Well I was actually born in Leichhardt Street, Leichhardt, I was born at home, 43 Leichhardt Street, Leichhardt. My Mum and Dad were just average people, Dad – I often wondered how they met
because – I was born in Leichhardt, actually Leichhardt street, 43 Leichhardt street, Leichhardt. Just to an average family. I often wondered how Mum and Dad got together, because Mum was educated, Dad didn’t go to school in his life, he could read and write and I had elder brother, elder sister, a younger brother
and a younger sister who died when she was only about three days old. I remember that very well, even though I was only three. I remember the small coffin in the dining room. We were a close-knit family; Dad even though he wasn’t educated, was a great organiser and he became president of the scouts in Leichhardt and as us boys
grew older, we all joined the cubs and then the scouts. My eldest brother finished up being a cub master at 1st Leichhardt I think 1st Leichhardt Scouts are the oldest continuous troop in New South Wales. They had their 21st birthday when I was still in the cubs so I’d still only be eleven when they had their 21st birthday, so they’ve been in there a long time.
I can remember the night that their first hall got blown down and then the one that’s there still today was all done with voluntary labour with Dad and different ones of his mates used to go up of a weekend and even before work they’d go up and work. People did that in those days. Dad worked at Metters, Metters Stoves.
My grandfather come to live with us there, he was an engineer on the colliers that used to bring coal down from Newcastle to Balmain and White Bay and places like that and Pop was great, he was a terrific bloke. And we all played soccer, through the scouts, I left school at
13 and a half, during The Depression because I had a job at Griffiths Brothers Teas. They used to have the signs on the railway lines in them days, so many miles to Griffiths Brothers. They’d start at Bourke and, “A thousand mile to Griffith Brothers.” And then gradually every five miles they’d have these little signs on their very big they were in them days, Griffiths Brothers Tea. Left there, actually got sacked from there,
because that scar there came from a cup that was thrown at me by the boss’s nephew and when I barrelled him, the boss sacked me. There was no unfair dismissal in them days. That happened. I went from there to RB Davies, which was a sweatshop underage, I’m certain,
underage kids on working machines and one thing another. And when I left there I got – went to Metters, because Dad wasn’t working at the time because after we left Leichhardt Street we bought a fish shop
in Balmain road and Mum and Dad worked that and then we bought one in Norton Street which was a real good business, until Jack Lang [premier of NSW] closed the banks, or the banks closed on Jack Lang, whichever side of politics you were on. Because Catholics in them days, Friday
was a must for fish. And people’d have a few bob in the bank, would actually draw money out and buy fish of a Friday. So you mightn’t do much through the week, but you did make a quid on Friday. But when the banks closed, of course, they couldn’t get that money out and we just walked out of that with nothing. That’s actually
that’s when I left school and got the job with Griffiths Brothers. But then I eventually went to Metters and that must have been about 1936, I suppose, ’37. And they were just starting to realise that a war was coming. Everybody could see a war was coming, but of course you had [British Prime Minister Neville] Chamberlain with his peace feelers and all that sort of business.
And then Dad eventually got his job back at Metters too. Because they started to do the big fuel stoves for the army camps. And I was working at Metters until the war broke out. I remember we were training for basketball, an American had
come out for Mick Simmonds and he was trying to get basketball going in those days. And we were playing – because we played soccer together we played basketball together. And the Friday night that they moved into Poland which was the 1st of September, we were playing basketball down the old corridor in Leichhardt and of course on the 3rd of September, they – war was declared
and I think according to my discharge, it was the 5th of October when a particular mate of mine, Bernie Hakes, we went down – we went down the navy first, they didn’t want us, they were calling the naval reserves and that was fair enough, because at that time, nobody knew what was going to happen. [Australian Prime Minister Robert] Menzies hadn’t sort of decided whether we were
going to go away and cos, those of us that had grown up on tales from our uncles and that from the First World War, we didn’t see any sense in being in the army if we weren’t going to go away. But I never wanted to play soldiers before the war, but I always reckon that if I thought we were in the right, then I’d join
as soon as it started, which I did. And Bernie and I went down the navy, they didn’t want us, we went over to Marrickville and artillery and we thought, ah, that’s all right, a lot of big shells around, no problem. We saw snotty nosed young lieutenant that was sitting on the gun, militia lieutenant, “Oh,”
he says, “Well I don’t want you blokes off the street.” He says, “We’ve got a militia unit in camp at the present time and they’ll come over as a body.” They did. Sergeant major and six of the troops out of the whole unit. And we’re walking out and we see, ‘AASC’ [Australian Army Services Corps] and we thought, “Well we can both drive, let’s go for the AASC.” We
walk in and an old colonel sitting behind the desk, Colonel Munro and he says, “You blokes look a bit browned off.” Sort of thing and we told him what had happened. He started to laugh, he said, “Don’t worry boys,” he says, “they did that to me in the First World War,” he says, “It happens. Do you still want to join?” We says, “Yeah.” So we signed and we’re in the AASC. You know. So we went into camp, 24th of October,
’39 out the old Rosebery Racecourse, Rosebery Racecourse, is not there now, it’s a shopping centre I believe and they were still training the horses there, we’d been marching up one end of the straight and the horses’d be galloping down the other end of the straight and morning gallops. And we were under the grandstand there, that’s the first and only
queer [homosexual] that I met in the army. A young I’d say a young country bloke, I’d just turned 20, I turned 20 on the 26th of September and I went to camp, 24th of October, but this lad from the country, he says to me the first night, “I think this bloke’s having a go at me.” And I says, “Oh we’re pretty close, you know and blah, blah, blah.” Anyway the next night there was nobody about so this
young lad from the bush he belted him and they discharged him I believe with flat feet. And they were – and it’s funny, even in Germany, even though I don’t doubt there was relationships, they were never open relationships and I really never struck it again in the army. Anyway from Rosebery we went up to Ingleburn and
Ingleburn of course, was just being opened, we opened the hospital there at Ingleburn and they actually sent photographers out at one stage. I should mention, while we was at Rosebery, we were just in line one day and a WO [Warrant Officer] from the AIC [Australian Instructional Corps], called Bruce, he just come down the line and he says, “I’ll have you and you.” And he
passed half a dozen, “I’ll have you, you and you.” And 70 of us, I think he pulled out and we were the transport company of the 2/1st Field Ambulance. Even though we’re still proud of our ASC colour patches we were permanently attached and if people asked me what unit I served in, I normally say the 2/1st Field Ambulance because I did serve with them, most of the time and very proud to serve with them, they were a very, very good unit.
I should mention I suppose, before getting that far ahead that growing up in Leichhardt during the Depression was great. People helped one another in all sorts of ways, with food, with – if anybody got into strife, the coppers [police] knew the different ones of us that were wild and not
bad. Which is something that doesn’t happen now, while they drive around in cars. But the police on the beat there knew and they’d give you a kick up the tail, no problems whatsoever, they knew our parents and they knew our parents wouldn’t object. Want to take you to court, the way they do now if you touch anybody. And old Sergeant Williams probably kept a lot of us on the straight and narrow if you know, it was
it really was a great place to grow up. My sister could go to a dance or go to the pictures and walk home at 11 o'clock at night and never once be molested in any way whatsoever. Even though, it was a pretty wild old suburb, plenty of drunks, plenty of fights around the pubs of a Friday night, one thing and another but that was just part of the game I suppose. But
getting back to Ingleburn, they sent photographers out because we were the transport company, we were armed. And we had to put a guard on the hospital. But the first time they sent them out, all we had was broomsticks, we didn’t even have rifles. And the bloke from The Telegraph says, “They bloody Huns’ll [Germans] die laughing,”
he says, “if we take photos of this.” He says, “They see you with broomsticks.” It’s a fact, that’s what happened. And we were there from, I think we went in from Rosebery up there, in the November, we had Christmas leave and of course we left on the 10th of January, ’40 in the first convoy for the Middle East.
