spot-check in the night on the guard to check that he wasn’t sitting down having a smoke or something, that sort of thing, you were on for twenty-four hours. And this day I was battalion orderly corporal and my mate Burgess went on leave to Tel Aviv.
And that very same day the 2/28th arrived, about three miles away and El Qastina ] was the name of the camp. And we had a lot of friends from the 2/28th, we just knew them, Perth was a small place. And we were dying to go and visit them. I couldn’t go because I was, well I had to put in a tattoo [lights out] report amongst other things
at ten o’clock, make sure no one was AWL. All had to be counted and put in through the company to me. That was my job at ten o’clock. Well, Burgess arrived back full of the joys of life, about five o’clock and he said, “I am going over to see the 28th.” And I thought, “I can’t go.” And he said, “Well I am pretty tired, we’ll be back by ten.” I said,
“I have to be back by ten, I can get away until ten.” “Oh look”, he said, “I am tired, I have had a long day, we’ll be back by then.” Famous last words. We go over there, it must have been, we were AWL of course, we were not supposed to be outside the perimeter of the camp. Anyway over we go and it was dark and we catch up with all of our friends, and we, you probably think we did nothing else but booze. That is half right, not fully right. Anyway
we into the canteen, and it was really great to see all of our mates, we had been over there a year or something like that. They gave us all of the local news and so forth and so on. And then when that closed, we went to someone’s tent, don’t know if we had something to drink there or not. Before I knew where I was it was one o’clock in the morning. “Bloody hell I am gone.” And this bloke that had said, Burgess, had said
was going to get me home by ten, I couldn’t even get him to come home then. So we lurched back to what's-i-name, our camp. And I might add, halfway there my good friend had an urgent call of nature and he had to go into the, we were passing an orchard; no, we were going through one anyway. And he disappeared into the gloom and I waited.
“For Christ sake come on Burgess.” Time was ticking on. He didn’t come out, so I went looking for him. He was passed out. So I had to get him home. Of course, the next morning before this OC [Officer Commanding] , that’s the officer commanding our company, which turned out to be a bloody good friend of mine afterwards, Albert Caro [later Lieutenant-ColonelA. Caro, CO 2/16th Battalion] . “Where were you last night, corporal?”
So I told him. Of course if you were a private, two privates escort you in; if you’re a corporal, two corporals escort you in; sergeant, two sergeants. So I was escorted by two corporals and you know who one of them was? My mate Burgess, who was a corporal. And he escorted me there and we fronted up to Albert Caro and he said, “Where were you last night, corporal? No tattoo report.” No good trying to pull the wool over his eyes and I wasn’t feeling too good either.
Interviewee: Eric Williams Archive ID 1117 Tape 05
I was, my punishment was three weeks orderly corporal company. The day before I was the battalion one, but the company one. And again I think I was, orderly corporal was to get tattoos in, you were stationed in the company headquarters all day so that you were there for anything the OC wanted or anything the battalion
headquarters wanted. Not a very onerous job, but you were confined of ranks and you were in uniform every day. I think you had to put in a tattoo report at six o’clock in the morning, I can’t remember that, but I know ten o’clock and of course I used to sneak into the canteen, where all of my cobbers were, we had a canteen that was open for about an hour I suppose. Half bottle and it was Australian beer, and I couldn’t drink
because I was on duty ,and I did that for three weeks and of course all of my mates never missed me really, laughing their heads off.
Did you get even with Burgess?
Not really. Not intentionally. I can tell you something that happened in Syria. Not really no, just one of those bloody things, if he could get away with it, good luck to him.
Well we will pause there.
When we had finished our training at Julis, the battalion was moved not very far away to another big camp called Dimra, D I M RA. Which was more of a, we were in battalions there at
Julis but in Dimra we became a brigade together really, that was the purpose of it, and we were being equipped for the desert; shorts and khaki shirts and other sort of stuff.
Was there any particular training you were doing to equip you for the desert?
Well I wasn’t there and I will tell you why. At about this stage the 6th Australian
Division was up the desert fighting the Ities. Each division had a military police corps attached to each division. And when the 6th Division was up the desert, which was when we first arrived, their military police look after usually in the towns
where the troops go on leave and they march around and see if anyone is misbehaving and AWL, and they are sort of dispatch riders as well. But the 6th Division military police were in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa, Jaffa etcetera, and they were called up to the desert, they were wanted. And I don’t know what happened to our 7th Division, they weren’t there anyway.
There was a bit of a gap between 6th Division leaving and 7th blokes moving in, and believe it or not, our platoon out of the whole brigade was selected to go in there and fill in the gap for three weeks. Now the MPs [Military Police] are not popular with other ranks, they are not liked, put it that way. I could put it stronger. Particularly Kalgoorlie blokes
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Military police. The boss of the MPs came out and said, “Look we’ll let your blokes back out if you disperse”, which was a fair compromise really, which they did. So they were all carted straight away back to battalion, and they were all paraded in front of Potts the next morning, that’s the CO, and he tore strips off them. Ought to be ashamed of themselves
for letting your uniform down and like that. And then he finished with that and said, “By the way, congratulations for looking after a mate.” And let them go. He was really inwardly proud I think, the fact that they looked after their friend, their mate, their battalion fellow. That meant a lot to Pottsy. Well now, we heard about that of course and bloody hell we were MPs here, and there was another leave coming in a day or two later.
“We won’t be too popular, perhaps they won’t remember we are members of the battalion.” So those that were on duty - of course those that were off duty were wandering around, they didn’t have an MP thing on - but those on duty, and I was one that was on duty, when those blokes arrived, the MP thing was in our pocket. We would have been all right,
but MPs were a red flag for a bull. Not just us, anyone. I don’t know why, it probably started in World War I or something, but it is certainly a custom that they are not popular, not popular at all.
What sort of specialist training did you receive for dealing with desert conditions?
See when our thing was over, we went back to Dimra and we were just about ready to leave then. I really don’t know what they did there,
except I think crawled over those muddy hills and so forth and trained as a brigade. You know, Northam we started off with the very basics, and then Dimra we did platoon and company manoeuvres; we had learnt the basics by the time we had left Northam. And then an infantry company,
the company commander has got to learn as well, how he deploys his blokes, fire power and map reading and a hundred of other. Map reading lectures were on board, I forgot about that. And of course same with the battalion, got to learn to go out, and a brigade has. And that’s what they were doing in Dimra, going out on brigade manoeuvres. Now if you are going to ask me what the brigade manoeuvres are, I would have to be a brigadier. A brigadier
he has got a lot to think about, and that’s why he is a brigadier, he knows it all. But I wasn’t there, except I do know they trained as a brigade, against another brigade or something. One would act as baddies and another would try and surround him, or whatever.
How was the water situation?
While you were still in training, were you told anything about the shortage of water supplies?
No there was no shortage of water, they have got the Sea of Galilee there. Well how do I start? Sea of Galilee is a pretty big sea, inland sea, it is probably, I am guessing, fifty or sixty miles long, can you see the other side? I think you can. It is that sort of size any rate, bigger than a big
farm. And that’s fresh water, it comes down from Syria which is mountainous, the Shevas,] those mountains there, they run down right parallel with the coast, bit like our eastern states. And a lot of snow and that all drains into the Sea of Galilee, so there was plenty of fresh water there.
But these days, I don’t think when we were there, but these farming communities now spread well south of Jerusalem, and the water is brought down from, whether it is reticulated pump I don’t know, but it is spread. Like Harvey I suppose, irrigation I suppose. So there was plenty of water but it was all in one spot.
I don’t know, see Jerusalem gets snow and that’s pretty hilly.
Have you been told at any point where you are going to be put into operation?
You mean about Dimra?
Yeah because they are obviously training you up?
Look we can guess. We are in the Middle East, we were going up the desert, we may have been told officially, but we all knew and expected it. I can’t tell you anything about that
training at Dimra I wasn’t there. But I tell you what being three weeks in Jerusalem beat the hell out of that I can tell you, very pleasant city. Oh and just before we leave Julis, in my section a bloke from Northam whose name was Ron Christmas, a lot of families by the name of Christmas around Northam. And this chap had
buck teeth, cleaned his teeth on the inside, big gap in them, and he was all teeth. Nice bloke, I got along with him, but a very dry sense of humour, really was, quite a character. On Christmas Eve he tanked himself up in the canteen and decided he would like to shoot through to Tel Aviv
on his own, which he did do too. Tel Aviv would be about an hour in the bus, I suppose, he got there anyway. And of course he soldiered on and the next morning he was roaming around part cross-eyed [drunk] and an MP picked him up, and probably asked him, “Where are you from?” or “What are you up to, son?” You know, on his own in uniform
and obviously not quite working steadily. So he said, “What's your name?” “Christmas.” Bear in mind this is Christmas Day. He said, “Christmas.” And the copper said, “Oh come on, stop the smart talk, what's your name? Where are you from?” He said, “I tell you my name is Christmas.”
And they got into an argument; this bloke did not believe him. Off to the cooler, of course Christmas was AWL and he would have ended up there anyway. And of course he knew what was going on, of course, and that’s all he told them, his name was Christmas and they didn’t believe him. So they rang up the battalion, looked up the records, “Yes we have got a Christmas.” Checked with C Company and the bed was empty. And sure enough, his name was Christmas and that was the bloke
and I think he got about a fortnight’s CB [Confined to Barracks] or something, confined to barracks. But since then, we always “Dadda Christmas” after that, he was always known as Dadda Christmas. But he was a character, he wasn’t pulling their leg, he was telling the truth but he knew what was going on. When we got to Dimra, I can’t tell you much about Dimra but we knew we were going up to the desert. And we
got in those bloody square wheel trucks again, back to El Qantara, more Spinney sausages. They were bloody good. And I suppose we had to wait, not all of us, but a lot of us had a swim in the canal. I know I swam over to the other side and back.
And half way coming back, and I wasn’t the only one, there was yelling and screaming, “Get out of the bloody canal!” And about a mile up the track, it was not that far, was a dirty big aircraft carrier, [HMS] Eagle, British aircraft carrier, coming down the canal, they can only do it at a slow speed because of bow wash. But we had to get out very quickly and their big aircraft carrier went past us very slowly
and disappeared into the Red Sea I suppose somewhere later on, and we had a swim there and we went from there by train to a place called…
I am just wondering if by this time you have done training with the Bren gun [Bren light machine gun] ?
Ah. Yes we had. I went to a school
in Palestine, Julis. I think one from each battalion went, don’t know but I went anyway. And I learnt all about the Bren gun, about a week, and it was completely different. A Bren gun you can fire a single shot or you can fire a burst.
And it is a very light thing to carry, about that long I suppose, but yeah I went to school and learnt all about it. And then I had to conduct a school for someone from each company, and then each bloke from the company went back and taught the blokes in their company. And that’s how we learnt
about the Bren gun.
What did you think of the Bren gun?
Oh then, it was marvellous. It was. The old 303, well they were all World War I rifles, and they were pretty good as a rifle, but the Bren gun, they were lighter, a lot of timber in it, I don’t know if you would have seen it, no, you wouldn’t have seen it. About that long I suppose, a lot of wood in them,
and the rifling and the barrel. The old 303 was very heavy, and you put a bayonet on it and my God.
How difficult was the Bren gun to operate?
Oh very easy. It was, the way it reloaded was its own backfire. You know, you fire a bullet out of the rifle, the bullet goes that
way and the explosion kicks the thing back into your shoulder. And by that action in a Bren gun, it reloads it, so there was none of this reloading that you had to do with the Lewis gun [World War I vintage light machine gun] , that was out too. No, it was relatively easy, quite a simple thing. I have forgotten what the range was. I am sure you could, when Bren gun were used, unless they had cross-fire
where they would set a machine gun, someone is coming towards you and you’re building positions to counteract their attack, you can set a machine gun there and another machine gun down that way, so they have got a cross-fire. And a Bren gun, that would be the only time that you would us a Bren gun on a tripod like that. So that you knew damn well
you didn’t have to aim it in any way, it was there set. You aim it from the hip. You may, I don’t know, I think most guys fire from the hip because particularly in the Owen Stanleys you are always close.
So how many of these ended up with C Company?
Each section had one and you had to delegate, there was nine sections so there would be nine. And in each one, a bloke had to carry all of his gear plus a Bren, which is bulky rather than heavy really.
Used to carry it across their shoulder there, and he was the Bren gun expert of course and he had to carry it. It made a big difference, later on in the war. Of course, the Sten gun and the Tommy gun, they were heavy, their ammo was very heavy. 0.44 is very thick.
Before we started talking about the Bren gun, you were on your way somewhere, were you on your way to Egypt?
Yeah that’s where we had a swim across the canal. Went back to where we got off the ship coming from Fremantle. And we went in reverse, caught the train from Dimra down to El Qantara which is on the canal. We were, there is the canal and there is Palestine there, and there is Egypt there and it is in Egypt, both sides.
We went there and we had these Spinney snags the same as we had when we first arrived, and then we had that time and we had a swim. And then, how did we get across? I think by ferry I suppose, there was no other way. And then we caught a train on that side, which was the Egyptian side. And we went to a place, [El] Amiriya that’s the name of it,
just out of the Port of Alexandria, Alex. And we arrived there in the middle of the most unholy dust storm. It is a shocker, you can’t, I don’t know whether you could from memory, I am not entirely saying I couldn’t see you two, it is just thick, and of course it gets in all of the rifles which had oily parts,
hair, eyes, and we had to hang onto each others bayonets, each bloke had a bayonet down here otherwise we would get lost. And we were, don’t ask me why we went there but that was our first camp. And we were holding onto bayonets to follow the guy in front. But our company commander didn’t have any bayonets
to follow, well he didn’t know where we were, didn’t know where the camp was. And we got completely lost as indeed the whole battalion in various spots. And a few short fuses were blown there, I can tell you. And we just wandered around, I don’t know how our company commander found it, he must have stumbled onto something. We had to get into slip trenches.
And they weren’t unoccupied, they were certainly occupied and they were occupied by bloody fleas, millions of them. Sand fleas. And that’s where we spent, not that long there, they were our beds in there. And of course a lot of blokes shot through to Alexandria for the night. Well plenty of bright lights there. We weren’t there very long.
With sand fleas, can it actually cause an infection if you get bitten?
I don’t think so. I was going to say you know what a flea is like, but you don’t. They bite all right, they were sand fleas all in the bottom of these trenches, sand pits whatever they were, they were dug trenches. I think really
we also had tents but we had to, there were quite a few air raids, and we had to occupy these sand trenches whenever there was a raid.
How often would these raids happen?
