Cooktown’s in history twice. In Cook’s time and my own. But the position where Cook had his ship was almost exactly in front of where my residence was and of course the residence was the police station in Cooktown. My father by that time was sergeant of police but when I was born my father was constable and stationed in
Maytown and my mother came to Cooktown to have the birth of both two boys. The older boy was born before we got to Maytown but Phil and I were born in Cooktown, having a mother come from Maytown for the birth each time and of course in those days Maytown was
most remote, it was inland from Cooktown on the Palmer Goldfield and by the time of our being there it was all practically a dead town and of course today it doesn’t exist. The population of Maytown even in our time was down to about 30 people I think and of course before radio and those things were general and
there was very little to do in Maytown at night time and that sort of, you provided your own entertainment. My mother was a mainstay and that because she had singing ability and piano playing and things like that but poor Maytown wasn’t very good as a place of entertainment at night time except for one couple. They solved that but they ended up with
15 children and they were the chief identities in the town. But there were remnants of mining days, Chinamen and so and so on like that who were attracted there for the gold prospects.
exactly what we did but I know for one thing Maytown, Cooktown on St Patrick’s Day they had to close the town virtually and the main street which was about the only street that had any life in it very little of that in the way of traffic. But they closed off the town and we used to have a billycart goat race and the
talent for that of course, one of our wise heads amongst the boys reckoned a wether was better than a billygoat, you know a full goat, and there were numerous around Grassy Hill which was the hill behind us. So we decided we must castrate a goat and convert him into a wether and he would be talent for the race. Which we tried to do but
the agility of the goats that we caught on Grassy Hill was a bit on our technique, anyhow the point was we never won a goat by using wethers from Grassy Hill. I remember one day we not only had the St Patrick’s Day rejoicing in the town but at the end of the day,
there was a young man who came to Cooktown as an auditor, he was only there temporarily. And he borrowed my father’s dinghy, they used to use and went away hunting and unfortunately as he got out of the boat he accidentally caused the gun to fire and he was shot
right in the chest and by the end of the day of course they brought the boat back and there was our boat almost filled with water and much blood. Anyhow it was fatal, but my mother.
I’ll make reference to it in a moment. But I had pneumatic fever in my school days, not long before I left school but that affected my heart reading and I didn’t qualify for the air force you see. However I was reading. I had read well a lot of books of the war and
such as Erich Remarque’s, All Quiet On The Western Front and Ion Idris’s Desert Column and so there I was sort of keenly interested in serving in the military. I then decided to be in the military and people would say “What are you going to be when you go in?” and I’d say “An infantry man”
because my reading had influenced that and the point was that evidence of World War 1 was still very evident. And lifts in those days weren’t automatic, entirely automatic, and there used to be a lift man and in most cases the lift man was a veteran from World War 1 and it was quite evident that he had a limb absent or he was victim of
gassing and something like that. So there was a lot of evidence that joining the infantry wasn’t a good idea. However I persisted and those who enlisted with me chose other things such as transport or something like that but I still stayed with the idea of serving in the infantry and that’s what sort of happened except at the end, towards the end of the war I joined the paratroopers, transferred
to the paratroopers but by nature my activity was only being transported by parachute or air and dropping down and I was infantry after that anyhow so actually my full service was in infantry.
before the invasion there. The purpose of that was to find out various things about the enemy disposition you see in particular prisoner of war camps because they wanted to both rescue them and not mistakenly bomb them you see. So our purpose was to send back intelligence on those
matters and I was confined in, operated in the jungle with the Chinese guerrillas, oh well mainly Chinese, there were a few Malays, but mainly all Chinese. There were various areas where these Chinese guerrillas were situated and of course they were moved around, didn’t stay too long in any one spot
obviously. And that’s where I was when the war ended of course. I was still behind the lines and came out and told the Japanese that they’d lost the war.
we eventually ended up in the one voyage but transferred from the Queen Mary at Sollum and we went up into the Suez Canal and than disembarked half way through El Kantara and went into Palestine. I mentioned Ion Idris earlier, one of his books I read he served in the Light Horse in World War 1
and Gallipoli and the Light Horse in Palestine itself, renowned for their attack on Beersheba and went on for the ultimate victory in 1918. By that time they were up at Damascus and as we disembarked from the ship,
the Indrabarah, which took us into the Suez Canal. I was wonderfully taken by the fact that I was covering the very ground that Ian Idris wrote about and it was just a wonderful experience. Amongst the first things I did I went to a two-inch mortar training school and there I saw in the hills, you know just mounds,
were the traces of the dugouts that the Australians in World War 1 made, you see, and the same when I got up to Beersheba later in the war about 6 months later. There again were these spots where, well in this case the Turks occupied.