And we stopped at Colombo, and because the boys played up a bit, when we went to Aidan, they made us pay for any damage that might be done before we got off the ship I think it cost us five shillings each or something. And of course, we signed up for five shillings a day, three shillings,
sustenance. Which, I’ll tell you a bit later that’s a sore point with me, the sustenance. Anyway, we left January ’40 and we landed in Palestine, got off at
I can’t think, I’ll have to look at me book to find out. We were – I didn’t think I’d ever forget anyway, we landed. And were put on trains to go to Palestine where they’d set up a series of camps. We went to Quastina, set up a dressing station, like with our unit.
And we started to train, driving in the desert, with no lights and various things like that, we saw quite a bit of the country, we did stunts out at Beersheba where the light horse made the only cavalry attack with rifle and bayonet against the Turks in the First World War. We went to Hebron, which is
mentioned quite a lot in the bible, as a matter of fact we were asked to bring a Palestinian who had been causing a bit of havoc, with the Jewish settlements, he was arrested and we brought him back to Tel Aviv in our ambulance. That was just a little thing that happened; you never know what’s going
to happen. The – being Aussies, I think it was the same as the First World War, that we always got on well with the kids and they were always around the camp selling oranges and even if we were doing a stunt out the middle of the Sinai desert, they always seemed to jump up out of the ground with fresh oranges, don’t ask
me how they got there, we never, ever found out how they got there, but the always seemed to be there, selling us oranges. But as I say, we – I believe the Aussies did in the First World War and we did in this world war, we made a fuss of the kids, we went into villages and one thing and another we – put us on side with the locals, because there was still a bit of strife between the Arabs and the
Englishmen with the Jewish settlers starting to get in there. But – and they did it tough because British troops tried to stop them landing, they ran their boats aground just off the beach at Tel Aviv and things like that, to get there and the
difference between the Arab farm and the Jewish farm was 500% I mean it was a – when the Jews set up a kibbutz, they put traps out the front, so cattle had to go through so they wouldn’t get foot and mouth disease, their oranges were
this big, where the Arabs’ oranges were that big. And I never saw such beautiful babies or infants, the older people used to look after the littlies and they used to have them in like, we’d make a dog run, with the wire netting just to stop
them crawling too far. But they were brown, they were chubby they were healthy, they were happy, it’s no wonder they were able to knock the Gyppos [Egyptians] off in six days, later on, because they’d be the ones that fought in the Six Day War when it came. As I say, I’d never seen such beautiful, beautiful babies.
From Palestine, of course we went to Egypt. We went to Helwan, which was just outside Cairo, no camp had been sort of built there, we had to build a camp from scratch sort of thing. And we were there for
some time, before we moved up to Alexandria, before I went over to Egypt, I spent a bit of time in the Gaza Hospital, 2/1st AGH [Australian General Hospital], had set up a hospital at Gaza. And first off they had sand fly fever which is like malaria but it doesn’t linger like malaria. You get the same sort
of symptoms but it doesn’t seem to last as long. And also had my tonsils out there. At – but from Cairo, we went up to Alexandria, just outside Alexandria, Amiriya, and we set up a camp there,
the night before I was sent up there was the night before my 21st birthday. And of course we were going to have a party in Cairo. But that night the CO [Commanding Officer] called me into the tent and he says, “You’re moving out with the battalion, they’re moving up to Amiriya and they’ve got to have an ambulance with them.” And so, I didn’t get me 21st birthday,
I woke up the following morning. Nothing, we’d slept in the back of the ambulance that night. Not tents, no nothing. Blowing a sandstorm, I’m sitting with my offsider and my ambulance orderly, Jimmy Shane and Steve Ward and Doc Selby who I’ll mention a bit later on, too, terrific bloke. He was the RMO [Regimental Medical Officer] of the
2/1st Battalion and he came down and he says, “You look happy.” And I says, “Why wouldn’t I look bloody happy?” I says, “It’s my 21st birthday, I’m away from all me mates, it’s blowing a stinking sandstorm.” And Doc says, “I got two bottles of beer in my tent,” he says, “They’ll be warm,” he says, “but at least we can have a drink for your birthday.” And that was me 21st.
I made up for it when I turned 70, cos I had a bloody beauty. We were at Amiriya for some time and that’s when I mentioned to Angela [researcher] when I was talking to her about the VD [Venereal Disease] there was
a reasonable amount of VD. From there of course we were there for a while and we sent – and then we went up to Mersa Matruh,
and from Mersa Matruh we went to Salum which was the bottom of Hellfire Pass, we set up a RAP [Regimental Aid Post] there at the bottom of Salum, and the infantry blokes were up the top, they were up around Fort Caputso. And
we used to have to go and clear there – their RAPs every day, bring them back to our docs if they were crook, we didn’t have to take them further back to a hospital. And the Italians were, you know, they were rubbished about what they did in the – as far as fighters go. But certain ones of them fought and their
artillery was very good. Their artillery was very good. And they could pick up one vehicle and Christmas Eve, I’m going up Hellfire Pass, and all of sudden the artillery came over. And I’m thinking the stupid things you think of – I’m thinking, “Why are these good Catholic boys trying to knock me off on Christmas Eve?” Like they shouldn’t be doing things like that. And I says,
to me mate, “You know.” And I thought, well how stupid can you be, having thoughts, but that’s exactly what I thought, I thought, “They shouldn’t be doing this to me on Christmas Eve. They shouldn’t have either. But we used to clear the RAPs and as I say, bring them back to our place if they were real crook [ill], we’d take them further back.
And then of course, the 3rd of January, ’41, that was the first action. And this is a question; this is a thing that bugs me too. I have asked that question in RSL [Returned and Services League] clubs, I’ve asked the different trivia places. Everybody knows Anzac Day, nobody knows the first battle that the
2nd AIF [Australian Imperial Force] went into in the Second World War. Did you? Was the 3rd of January, 1941 at Bardia. And it’s never mentioned. And we went from Bardia to Tobruk, and up as far as Benghazi and it’s just as though the 200 odd people that got killed in that campaign,
did it for nothing, because it is never mentioned. And it is a sore point with me. If you read the book, “The 39ers.” You’ll find out that one Victorian battalion, I’m not sure whether it was the 2/6th or 2/7th, they went in against just one part against the Italians,
just one part against the Italians the first morning at Bardia with 28 and come out with 4. Now, that’s history, we hear about the Vietnam, Battle of Long Tan. I know they were overwhelmed as we were, I think the Italians were about six to one or something. 18 people they lost at Long Tan, we lost more in the Battle of Bardia which is never mentioned.
And it’s wrong. Even at Tobruk, they never mention about the taking of Tobruk, all they ever mention is about the defence of Tobruk. They never mention that we took – by the way, I got the last dozen bottles of beer out at Tobruk and I wasn’t a drinker in them days. And I bought it back to me mates, they thought it was Christmas.
Also, went in the Bank of Italy there, and come out with a cash box like that with lira. Which we used for the cooks’d say, “We can’t light a fire.” And we’d throw a bundle of notes over and say, “This..” Using it as toilet paper up in the desert. And got to Benghazi and found out we could have put it in Barclay’s Bank.