Not there long, see Alexandria is just on the Mediterranean and about the same distance in from the canal as Cairo, the front was miles away. I don’t know why we were there, I really don’t.
But we were then moved by train to a place, the railway line runs from Alex along the coast, northern coast of Egypt on the Mediterranean, right along the coast to a place called Mersa Matruh, which is about the western extremity of Egypt. And there is nothing there, just sand.
On a bit of paper there is a line there somewhere, and we went to a place just this side of Mersa Matruh called Amiriya. We landed there at night, disembarked. And I think this is where we were going to sort of get ready for doing some stuff in the desert.
Have you heard anything about the progress of fronts and the war and?
Oh yes, we knew about the desert war, [German Field Marshall Irwin] Rommel wasn’t there then was he? No not that particular time. But they were up well up, no they were coming back, that’s right. I would have to check dates and months and so forth. But we knew where the front was and we were well, at this place we were virtually
ended up at Mersa Matruh. And we had to go out on patrols there, there was wire fencing and mines and so forth. We were still, we didn’t get any further, well I will tell you in a minute. But we got lost in Amiriya, hopelessly lost because it was dark and no lights, same thing as the dust storm. And eventually we did find it and guess what there was more bloody fleas in the slit trenches, they must breed them.
Did these conditions surprise you or where you expecting it?
Well look I don’t know what you conjure up in your mind, but in my mind the desert was the desert and it was just exactly as you see if you have seen them on the newsreels. I am sure you would have. Around the pyramids is all just sand,
once you get away from the Nile and the desert is just exactly that, it is just sand. Sand with something a bit firm, a lot of it is soft sand. But we were there at Easter in 1941. I know that because a cobber of mine was getting married and Burgess and I got bottles of beer from somewhere and we toasted him for his marriage that day. And then we ended up at Mersa Matruh
where Cleopatra used to go swimming, that impressed us a lot, so we were all off to the ruddy beach and had a swim where Cleopatra used to swim, that was something. We lived underground there, the previous troops there had dug underground, there was no tents there.
Were these closed slit trenches?
Oh the slit trench where the fleas were, they were open up the top.
When you say you were living underground, do you mean like you were living in slit trenches?
No slit trenches are that shape, oblong on the top of the ground. And you hop in there so you miss any flak flying over the, and that’s where the fleas were. We did live in underground, well dugouts I suppose. and the food there wasn’t too bloody clever, they used to get a
huge pile of bacon and not much else. Bully beef might have been cooked up in a stew but every morning for breakfast, bacon. And it was always full of sand, because sand was flying everywhere.
Wouldn’t it be dangerous living under ground, the risk of all of that weight collapsing?
No that’s not quite right, you’re probably thinking of something under the sand hills down there,
it is caked, it is quite hard really. I cant think of an analogy but I suppose it is a little bit like gold mining in Kalgoorlie, they used to dig, it was pretty poor stuff there. But no it wasn’t loose sand like that, not the sand hills.
What were you doing for ablutions?
That’s a bloody good question.
Because I am thinking you are going to have to come above ground?
Well there wasn’t much action, there were air raids, Germans flying over, they were probably going to bomb Alexandria or something. There were some bombs dropped there but there was nothing much there at all.
How were you passing most of the time then?
Sending out patrols. Keep the sand out of your equipment.
A lot of patrols, we weren’t there that long. We went swimming where Cleopatra was swimming. It was a pretty easy war there, we weren’t there that long; we were probably only there ten days or a fortnight or something. We got lost twice, but blokes did have to go out on what they call long-range patrols,
went out to see if there was any sign of an enemy. But I don’t know how far out they were, the actual front was ten or twenty miles away probably, wasn’t anywhere near the stoush to do anything, but in the desert they can often go around and do a reconnaissance or perhaps, I don’t know what the hell they were looking for, we just went out there and nothing was there and we came back again. But you were out all day on a patrol. It’s a fighting patrol if
you ran into anyone, sometimes you went out there to recon [reconnoitre, a reconnaissance patrol] only, just to observe and bring back the secrets. Those ones you go out, there is a standing patrol, I will tell you about one later on and if you run into anyone you hop in and grab them and it ends up in a stoush sometimes, you are well and truly armed. There was nothing there really. We didn’t go out much and that was sort of a staging camp
and the next thing we knew, we were packing up and going back to the canal and at that stage we were going to Greece, but Greece didn’t last very long, in fact it was an absolute shambles.
Why was it a shambles?
they were just overrun. The 6th Division, they were in the desert and they were replaced by the 9th Division; that’s Tobruk and all of that jazz. And the Allies were frightened justifiably that the Krauts [Germans] were going to come through Turkey and Greece and capture the other side of the canal as we were coming up the western desert, a pincer movement and they just
couldn’t afford to, well, it would have been a disaster if they had lost the Middle East, because it was the gateway to the Pacific, the Suez] canal was the big thing.
How much of the progress of all of these fronts and information going on are you aware of when you are in the area?
I think we knew by bulletins I think. There were no radios as far as we were concerned.
Word of mouth, rumours, but I do think it was stale news long before we knew what was happening up in the desert. Obviously the blokes higher up would know but we didn’t know. We did know that the 6th Divvy went over there to help the Greeks and they moved up from Athens up towards the northern border where the Krauts were,
to knock them back and so forth, but the Germans just invaded and they just completely overran them, completely. Probably didn’t last more than a fortnight and then they retired back to Crete. The Greeks I didn’t think, they were certainly not hopeless but they didn’t contribute much, put it that way. There was not that many of them.
And the 6th Division were decimated really. You know to try and hold up while someone dropped back a bit further and then they would fall back and they would protect them. But really, it was a shambles; they were completely overrun. A lot of them were captured by Germans and spent the rest of their days in Germany. A lot were killed, wounded.
And then the quick ones ended up in Crete, which is just off the foot of Greece, the big island. And of course they were there and tried to defend it, no boats or anything. And of course the Krauts dropped paratroops and there was a very notable stoush there and a lot of them, one or two escaped. When I say one or two, I don’t know how many,
British submarine picked up a few; some of them shanghaied [commandeered] boats and rode back to Egypt. It’s a fair way. Majority of them were captured, most of the 6th Division, one way or another, they ended up with hardly anyone really. They did regroup. So we pretty soon found out that we were not going there, and I think we knew
when we first, we were going to Syria. Anyway we went back to El Qantara again, back on those square-wheeled bloody railway. And we went up to a place called Afula, which is right up the top of Israel. Just inside the border about five or ten miles. And we knew then we were going to Syria. Amongst other things,
Interviewee: Eric Williams Archive ID 1117 Tape 06
We went by train across from the canal right through Palestine. I think we went by trucks because there is no rail up the top of Syria. To a place called Afula. And Afula then was just a little village, right in amongst all of the kibbutz.
Do you know what kibbutz is? It is communal farming, all of the Jews they lived in communes there. Because Israel wasn’t really a, it was Palestine then, it wasn’t a Jewish state, but they lived in communes and they all worked together. They all went out and got the maize and milked the cows and they lived off the farm and they all worked.
I don’t think they were paid, but I have since stayed on a kibbutz, I have since been back there. But one of these is called, I looked it up and I knew I wouldn’t remember. Mohavia, that was probably a little village there, or the name of it, probably the name of it, and they were right alongside of us and we were getting ready for Syria, probably only had a week or ten days
there in little copse and we became friendly with these kibbutz. They used to supply us with beautifully fresh milk. We used to have it anyhow, I don’t know how much they supplied and we became so friendly with them the whole battalion that when we were ready to go, we somehow knew that they lacked a piano
or they wanted a piano anyway. And the whole battalion put in and bought them a new piano, and it is still there, well it was a few years ago.
Where could you buy a piano?
I think we probably gave them the money; I am quite sure what happened. We gave them the money we collected it. I have no idea what it cost. It was a pretty good piano; it has a little plaque on it
saying where it came from. That was rather strange in the middle of preparing for a stoush. [fight] No we were...
Was that to thank them for their hospitality?
Yeah and they were friendly and kind. I don’t think they could afford to give us much, but they did supply us with this lovely fresh milk, which we just never saw.
What kind of hospitality did they show you?
Look I am maybe ad libbing a little bit there, I don’t know what
else they did there, because I was only a small frog in a big pool, but I know we used to get this fresh milk most days. And we knew where it came from, and we knew they didn’t probably have that much, but it worked out anyway. And we decided, well someone did and we all agreed that we would buy this piano for them, so we gave them the money, we wouldn’t have given them the piano. But I know a couple of blokes
have been back and there is the piano. They were welcomed with open arms too.
Yeah just a rapport between us and the commune.
Did you visit the kibbutz yourself very often?
No I didn’t. I didn’t. Probably not many, I suppose perhaps the CO, I don’t know how that started, but we were right alongside them. And we weren’t far from the border, and whoever the
GOC [General Officer Commanding] was of 7 Divvy decided that our brigade, there is a (UNCLEAR) runs down the side of Syria and it is called, I know the Seethers [?] is part of it. It is a bit like the Great Australian Divide, it’s probably about twenty or thirty miles from the coast and there is the coastal plain and then these mountains and then the other side is whatever Syria is.
And our brigade, which was the 21st , had to advance up the coastal part, and another brigade would go on the other side of the mountains, up through Syria and eventually onto Damascus and that. But they were over there, we didn’t see them. And of our brigade, the 14th battalion had to cross the border right on the ocean.
Our battalion had to cross between where the 14th finished in the foothills there and the 27th which is the third battalion in our brigade had to go in the foothills and we advanced, no I think the 27th was in reserve then. Doesn’t matter much anyway. We had to cross the border inland
from the ocean and we were to converge with the 14th battalion at a place called Tyre which is just up a bit from the border and then we would go up as two battalions straight up the coast. Well, there was, don’t ask me how they knew, but there was a telephone wire running from out there near the ocean to down there near the hills somewhere.
Presumably that’s where the headquarters were or something like that, and to make it a surprise, theoretically anyway, someone had to go and cut that wire before we went through and a cobber of mine by the name of Jim McKenzie and two others, he was a corporal, Jim, had to go by map, at one o’clock in the morning, we were due to cross over about four, I think. But he had to get there by say four o’clock to cut those wires, which they
did do, and then they had to find their way back to the battalion, which theoretically they would have been looking for the 14th down there then. Anyway we crossed the border and we ran into almost immediately a pillbox of French. And that’s right, in Afula we were told to put on slouch hats, you won’t believe this,
which we did do, across the border and into all of this jazz with slouch hats, because the powers that be up there reckoned the Vichy French would see the slouch hats of the Australians coming and “Oh my God,” they wouldn’t fight us. Well what a heap of crap that was. I tell you what, we lasted about one hour with slouch hats on, we put on our steel helmets. What a lot of hooey, wasn’t it? Bloody slouch hats.
You know you could put a peashooter through it. We put those away quickly I can tell you. So that was only by the by, we soon put those steel helmets on and we ran into a pillbox. And we had our first casualty there, a chap by the name of Patty Connelly got killed there and a few wounded. But it was a very minor skirmish; the lead was just as hot. And Jim McKenzie
and these two other blokes, they had a revolver between them that was all, and Roberts had a machete, and they heard the noise. Of course after we passed on towards Tyre they joined up with us. And that was that. And we joined up with the 14th at Tyre as appointed later on that day. Now the next
going up the coast northwards was the Litani River, it was a very deep flowing river, steep sides and deep water, coming from the snow of course. And we had to cross this and here was these bloody Frogs, Vichy, all dug in the other side. And of course they had all of these machine guns set to do this and they could pick you off crossing the river and our company,
we had to cross the river right on the ocean. Further up was A and B Company and some were in reserve, where there was a bridge. Now we heard a lot of noise up there, we know what happened up there but I don’t know if you want me to tell you about that. We were C Company; we had to get down to the edge of the river during the night, that was no trouble to find it of course. And at daylight,
we had to cross that river and we had a little boat, a little dinghy. And at the same time there was two or three British warships, frigates I guess, I am not too sure on naval things, I don’t know, but they were to pound the French on that side to give us
support crossing the river. And under the barrage were the 51st Scottish Highlanders, now the 51st are pretty famous, and these were part of that. We had heard of them but that’s about all. And whilst we were trying to cross the river,
daylight came and there was a bit of lead flying around and we got quite a few killed and wounded there. These blokes, instead of landing on the north side and giving us support and having a go at these blokes behind the barrage, they landed amongst us. And we didn’t, these bloody, all in kilts, Denise mentioned kilts I think earlier. They landed in kilts in amongst us. And we were in the middle of head
down arse up trying to all clamber on, that’s we had quite a few casualties and I can guarantee they don’t wear pants under their kilts. Because one little Scotty came pounding out of the boat, and of course we were all hiding for cover, and he came flopping behind our sand hill and it was pretty hot, and his bloody kilt when he flopped down came up here.
And everything that hurts hit the sand and, “Oh God.” That’s how I know they don’t wear pants when they wear kilts.
Not the ideal combat dress.
Well they were all good blokes as it turned out. They lost a few. But we were all one group then, we all had to get across in this boat. And there was this bloke in our company,
well that’s where we were, he went backwards and forwards bringing this boat. He and another bloke, the other bloke was killed, but Carl never got wounded and he has got quite a write-up from the CO of this battalion that landed, the 51st, and I reckon he should have got a VC [Victoria Cross] , but he didn’t get a mention in anything, Carl. But he did get a big write up from our colonels in our history, the actual write-up. But Carl did this, he must have done
half a dozen trips and not once was hit, but his offsiders were. Anyway we got across.
What was that crossing like for you?
I knew I was going to be asked this. It is a funny feeling when you are there; you are almost in another world really. There is a lot of firing, a lot of noise and firing and confusion.
You do everything as quickly as you can and hope to God you reach the other side. That’s all it really, it is hard to describe otherwise. If you’re unlucky well that’s it. If you’re reasonably lucky you get a blighty, you know you get wounded and that’s it, and if you get through, well you live another day. But it’s a funny thing, that’s the first time, I was, and we were I think
first time we got into action.
How long did it take you to actually cross?
Ten minutes, quarter of an hour. It was the mouth of the river, it wasn’t very wide strangely enough, they were narrow and deep, and of course there was no deep sides down on the ocean. It was little sand hills. A bit like the bar at
Mandurah, if you like you know, just sand either side, and a river flowing through it. It might have been longer than that but it is my memory that it was not that far, not that wide. But it was running water and of course the Vichy had every inch of that river covered by crossfire. And you
either ducked under it or hopped over it or it hit you and you got away. Anyway and the further up they were taking very heavy casualties, A and B company. How they crossed, the bridge was blown up and how they crossed, a chap by the name of Allan Patty volunteered to swim across the river with a rope, tie the rope up and swim back again and because they
took the boat over pulling the rope as quickly as they could. And funnily enough neither of the boats were blown up. You couldn’t swim, it was too quick, you could swim some of it but you would have to swim upstream to get there. I think we dug in a bit when we got across the river. I don’t know what time it was about midday I suppose. And then we had to consolidate. I think we had
to dig in there, just take up positions without going forward whilst the blokes further up, they were only about half a mile up, crossed the river and they could consolidate. No good us rushing up there unless there was support there and vice versa. Anyway they did get across and they consolidated on the north of the Litani.