Into our bank accounts, it was all gone by then. I don’t know how much was there, I’ve often wondered. Could have bought half of Sydney when I come home. 1000 lira was worth a pound English I think at that time. And these were 10,000 lira notes, packed up in the – Tony Palmasano, one of our
blokes, he was with us when we went into the bank and he picked up a stamp collection and he says, “Well I don’t know whether it’s the manager’s or whether it’s put here for safekeeping, but I’ll take it.” He carried it right through, when he come home, he was able to sell it and put a deposit on a house. He was the only one that got anything out of the bank. We all could have had a nice little bundle when we come home.
Still, that’s by the by. Got as far as Benghazi, then of course, the powers that be decided that we’d go to Greece, so we came back from Benghazi, through one of the worst sandstorms we’d struck.
It was a shocking run back to Alexandria from there and I think we were only in Alexandria for a couple of days when we went across to Greece. Which was a complete and utter fiasco from the time we landed till we got taken POWs [Prisoners of War].
We had no air support. We had nothing. Our unit went up, virtually to the foot of Mount Olympus at the finish we were the only vehicles on the road the day I got wounded, or it was only a scratch or just enough to put me in the hospital but the day I got wounded
ambulances were the only things that were on and they were on because some of the Jerry [German] pilots were good. They’d turn their guns off if it was an ambulance the next bloke wouldn’t, so you really never, ever knew whether they were or whether they won’t. And of course with no
Allied aircraft there they were coming under the telegraph wires. The strafe. And they were having a picnic. And it was a – it was nasty. And anybody that says they weren’t frightened with either the Messerschmitt strafing or the Stukas bombing,
cos the Stukas used to put screamers on their wings and they also used to put screamers on their bombs and it didn’t matter whether a bomb was landing five mile away, you swore blind it was going to land in the middle of your back. Not good. But as I say, I got wounded up there; I come back to a Pommy [English] casualty clearing station
and from there was sent back to Alexandria on a hospital train and that was an experience, they were cattle trucks, of course. I was in the top bunk and every time an air raid’d come over, if there was a tunnel near, the driver’d put the engine in the tunnel, but the rest of us were left outside. Or most of the train cos they couldn’t fit. And to
be on a top bunk when those blokes were coming down strafing, wasn’t real good. But it happened. Went to the Pommy hospital in Alexandria. Was there for a while, had a visit by some of the Aussie nurses from the 2/5th AGH [Australian General Hospital]. One young nurse wasn’t much older than
me, “Anybody from Sydney?” I says, “Yeah.” She says, “Don’t you think the entrance to this place is like the Trocadero?” I says, “Jeez Sis, you’ve got a good imagination.” I went dancing at the Trocadero a lot but I can’t put in this – anyway they give us what little bit of money they had between the Aussies that were there because the Greek money was no good to them.
And they got back to Egypt as luck would have it, they didn’t get taken even though the 2/5th AGH got taken more or less as the body because they had patients in and they stayed with the patients. I was in the hospital and all of sudden this Pommy WO come in and he said,
“Anybody for the Kiwi – New Zealand – convalescent depot?” And I thought, well Kiwis’ll be better than to be with the Poms so I says, “Yeah.” And as I’m walking out I met a particular mate from the unit. Who had been sent back crook, Rick should have never, ever been in the army he’d been a patrol officer up in New Guinea and was lousy
with malaria. And he only happened to know the doctor that let him in, it was a doctor that he knew up in New Guinea it was the only reason he was passed medically fit to come but a good bloke. And as I’ll tell you a bit later, good bloke to be taken prisoner with. Rick was a scrounger from way back. And we went out the con depot, we were there for, I don’t
know, some time. All of a sudden, one night this Kiwi major come in, I often wonder whether he was a Kiwi major or whether he was a Jerry major, because they had, had Jerries in British Aussie uniform MPs [Military Police] directing traffic the wrong way, I believe. I didn’t know about that at the time, but this is what the boys tell me later.
Anyway, he says, “Get on the vehicles.” This is late at night and everything’s all hush, hush and all of a sudden he set fire to the Q-store [Quartermaster’s store] and you could see the blaze all over Athens, anyway we went down the coast, we pulled into the little bay there, the ships were supposed to be there, but we’d
gone 20 ks [kilometres] or something too far down the coast, we missed that lot. So we went under the olive trees and we were there for five days, waiting for more ships to come in. The Jerries knew where we were because they’d come over strafing each day, among the olive trees. I didn’t eat olives for years after I come home,
and all of sudden we hear the ship in, and we march down the beach, we got as far as the water when the order come, “All convalescent depot patients to one side.” And we moved to one side and a unit of Tommy engineers come down, they put them aboard the ship. The ship went away and
that was the only ship we saw. So the following morning we went – we got in the ambulance again and we went down the coast, we finally went over the bridge at the Corinth Canal and we thought, “Oh we’re far enough down, we’re pretty safe here.” And all of a sudden the plane’s come over
originally Messerschmitts strafing, so of course we all got out of the vehicles and the only shelter we had was with you know, vineyard grapevines about this high and just the dirt up – and we were laying alongside them and they come over in from memory,
three lots of four strafing. And their paratroopers landed behind them and they had big swastika flags. And as they moved up and rounded us up just like sheep, they shifted the flag and they’d just come behind the flags. So it got from four lots of threes, to three lots of fours. And that’s the way they come and just where we were, just the other side of the
Corinth Canal, evidently was the southern commander where the paratroops decided to land. And we just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Anyway, as I say, they rounded us up like sheep. And put us all in a circle and we thought, “Oh this is it.” Cos we’d heard so much, they didn’t take prisoners, they didn’t do this. But the young
Hauptman who was in charge of this particular lot of paratroopers, had just finished five years at Oxford, spoke better English than most of us Aussies did and turned out to be quite a good bloke. He just had us going out, picking up parachutes so as he could bring them in, fold them up. And then we went to a little churchyard and as I say, I’d met up with Rick Bert, who’d been a patrol officer in New Guinea and this little church was right on the edge of a bay and there was three fishing smacks in the bay. And Rick says, “If we can get down there,” he says, “And we go thatta way, it’ll eventually lead you toward Crete.” Right. Got about 15 or 20 blokes, Aussies that we talked to and says, “Yeah, well this is our chance.” Just on dusk, this Hauptman called us on parade and he said –
As I say he lines up parade, he says, “Three boats in the bay,” he says, “Any one could possibly get you Crete or Egypt,” he says, “I have armed guards on board
so let nobody be heroes cos I don’t want to shoot anybody.” This shows you the stupidity of war. Like, even under the Nazis, you got good people. They were the same as us. This is what I try to tell school kids when I was president of the Concord RSL, I used to go round to schools, the
utter stupidity of war. Absolute stupidity of war. Anyway, he also, the following morning, he asked anybody who was sick, or had been wounded, and because my leg had had no treatment, was starting to go a bit yucky, so I went and we went down into the town of Corinth.
And here I met a – or we met, a most remarkable old lady. I believe she’d been a nurse in the First World War and stayed there and married a Greek. And when the prisoners started come down, she rounded up four or five
New Zealand doctors. Taken over a hotel, which was right on the waterfront and went to the Jerry town major, and says she’d set up a hospital for the prisoners. And there again, he agreed that it could happen. And so all went down there and we were being treated by the Kiwi doctors and just up
the street in the town of Corinth, was the Greek hospital, now the girls used to work there all night, the sisters used to work there all night. And used to come and look after our blokes during the day. So I have a very soft spot for the Greek people. And I believe this woman, who I sorry to say, never ever knew her name, I believe she got an
OBE [Officer of the Order of the British Empire] after the war. For what she did on that particular thing. But if you ever imagine an English gentlewoman, she was one. You know. Absolutely. Anyway, I was there for a while and with a bit of treatment the leg started to get good. Finally the Jerry doctor come around and says, “All right, you go to up to the camp.”
Well, I went up the camp and it was shocker. Even though the boys had been on it four or five days while I was in hospital. The Italian prisoners had been up there and they’d used the basement as toilets and the whole bit. And anyway, we sort of cleaned it up eventually. But dysentery did go through the camp
and of course you weren’t supposed to leave your billets of a night, so if you got real crook, you just took the risk in sleeping outside, near the toilet and hoping that the Jerry guard didn’t come around and that particular. So anyway, second or third day after I was there – oh I must say, before I left the hospital,
one of our padres has come in and he’d had cigarettes so he give all the blokes that were going back to the camp a few cigarettes. About the second or third day I was there, I saw coming in to camp, our CSM [Company Sergeant Major]. From our transport company. Vince Gocher. Vince was a digger from the First World War. About five foot six,
and a real fighting cock sparra’ Vince was. Terrific bloke. Good CSM, good soldier, good bloke. And he told me the story like, after we sort of got together that he saw this English truck coming down the road, he’d been on the loose for three days, he saw this English truck coming down
the road so he come out and “hoyed” it , but it was being driven by a German, so picked him up and brought him back to camp. And I sung out to Vince, “Got any smokes mate?” “No.” He says. “Haven’t had a smoke for days.” I says, “I got some.” When the brought new prisoners in they used to keep them segregated so as they could interrogate them. Whether Greeks
had been looking after them and things like that. And this Jerry started to yell, well I didn’t know what he was yelling out and I just kept walking over to Vince and evidently he was yelling for me to stay away because Vince hadn’t been interrogated and blah, blah, blah. But I just kept on walking. And was going to hand Vince the cigarettes. And this bloke come up and belted me over the head with a rifle butt.
And Vince used to say after the war, “I knew you were stupid, Ray,” he said, “But when you got up the second time, I thought, you were really were stupid,” he says, “When you got up the fifth time, I knew you was bloody stupid.” Repat [Department of Repatriation] never recognised that as a war disability for a lot of years, they reckon I probably got hurt as much playing sport before the war, but because I couldn’t
hit back it was all psychosomatic, it didn’t give me pains in the back, I didn’t – it did. But anyway, it finally got recognised. But that was the only time, that was the only time that I got into real strife. Anyway we were in that camp for some time. As I say, dysentery went through it.
There was virtually no tucker. And eventually they started to send us up to Germany or wherever we were going. The day that – oh, while we were there, rumours had it that the Australian troops on Crete were mutilating the Jerry paratroops when they come down. Which was lies, but it was German propaganda
that was put out at the time. And Himmler, who was the only one of the hierarchy that I saw, and I really didn’t want to see any other. He was the coldest person I’ve ever looked at. He come down and he sent word that if what they says was true on Crete, he was going to shoot every eighth English prisoner. So lining
up to be counted each morning, like, you’d go, “Two, four, six, eight,” and go back a step, you know, and try and get on an odd number. It didn’t eventuate but we didn’t know it wasn’t going to eventuate. While we were walking down to get the train this was at Salonika, after we’d left Corinth
we come from Corinth – I must tell you, when our blokes retired, they say we never, ever retreat, I don’t know. But when we fell back, they blew the tunnels, a lot of the tunnels and of course, when we went from Salonika – from Corinth up to Salonika, we had to walk over the mountains, because
the trains couldn’t go through the tunnels. And it was a hell of a walk, because as I say, we’d had dysentery no tucker and it was hard. Even though I was young and in reasonable nick, it was still starting to get pretty hard. Anyway, we
walked over the – I think it was the Servia Pass, I know it went for a long time. One of our blokes out of the unit, Harry Crossfield, he’d walked as far as he could. Could not move another step and an old Greek come along with a horse and cart and he put Harry in the horse and cart. We continued down and they stopped us just before the
to count us before we got on the train. And when the officer in charge saw Harry get out of the cart, he come over screaming his head off. We didn’t know what he was saying, but there was Palestinian Labour Corps, bloke there and he says, “You know, he’s saying, if
he doesn’t go back and walk that distance, that he’ll shoot him.” And Harry says to him, “Well you tell him, that he can shoot me, because I just can’t bloody walk any more. Simple as that.” Anyway after a lot of yelling and screaming he finally walked away. And we got loaded on the truck, about 40 to a cattle truck.
We were lucky, we – there was a hole burnt in our truck, so at least we had a toilet we could use. But before we got on the trains at – going back to – coming from Corinth, we were walking down the station to Corinth and this young Greek lad, about 15, we were on the back file,
and he threw us a loaf of bread. But the guard saw him and they’re screaming, “You want to feed them? You’ll go to Germany with them.” And we’ve got this 15 year old, hid in the back line with us. You can imagine what he was like. Doing the right thing, throwing us a loaf of bread and he’s going to finish up in Germany. Anyway, we stopped in the square outside the station, and
we sent word through the lines, “As soon as the guards start yapping to one another, we’ll yell out, just open your ranks and let the kid go through.” Well, finally the guards got bored, as any guards got bored. Having a smoke, having a talk. We said, “Right!” Well the ranks just opened like that. This kid went through like Jesse Owen [famous sprinter], he’d never run so fast in his life.
Turn around he’s gone, and of course we’re in strife. And as Rick and I says, you know, the last thing we wanted to do was get shot for nothing, we weren’t bloody heroes. But we didn’t want to see this kid go to Germany. Anyway, there again. We struck a good German officer. He come and quieten the guards down, we got on, as I say, 40 to a cattle truck, but we were lucky, we had the
hole in the floorboards which we could use as a toilet. They give us three to a tin of bully beef, two army biscuits and three to a loaf of bread. That was our tucker for four days. We didn’t know at the time, it was going to be four days. But certainly the four or five days, say four days. And we finished up
they split the train in two. Some of the boys went to a different camp, the last, we finished in a camp in Yugoslav, in Marburg. Which had been a Yugoslav barracks before we took it over. Not one of the best camps I was ever in. We
were there for a while we went out on working parties from there, doing road jobs, cos, like Hogan’s Heroes [television series], you always get a shrewdie and of course when the German asked like, “Anybody ever worked the roads?” A lot of our blokes had because that’s all they did
during the Depression. You know. Everybody was an expert. And of course, they got the cushy [comfortable] jobs supervising, you know, while us buddies that didn’t have brazen enough to say, “Yeah we were road builders,” we wheeled barrows, I was down about seven stone then. And wheeling barrows full of stones for twelve hours a day. On
a bit of bread and coffee of a morning, bit of bread and coffee for lunch, and then we’d come back of a night and they had a stew, made of mainly potatoes with a bit of veggie powder put in them. If you left it in your dixie for any length of time, it’d go hard and when you ate it, it’d give you the greatest heartburn, you ever had.
But that’s what we were getting when we were doing the road. And there was a mob down from us who were putting a water line through. They were laying pipes for a water line that was going to a factory. So the two camps were in reasonably close proximity to one another.