How did you spend that time once you had dug in and were waiting to consolidate
your next moves?
Keeping your eyes open.
What are you thoughts at that time?
It hard to say what your thoughts are, you are just trying to concentrate on seeing someone before he saw you. You didn’t think about much, I didn’t, I am sure the other blokes were the same, everyone felt the same, everyone was
I am quite sure they were dead scared that they would reveal that they were frightened, that was the last thing anyone wanted to reveal. Of course everyone was bloody frightened, but it is a feeling that, I don’t know it is nothing special I guess, it is odd, strange. But when that’s over, you breathe a sigh of relief.
But you become involved you know that eventually if those blokes stay there, eventually we have got to go and pick them out, same as the blokes up there and the 2/14th wherever they were I can’t remember. But the French put up a resistance there, but unbeknown to us they retired, they withdrew. And there was no one there but we did not know that at this stage. They didn’t retire but they did go back, I don’t know how far.
But on that night our platoon had to go out as a fighting patrol, as I explained that in the desert. We were out there looking for trouble, we were out there in this fighting patrol at night, bloody dark, to see whether the French were still there or not. And that’s right, these ships out there were supposed to give us a bit of support. And again
they weren’t that accurate, they weren’t far from us actually. But not that close that we got blown up or anything, but they were pretty close. Anyway we went out on this fighting patrol, got lost again, couldn’t get back. Our silly bloody platoon commander we used to call ‘Jungle’ because we reckoned he was as thick as the jungle, he got lost, he was a reinforcement officer, nothing against reinforcement officers, but he was a log.
And he got lost, so he told us all in a loud whisper, “Settle down, find somewhere to sleep and we will find our way back tomorrow morning.” Well I found a nice slit trench, one of these trenches we were talking about up in the desert, and I hopped in that, I reckoned I would be pretty safe, I have forgotten where the rest of the blokes were, they weren’t far away. And it was as black as the inside of a cow, and I found it was nice and soft, nothing like the ones
up in the desert. I thought, “Well this will do me”, and I nestled down for the night. Oh we did have standing patrols, took it in turns to keep an eye out while others slept and I nestled down in this and it was really comfy, it really was. And when the sun came up, I had a look, there was a bloody Vichy French overcoat and a spare pair of binoculars, which I
have still got, French binoculars. And I had a look, and underneath the coat was a dirty black Senegalese as dead as yesterday, all blown up. And I had been cuddling up to this bloke all night. He had been killed a couple of days ago I suppose or yesterday something, and there he was dead in the trench. My bedmate for about six hours. I didn’t stay in there too long I can tell you.
You must have been horrified to make that discovery?
Not horrified. I thought, “Bloody hell, get out of it”. I got his binoculars, good souvenir.
Were you quick to tell your mates?
I cant remember that, I suppose I would have, I mean I had a better bed than they did. God he was black as the ace of spades, North African, Senegalese.
Someone was looking after him I suppose. Anyway we did get back. There was no Vichy French there, they had retired and we got back to battalion and we regrouped again as a battalion. We pursued them again, up the coast again and a place called Sidon, S I D O N,
was the next place where the French dug in and Sidon there was no river there but it was full of orange orchards. Yes there was a river there but of no consequence. And we just knew they were dug in there somewhere. The plain was fairly flat and there was a good road up there of course, transport brought all of our gear and food and
the rest along, and we had to go into Sidon in a line like that because we didn’t know where they were. I think they did send in a patrol to find out where the French were in relation to the village and so forth and that was done and so they knew the French were down there. But the only way of going in there was going on what was known as a throttle,
in our company for instance, a platoon there all spread out, then you go into sections, you have two sections with a section in reserve and two platoons there and a reserve platoon. And in the company, I don’t know whether you had two or three, there was four companies in a battalion. There was certainly two, Don and ourselves
on a front going in, and another one, I think there was two companies in reserve. And that show we went in. And the bloody Frogs had tanks, we didn’t know that at the time, and I was with Burgess again, he was in the next section. We were going through this orchard and the French had seventy-five millimetre guns [artillery] , which were equivalent to our twenty-five pounders [artillery] ,
pretty good range and pretty explosive. And they were dropping these shells as we were going through these orchards and there was no one on the ground that we knew of then. Oh that’s right, our blokes were dropping into them and they were dropping into us. So we were in the middle somewhere, and we were in this orchard and we got, I really don’t know how it happened, it was a bit disorganised
because of the fruit trees and the bombs and the orchard and so forth. Burgess and myself other blokes were around but we were together, anyway we ended up on this road that came back up the coast. And you asked me I think whether I got back on Burgess; this was the closest I did I suppose. We walking up this road, we knew this was the general direction, we just
checked, we lost company headquarters platoon probably. And we heard a rumbling coming around the corner and you looked about a hundred yards I suppose and it veered off to the left. And we heard this rumbling which we knew was a tank, we knew it had to be a Vichy tank coming down that road. We couldn’t see it because of the trees. And there just in front of us coming around this bloody corner, walking along
in front of us, walking along as though it was a stroll in the park was Arnold Potts, our CO, no he was 2IC [Second-in-Command] that’s right of the battalion, and our anti-tank guys. They had been up there to see where Sidon was and diddle, diddle, diddle. And we yelled out to him. We saw him obviously, he saw us, we were a couple of ORs [Other Ranks] and he was a major, anyway he said, “Oh don’t worry about it.” And this bloody tank came around the corner. And Burgess and I pushed the panic button,
we weren’t going to stay on that bloody road. And so we dived into a ditch and thought, “Oh this isn’t good”. They couldn’t have seen us else they would have done something. Pottsy had disappeared somewhere. This thing coming towards us, full loaded tank. So we had our haversacks on us loaded with rations and so forth and we had to get through a fence
which had a barbed wire along the top. I got through all right, but Burgess didn’t, he got the barbed wire caught in his haversack and of course I was a hundred yards and he yelled and screamed, he couldn’t get through and he couldn’t get around here and unhook it and here was this bloody big thing rumbling around. So I had to go back and unhook him, I should have left him there, shouldn’t I, after what he did to me in that incident in Palestine. Anyway they couldn’t have seen us else they would have shot at us,
we would have been mincemeat, no doubt about that. However I tell you what, he was clawing the ground trying to get the barbed wire out of his haversack. Anyway we disappeared into the orchard.
How close did the tank pass?
I didn’t stop to look. I would say it would be nearer than the highway a lot nearer. I would say probably twenty yards, something like that, from
where we were; we just disappeared and lay flat on the ground. They couldn’t have seen, you know orange groves are pretty thick and leafy, that’s what we did, and it did go past us. Now I don’t think it got much farther than us, because it ran into trouble with us and it went back again. Wasn’t a big deal, really. The main thing was Burgess getting caught with that bloody
wire and pounding the ground with his feet.
So how long did you two lie down for?
After it went through? I think after it went through we got up and disappeared. We were looking for our company headquarters actually. There was no fight at that stage except for the barrage. Anyway the whole company, and I am sure it would be the whole battalion,
after Potts’ reconnaissance knew exactly where the town was from maps and that’s where the French had laid in. But we had to go through an open paddock like your ploughed paddocks, it wasn’t ploughed but there was no orchard which meant we were out in the open and we had to again go in extended formation as they called it.
And the Frogs saw us of course but we were too far away for their rifle fire, but they dropped these seventy-five millimetres and we just had to walk into that, hopefully through it. And one landed in amongst where I was and I got blown up.
I really can’t say how many were killed, I reckoned I was too close to where it landed it must have went over my head because I didn’t get hit. Anyway my only recollection of it was that I thought my tongue was blown out. Funny thing to say but I really thought my tongue was blown out, the concussion. Others were killed but I didn’t get over a scratch. And I really think it must have landed there and went over my head. I don’t know, I can’t work it out. Others were killed from it, but I was lucky.
But (UNCLEAR) the next thing I can remember was a doctor looking in my ears. You know it must have been an RAP [Regimental Aid Post] I think the battalion, I can't remember that. I was silly as a wheel anyway, concussed. Presumably he was looking in my ears to see whether they were bleeding which meant that you had some problems with the
explosion. Anyway next thing I knew, I was in an ambulance back to Haifa, in a hospital train down to Gaza and I had a lovely three weeks in the Gaza hospital, AGH, Australian General Hospital number one [1st AGH] . I had three weeks there so I missed the rest of the stoush. And I had about a week in the convalescent camp.
When I got back to the battalion, they were in Beirut.
Before we rejoin the battalion, can you take us sort of step by step through what happened to you during that experience of going through the general hospital and convalescing?
It is not very exciting. I remember going, I was probably still a bit nutty. I don’t remember much about coming down
from Sidon to Haifa, now that’s a fair way.
What kind of ambulance vehicle would you have been in?
Pretty well like they are now, army ambulance but not nearly as sophisticated. I think there was two stretchers there and a whole lot of stuff like this, black magic. I think oxygen and that sort of stuff, I can’t honestly remember. I can remember the bits on a bit because
I suppose I was getting back on the ground a bit, I don’t know.
Just tell us what you can remember?
Well I do remember getting, we were dropped off at Haifa hospital and I don’t think I spent overnight there, but I do remember seeing another bloke who I knew I went to school with actually. He had been shot through the left arm. One of our blokes, Don Company.
A bloke you went to Guildford with?
Yeah he was a bit older than I, he was a solicitor in town. I remember seeing him, he had been hit and that was a wound in his arm. I remember seeing him and a whole lot of wounded, but Elfick was the only bloke I knew. And then I think I was whisked, I said a train but that wasn’t so, it was not a train it was another ambulance
it was at Haifa Hospital, I think it was a Jewish hospital really, it wasn’t an army one. And I suppose the bad cases were left there, I don’t know. I was taken by ambulance down through Tel Aviv to Gaza. There is a note.
And I was shoved into a ward there, and I was just confined to bed for three weeks, which
didn’t do me any harm at all. I was fed.
What was day-to-day life like while you were recovering?
Well you just stayed in bed, I mean I was confined to bed. I suppose I got up to go to the loo, I must have I suppose.
What kind of ward were you in?
Oh general ward, open ward.
What was the atmosphere like there?
Oh pretty good, there
was a few blokes there from Crete. I remember one bloke was there who I knew of, I knew his brother well. He was two beds along from me. Open wards, pretty wide, airy, nice and clean, Australian nurses. It was an AGH, Australian General Hospital. I think we probably got the
Palestinian Post which was the daily paper. I suppose we got, I am suggesting this because I don’t remember, but I am sure the Salvation Army brought books and magazines around. We were looked after, and the doctor would come and see you every day and hold your hand. I felt quite all right by then.
What kind of relationship did you have with the doctor and the nursing staff?
I thought you were going to ask me what sort of relationship
I had with the nurses, because the doctor I only saw once a, I suppose every day it had to be. I mean he was quite all right, he was, I really can’t remember that. But they were damn nice nurses. There were a couple of West Australian nurses there, and they were really fine nurses, they looked after you and you knew you were being looked after, it was an absolute luxury really. The food was good.
The hospital was well back from anything, two Australian hospitals there, one at Rehoboth with the 7th AGH and the other at Gaza. And Gaza in those days, what little I saw of it, it was only a wog village. It is a big city now. And so is Afula, its quite a big city now too.
How well did you get to know the nurses that were caring for you?
Oh well same as I am getting to know you really. They would come and, well I didn’t have any wounds
but they would make your bed. Did they wash me? I don’t think they did. They would bring your food around and they were in the wards all of the time and there was a lot of joking and so forth.
What kind of joking was going on?
“What are you doing tonight, nurse?” something like that. Generally speaking it was a very friendly atmosphere, the next time I went to hospital was a different story. It was a medical ward, not a surgical ward.
Three weeks seems to be a long time recovering?
Yeah, I wonder if that is right, three weeks? It mightn’t have been three weeks, I have just got in the back of my mind that it was three weeks but I was there certainly a fortnight. I suppose I was concussed and silly, I suppose I felt quite all right.
Would have been a good excuse to flirt with the nurses wouldn’t it?
I don’t know, you have got to have a bit more than a couple of stripes.
But oh no we later on, when we were in Julis actually ,another cobber of mine went and visited a couple of nurses who he knew pre-war and they came to (UNCLEAR) actually.
I should ask you about the days you spent convalescing?
Well after that I went to a place called Armira , it is a place on the ocean it is a convalescing depot.
And really it was paradise on earth as far as we were concerned. You were fed well, bedded well and you were convalesced. There was a lot of walking wounded and so on. And you didn’t have to do anything, probably had to report, I have forgotten I don’t know. But there was a hole in the fence, and I shot through one night with another colleague that was there,
Lee Ornut and we went AWL into Haifa and enjoyed the bright lights there and we got in about five o’clock in the morning, back in the hole into bed.
What were the bright lights like there?
Oh pretty good, Haifa is a nice city. It is a small city, it is the main port of Palestine, well now Israel. When I say bright lights it was black out actually. But it was a nice city,
it was nice to go on leave, plenty of cafes and
Three nights AWL, you must have been running amok?
Three nights AWL?
No I didn’t go three nights, one night.
I thought you said three nights. Sorry.
Oh no. We shot through.see they have a tattoo report whatever, we shot through about six I think. There is a tattoo report at ten every night and you get someone
else to fill in for you there. And,
Did you go swimming at the beach there?
Yes I did. It was right on the beach, no it was a, I can't think of the name of the damn thing. I should but I don’t.
Was it Car something?
Carvictim, ] how would you know that?
I might have heard of it during another interview.
Carvictim that’s it. And it was a, I think
an Australian one, I don’t remember seeing Brits or anything there, there was lots of Australians and a few bludgers too, a lot of bludgers actually.
What makes you call them bludgers?
Well I remember one bloke from Sydney.
He must have been a bludger if he was from Sydney.
Well I don’t know why he joined up, because he was in one of those mobs back there, a safe job, what we call base wallahs
and he probably got an ingrown toenail or something silly like that, and every time he looked like being bloody well discharged he would belt the thing again. Had no intention of fighting a war, no intention whatsoever. And if there was a race meeting in Tel Aviv, was there a race meeting in Tel Aviv? He was a bludger. God he was a bludger. There was plenty of those, when I say plenty relatively few.