All the experts on our road, I believe the first time it snowed, which it did that winter, it was the coldest winter Europe had had for 91 years, the winter of ’41. They tell me when the snow got on it and half of it went down the mountainside, it didn’t hold. And the blokes doing the pipeline, any time they had a chance, instead of putting a pipe, they’d
put a cement bag. And well, [Hermann] Goering came down to turn the water on there, and of course when he turned the water on, nothing happened. These are the things – I hear so many blokes say, “Oh we made so many escapes.” Ninety per cent of them got two ks [kilopmetres] down the road and they were pulled back by a farmer with a pitchfork. You know.
To really get away from where we were, Yugoslav, you had to go to Austria. If you went to the partisans, the two lots of partisans were fighting. And the Mihailovic and Tito’s mob, they were fighting one another. Even during the war. And blokes that did decide to go with them, they finished up coming back to the camp
because they says we’re stupid, they didn’t want to get shot, just because the two different mobs weren’t – and of course, early in the piece England backed the Mihailovic and then he turned over and when Russia come in they turned over to Tito. And that made it worse. These are the stupid things that us silly buggers that have no say get caught up in. Anyway
they sent us back from there to the camp and we went from that camp they closed that camp. I spent time in hospital in that camp, I – the bit of shrap [shrapnel] – they hadn’t taken a bit of
shrap out of my leg when they operated on it in the Pommy hospital and it went rotten and as far as I could understand, septicaemia had set in. And all I know, I was crook; I didn’t care whether I lived or died. I was crook. And
they were closing the camp at the time and they sent us to Wolfsburg up in Austria. And they didn’t have a doctor there each day. And finally after about three days a doc come in. I’ll never forget he was only a young bloke and he sort of had a scalpel, well he was playing with a scalpel when he come in. And he took one look at the knee
and he just went – kchh! Kcch! with the scalpel and let the pus out of it. Still got the two little marks there. But I was looked after well. By the German medical orderly better than the English medical orderlies really, they used to knock off at six o'clock and that was it, if you wanted the orderly in the night it was
the German orderly that you got. Anyway we went from there to Wolfsburg and Rick and I went out on a farm I’ve got a photo there that those of us were on the farm and we went to a place called Erenhausen and Rick and I and another one of the boys, Pat, we were
picked by the farmer to go out to Retsnei, just a little village and we was on that farm, oh I don’t know, for about 18 months I suppose and should have stayed there because the – it was all right, we ate what they ate. The boss had three sons in the German Army.
One of them, Herb, he come home to help with the harvest and we really got friends with him. He walked in the first day and he says, “Which one’s Raymond and which one’s Eric?” And we introduced ourselves. And he says, “How you being treated by the people in the village?” Which, we were being treated all right. And we told him. He says, “Well, if you have any problems,
tell me.” He says. “You can’t help being there. You get taken prisoner, you get killed, it’s part of being in the army.” He was in the flat down in the – down in Poland. And as he said, he’d have made friends with the Poles; the Poles didn’t want to make friends with them. And you can understand that, and he could understand that and
his fiancée worked on the farm too. But Herb was – he was a real good bloke. And we talked about Hitler and that. And he says, “Well, there’s no doubt that he did do things for the country.” Like, because the way they were treated at the Geneva Convention, everything was taken off them.
And he says, “But before he come in,” he said, “We had things in the shops and no money to buy them. After he come in,” he says, “We had money because we were working on the roads and the autobahns and all those sort of things but there was nothing in the shop because there was guns before butter.” So he says, “It really didn’t make any difference to the average German or Austrian.”
But as I say, after- we found out while the – while we were there, that medical personnel and corporals and above, under the Geneva Convention, didn’t have to work, they couldn’t force you to work. So even though we were doing it all right on the farms,
we thought, “Well if we haven’t got to work for them, we won’t work for them.” And we went back to the main camp. Well, there was three of us from the unit on that particular job, Eric Bourke, Les Irons and meself, old Les had had it very good, he was farmed out to a
quite an attractive frau [woman] whose husband was in the army and away somewhere and Les had a lot of the home comforts on his farm. That – I might tell you that was Section 92. They used to put up this list, every week. Those that were caught under Section 92 will not fraternise with German women.
And they used to put this list up ever day, Section 92 that was. And as I say, it was just a matter of principle if you didn’t have to work, you didn’t work. Anyway, Les and Rick corporals, my being made up a corporal hadn’t come through when we got taken. It was only
come through after I got home. And they went back to 383 which was an NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] camp where they didn’t have to work. We went back to Wolfsburg and even the – I was a driver in the Field Ambulance as far as the Jerry was concerned I was a ‘sanitator’, it says in the book, I was with the Field Ambulance and therefore, and
so we – I with others started like real medical personnel particularly English and Kiwis there wasn’t Aussie medical orderlies there but there were English and Kiwis and we used to run the
we used to look after the hospital. And you know, just for minor things, we had an English doctor and a Canadian doctor. Canadian doctor had been in England and joined the English Army. And we worked the hospitals in Wolfsburg we used to play a bit of sport, we
had a basketball team that we called the ‘Kangariwis’, they were three Kiwis and two Aussies. And we played soccer, seven a side between the huts and out of those 14 players sometimes you’d get five English or Scottish internationals from the British Army, you know.
But all of a sudden, I was sent out there again as a medical orderly, on a work job. Just over the border back in the Yugoslav, because Wolfsburg was just over the border from Yugoslav and we were working on a – what was going to be an aluminium factory, we’re doing the foundations
from a map. And conditions were good, the huts were clean, tucker wasn’t bad, what there was of it was mainly soup and of course we were getting our Red Cross parcels so we put our Red Cross parcels in that the cooks could make things, each hut sort of used to throw parts of their Red Cross parcels, anyhow. And
it was a Saturday we went down there. And of course being good unionists, well back home, we says, “Ah, well we’re not working Saturday afternoon.” And so we got down there, we got in the huts and they says, “On parade. Ahbeit.” You know, “Work,” and we says, “No.” Anyway
the officer in charge he didn’t muck around he just brought a guard in and he picked one bloke out and he says, “If they’re not on parade in five minutes, shoot him.” Of course we went outside. I hear muttering as I’m going through the door, “Oh, if it had have been me, I wouldn’t have gone.” If it had’ve been me, I would have gone. I couldn’t see any sense in getting shot for nothing. Just for being stupid. Anyway, we worked on
that job until Christmas eve and because we were in Yugoslav, we thought, well we’re with friends, so we decided that they - if possible, dig a hole under the wire and half the camp’d go off on Christmas Eve and half’d go off on Christmas Day. Well I was among the crowd that was going off on Christmas Day.
And that happened. We dug a hole, they got out, welcomed by the Yugoslavs in the village down the street. Great, that was good. But then when they were half full, they went around looking for German guards that they didn’t like and of course they all finished up getting rounded up and brought back to the camp. But big Tom Mohana, who was a Maori,
Tom hadn’t wasted his time there and he come back with a suckling pig and two fowls. Which we cooked on a pot bellied stove and – an enamel basin that we used to use for washing in the morning. But they sent the SS [Schutzstaffel] out from there because we’d you know, we’d sort of made fools of them. And
they decided to send us up to the Austrian Alps to a discipline camp. Apart from those that they knew and of course the farmer was looking for his pig and his two fowls. And Tom Mohana was about six foot two and built like that and black as the ace of spades and of course as soon as the farmer come in, he says, “Well it was him.” Poor old Tom, so he got sent back to the main camp.
But there again the camp commandant that we had in Wolfsburg, he – I think he’d been a POW in England in the First World War, I’m not sure of that but he was from the First World War and he was a good bloke. He only acted like a Jerry when the SS come down. Apart from that he was good.