Had no intention of doing their work none whatsoever. (UNCLEAR).
(UNCLEAR). Sydney Racecourse somewhere.
Any houses of ill repute in Haifa?
I don’t understand what you mean there.
You mean knocker shops. [brothels]
Yeah of course there was.
Were they popular?
I think they were pretty popular. I used to
wait outside while my cobbers went in there and waited for them to come out again.
You never stuck your nose in once?
Oh that’s where my memory goes a little bit fuzzy. You would know what they look like.
But I haven’t seen one in Haifa.
No different, yes there were, anywhere in the army there is knocker shops really. But they were there. There
was a million in Beirut but that’s down the track somewhere.
We will save that for Beirut.
Anywhere there is troops there is brothels, good way to make money.
Oldest profession in the world isn’t it?
So they tell me.
It must have been a quite pleasant couple of day convalescing?
It was, yeah, Carvictim I was there for about a week or ten days I think.
But I was perfect by then, I felt all right anyway and we didn’t do much, there is not much I can tell you there.
Once you had made your recovery, were you pretty keen to reunite?
Well yes you wanted to get back amongst your friends really. Look you wouldn’t, I am not, I don’t want to wear a halo or anything, but you wouldn’t have felt happy if you were sitting down there, you wanted to be back with your friends and with your battalion, I mean that’s all you knew really.
If you stayed back…
End of tape
Interviewee: Eric Williams Archive ID 1117 Tape 07
I think you were just about to,
Oh I know where we were. We were recovering.
Recovering from the houses of ill repute.
Yeah well I went back, the armistice was signed, our battalion, we marched in, there weren’t many left in the battalion when, the
Damour was a really hot little war, it was the worst of the lot it really was, because it was wide, deep and banked.
Did you really miss the hot part of it being?
I missed the, I wasn’t at Damour. That would have been the worst of the three battles really.
Would have actually been there if you hadn’t been concussed?
No, see that went on when I was in hospital. They captured Sidon
and were going up again to the next stage, which was the next river, which was Damour which was just near Beirut. And that really was Syria, wasn’t a big war, it was a tough war it was pretty hot. And Damour was the worst of the lot. And the blokes going on the inland trot, Bersayun and Damascus they had a pretty rough time too because the French were pretty good fighters. I was in hospital then so I wasn’t there. I know plenty about it from what I have been told and
from our history and so forth. So that was all over when I came back. And our company was ensconced in a French barracks by the name of Joffa Barracks, J O F F A I think it is spelt. And they were very comfortable, our job was to occupy Beirut and that was a pretty big city then.
Different to Perth but it was about the size of Perth I suppose from memory, as Perth was then. But we were in these French barracks and they were comfortable, we had decent beds and I think we had, we didn’t have separate rooms, but we were certainly well spaced and it was cool.
It was July when we were there, their summer. Pretty hot steamy, and the racecourse next door and not far from the centre of the town which had a magnificent park in it, and all of the shops and so forth. And a couple of them knockers were overlooking this park, and that was about three or four hundred yards
from the ocean. So it was pretty handy. And we weren’t tied down, we were given a certain, I suppose it was leave but we had to do certain things of course.
What would some of the duties in an average day entail?
Not too much, I really can’t remember too many. I know we had lots of spare time. I think blokes were coming back
like me. We went looking for our kit bags. Oh I know one of them of course was, one of the reasons we were in there was to repatriate the remaining Vichy back to France. And I remember we had to go down onto the wharf and we had certain duties
there, and being an NCO I gave the orders and did little. But it was hot, really hot there, no shade. It was a Singapore hot day sort of thing. Anyway these bloody Frogs; I have got some photographs there, which I will show you. I remember this ship called the Champoleon, C H A M P O L something,
that was the Champoleon anyway that’s how it was pronounced. Not a bad ship, pretty big and these French officers, I don’t think, they were all officers there was no troops, they were being done further up the track somewhere, all had their bloody girlfriends going back with them. Some of them were wives I suppose, but they had a lot of girlfriends and they were noisy buggers.
How did they treat you?
Well they spoke French and we didn’t. We were all armed but they were going back to France and they were happy about that and they were still alive. No I don’t recollect anything untoward like that. Except I was there about two o’clock in the morning one morning, same ship. And these, they must have been obviously still loading these blokes.
Why I say they were girlfriends I am quite sure they were, some of them may have been their wives, a lot of the girls were seeing them off. And some of the girlfriends, well females went back to France with them. And two o’clock in the morning, I was in amongst some spare bales or something soft trying to get a bit of sleep. And here were yakketty yak, from about here to over the road.
Two o’clock in the morning. I wasn’t enjoying that much I couldn’t get any shuteye. There were other blokes around, blokes patrolling and so forth, being seen, our blokes. I told them to shut up at the top of my voice and they just went on, obviously didn’t understand. So I stood up and, “Shoosh, shut up.”
Nothing happened and I thought, “Bugger this”. So I sat down and I tried to recall my schoolboy French, and I composed from just about everything I knew in French was (Speaks French) along those lines and I got up and yelled at them and they stopped immediately. Quite a linguist, aren’t I? (Speaks French)
(Speaks French) would you understand that?
“Shut up please, I am tired”.
That’s right. I could have added a few other bits to it. Anyway that was it and by the by, they did shut up and they went on board. That was our job there; there was quite a few of these ships repatriating them back to Marseilles.
Sounds like a pretty
cushy job you had there?
Oh it was, we all had a good time there. They had a pretty tough time, the blokes that went right through. We were nine weeks there, I really can’t tell you why, apart from the repatriation part of it. We had a lot of time. I remember three of us were walking down I can think of the name of this beautiful square in Beirut,
got a well known name. And there was a picture show on. It was the, I would say Marilyn Monroe but it wasn’t but we all reckoned we wanted to go and see it. Of course we went and enquired in the best way that we could, “How much?” we didn’t have any money. And I got a, there was a family in Perth called the Raads, they’re still here, R A A D.
Syrian. Nice good family. And one of them in those days ran a herbal store, you could go and buy herbs. I did know the son vaguely pre-war, and they were Syrians. And I said to this bloke, he asked us where we were from that’s right.
We realised we couldn’t go in and we were just talking to him and we said, “West Australia, Perth.” And he said, “I have got some relatives there.” “Have you, what is their names?” “Raad.” And of course we were all bosom friends with the Raads, loved them, knew where they lived and went on and we got into the pictures for free, of course the Raads had never heard of us.
How come you didn’t have any money at the time, was it because you were blowing it down the pub or ?
Well I mean we were only paid, well theoretically in Northam for instance or any camp you were paid every fortnight. When you were in a stoush well they don’t pay you obviously. Yes we got paid, we weren’t broke
but you spent it almost as soon as you got it. You know there were nice nightclubs there and grog and food wasn’t cheap. And you would buy little things for yourself. You weren’t stony broke, whatever they wanted we didn’t’ think it was worth it anyway. But he let us in because we were great cobbers of the Raads. And another occasion which I am not very proud of
it was our old Cocky, he was forty, he was well over our age was our storeman. And it was his fortieth birthday and my mate and myself said, “Well, we will go out and celebrate” which we did. And there were plenty of four-wheel gharries then that’s how we got to and from the barracks into the thing. And we had run out of everything and we thought we had better lurch off back and try to find a gharry back
into the thing. It was about twelve o’clock I suppose, ten. And in the middle of Beirut somewhere looking for a gharry, we saw a light on in a restaurant, “Ah, we might be able to get a drink there.” So in we go, it was closed but the front door was open. And up on the first floor was a kitchen, so we lurched up there and there was this poor unfortunate owner I suppose he was, “We’re closed, nah, nah.”
This went on. And in the middle of the room was a stepladder going up into the ceiling and I clambered up that. I put my head up there, and there were all little bottles of grog. Bloody hell. Sticking out when I came down. And “No, no.”
“Very sorry.” And we walked out; not very proud of this story. So what did we do? We got in a very secluded spot, it was a bottle of OP [overproof] rum. You might well pull a face. We couldn’t scratch ourselves by the time we, well, we didn’t wake up or go to sleep.
Its potent stuff.
Neat. Didn’t do anything.
Anyway, I was silly enough to preserve this damn thing. And we caught a gharry I can vaguely remember going in that back to our barracks. And I put this bottle under the bed you know, you can imagine how your brain was working, and I got into bed and started to, and I somehow felt a thump there, and I looked down like that and I had rolled on the floor like that and the floor hit me. And I stayed there all night.
And I stayed there after Reveille [wake up] and roll call, I was still, you have probably never had much rum, either have I since, but you stay on it for about three days only with a drink of water, oh God was I sick. Anyway, Albert Caro our CO I was there and he must have come around, I think it was about ten o’clock. He came into this room where I was, and there I was still on my side, I must
have reeked of rum. “Sergeant,” I suppose I didn’t hear this though, there was a bloke with him I don’t know who he was, probably another corporal, “Get this man to his feet.” He knew who I was of course and that’s the first I knew this bloke trying to get me to my feet. He must have stood back about ten yards. Anyway he told me to get dressed and get out on parade. That’s all he did, thank God.
I thought you were going to get clapped in the clink?
By that time, he knew us, been together for twelve or eighteen months or something. Anyway I know the blokes grabbed the half empty bottle of rum there. Anyway that day, my mate and myself thought we had better get out of the place and we lurched off to the races next door.
Seems like it was quite lax?
Oh I agree it was. It is probably
not quite as lax as I am sounding. I am pretty vague about what, apart from this occasion we didn’t have many jobs. I think we did a bit of drill. I don’t think we did route marches, it was lax there is no doubt about it.
Any suggestion of what is going to happen to you next through general Chinese whispers almost?
Well I know what happened next but whether we knew then, I don’t think we did.
Let me just finish this story.
Yep I just digressed.
No you didn’t, I will come to that. We went off to the local races right next door and Doug and I got way up the back of the grandstand, the back was from about here to there I suppose, and it had a balustrade up to about there
and the rest was a gap up to the roof to let the air in, both of us not talking much at all. And all of these wogs were down there. I can remember this blue smoke Syrian cigarette smelt this sweet, not like ours. And all of these bloody fumes was coming up. And I said to Burgess, “Jesus Christ I can’t take this.” I could feel this, you know,
booze coming up. I knew I couldn’t make it down there and back onto the ground. So the one to do was to dash up the back so I ran up the back and I just made it and let it go right down behind the grandstand. I really was ill. And I had a look afterwards and it was the betting ring and there was millions of people down there. So I lurched back to Doug and I said, “Come on, we’re getting out of here before they
come looking for me.” So we went back to the barracks. So that is the story that I am not very proud of.
Well you are allowed to have those sorts of experiences.
I don’t think I have had rum since.
Did you manage to come in contact with many Poms while you were?
Up in the desert we did yes, while we were at Mersa Matruh. There was the Desert, were they called the Desert Rats?
Yeah, they were called the Desert Rats, it was a tank division. And they were at Mersa Matruh, South Africans as well. That’s the only contact I had that I can remember. We saw plenty on leave in Palestine and the like. But they were quite…dirty great big Bombay bloomers for shorts you know.
They all, uniforms were creased and they had brass badges on them, insignias and their stripes, totally different to what we were. We weren’t raggedy but we pressed our own, obviously they didn’t, I don’t know. But they were nice blokes. They were called the Desert Rats, pretty famous division that did a lot of fighting in France afterwards. And apart from that, yes we saw plenty on leave, but they weren’t in
Syria they were all Australians. That’s the only time I saw them.
I was just wondering about the different sorts of nationalities that were intermingling?
There was no problem there, you were all buddies together, all on the same wagon. No trouble there. But we didn’t no I don’t think there would have been. Two hot-heads might get together or something,
but no there was no problem there. We weren’t, we were certainly under Australians direct and that was it, we didn’t get much above a brigade, you didn’t take much notice about a battalion actually. But no there was no problem like that at all. Next one up above Beirut is Tripoli, which is not much of a place, it is on the coast, we were transported up there, and by this time,
I don’t really know when we were told, we might have been told this beforehand. We were told that the Germans, it might have been in what we called a, to put it in your vernacular, latrine rumour. We have got a different name for latrine, but that’s how all rumours start. We were told that the Germans were assembling
up on the Turkish-Syrian border and we were going to go up to Tripoli, go up the mountains which were full of snow then, as observers. We did do that; we went to Tripoli, up to the foothills, across the plain to a place called Waterfront. And it was a very pleasant spot to be camped. Running water, it was pretty and it got away from
the heat a bit. It was just at the foothills of these mountains. And our company I suppose, we had to walk, bloody long way up to the top. And of course we were fully attired battledress-wise, ammo, Tommy gun, Bren gun, the rest. I can’t remember how many we camped on the side.
Anyway we went in amongst the snow at the top and our job was to be up there in case the Germans dropped parachutists, which I suppose was quite likely. And that’s why they went into Syria, to stop the Krauts coming down and getting control of the Middle East, the Suez Canal.
Did you see any action in the skies at this point?
No none whatsoever. And of course we were above the clouds.
And we just spent the days in tents and we used to rob, we had a kitchen there with pots and pans and we used to borrow these and sit on them and slide down the snow. We were only there for about a week I suppose we didn’t do much else. Syria was about ten miles up there. Nothing happened, it was pleasant for an Australian, never seen snow
before and getting involved in the snow. The worst part was getting snow in your boots walking into a tent where half a dozen bodies were, and it melted. You were perpetually wet on the ground in the tent.
Did they actually give you any special equipment to deal with the snow?
No. Clodhopper boots, the old beetle crushers. We were well rugged up; it was cold of course, because there was no melting snow.
It was their summer too, I don’t know what height we were. But they were most attractive set of mountains, ran probably from Turkey somewhere right down. They have got a name but I cant think of it. That was a bit of a bludge that lot. We got back down and, it wasn’t Christmas Eve but it wasn’t far off Christmas 1941,
back to our company. And we put on for Christmas Eve actually we put on a play and there is some photographs of that.
That’s seems like an unusual thing to be doing?
Yeah certainly it was come to think of it. I can’t remember the plot, I can certainly remember it. We had to make our own get up. Harry Wilson
was the parson. Another chap Ron Crombie, he was the bride. Who was the bridegroom I can’t remember, but we did it all pretty well, I have got the photograph there. And I was the parson’s verger, I was number two parson and my bible was the Man. Now you wouldn’t remember the Man, just Man, the name
of the magazine, but it was full of very shady jokes and cartoons. It was in those days very risqué, and I don’t know where this Man came from, but that’s was my bible, and I cut a cross, two bits of wood. And we had a couple of rehearsals and we had it in a hall of some sort, I don’t know where that came from, it was obviously there in the wog village, and it was pretty full, blokes from other companies and our own company and in came
the bride was behind me, Harry Wilson was the parson, he went in first. And I went in holding the cross and the Man was my bible, and to my everlasting discredit looking back, the Roman Catholic padre got up and walked out.
Didn’t stop the show because it didn’t register so much at the time, but looking back. Not that it worried me, but it certainly worried him. However it was a great success, the bride came up, being Christmas Eve and our OC, yeah, OC then of our company, Nick Goodsall he joined in and we had a very long night celebrating Christmas.
And Burgess and myself were due to go for a week’s leave down in Palestine.
Did you get any parcels and packages from home?
Yes we did, more so, we got what they called camp comforts, the Salvos [Salvation Army] were there, particularly in Papua New Guinea they were there in person to help you, help the wounded and the
lame and so forth. Yes there were, I had forgotten about those. Even when we were in camp in Palestine, and they were pretty nice parcels you know. They were pretty nice goodies, I remember I received a camp comforts parcel which I opened up and there was usually some nuts and balaclava or scarf, all knitted by people back,
girls probably, that sort of thing, toothpaste probably, or things you wanted and missed. And I remember opening up this, I had forgotten all about this until you mentioned it. I remembering opening up this camp comfort and there was this very nice balaclava, which was damn handy in the cold, over your ears, and a little note in it from a lass in Launceston in Tassie,
wishing me good luck whoever it was and all of that jazz. So sat down and wrote to thank her. And back came a letter, so I wrote to her and thanked her for that. And back came another letter with a picture, I thought, “Bloody hell, this is going on too long”, anyway I wrote and thanked her, that was in Palestine and that was the end of it,
and I often wondered what happened to her, I can remember her name and address right now.
The balaclava incident.
Yes. I haven’t still got the balaclava. But the camp comforts were marvellous, and the mail was excellent. I think we got mail those days within ten days because mail was really important then it really was. My mother wrote every week and I wrote to her every Sunday I could. And we used
to swap letters, Burgess and I, we all knew the same people. Yeah you were happy to get news from back here.
How important was mail and comfort packages for morale?
Oh they were quite important, they really were thinking about it. There wouldn’t be anyone who didn’t have someone who loved them back here.
Very important. Of course our letters were censored by our platoon commander. You wrote a letter to your sister or mother and put it in our orderly room, and it went to your platoon commander and he had to sign it. And when we of course when we were going over there, we theoretically did not know where we were going.
We all knew. And Jack Pross, our platoon commander then, was a pretty straight-laced, I couldn’t say he was naïve, he was a Royal Australian hockey player, that type of bloke. He paraded us next morning I remember after getting to Julis camp. “We are in Palestine, you can now officially say that you are, not in Palestine, but you are somewhere in the Middle East.” And that was our address.
Everyone knew. We all had different systems, if you went to Cape Town you would say, “The moon looks lovely tonight.” Everyone knew how to get around that easily, not everyone but most of them. Anyway that was our address: C Company, 2/16th AIF, abroad. That wasn’t much of a secret. Where were we? On leave.
You were just talking about your Christmas play?
The nativity play that was a little bit blue.
Anyway I can’t really tell you much more about that, which is probably a good thing. Anyway we were being picked up at five o’clock the next morning, that morning to go by truck down to Haifa and we started our weeks leave down there. Well you can imagine what sort of shape we were in at
five o’clock in the morning but anyway we had to go down to battalion headquarters. Battalion headquarters was down there and our company was here and you had to walk down the side of this slope, where the road was built down near the battalion, and down this side, on the inside was a dirty big drop. And I jibed Burgess about something, dark, pitch black, and he gave me a push
and I went over the side and I landed in a cherry tree. Was I scratched and torn and I couldn’t get out. Anyway he had to get me out, he had to go all of the way to the bottom and come back again. That was only by the by. So I looked as though I had been pulled through a porcupine patch but I got on my leave. But nothing much happened down there, went back to Jerusalem and
Tel Aviv for a couple of days, Haifa. Very pleasant; a week’s leave was magic to us. But the Christmas, we were there at Ramadan, do you know what Ramadan is?
Yeah, the holy. [Holy month of Islam]
It is the holy time for the wogs. I think it is the holy time they starve, they can only eat after dark, it was pretty heavy stuff for them. And of course every morning,
there was a mosque just where we were. And every morning this guy a wog would get up there, about five o’clock daylight I suppose, and get out there, and I don’t know if you have ever heard them? Wailing, calling out to prayer and all of that jazz. It’s a really waily noise, and it wasn’t just whispering it was at the top of his voice and it used to wake everyone up.
One bloke, probably a Kalgoorlie bloke I don’t know, got fed up with this, “Shut-up.” Nothing stopped him. “I’ll fix you, you bastard.” So he loaded up his rifle, bang, put a shot across his bow or across the top somewhere. And that shut him up. But it didn’t shut up battalion headquarters; well they came swarming up there. They never caught the bloke, no one saw him do it.
Not a very good cross-cultural exchange there?
Well it happened I can tell you, I heard the shot. By God, it quietened him, I can tell you. There you go. It wasn’t long after that, it was Christmas and, because the Japs [Japanese] had come into the war by then.
Well this must have come as pretty extraordinary news really because you’re so caught up in your own little world?
Well they bombed, that’s right,
we did hear what had happened to Pearl Harbour.
Which would have been alarming enough?
Yeah but it never sort of sunk in that Australia was threatened, it brought the Yanks in. As I remember, we didn’t think much about it. But I suppose things started to move that we were going to leave the Middle East and
naturally we thought that we would be going to go home. Yes we knew then that we were going home and there was a bit of a threat, didn’t think it was too bad but the main news was that we were going home. We left on the 31st of January, straight down to El Kantara
again, got to know that joint very well. And we got on a ship by the name of Ile de France which is another big ship, big ship. Of course those big ships could come up there then because the Krauts weren’t there, it was outside the war zone. I don’t know if we boarded there or we caught a train down to the end of it. Anyway Ile de France,
that was a very comfortable ship. It was a big, I don’t know what size it was, probably twenty-five pounder, at the stern of this ship and it was about that high off the ground, the platform. And while we were there we used to play around with this ship a bit, this thing, you could turn the wheel and it would go like this, but we were smartly stopped. But we stopped under it because it was cool; we got some shade through the Red Sea and that.
I don’t think we did much else. The other troops; same old thing, lectures and map reading and all of that jazz.
Did you have any duties while you were on board?
No there weren’t many duties, they had their own crew. No we didn’t have any duties, plenty of activity, ships coming and going. And of course we were all
thrilled about coming back to Australia, we thought. And that took us to Bombay, so we were there coming this way instead of that way. And we had a couple of days, we were there a couple of days and we were in reverse. We got off the Ile de France onto a small ship, a la [same as (French)] that bloody Rejula. And this ship was called the
City of London, it wasn’t a bad ship, it was small and our battalion was on it. And there were others and they were in convoy. But it had a lot of black smoke, which we didn’t like; you could see it for miles.
Did that make you feel a bit uncomfortable?
Yeah well you could see smoke for miles you see.
How big was the convoy you were in?
Bloody good question. I know
our brigade was on it. Three ships, I am guessing six or eight plus warships; and the zigzag. And we left Bombay, nothing happened in Bombay really, and we left Bombay we thought for Fremantle. And we had a chap by the name of Harry Rowe who was in the I Section. He was one of these almost,
university, brain surgeon, loved playing around with compasses and all of that jazz, and he was in the I Section. And he observed that instead of the sun coming up there where it should be if we were heading down to Fremantle there, that is east, he found the sun was bloody coming up
straight over our shaft part. And we thought, “Oh well that’s funny” but we didn’t think much of it. We were heading there and the sun was coming up over here, so that was east, we were going north. And that lasted only two or three days and next thing the sun is coming up behind us. So what had happened of course was we left Bombay for Fremantle, now that was the time old Churchill and Curtin [Australian Prime Minister] were arguing. Churchill wanted us to be landed in Rangoon.
Curtin said, “No, they are coming home, the whole division.” Churchill said, “No, you are going there.” And order us to go there. I don’t know if you remember or were aware that all of that happened in 1942, did you? Anyway that’s what happened, there was a good old box-on and we were in the middle of it. And by the time Curtin told
Churchill to get nicked, that we were coming home, we did not have enough fuel to get back to Fremantle. So we had to return west and ended up in Colombo, Ceylon. We had a little leave there, just in the city itself.
Were you told at this point, any idea what was going on?
Oh we didn’t have any idea then. No idea except the sun was there and there and there.
I think we found out pretty quickly. People know and they, “Don’t tell anyone” and it filters down, the latrine-a-grams. So you do find out, I don’t know how they find out. I think that’s probably what happened, the COs would probably know and the powers that be would have known and it would have filtered through .We got attacked,
bombed there in the harbour. Well they were Japs, yeah. They attacked the harbour; it is a quite big harbour in Colombo. And we were in there refuelling, coal, anyway over came the raid. That’s right we were actually heading for Java, that’s right, and Churchill said, “No, Singapore
is gone, I want them up here at Burma.” That’s right. We thought we were going to Fremantle but we were actually going to Java. Now some of these 2/3rd Machine Gunners, not some of them all of them, landed there and they were POWs for the whole time, the whole thing collapsed. So in a way, I guess Churchill saved us from being in the bag really, because we were heading for Java.
What did you think about the fall of Singapore?
Well it was just, you know you think it is down here somewhere but we were shattered really because it was, I had never been to Singapore then. But things looked pretty grim. We heard about those two battleships being sunk. They seemed to be, from where we sat, invincible, the Japs, spreading like a rash. Singapore particularly.
We knew the 8th Division were there, not probably as much as you think we did, we really wanted to get home, we thought that was where we should be. But yes we were told about that at sea, not much. We learnt a lot about it afterwards of course like everyone else.
It must have been pretty disappointing to get to Colombo and not home?
Yes it was, we did not know what was happening, didn’t know a thing really.
But once we left Colombo and the sun was coming up to the right
Interviewee: Eric Williams Archive ID 1117 Tape 08
So approaching the west coast?
I remember the first thing I saw, well most of us did, was the red dingo. Down on the rolling mills of old Fremantle, it was a huge thing and it was the first thing we saw. And most of the blokes reckoned they could smell the gum trees which was a bit carried away I think. Anyway we arrived at Fremantle out at
Gage Roads [offshore mooring] in a brigade, there was the 27th, the 14th and ourselves. And typical of the bloody army, we were all going to be allocated a day’s leave and then we were going to Adelaide. The first lot who went in was the 2/14th who were the Victorians. We were out there cooling our heels at . We thought, “Christ that’s bloody tough”. Next day it was the 27th, South Australians. They went in.
We were beginning to think we were ngoing to have a bloody riot on our hands. There was Fremantle and Perth and we were out at Gage Roads and they were letting all of these foreigners in there. And certainly the next day, in went our ship, no one knows we were coming, complete secret, and there was millions on the wharf. And of course, we were all down here trying to look for faces and wave and all of that and the ship was like that, couldn’t berth. It had to be like that to
get up against, and they tried to get us away from the rails and they couldn’t. Well they eventually did of course because they realised we were cutting our own throats by staying there, but I suppose they stuffed around for an hour trying to get us away.
Why was she listing like that?
Because we were all, the whole body of the battalion was over this side trying to look down the wharf to see if your mother or father or whoever was there. No one was over there and the whole weight of it, instead of being upright like that it just put it like that.
And of course it couldn’t get close enough to the wharf to berth. Probably could these days I don’t know, but it couldn’t then. And we were anyway we were given a day’s leave and of course.
How did you disembark?
Well once they got our boys to come away and stand over there, it evens the weight of the ship, they did berth.
It was, I don’t know what the gap was, it was I suppose ten feet or whatever, it was leaned over like that, and there was nobody over that side, I didn’t know a boat would be that sensitive but that’s what happened.
What quay did you disembark on?
Probably Victoria Quay where the passenger terminal is. That wasn’t there then but around about there. Of course we were off the thing and we had leave until
midnight. Everyone scattered, my parents were down the bush so I rang them up, I couldn’t get there and back. Most of the blokes, city blokes of course, saw their parents. Some of the parents had heard and come up, supposed to be a secret. The Kalgoorlie blokes got straight on a train to Kalgoorlie,
straight on, the whole lot. And of course I don’t know what happened to the country blokes, I think some of them went to Bunbury and came back, I really don’t remember. But I can tell you this, at midnight there weren’t many of the battalion back; Kalgoorlie blokes were all up in Kalgoorlie, a lot of blokes in the country. I would say that
a third to a quarter came back, the rest were AWL. The ship went on without them to Adelaide and we disembarked there at a place called Cornlight Gardens. And of course all of these AWL blokes in the meantime as we were travelling around, they had reported back to Claremont and they were put in the cage, in the cooler, AWL.
trained through to Adelaide where we were, and they had a special compound for these blokes. They had just said, “Up you, I am going home,” the Kalgoorlie blokes, but they all came back eventually. Some took only a day or so off, some took a week off. So that when we were in Adelaide the goodies, I had a halo I didn’t go AWL, we had a bit of
Adelaide, which we enjoyed. We had to look after these blokes in the compound who were all of our mates, but we had to do it. There was a bit of a riot there and the silly officer in charge drew a revolver. A chap from Vasse hit him over the head and he wounded him pretty seriously. There was a big blue over that obviously. He landed at 1AMC [Army Medical Corps] that officer.
Anyway, we were there for about a fortnight I suppose and we were given official leave for a week in Perth but these naughty boys weren’t given leave as punishment. They had to forego their leave so they didn’t go back to the camp. So they stayed in the camp in Adelaide and some of us, and I was one of them, had to go out Glen Innes in New South Wales and establish a camp
for the battalion that had finished their leave in Syria, came back by train and there was the camp ready for them. And we established that camp and we had a very pleasant fortnight I suppose in Glen Innes. Establishing the camp and all of the things that go with it. And the Glen Innes people were marvellous. We were just back from the Middle East and all of that trap. But they were very kind to us and we had a few games of tennis there.
And it was as cold as hell, very cold. And when the battalion arrived, we then took off for Perth to have our leave.
So you had had one day in Perth, gone to Adelaide and then got to go back to Perth?
Well we went to Glen Innes and then had to come back. The battalion came back from Adelaide, those that didn’t go AWL, the poor buggers that went AWL, they didn’t go back to Perth.
If they had have just waited?
they had to wait there until Glen Innes was established and then the battalion went there, I think probably, I don’t really remember this, but when the battalion went to Glen Innes which was northern New South Wales, I think they then rejoined the battalion. Their punishment was they didn’t get any home leave for that week.