But they decided to send us up to camp. Before we leave camp, the boys had made some home brew. And they got on the home brew and some of them up the back were mucking around a bit and the guards were getting cranky, and we got to the station and there was a bit of a kerfuffle and a German major comes up. And he says to the
guard, “What’s the problem?” And the guard told him and I happened to have the Red Cross thing on, you know. And he says to me, “Look, there’s SS blokes down there, tell the boys to get on the train.” He says, “It’s only being stupid.” Which it was. As I say, I couldn’t see the sense of getting shot for nothing. Anyway, we travelled all day and
finally we got on a little small gauge – it took us up a mountain like this. And I could never remember the name of the village we went to, but it was up in the Austrian Alps and we were met by a German officer there and he lined us up. We’d been travelling all day, must have been nine o'clock at night, when we got out
of the train. And course, around Christmas time it was freezing cold and he lined us all up and he says, “You blokes think you’re tough.” He says, “By the time I’ve finished with you, you’ll know what tough is.” Right. Somebody from the back, you know, Aussie voice of course, “Oh get stuffed!” Sort of thing. Anyway, they pull up a sled, we didn’t have much, we had a blanket and a
dixie and toothbrush and towel and one thing and another, brought this sleigh up we thought, “Oh that’s good, we’re going to get a ride to wherever we’re going.” Put whatever gear we had on the sleigh and we walked and it was about five ks out to this place. And we got in there, there was straw but no palliasses to put the straw in so the first night we
slept on the straw. Two Scotsman and a Kiwi they says, “Doesn’t look good.” Got a pair of pliers that they’d found from somewhere, cut the wire on the window and away they went. You could see their footprints in the morning, they was never going to get anywhere, but – if you didn’t like a job, that’s what you did.
You attempted to escape, if you knew you couldn’t get anywhere it didn’t matter but they’d send you back to the main camp so you had a hope of getting to a better job next time. And these are the things that if they were done, like we did there, like those three blokes did, and the officer that was going to teach us discipline, he was on the way to the Russian Front for
allowing prisoners to escape. So he didn’t last. Jerry was pretty strict on army discipline and if their troops didn’t do – anyway, I’m out there as a sanitator. And it was a road job and it was a fairly hard job and the boys are saying, “Oh this is tough Ray. Can’t we get back?” And blah, blah, blah.
So I’m doing different sorts of things, horse hair in the cigarette that’d make the ticker go a bit – a bit of aspro in the cigarette’d do the same thing. Coin-tied around the knee, tight, make the knee swell up a little bit, different things that you’d heard when malingerers were trying to get away in the unit. And that – and when they went in
to the doctor, the doctor was a older bloke but he was also a white Russian that had come out there in the revolution after the First World War and he’d been in practise there for years. And of course all the young doctors had been called up for the German army and he was a bit partial our way, he
marked the blokes unfit for working, you know back to the camp. And you made real good friendships there and the friendship got broken you’d try to renew it. And Stan Davis and this big farm boy from Victoria, his particular mate had got sent back and he says to me, “Oh Ray, can’t you get me sent back?”
And I looked at Stan. And he’s half as big again as any of the guards, like he’s a big country lad. “Oh I don’t know.” I said, “All right, go crook then Stan, in the morning.” So when he went crook, the guard come and he said, “What’s wrong with him?” I says, “He’s got a crook heart.” And he’s saying, “Cronk hurt? Him?” And I says, “Yeah, he’s got a crook heart.” So righto
so we march into camp for – into town to see the doctor and I said to Stan, “Just wait at the door here.” Anyway, he waited at the door and sent a couple in and then heard the guard coming out, I says to Stan, “Put your hands up.” He says, “What for?” I says, “Put your hands up.” He went like that and hard as I could I went, whack! Whack! right under the heart. And I says, “Now go in and see the doc.”
And I’m standing at the door and the old doc’s putting the stethoscope on and he’s frowning and then he says to the guard, you know, “Cronk hurts.” Anyway and then it sounds a fairytale but it’s true, may I never move from here. The boys – there was about three of them that they sent back, including Stan and they’re on the train and they met a crowd that had been in
the mines. That’s another thing that you don’t hear about. Some of our blokes, these blokes were in Germany, but some of our blokes in Poland, they were 12 hours a day, six days a week, bent over like that in coal mines. You never hear about that. We were Cook’s tourists, they call it to a lot of people anyway -
sent people from the pay corps over and they reissued us with – I think I got both of my pay books, they reissued us with pay books and they put the back pay in our pay books and we were able to draw money then out of our own pay books.
While we was out there, we were made honorary members of Smouha’s Sports Club in Alexandria. The story I was told and I believe it’s true, this Smouha was in the – he was in the rag trade in England and when Lawrence of Arabia got the Arabs on England’s side, they paid him in gold.
They sent Smouha out with cloth so as they’d get their gold back. And he went to the Alexandria Club which was the club, with all the rich English people. Cos he was a Jew they wouldn’t let him join. So he bought this land just outside Alexandria and set up his own sports club. Which had a football field, six
tennis courts, a couple of squash courts, you name it and when we come out, they made us honorary members there, we could go and play tennis and they played – I think we played a cricket game against some Pommy outfit and also a rugby league game or something, I played soccer for the club.
They were short a goalkeeper a couple of weekends and I played a couple of soccer games with them. But that’s the story they tell me about Smouha and no one, what I heard about the Alexandria Club was probably right, they probably would have blackballed him because he was a Jew. Anyway then finally, we got a ship to bring us home. And it was the
Wanganella, which was a hospital ship and we had a good trip back home. Landed at Perth, or Fremantle, went into Perth, people at Perth and got a bit of petrol, they picked us up in cars about four to a car, we went into Perth, they had a do on at the Town Hall,
made a hell of a fuss of us. It was great. Some of our blokes were stupid enough and couldn’t – a couple of blokes from my unit were stupid enough to get on the grog [alcohol] and missed the boat. They come home by train, I think they got home before us, but anyway, we finally got back to Sydney. Different altogether at Sydney, they sent buses down to pick us up from
where we landed. Took us to the showground, it was – I suppose half past nine when we got out there by the time we got our ration coupons, our leave passes and that, when we got our leave passes was about half past eleven. I looked at the leave pass and I just turned around
to the bloke behind me and I said, “Jeez they’re giving us nothing,” I says, “This starts this mornin’. And the day’s almost gone.” And there’s this WO2 [Warrant Officer Class 2] , standing within earshot. He said, “What’s the problem corporal?” I says, “This leave pass, at least we thought it would have started from tomorrow.” Just like that. “You’re going to remember you’re back in the army now, son. You’re not sitting on your arse in Germany.”
I says, “I realise that.” And I found out, he made the mistake – Ian Roberts who’d been our OC [Officer Commanding] and didn’t get taken prisoner, he’d been up to New Guinea, got malaria and come back and he was issuing the ration coupons. And he heard what this WO said.