Well I guess they had had a week so?
Well they had taken a few days, some of them only took a few days off, they missed out on a week, didn’t they. They were good blokes, hell they just wanted to see their family.
Can I just ask you firstly how did you spend that one day in Perth?
Made straight for the Palace Hotel where a cobber of our father was waiting and there was two old blokes that I knew from Elder Smiths, they used to go over every day pre-war and have a couple of whiskeys in the front bar of the Palace Hotel, of course that was a watering hole for Elders, the Palace Hotel.
Must have been good to be back in your local?
Oh absolutely, that’s where everyone, that was the local in the city and these old boys, World War I blokes, one had a wooden leg, they used to go over there at eleven o’clock. And have a couple of whiskeys; I remember seeing them walk day after day over there. Anyway when we go off the train, Ken Harvey was the bloke that was meeting his father and I knew his father and so did Burgess, and we were going to have a
drink there before we did anything. So we met old Bob Harvey there and who was in there but these two blokes from Elders and of course we were all over the place, shook hands, diddle, diddle, and one of them, he was a lousy old bustard, he had just won Charities, in those days was worth about three thousand quid I think, that sort of money which is a fortune and we didn’t stay there
that long, we probably had four or five grogs I suppose. But we bought him and his mate a drink and all he was bubbling about was not good to see us but that he had just won bloody Charity and he didn’t buy a bloody drink, not one, he lurched off back to Elders full of our grog. You would think that he would buy us a drink wouldn’t you? Just won three thousand, and he was a bachelor lived on his own.
Scared he was going to lose it?
Oh it didn’t worry us much. How did I spend it?
I went to the post office, I rang up my family. I know Ken his family lived in Perth.
I just wanted to know which pub you went to?
Look I think I went down and saw an old flame down at Hollywood, I think I may have just to say G’day because you had to be back in Fremantle
pretty soon. And in those days there were what they called parlour cars, there I don’t think there were taxis, the Yanks had all of the taxis, the place was full of Yanks then.
What's a parlour car?
Well they were a one, two three seater, with nothing in it but just rows across the front. And each row of seats, it was about this wide
I suppose, it was wider than the average car, and they had doors each side so that if it pulled up it was bad if you got out in the traffic side, but you got out and you paid the taxi driver who was way down there. And they just commuted from Perth to Fremantle back and forth, pre-war days. There were trains but they took God knows how long., no one used those things then.
I don’t remember buses. Everything stopped about eleven o’clock those days in Perth, well they certainly did. Many a time I have walked or got a ride with the milkman down the Sterling Highway about one a.m. Then I took a girl out from South Perth, God the last ferry ran about eleven. That was no good so they missed out unless you lived there. Anyway I think
I went into Elders and the day went pretty quickly, we didn’t get in there until eleven. Anyway we reported back and that was it, on our way next morning or that night.
How did you spend your week’s leave in Perth?
Well I went down to where my parents were living. And they were living in Albany then I think, my brother had taken over the farm.
How did you get down there?
Oh train. The old Albany Express, there were no
buses in those sorts of places. There were buses in town and that was a bit of an overnight thing. I think I went down there for four days and spent three days in Perth. Lived at the George Hotel, which is still there I think isn’t it? The George Hotel?
In East Perth?
No Murray Street, just over where the freeway is, I think it is still there. But there is a good cheap pub on the outskirts and Burgess and I had three days there,
looked up all of our Perth friends. Spent four days with the family. Went by train, the Albany Express left about five o’clock and got into Albany about nine the next morning. Good old rattler. And didn’t do much down there obviously except just be with my parents I suppose.
What was that greeting like when you arrived?
My old man wasn’t a very emotional bloke, my mother was and most of the warmth came from her.
I don’t know I really, I think my mother came back to Perth, that’s correct I think.
Did you get a roast?
A roast? To eat? Food wasn’t too bad; we had been on a ship. Food wasn’t the main thing really, had been away for nearly two years and couldn’t believe, you had to pinch yourself that you were back there.
And it was a wartime city, the shortage of everything, there was no petrol and grog was limited. Petrol was certainly limited, very austere. It was right in the middle of the war, 1942, full of Yanks by then. They were not bad capturing Rabaul but they were not in New Guinea by that time. But you know we went, we caught a ship called the Dominion Monarch.
We were going from Fremantle back to Sydney and by the time we came back, which was a week coming there, a week there and a week coming there, it was about three weeks or a month by the time we caught up with the battalion. And they had since left Glen Innes and gone onto a place called Maroochydore which is now the Sunshine Coast.
Nice old sleepy hollow, it was beautiful. We were about a mile in from Maroochydore, jungle rainforest. And that’s where we did our training for the Owen Stanleys or New Guinea as we thought. It was that time that the Japs, we knew that we were going somewhere up there. But there was a little note about four lines in the paper that the Japs had landed at Gona and that was the only news that we had of New Guinea and that’s where we reckoned we were going to go.
Well as it transpired of course we didn’t. The Japs took over Kokoda and we ended up in the Owen Stanleys.
Did you discuss the war much with your family while you were there?
Not really, it was hard,
Did you discuss the fact that you were leaving again to go to New Guinea?
We didn’t know then, we had guessed. It’s a funny thing but I don’t think we talked much about the war.
We wanted to talk more about what they were doing. It is a funny business really, until this happened you don’t talk about the war, no one is interested, at least that’s how it appears to me. No names, no pack drill [no name, no blame] , but I have been involved in Legacy for about fifty years and I went to see a…one of my jobs going to see a newly bereaved widow is to try and help her get a war pension, this is post-war.
And I looked after someone whose husband was killed who we all knew, we knew him. And I got her a DVA [Department of Veterans Affairs] pension. And I was bloody glad because (A) she deserved it and (B) it would be a great help to her. And I happened to mention this to a near family and the girl, the daughter who was probably twenties, mid-twenties, said,
“What, why would she get a pension? Do you mean we have got to pay for it?” And I have never got over that. That is probably the outlook of the young. And that’s why I think it is most essential, I have got right off the track now, that young people know about war. I really do. If a bloke goes, not me, but if people go and put their head on the block then they deserve a bit of help and young people should know about it. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have half the stuff that they have got.
But I am on my high horse.
It’s a valid point, we might get a chance to talk about it.
Well that absolutely shattered me. I just couldn’t believe it. Instead of saying, “Isn’t that absolutely marvellous.” “God, why should I have to pay for that?” Never got over it, really bad that.
What happened during the time while you were in Sydney?
I was only there five days. Well we were in a hotel,
we were in camp actually at the Sydney showgrounds, and we moved into a hotel in Sydney in Pitt Street, there was a small group of us. We didn’t do much apart from enjoy ourselves. That’s why I said ahh when you asked me because it is not very impressive really. Sydney is the same as Perth only ten times worse. There were Yanks. Oh the morning we got onto this Dominion Monarch,
we arrived outside of the Sydney Heads about five in the morning and we suddenly stopped. We were all out there looking at the Sydney Heads and the city beyond. And we heard a lot of explosions in towards Sydney and we stopped only about a mile out of the heads. And it transpires that that was the morning that the Jap subs were in there. Do you remember hearing about that?
A few Jap subs got underneath or through or something, there was a net across there and they got in there and I think they sunk something on Garden Island I am not sure, they let off some torpedoes. And of course the subsequent noise that we heard was the local lads there in the navy hunting for them and dropping depth charges. So we were outside about five hours, I suppose, before they let us come in.
I have since seen one of those subs at Canberra war memorial, two-man sub it was. Same as Max Sheen, that’s what he used to do. So that was an interesting little interlude.
Precarious way to enter Sydney.
Yeah that was our introduction to Sydney. And there was a lot of noise going on there. There was three subs, they were all sunk.
Well obviously they got one because it is in Canberra. Look we didn’t do much in Sydney, we should have but we didn’t.
What about jungle training?
Well it was quite good there because it was really a rain forest as the place north of Cairns is now. Rain tree, green tree forest whatever. It was good jungle training,
pretty thick. We did a lot of marching there to get fit and just as well as it transpired. But jungle fighting is the absolute opposite of the desert. Can’t see anyone, cant see much, on a track you wouldn’t know where you were. You just don’t see the baddies, you can hear them but you can’t see them. You fire at noise mostly. And we,
did we all have one? No. I think each section had a machete [large slashing knife] ; you had to cut it down it was that thick.
Is one more hospitable that others or?
The desert or the jungle?
What do you mean by hospitable?
Well harsh environment to survive in?
I would say the desert was better because the Owen Stanleys,
we will come to that in a moment, but the desert is more open and I prefer the desert. You can see what is happening, the conditions are much better in the desert, the climate. Anyway there we go.
Were the jungles in Queensland a good practice ground?
Absolutely. We didn’t do much, we certainly were introduced to it but no one knew much about
jungle training really; it was the blind leading the blind. And we did a lot of route marches there to get us fit. But we did not much I admit. We were camped right in amongst the rain forest but we didn’t do much crawling around there. Bloody leeches and nasties, not a very nice place actually. A picnic compared to New Guinea.
And we go our, no we didn’t have jungle greens, they weren’t heard of then. We weren’t there long, I guess about three weeks. A little bit of leave in Brisbane. And we caught a Kaiser ship ["Liberty ship"built by Kaiser] from Brisbane. Now a Kaiser ship is the ships that the Yanks turned out almost like sardines, the bare bones of a ship.
Chap by the name of Kaiser had invented them and built them. And they were just a hulk with decks, there were no latrines in them, you pee in running water down the side of the deck. I mean that’s, they were very austere, because they wanted ships and we went on one of those to Port Moresby from Brisbane. It was alright, it was only a short journey that took three or four days.
Did number twos go over the side as well did they?
What do you mean number twos? [toilet] Oh, I think we did a crouch I think. Number twos, God you’re going back eighty years, yeah I think we had to have a perch, otherwise they wouldn’t have had the running water. Yes I really, I can tell you about an incident with that later on too in the Owen Stanleys.
I suppose so. I can’t remember that. But if they had a proper toilet we wouldn’t have had that running water there, I can’t see why. Number twos, ay. There you go.
I haven’t said number twos for a while.
I didn’t know what the hell you were on about.
Trying to be modest.
Denise didn’t know, how would she know? Well done, anyway.
I am glad somebody has some modesty here.
Number twos, ay? Anyway we arrived in, is someone here?
Come in. I’ll just stop it.
Which is a bloody barren sort of a place then, I haven’t been back since but I believe it is quite a city now. Have you ever been there?
Moresby, Port Moresby.
No I haven’t.
And we went virtually. Now I developed a carbuncle there or there and when the battalion went straight up to a starting point for the Owen Stanleys, Owen’s Corner, I was being treated for this and I missed going up with the battalion. So I missed the early part of the, they went straight up to aerodrome at Kokoda
well just this side of it, that’s where the Japs were. And by the time this thing was cured and I got my hand out of a sling and I went up with a reserve part from the 2/14th, they had retreated back as far as a place called Butcher’s Hill. That’s Brigade Hill where the battalion headquarters got cut off. So I can't tell you anything about the, I have heard enough about it, but I wasn’t there so I cant tell you.
But by the time I caught up with them, Brigade Hill it was about two thirds of the way up Ower’s Corner and the aerodrome. And so I had a pretty, going up everyone did relatively; coming back with the Japs on our heel was the worst part. You started of on a track I suppose about half the width of this room, and it never varied, I
suppose a lot of boots had pounded over it and it rained every day at one o’clock, you could set your clock on it, one p.m. And of course that was mud and all of these troops walking on it, thick jungle either side, you would get lost if you got off the track. And so by the time I walked up there, you were just wading through mud, thick rotting mud.
And you just crawled, some of the steep climbs had, well they called one the ‘Golden Staircase’ [from Uberi up to Imita Ridge] , wood about that wide across the track with stumps there holding it, they were steps. And you just slogged from that to that, and I don’t know how many steps were in this particular golden staircase, but there just didn’t seem to be any horizon. You would get
to where you thought was a horizon and you would get up and there was perhaps a little flat and then you would get up another one. And it was all slippery particularly those wooden things because they were wet and there was no purchase in them at all; your boots were wet, everything was wet. And you had to have a stick, well I had a stick, a cut one with a fork in it. Because you carried everything with you,
had a waterproof thing roll up and put it in your pack, and a Tommy gun I had, others had Tommy guns by this point, and ammo, I was a sergeant by this time. And two tins of bully beef and some biscuits. That was in your little pack at the back, which you put your rainproof sheet in.
No blankets or anything, we might have had a blanket, I don’t remember. But your tucker was there, a water bag. I didn’t have a bayonet, I didn’t need it. But you were saturated, everything was saturated because it literally poured every day. You could hear it coming through the tropical downpour and it came every day.
And at night time you just laid at the side of the track if you weren’t in one of the villages and I can remember well particularly when we were retreating, just lay in the mud at the side, I put the tin hat on my head, I lay on my groundsheet that’s right in the mud, and just lay there in the rain. It rained for I suppose twelve hours non stop.
It was just incredible, because you’re fairly high, I mean you’re getting up above the clouds and then you go down again to the streams and so forth. And going down was just as hard as climbing really, hot as hell, it really was. I think our friend Damien Parer [war photographer/filmmaker] , I think it was, called it the green hell or whatever.
But it was no picnic anyway. And we all had to do it and we all did it.
But I think we must have had a blanket. Because I believe when we were wet our gear weighed about sixty pounds because of the weight. We never took our boots off, we did I remember at Gona, we took them off and rinsed them out and put them back on again. But your feet got rotten with it; you never got air to them. And bully beef again.
So once you got wet you were never dry?
No look if you were dry, the perspiration would keep you wet. I remember counting the drops of sweat running off my bloody nose going up one of these stairs, nothing else to look at. But battalion had a very rough time as indeed the others did up there too. As it turned out, there was about five hundred; all of the B Echelon [rear administrative element] blokes didn’t go up. I think about five hundred of ours, and the 2/14th
roughly the same. So there was about a thousand of ours. And as we found out afterwards, there was about ten thousand Japs at Kokoda, we were vastly outnumbered, little buggers, and of course they had the airstrip they captured that and that’s what we were supposed to be doing. They just overrun, there was several tracks up there, it applied anywhere along the Owen Stanley. You would try and hold them up and
they would fire back when they knew where you were, they had a mountain gun and then the other blokes would spread out behind you. And if you weren’t careful they would come in, which they did at Brigade Hill. When I arrived at Brigade Hill with this Bluey Russell from the 2/14th, I was a sergeant, we got to battalion and we heard
all of this firing going on and they immediately grabbed us, and there weren’t many I suppose about twenty in this group, odds and sods. We were just at that time when we got there our company, I think the 14th they weren’t there anyway, and the 27th had got cut off down there and they were trying to find their way out about a mile back in the jungle, it took them twenty-one days to get back to base the whole battalion.