And he come over and he says to me, “Right,” He says, “Don’t take any notice of this bloke. He’s never moved out of the showground in two years.” He says, “He wouldn’t know what it is to be in the army.” And he turned around to him and he said, “And if ever I hear you, talk to one of my boys again,” he said, “I’ll make bloody certain you’re up in New Guinea.” That was the other with a lot of them, Claire [interviewer], I tell you, we were
pretty disappointed. I don’t think there was any of us that wouldn’t have stayed on if they’d met us halfway. I didn’t want to get out of the army, I didn’t want to get out. I’d have been quite happy to stay in the army and rejoin my unit and go up to New Guinea. But there again, that’s when Doc Selby,
he’d taken over, he’d been made a half colonel and taken over the 2/7th Field Ambulance. And I wrote him whether he had a job for me. And he says, “Ray I wouldn’t take you.” He says, “I wouldn’t take any of you blokes.” He said, “You’ve got to be absolute 100% fit to go to New Guinea.” And he says, “And you blokes wouldn’t be.” Which he proved that because a lot of our blokes went to a camp where he was the MO [Medical Officer] and all of
them got discharged about the same time as I did. But they give us 21 days leave after four years. Cos we sailed on the January, ’40 and come home in January ’44. And went back to the showground and the – each day they’d line us up and they’d say,
you know, so many of the troops out there to do things and, “ NCOs fall out. Dismiss. You’re right for the day.” This went on for about ten days and I thought, this is a good army. And this day they lined us up and they took the troops out and they said, “NCOs this way.” And I says to the sergeant. “What’s this business?”
He says, “You’re going on picquet duty in the pig stalls.” I went, oh don’t like that. I says, “I’d like to see a doctor.” He says, “What for?” I says, “I’ve had a lump of shrap in my leg all the time I’d been down and I’d like to get it out.” “All right.” So we go and see the doc and he says, “It giving you trouble?” I says, “Oh yeah, I feel it from time to time and it swells up a bit from time to time.” So they sent me out to Concord Hospital. I think that was the best fortnight I’ve ever had in the army.
But we were the first POWs home; the VADs [Voluntary Aid Detachments] were mainly looking after us. Not the VAD- yeah the VADs and the AAMWS [Australian Army Medical Women’s Service] the women’s medical side. And of course, they’re all mothering us, they knew that we hadn’t been on a lot of good tucker and
we’re getting milkshakes and we’re getting orange juice and I’m thinking, jeez this is good, Concord Hospital’s brand new, I’m up in the fourth floor, I’m looking over the Parramatta River and I thought – and I’m there about ten days and this doctor used to come in each day and he’d say, “How are ya?” And I’d say, “Good, I’m right.” About the tenth day he said, “What’re you here for?” I said, “I’ve got a bit of shrapnel in me leg, they’re going to take.” “Oh jeez,” he said, “I’ve been
looking for you, we’d better do that.” Anyway, they took it out and after a few days, I got sent up to the convalescent depot at Ingleburn and that was a wakeup, the little AAMWS that drove the ambulance, she was about five foot nothing, a little redhead and she had one speed and that was flat chat [fast] from Concord to Ingleburn in about fifteen minutes I reckon.
Anyway, we get up there and I knew what Doc Selby in his letter when he says that we had to be 100% fit and he finished up when he says, “Anyway, mate, it’s not the army we knew.” First bloke I talked to, was a corporal, been at Ingleburn for three years, absolutely nothing wrong with him but he’s uncle
had trucks working for the army, and he was going to inherit them and there’s no way he wanted to go up to New Guinea and take a chance of being shot. Strike a WO at a dance that a couple of the AAMWS that had invited me and me mate to. He was the same. Medically unfit, but fighting a ten rounder at Newcastle the following weekend. These were the things that was going on and it
wasn’t the same army that we knew. We were proud of being volunteers and couldn’t wait to get away. And then of course, we had the Yanks, like you’d go in a place and couldn’t get served if the Yanks were in there, that happened. Time and time again, that happened. So particularly the girls behind the bar,
they wouldn’t – not all of them. But a lot of them wouldn’t serve you if a Yank walked in that was it, you took a backseat.
did get extra money when we went away. I forget what it was now, extra one and sixpence or something. And that’s a sore point, I was saying that I don’t – as I say, we joined up five bob a day, three bob a day sustenance. While we were prisoners of war, they didn’t – the government didn’t feed us. But we
never, ever got our sustenance money. And even after 60 years, that’s the one thing I’m cranky on of being in the army that the bloody government never give me – me three bob a day that I was entitled to. Menzies did set up a tribunal in about 1948, I think he come to power in ’48, and he set up a tribunal, one brigadier, I believe had been a POW of the Japs [Japanese] and
he says we didn’t deserve anything because we were Cook’s tourists, the legal bloke says, he couldn’t see whether the government really was - had to give it to us. I don’t see why, because that’s what we signed up for. And the third bloke was either a colonel, brigadier or something, he says, it might set a precedence that blokes that giving themselves up just so as they’ll
have money when they come home. Could you imagine the blokes that were in the Jap POWs doing that? Like, I have no problem with what the Jap POWs got. When they got this last 25,000 the only thing I had against it, they got it 40 years too late. They should have got it 40 years ago when there was more of them alive. And more of their families alive and 25,000 would have been absolute heaven to them.
You know, being able to buy their own home and things like that. I’m not one of these blokes that begrudges the Jap POWs anything they got, whatever they got they deserved, if they’d have given them – you know, 250,000 instead of their 25,000 wouldn’t worry me. We’d all like to get the 25,000 but I’ve never sought it. But I do think I should have got me three bob a day.
And I’ve mentioned that to a couple of politicians in latter years and they just look at you blank. But anyway, I was sent to a psychiatrist from there. From Ingleburn, out the showground. Cos, there was an article in the Women’s Weekly [magazine] by
one of the officers’ wives that says that some of us may be barbed wire happy, that did happen to blokes. They couldn’t take it and they did go - the same as blokes do in jail, go stir happy. They did go barbed wire happy. And so we had to see a psychiatrist. I didn’t think he found anything but I was going through me record, not so long ago and he found out I
was twenty-five per cent nuts. But well – twenty-five per cent something or other. And there again, it was funny while I was there and a little AWAS [Australian Women’s Army Service] come in and she’s sitting down alongside me and I said, “What are you here for?” She says, “I shot a Yank, didn’t kill him.” I says, “What?” She says, “He was hanging around our camp
three nights in a row.” She said, “I knew what he was after.” So she says, “The fourth night, I just shot him in the leg.” So she had to see a psychiatrist, I often wondered how she got on. I don’t think she should have been discharged, I think she knew what he was after too. That’s another thing that happens. Don’t know whether you want that in there. But
that’s – anyway, got discharged and I’d been made up to corporal, my corporal’s stripe had come in so I got three years back pay as a corporal too. It’s in me pay book somewhere, I think it was about 320 pound or something which was quite a bit of money in them days. And I didn’t know
what to do, I didn’t want to go back to medic – so I sort of didn’t. Anyway I heard of this hamburger shop up in Ryde. And Mum and Dad had had a fish shop in Leichhardt and I thought, “Oh, I’m not much different, it’s a hamburger shop and…” So I bought the hamburger shop at Ryde. Spent the first week tossing drunks out, because six o'clock close all the drunks used to come down to the hamburger shop
for a feed, spent the first week tossing drunks out. And then word got around that I was a returned bloke and Ryde car park was there with hell of a lot of troops so I made quite a good go of that and I made a few bob out of that. Tangled with the Manpower [government labour organization], I get a letter this day, saying that they heard I’d been discharged but I hadn’t fronted the
Manpower so as they could tell me what I was going to do. So I went down and I see this bloke sitting behind the desk and he starts firing all these questions, “What would you like to do? blah, blah, blah.” I said, “I bought a hamburger shop.” “You can’t do that.” He says, “You’re under Manpower, what?” I said, “Hey! I spent three years in Germany being told what I do, didn’t always do it,”
I says, “Could have got shot for that.” I says, “I’m not listening to you blokes, I’ve bought me hamburger shop and that’s it.” And so I worked the hamburger shop for about nine months. But I was taken blackouts at the time and I’d go into town to get food coupons, because had your coupons for your meat and that to run the shop.
And I wouldn’t know what I was in town for. I’d roam around town and wouldn’t have a clue what I was there for. So I thought, this is no good. So I sold it and bought an ice run in Newtown, well you could write a book about that. The Yanks were still there and the – a lot of ice chests were in bedrooms, and I tell you what, I could write a
book about delivering ice in Newtown during the war. I made a few bob there. Decided – my brother in law got very crook at the time; Jack hadn’t been in the army because he was classed as unfit. And I’d always been close with me sister and always been good mates with Jack.
And Val and him had helped me in the hamburger shop and also on the ice run. Jack and I used to do the ice run. And decided in our wisdom that we’d buy a truck, well every bloke from out the army bought a truck. Whatever money I’d made in the other two things, I went broke with the truck.
And they were not good days, for a while. I’d met my first wife by then. And we got married and – we got married while I still had the ice
run and I went from there, cos the war had finished by then, went from there, I think I did the started a dry cleaning run, cos dry cleaning was big in them days before all wash and wear come.
But I finished there and bought a fish shop with Daph, out at Marrickville. And we had that about six months and Daphne got pregnant, and she couldn’t stand the fish shop, she reckons that she never got rid of the smell of fish.
So I sold that and got onto a good dry cleaning run and I did that for years because when the kids come along, Stephen was only seven and Sue was two and a half, close to three, when my first wife died, she just had a heart attack and died one night.
And I had the two kids, I did have me mother in law with me which was a help but a hell of a lot of age difference between a grandmother and two kids of that age. And I kept the dry cleaning run for years because during the school holidays, I could take the kids with me. And young Sue –
I say “young Sue,” she’s 46, 47 now. She had – and the dry cleaning run used to go from Greystanes to Riverstone, Schofield and right back to Blacktown, used to do a hell of an area. And Sue had all the places she knew which old dear’d give her something to eat. Which old dear’d take her to the toilet, or which old dear had a
pony down the back and it used to take me three times as long to do me run when I had Sue with me. But I could you know, I had her with me. When Sue started school, I’ve driven back quite often when it was education week and finished me run at Riverstone, driven back to Rhodes kids to be at the school and then
gone back to Riverstone to finish me dry cleaning run. I used to listen to their – to the women bowlers down the club, cos they’d have kids the same time as me, this was in latter years I used to listen to them – “Oh you know, when I had the girls.” And blah, blah, blah. I says, “When I had my daughter, I finished up in Concord with a crook ticker, more times
because I’d been over the ironing board.” Of course little starched skirts were in then, and I was determined my daughter would be the same as anybody else when she went out. I used to stand over there with these bloody ironing boards and doing starched petty coats. I wouldn’t know how many times I finished up in Concord and the doc’d say, “What were you doing?” “Ironing, that’s what I was doing.” And
but still, they turned out great. They’re great, we had a great relationship while they were growing up. Never got on the grog, never had drug problems. Stephen’s 51 now, Sue’s 46? I think. And we’re still like that. We’re – I’m pretty pleased with what I did with
so I was going to be the first one. I immediately looked around for my mate Ern, because he had been with the 2nd Battalion when I was with the 1st Battalion, all throughout the desert, he’s the one I played ‘500’ with, and his bus was out of commission it was getting something done to it. He said to me at the time, he said, “If you go out without me,
you will probably get into bloody trouble.” I said, “Oh yeah?” You know....As I say, we travelling along and the Stuka came over and the sergeant says to stop, I stopped. Once he was gone they put me in my own ambulance and
took me to the Pommy CCS. And then from train, I went down...as I say, the hospital train, back to Athens, to a Pommy hospital in Athens. They had another bit of a probe there and couldn’t find it, so they just bandaged us up. I was there for a while,
just a matter of days I suppose, and this WO came in this day and he said, “Is there anybody for the New Zealand Con Depot.“ And I thought, ‘Oh, Kiwis live more close to ice than Poms,’ so yeah...And as I was going out I struck Eric Bourke, a particular mate of mine, and we went out to the
Kiwi convalescent depot, where we stayed for awhile. Then one night this major come around and he says a series of trucks and ambulances and what have you up there, “Get aboard, we’re going down the coast to get a ship out.”
We happened to get in an ambulance, Rick and I, and with others, I remember there was a Pommy Airforce sergeant sitting opposite me. We went down the coast, we pulled up at this bay, but ships didn’t pull up at the bay,
that particular night. We were there for about five days. Jerry evidently knew there were troops there, because he did a bit of strafing each day, for a while, onto the olive groves. I didn’t eat olives for years after I came home, I couldn’t stand them....I eat them now.
We were there about five days and then all of a sudden, this on dusk...on this occasion convalescent depot patients down to the beach and we went down to the beach. We got within about five yards of the beach, and the convalescent depot troops to one side, we moved to one side and a
Pommy engineer unit come down, they got onto the little boasts, went out to the big boat, that was the last we ever saw of it. We never saw another boat. The following morning, we got in our vehicles again, and...you know, the drivers of these vehicles were doing a terrific job,
because they had been hardly any movement of vehicles on the road at all. And we just over the Corinth Canal Bridge and this air force sergeant says, “Well, we’re far enough safe now, they won’t come this far south. When Messerschmitts come over
and started to strafe, we got out of the whatever vehicles, truck or ambulance...The only cover we had was a grape vine, we were near a vineyard and the grape vines were about a foot high and the dirt was just banked around them, that was the cover.
From memory, they came down in three lots of fours. And they strafed and they dropped the paratroopers in an area. When they landed they had big swastika flags with them, and as they moved up, and rounded us up like a bloody flock of sheep, they just moved the flags, and they dropped one plane off and they’d come over in four lots of threes.
So we kept our head down. Evidently it was where they decided to make their sudden headquarters for the paratrooper, because within half an hour there were fifth columnists [traitors] come up, Greek fifth columnists coming up and talking to the officer in charge.
He was only a young bloke, one of the good ones, Germans, just finished five years of Oxford, he was telling us, better English than I speak. He had us wrapping up parachutes,
after they were done we went to a church yard and we were on a bay....And three boats in the bay. And Eric Bourke, he had been a patrol officer up in New Guinea, he never should have been in the army, he was lousy with malaria, but the officer who let him in was a....
Or the doctor who let him in was an officer he’d known in New Guinea, and knew how keen Eric so he let him through. And he’s looking at these boats going, and he says, “If we get on one of them and go that way, we’ll hit Crete....or if we miss Crete, we’ll hit Libya or Egypt or something.” Righto.
So we got about ten to fifteen blokes, Aussie blokes around, “This is what we’re going do. They’re not going to keep us.” Just on dusk, this is why I say this officer was a good bloke, he called us all in a huddle and he said, “Three boats in the bay, anyone could take you to Crete or to Egypt.”
He said, “I don’t want any heroes and I don’t want to shoot anybody. I have armed guards aboard so don’t be stupid, don’t try.” So that was it. In the meantime my leg had started to get a bit lousy because it had no treatment, it started to get a bit mushy.
And this officer asked anybody that had been wounded or sick or anything... that there was going to be a hospital established in the town of Corinth itself. This was brought about by an Englishwoman, I believe she was a nurse in the First World War, and married a Greek and stayed there. She had managed to get four or five Kiwi doctors; they had taken over a hotel that was right on the beach, in the town,
and marched up...she was only a little thing, she was, she marched up to the Jerry major and says, “I have doctors, I have a hospital, we’ll have the wounded or sick in there.” Which happened.