Anyway there is a lot of noise, fighting, shooting. And what happened of course, brigade [headquarters] of course was always at the rear, yeah, it was brigade, Pottsy was a brigadier then, he was the OC of that. And two of our companies got cut off, C Company, which was my company but I wasn’t there, and Don Company. And these Japs
had come in behind them. They hadn’t retired quickly enough and the Japs got in behind them. In other words they were cut off from battalion and brigade, and that was a pretty serious thing. Because they had plenty of reinforcements, one bloke got knocked down and twenty more could take his place, that didn’t happen with us. And Potts decided the only thing to do, whatever troops he could get here,
was to go back down the track where the Japs had straddled it and try to divert them while these two companies came out of the side. And I got to Brigade Headquarters just when they were organising who was going to head down arse up down there and shift the Japs or tie them down. So literally
I got there and we didn’t even sit down. Being a sergeant, your platoon commander or a leader is in charge obviously so he is up the front somewhere, sergeant is the 2IC of a platoon or a company is always at the back, 2IC of the battalion. In case something happens there, keep the sergeant to take over, that’s the army system, so I
was at the back. So when the Japs, well they obviously saw us coming or knew we were coming because they were out looking for us. And there was bloody lead everywhere, that’s all I can tell you. And blokes went down. Levity Langley got killed and another officer got killed, two blokes from our battalion. And a lot wounded but all I can say was I was bloody lucky, plenty were lying there but
nothing happened to me. And the Japs fortunately, I don’t know how long it lasted, but they POQed [withdrew] but in the meantime those two companies cut off, they were just head down arse up through the jungle otherwise there was no prisoners. So they just had to, and they suffered a lot of casualties. See a bloke wounded, unless there was someone very handy, you just couldn’t get him out.
Wouldn’t last very long in that climate, gangrene and other diseases. Anyway they eventually made it back to brigade, that’s why it is called Brigade, we call it Butchers Hill. And of course we came back and retired, by the time I got there there weren’t many blokes in
the, it was a composite, I think it was a sort of a composite, one company, there was very little left. A lot of blokes were carted back by the Fuzzy-Wuzzies [Papua New Guinea indigenous carriers] . We passed those all of the time on the track as we were going up. A lot of wounded were carried out. Some blokes, our friend Burgess he walked back, he got nicked in the knee. Blokes died of dreadful diseases, I think they were, denghi fever and
and malaria. Malaria didn’t kill you but a lot of blokes had malaria. Dysentery. So the numbers were whittled down and there was no reinforcements to help us out, we just had to fight and retire, and fight and retire. And we in turn, again, by numbers, I know it happened twice to me, we straddled in a strategic place
just over the hill and the Japs were there and three or four of you would wait behind a tree, somewhere where you could see the track and this happened repeatedly. You would wait there until the Japs appeared, because they were coming you know that. And they usually poked a poor unfortunate bloody Jap as a scapegoat to draw the fire
and you would see this Jap reluctantly going up the path, knew damn well what he was going to cop. And these other blokes all hiding behind, I don’t know what they did but you couldn’t see them. But this bloke drew the fire and then they knew where we were. We also knew that once we had fired at this bloke because he got too bloody close we couldn’t stay there too long because we were greatly outnumbered.
And so this position, we would duck over the hill out of sight and rejoin the rest of our blokes and we knew the Japs were just over there and we would retire for three or four hours and find another spot. And that’s what happened, day, oh nighttime no one moved.
How were night spent?
Well if you were lucky enough to be in a village you
would have, the local natives had these sort of things, completely open underneath but they lived under there when it was peace time, and it was dry. And if you were lucky you could sleep under that because the rain came every day. But if you were not, as I said earlier, you just dropped, you don’t move it was black, it really was you couldn’t see.
And as thick as hairs on a dog’s back. You would get lost. As a matter of fact it happened, not to me but someone else and you just flopped wherever you were as I say I put the tin hat over my face and I just lay in the rain. I can’t remember whether I had something on top of me. I remember I put that there to, it just rained and rained and of course the day after it just rained again.
Would you manage to sleep at all?
I suppose we did.
I don’t know .we must have, I really can’t remember now. But it would be fitful sleep. And there was tin dog [bully beef] and biscuits, mainly wet. Tin dog was all right. But (UNCLEAR) I remember one of these occasions dysentery was rife.
We were waiting, there was three of us, the bloke that went and cut that line in Syria, Jim McKenzie, the telephone line, Sugar Cale, he was with a Bren gun behind a tree just there and I was behind a tree I suppose and another bloke was here. Anyway, Cale was full of dysentery, he had the Bren gun set up and the tripod straight down there. And he was taken short and he just had
to drop his pants and hope to God no Jap appeared while he, couldn’t clean himself up or anything. And, but it was like that. You got no notice, and he was as thin as a rake. He survived. And they had a mountain gun, which was not a very nice thing.
But they had enough blokes, we couldn’t get anything up there, couldn’t get a twenty-five pounder and we were only fed by what we called the Biscuit Bombers which were the Yanks. They left Moresby with a load full of wooden boxes they were filled with tinned bully beef and biscuits. And they were supposed to fly, say Menari, which is a village there a reasonable size and they were supposed to drop these things
as close as they could to where we were, or where our rear echelon was for our sustenance our food. And they always dropped it about half a mile away from about, God knows where, up there, and they always broke. We got very little from them, bloody Yanks; I think they thought it was too damn dangerous to get any closer. But they murdered I don’t know how many boxes of
that because they just wouldn’t come down and they…
Interviewee: Eric Williams Archive ID 1117 Tape 09
I mentioned the mountain guns. They had one mountain gun, which they would manhandle; they had enough troops to do that. Ten to one we were outnumbered roughly. And it was a pretty vicious, I never saw it but I was certainly on the receiving end of it. It had a I don’t know what the bore was, but I suspect it was something about that long
and it had a very flat trajectory, not much range but it could fire from one side of a mountain to the other. That’s about the extent of it, and it pretty well fired over an open sight [direct fire] , there was none of this twenty-five over and the range and so forth. And when we got back pretty well to the end of the track and we were getting well down on our numbers by then, two things happened
on a place called Ioribaiwa Ridge, which is the last stop before you got onto the plains to Moresby. And I know there were fifteen in our company out of what, a hundred and thirty I suppose, weren’t all killed. But that’s all there was and I was with, I don’t know why, our platoon commander,
officer in charge he was with me, and we were waiting for the Jap to come up behind a tree, quite a big tree, three good blokes they were too. And Bill Braydon and myself, I was the sergeant, he was the officer behind them and unfortunately these blokes had their head against this tree and I suppose the Japs must have seen us from over there and the next thing we knew was this
mountain gun was fired and exploded in this tree just above our head. And it killed the three blokes with their head on the tree, because the percussion went straight down, split their skulls open. And knocked out Bill Braydon right alongside me, I was all right. I thought, “ Christ”. I could see they were dead, I thought Bill was dead, I made a bit of a boo-boo [mistake] , I should have made sure he was dead.
So I grabbed all of the grenades and I thought, “There is no good giving them to the Japs” and I chucked them down the side, and took the, including Bill’s, took the bolts out of their rifles so the Japs couldn’t use them, tossed those off and pissed off. And when I got back to battalion, which wasn’t far, here to the gate and back, there was no sign of the Japs.
Anyway I went back and reported that these three blokes were killed and Bill Braydon. And I suppose about a quarter of an hour later who should come lurching up the track was Bill Braydon. Silly as a weirdo, he had been knocked out. Of course I felt dreadful I had left him, I thought he was dead, same as the other blokes. Anyway that was the end of him for a little while, he did come back to battalion.
But he was oh, he didn’t know what day of the week it was. And the other thing about this damn gun was, that was enough., when we were right on top of Ioribaiwa Ridge and there is a bit of a bald spot, it may have been a camping ground for a local something or other. There wasn’t much jungle there, very little actually as I recall. Why I was there, I really don’t know but I had to get some tucker, we had a section over there, yes there was a bit
of a covering there and bit of a some sort of old fashioned thing. And they were there and I had to get some food over to them, I remember that. So I raced across there, and of course it was exposed, and got them their food and I had to race back again and I did race back, and this bloody mountain gun had a pop at me as it turned out.
And I don’t want to exaggerate but I reckon I could hear the whistle of this thing it was that close they were having a go at me. Anyway it went over my head, or behind me or in front, it didn’t hit me. It went over the hill and into Brigade Headquarters and killed a very good friend of mine, direct hit, chap by the name of Riley Lamb. Killed him dead, direct hit; it was right in amongst Brigade. And we
were, thank God, relieved after that by the 16th Brigade, which was all New South Wales 1st, 2nd and 3rd battalions. Not long after that we were called out, we were a pretty sore and sorry lot by then. I don’t know what the battalion strength was by then, about sixty I suppose. And the 14th, I haven’t mentioned them, but the 2/27th had got lost in there;
they were three weeks finding their way around avoiding the track because they could hear all of the noise. And the 16th Brigade took over and literally three battalions went up and the Japs by this time, bloody miracle, they had run out of their supplies and they had run out of everything. Mainly supplies. We thought unless the 16th Brigade got stuck into them, we would lose Moresby, but they
same as us, they had run out of blanks, everything ammunition, and they retired and the 16th chased them all the way back to Kokoda on the plains beyond. Popondetta, Buna and then Gona. But that’s another story.
What did you think about the Japanese as an enemy?
Look I only heard them, I saw a few Japs from a long distance but
oh I don’t know, they just looked like blown-up frogs to me, isn’t funny, you shouldn’t hate them but it is one of them or one of us. It’s hard to describe really, as other people know. They were just different; they were animals to us. They wouldn’t take prisoners; you couldn’t handle them up there anyway. But they were, to us they were animals.
Sorry carry on.
No the military side of Japan is still there, what they did to these POWs is dreadful really was. It couldn’t be human what they did to these blokes. And I think the average Japanese, and who am I to say this really, I don’t know any more
than you, I have been to Japan and I have seen them here and they are human beings as well as anyone else, but not their bloody army. We only saw them at Gona and they were the enemy and we had to get them before they got us. Had to say I prefer a Kraut any day, had a bit of decency in them. You know, they were animals to us. And, pardon my interruption. The day after we got back and everyone was
going to have a rest, we knew that, not far from Owen’s Corner, I was whistled up by the OC, can’t remember his name, and because of all of the dead out there along the track, I was to pick a team of two others and go up with 16th Brigade, clamber all of the way back up there and find our blokes, deceased dead blokes.
We had what they call meat [identification discs, ‘dog tags’] , do you know what they are? Well when you go into the army you are issued with two discs a red one and a green one on a thick, I had a thick leather bootlace on because I think they gave us a bit of string or something, you always had to wear that, you never took it off, and that thing went around your neck
and where it was tied, joined, you had a green disc which had your name, rank and religion. Nothing else. Diddle, diddle, WX7409, C of E [Church of England] . Everyone had that. And tied to that was another little about that long, was a little red disc and if I got killed that stayed
around my neck where I was buried or whatever and that was snipped off and sent back to Army Headquarters or whatever, it was a record that I was dead. But that other one, we called them meat discs; I don’t know what their official name was. Anyway I was to get two mates and follow this brigade back. I thought, “Jesus, I just came out of the place.” Anyway that’s
what I was told to do, go back and find our, either side of the track, behind the bloke up the top fortunately and cut off these discs and keep bringing them back, and that was from there to Kokoda. So I was packing up ready to go, “See you later, you lucky bastards.” And it was cancelled. I don’t know why to this day. So I didn’t have to go in the end.
That’s sounds like a pretty grisly sort of a job?
Well I suppose but you, I suppose, get a bit hardened to it really.
What did you think about some of the young militia battalions that you came across?
Have got to be a bit careful here, there was good and not so good. I don’t quite know how to handle that. The 39th Battalion were up there before we got up there, right up there at Kokoda at the aerodrome, and they did a
marvellous job. That was a battalion; it was officered by returned blokes from the Middle East. Their CO was West Australian; he was a good battalion commander. And a few of our blokes, reinforcements admittedly, were transferred to militia and officered this particular battalion and others, but this particular battalion it had about eight or ten I think, not only
our battalion but others, returned blokes. And they did a marvellous job, they really did, they were as good as the next bloke. But there was another battalion there, well two battalions joined, who were hopeless they just ran.
Why were they hopeless, do you think was it lack of training?
Look they were kids. Lack of training yeah, but they were kids.
They were I think conscription was in then for militia, volunteers the AIF I am pretty sure it was in and they were kids, eighteen, twenty, that sort of age. And officered by militia blokes and they just couldn’t take it. Nothing against the blokes in it, nothing against the officers, I think some of the officers did a pretty good job I believe.
But they couldn’t handle it and they disappeared, which is sad. The other battalion was marvellous, they were kids, that’s the whole reason of it. I don’t think, we only saw a few of them, I did certainly when I was coming back, when I was going up. But they were young kids we since found out they were young kids they were
shoved into that and I don’t think they knew which end of a rifle went off really. We understand that’s what happened and I am sure it did.
So whose fault was that to send these?
I suppose the army. I don’t know I really don’t know, it had to be the army. But no, not one of the nice stories as far as I am concerned.
(UNCLEAR) but the other people, full marks they were marvellous. Anyway we had, we were camped by a very nice stream and we were about, I don’t know about half a dozen were all sergeants and we didn’t know then but our papers had gone in for commission, field commission.
We weren’t there that long, just long enough for the brigade to get to capture the aerodrome up there, I suppose ten days, and they hunted the Japs down onto the plain on the east coast, Gona, and they had run out of steam. So by this time, we had collected all of the odds and sods, all of the walking wounded and our numbers were up to about three or four hundred I suppose, battalion-wide.
Next thing we knew, we were on an aeroplane flying over the Owen Stanleys to this place where there was an airstrip called Popondetta and by this time I think not only the 16th the 25th battalion had joined them by this time over there and another crowd called
Chaforce [mixed force of 21st Brigade, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Challon] and I wont go into all that side of it. They were running out of steam and we took over for them.
What sort of condition are you in health wise at this point?
Oh we had had, I don’t know we had had a spell, they don’t let the grass grow under your feet there but there was a necessity, these blokes were ran out and they had to take Gona, Buna and Sanananda.
Gona was our problem. And we landed in this place called Popondetta and we had to march with a full pack again but no kit bags or anything. And it was steamy stinking heat in amongst the kunai grass. That kunai grass would be about that sort of height, swampy mosquito ridden, it
was murder, it really was walking in that sun, full pack, you know. You just plodded and sweated and we had to get to Gona that day, we must have marched a fair way, it might have been twenty miles I suppose. Had to get to Soputa, which was sort of a forward station then and then onto Gona. As for the Japs, the Japs had retreated
to Gona and Buna and others, but I will stick to Gona. And our job was to dig them out, there was only the sea there, and stop reinforcements coming in of course, which some did. We got there on night buggered, the 27th were already on our left and there was some around the other side of the village, Chaforce.
And I don’t think it was well organised the next morning but we launched an attack and of course there was a very small fight then in as much as we didn’t know what was going on around. We were just.
What did you think your chances of success were going to be?
Didn’t know, I mean you just didn’t know really.
I don’t know, no we wouldn’t have thought otherwise I have never thought about that. But there was no good bloody well losing because they don’t take prisoners of war. Flip of a coin. But then, I suppose I am average and it never entered my head about, it was a matter of surviving as far as I was concerned and it was really. These Japs
were really dug in and they had all of their equipment there, machine guns and snipers up trees. Bastards. And this first attack next morning we were not told much about it, it was sort of head down tail up. And again it was a bit like Butcher’s Hill there, bloke going arse over, wounded killed., and
our officer Ben Holly was wounded for about the third time and we just had to put up that because we weren’t’ getting anywhere, we got a little bit and we just ran out of troops and they had too much ammo. They weren’t that far away. But you didn’t, in that sort of climate and country, you could see the village all right if you tippy toed. But that petered out. So we
regroups and they had worked it out a bit better the next morning. Our battalion which wasn’t many were going to attack, the frontal business, one lodgement each which is on our right hand, only about fifty yards that way. We were in the middle and another company - I would think there was only about twenty or thirty blokes in each company,
I doubt it would be thirty but that sort of numbers - just go in there, and we dropped by the sea. Actually Milne Bay I think we had captured by then, we got I think about three twenty-five pounders [artillery pieces] by then to give us some support. We had never had them there before and they were going to give us a barrage, what they call a creeping one. The barrage was say five o’clock and then they
would have this creeping one and we would follow up behind it and get a hold of the baddies. So we lined up in our position, we were lying in kunai grass, the mob down the beach I don’t think they had any artillery, I don’t know what happened down there, there was a bit of a noise. And the others, the 27th were there anyway. Down came this bloody barrage and we were lying there close together because you
couldn’t see anything it was too dark, pitch black, well dawn pretty well. And one of my mates had just got his commission, I said the papers had gone in, he had just got his commission and I was his sergeant, and his batman and his runner and the rest of the blokes, we were lying there and these things were whistling over and a certain time we would have to get up and over, and it bloody drop short.
I mentioned this to you earlier, a drop short came over and you could hear this funny noise, ‘wee, wee’; instead of going that way, it was going that way. And it dropped right in amongst us and it killed my mate who was the officer, killed his batman and his runner and all I got was a shower of shoosh. And again, you probably think it’s lasted, I was a bit stupid
I got a whole heap of mud stuff so I was pretty close to it. And I call out to my cobber, no answer. Sung out to his batman, no answer, so I went groping around, I can remember doing that. Trying to find what had happened, they were there, we were talking like we are now. And I don’t know what happened to these blokes to this day, I was probably going back to DP1 [medical classification] again.
So by this time the rest of the troops had into the villages and we had lost a lot of blokes there because the Japs were just lying there in slit trenches and cabins, and they just mowed them down. And they just kept going into a swamp the other side and they waded through that and got out of it, but they lost a lot. Anyway I couldn’t, I knew it didn’t go that way because I wasn’t with anyone and the baddies were there, and I staggered off and tried to
find someone, I knew that was the right direction. It took me about six hours in this kunai grass and I ran into, got into the 28th Battalion somehow and they told me where our battalion headquarters was. Anyway I got back there at one o’clock I can remember it. And blow me down if the same thing happened. They grabbed me to go into a charge to help these blokes down there on the beach,
I reported these three blokes were killed and again I didn’t have time to sit down and take my hat off or anything. And again I was into this charge just about taking off, palm trees and there was bloody snipers there which we found out afterwards, to help these blokes down there, and we were to sort of cover this area here so they could advance up. So head down and tail up again only this time I wasn’t so lucky.
I got thump here and I wasn’t sure what that was so I kept going looking for Japs and they were up in the bloody trees as far as I was concerned and the next thing I felt blood running down here. I am sorry to repeat all of this and I had got a bullet through there, only flesh. And this was all open and bleeding and this is what I felt.
I nearly yanked it off thank God I didn’t. I thought, “Christ,” I had a dressing with me and I tried to put it on. That was hopeless and then I got knocked in my leg but fortunately my Tommy gun butt was there, really saved my leg probably. But it took in a lot of wood and a lot of crap and then I suppose a gash about that big. Anyway I couldn’t walk on it.
So bloody hell, I was still fiddling around with this, the rest had gone on, officer got killed in that lot and what happened then I have only read about. And I got into a Jap what they call a foxhole. And of course the Japs are only that high, when I got into it, it came to there. I was trying to (UNCLEAR) and then a bullet must have hit
the dirt there because I got a bit of dirt kicked up at me into this. So I thought, “Christ, I can’t stop here” and fortunately over there, probably from here to that door over there, behind a tree was some of our blokes and they whistled me. So I thought I was going to die really getting out of the thing, because I only had one leg to get out and I had to crawl out and I thought someone up there, there was snipers, there was no doubt about that.
Anyway nothing happened and I hopped and crawled and dragged and got over to them and that was the end of ‘Penny Sexon’ [?] for me, they carried me out. And of course when I got back to battalion or company or whatever it was, they hooked me onto another stretcher, which the Fuzzy Wuzzies [Papuan bearers] took me back to a forward dressing station.
And they patched up this and I was hit there. I told you about that.
Were you feeling any pain at this point?
No not then. But I can tell you I woke up in the middle of the operation here, which they took all of the dirt out and they gave it to me, a bit of my Tommy gun, a bit of lead and I should have held onto the thing and I didn’t, I don’t know why.
I woke up halfway through the operation because I heard them talking, I was cuckoo [crazy] then. Anyway I got gangrene on there and there. They sewed that up and next day I did have pain because of the gangrene; that was bloody awful. And I was moved from there, just behind battalion was the forward dressing station that night. The next one was,
there is a name for it I cant think of it, beside the airstrip, I was pretty crook then, particularly with this. But then later on that day, that would be forty-eight hours I suppose I had gangrene I didn’t know then. Well and truly into it and they flew me back to the AGH at Moresby on a stretcher and believe it or not when we got
there, there was a queue, wounded, waiting to get into the hospital. And I suppose it was three hours lying out in the sun there, that sort of time and you would be inched forward by someone and I went straight onto the operating table and I found out afterwards they nearly took my leg off. Sister friend of mine at Hollywood looked up my records when I was at Hollywood
and told me that. By anyway they didn’t, they cleaned it all out, I have got quite a big scar there, cleaned this all out, sewed it up. And I got over that but I was a cot case. And I think that happened on the 2nd of December and I was on the hospital ship Manunda which is an
old (UNCLEAR) ship converted to a hospital ship and I was there on it Christmas Day. That’s 25th and of course they had a treat, do you know what happened, I got bloody malaria that morning, couldn’t look at anything let alone the Christmas pud they had for us. All we had been eating, we had some reasonable tucker in Moresby I suppose, yeah it would have been all right, but living on hard tucker for about three months.
So how did you find the nursing staff?
Absolutely marvellous, they all were. I really believe this they wouldn’t have been there if they weren’t that sort of people, they were all AIF, they volunteered and as you know Wira Wheaton and a lot of those got killed. So they would have to be dedicated to volunteer. But they were marvellous couldn’t speak too highly of them except for
one who I will tell you about. Hows that thing going? I was back to Brisbane into Greenslopes, which is the local Hollywood, the military hospital there, and it was bloody hot there without air conditioning in January and the nurses there were marvellous, they all were.
I just did, nothing happened to me there, I think they treated me for that malaria. And then I was plonked on a train from Brisbane down to Concord in Sydney, which was the local military hospital. And that train stirred up my leg and I wasn’t in a very good mood when I got there.
I was in a bit of pain mainly because of the movement of the train, and I had this scar here. I don’t know why this happened but I remember the matron of the ward, we had just come in and it would be about six at night, she came up and I remember she had a look at the scar then and it was all chopped away and sewn up and she came up and she said to me,
“Have you been to the hotel ball?” and she was feeling this and I wasn’t feeling too happy. Blew the stitches you might say and I did my block. And I was moved from the ward the next day, thank God didn’t want to see her again, she probably didn’t want to see me. So from Concord getting quickly down to Heidelberg, which is the Victorian one, all by train.
And there in Heidelberg, my sister was nursing so that was marvellous. In Heidelberg they decided I only had this gash I suppose from there to there, they had cleaned out the gangrene, they had decided to skin graft and there. Are we running out of tape?
Its okay we can just keep going and we don’t have to fill the next tape, we don’t want to also cut you off mid-story because this is fantastic.
Just keep going.
Well I am just trying to cover that ground. They decided to give me a skin graft so I had that one first that was under a, that was general, must have been the day before I know the main one,
Because you’re experiencing some pretty severe operations under primitive conditions.
Did I? Are you saying?
Well you did.
I know. Well in Gona it was very primitive, that’s all they had a bit of a shack over there and wooden slats and poor things. When I woke up the first one and that really was primitive, I think all they had was a box of ether or chloroform and a couple of sharp knives. It wouldn’t be quite as crude as that but they were the circumstances and
in the back of a tent and onto the next place the next day. The real relief came at Moresby. Anyway back to Melbourne, Heidelberg, I was having a skin graft and you know they give you the needle to make you dopey and then put the mask on you and they were waiting for me to get dopier and I remember a bloke coming
up and just feeling this that’s all. Naturally I didn’t think anything of it. Anyway I had the skin graft and they took it off here and added it to here, two different types of skin graft incidentally. Anyway I was back in the ward and woke up the next morning and the same bloke came up to me and he asked me what happened to me and I told him and he said, “I can get rid of that scar for you.”
I said, “Oh Christ I don’t want another operation, I seem to be living in the thing.” He said, “I will let you get over this”. And next Saturday, this was a Tuesday morning, he said, “I can take that out for you, I can cut that and you wont notice.” So, “Okay.” because it was a bit unsightly. And it was a chap by the name of Benny Rank, he was a major then; he then became after the war a famous plastic surgeon
renowned throughout Australia. Any rate he did this under a local and it was about two or three hours, and it was the longest two or three hours of my life. Because he numbed it, you didn’t feel anything but you could hear all of the cutting and the, like cutting ice and you were like that, I was anyway, “Hope he doesn’t slip off”. And I don’t know what he did but there it is.
And he took a photograph of it before and it didn’t look too bloody good, I have looked at it since, and he sent over when I got over to Hollywood eventually, a photograph ten days afterwards. It was in his archives or whatever he does. And he did me a great turn really. I was only there for a couple of weeks and we then got onto the old ex-Kaiser
ship then called the Morella which was then a hospital ship, and we came from Melbourne back to Perth on the Morella.
What were the hospital ships like?
Oh pretty good they were comfortable of course. And you know the service was just as good, the nurses were just as compassionate and marvellous. I was a cot case I didn’t see much of it. But I remember the local Melbourne paper
coming and taking photographs of us. My sister sent the photo over to Mum, the cutting. No they were pretty good. You can imagine the Kaiser built it, the old German kraut he had a pretty comfortable yacht and it wasn’t small either for him and so we, I think I shared a cabin with another bloke, 16th bloke who was shot at Gona. Both cot
cases and I suppose we had about five six seven days on it. Then to Hollywood and I was in there for six months and back on civvie street and that was my war.
How much of a relief was it to get out of the war?
I was bloody glad, I really was. Quite honestly I was glad I had a legitimate reason not to go back into that bloody jungle.
Well I couldn’t have anyway; I still can’t bend it properly. I was boarded out [medically discharged] , I was back in civvie street, I got here in January early February something like that, I know it was hot. I was discharged in October. I did have a discharge from Hollywood I think it was August, and then I went back to Claremont Camp.
I missed out on my commission incidentally because I was wounded. I was sorry, well very sorry in a way, it would have been nice to get a commission particularly in the field. But I would have been bloody Don Chipper [?] job, because officers didn’t survive long in those bloody parts up there, because they had to be in the front, they either got wounded or killed. Anyway there you go, I missed out on that and I was kicked out of Hollywood, I didn’t have
any flexibility in my leg but a very nice physio worked on me with that and gradually got it back to better than fifty percent. Doesn’t worry me much now, it aches a bit. And kicked out of the army a month later. Back to the home for lost dogs, Elders, and as soon as I could get out of there, I wasn’t too keen on Elders, they made up my pay such as it was, but I wanted to get out and work for myself so I didn’t stay there long.
There you go.
How important is mateship?
When you’re out there under some really extreme conditions?
Well you obviously have to rely on each other. I am probably not capable of describing it. You know you can rely on them for your life, particularly
the second bit, the New Guinea side of it, sorted out all of the duds then anyway. I presume they would because there weren’t any duds. Oh one bloke shot himself in the foot literally to get out of it that way. Don’t get any marks for it though, yeah one bloke did that. I think another bloke - I won’t mention where I met him, someone might recognise it -
he wasn’t too happy out there, he wrapped, what he did and apparently it was well known then, you wrap around one of your knees a wet towel and you thump it, bang it, and that brings the fluid down to your knee and of course once you get fluid, you cant walk on it. You have got to go back and he got out of it that way. No most of
them were good reliable, solid blokes. I don’t think, apart from me, they wouldn’t have been good if they hadn’t been really. But you made some wonderful friends there.
In retrospect what do you actually think about war?
Bloody awful. No one wins. I just can’t believe in this day and age even now, let alone days gone by, that so many people create wars.
No one wins, it is dreadful. No one wins, but they still do it, it is man’s nature isn’t it? Two blokes get up and they want to fight. It’ll happen when you’re as old as I am, and that’s a long time, you will still have wars. How many wars are on now thirty, forty, fifty? No one wins.
No one wins. You know fifty sixty years later, you have got your arms around each other, the Turks are buddies now and blokes are marrying Japs, and Krauts are everywhere, it is a silly business isn’t it? Really is. Nothing to it, I mean if they fight and argue, it’s happening now but there you go.
Eric we are just on the edge of another tape I feel and I just want to thank
you so much for talking to us today.