It was a wonderful experience coming back you know on the historical things like that.
force they raided, I should say the Italians when they first started in the war there was no armament around the borders of Egypt and that sort of stuff in their direction, that’s Libya, and Marshall Graziani was the Italian commander and with some success they entered into Egypt and then Wavell, the allied commander, his
forces took after, then engaged the Italians and chased them right back fighting on the way back to Bardia and through Tobruk and Benghazi and right back to the Gulf of Tripoli, Gulf of Tunis?, anyhow right back to the and then we from Palestine, that we’ve just mentioned. I should say with Wavell’s
forces was Australia’s 6th Division and they did all these wonderful things as I just said there, and by the time we got there we were to relieve the 6th Division, the 6th Division went off to Greece, was to go to Greece and Crete and so on which they did and of course they had a very hard time there and they were beaten. So they were all chased back to Africa and we of
course relieved them in Libya but we’d gone as far as Mersa el Brega which is up towards the other end of their territory. We were in that position when Rommel came and took our command and we handed over, my particular section were handed to a small force of Free French
and I think they were the French Foreign Legion. The French Foreign Legion split up, they were, some went to Vichy France, or allied themselves to Vichy France. Another portion of them came over to the allied side and they relieved us there. We went back, took back a short distance and took up position again and Rommel
then, we kept beating our way back.
strong but later as the war went on and shortly after this actually. The Germans of course, there were quite a few Germans who spoke English and they at night time used to come, several experiences I had this way, come up fairly close to our situation, our site, and they’d sing one of our songs. Say at that time We’ll Hang
Our Washing on the Siegfried Line, Roll Out The Barrel and Lambeth Walk, any of those that were popular with the British people. So they rubbed it in that way. Then many times we took up positions like that but one position I remember quite well was at
Barce, the looking down, mostly we were in sparse desert sort of country but at Barce looking at the, what we call the pass, but it was only a, well it wasn’t all that threatening as a mountain piece, but it was unusual and it was oasis-like as far as looking down on it, was really pleasant to see and anyhow we were there waiting for them
to come and then we got up again and this went on time and again until we took, entered Tobruk you see but during that retreat of course we had sparse food even when you know we first went there just bully beef and biscuits mainly and well when we were in this retreat and by this time there were great masses of
personnel on foot and in trucks and things like that retreating and we came to a spot that we found, recognised as being an army dump, so we got out of our vehicle. They were all run down pieces of fiats and things like that, most of these vehicles and we raided this dump anyhow and found wonderful things there that
we had never been supplied with such as what do they call it, meat and vegetable and some desserts and Canadian carnation milk and things like that. Anyhow we helped ourselves to these things then got on our way. The fact was that while we were doing this the rest of the battalion went on, a large part of the battalion went on, and Rommel
staged an ambush and we lost most of our headquarter company and quite a few others. Were probably about I have to look it up but about 250 men you see and quite a lot of my particular company and they spent the rest of the war prisoners of war in Italy mainly and also Germany and the part of Poland that the Germans had taken
and we of course we went into Tobruk and in quick time of course Rommel came along and we had a fight there and of course and from then on we were besieged in Tobruk and he made an attack on us there. Well, we had a mighty fight then. At that time we still had a
little bit of air force but after this act we had no air force for quite awhile but above us were these aircraft in combat, and down below were the infantry engaged and the machine gunners and the artillery tanks were so close that they were at point blank and that’s how, that was our real introduction to the
big fight. And one little bit there, A Company had, Kev Robby tells the story, he became our regimental sergeant major, at this time he was company sergeant major and the tanks turned and pulled out you see and the infantry not supported by the tanks,
that’s how we got our prisoners of course, and this day that Jack Edmondson won the VC [Victoria Cross] for his bravery. But A Company was the one that took the most prisoners, ultimately about nearly 120 I think. And Robby tells the story you see we came back in this retreat and we were running out of ammunition, right down with a fight like that we were right down
and almost out of ammunition and Robby took a reckoning, by signalling the, he took a reckoning from the platoon commanders what their ammunition position was and it was grim in all respects so Robby who was a big man, massive, you know strong looking man, stood up and called out to the Germans to surrender and
nothing came from them and then each of the commanders, platoon commanders, that’s three men, they were lieutenants, each stood up and called on them to surrender, the same act you see. Each of these fellows was a very big man. One was 6ft 7 like yourself. What are you? 6 ft 7?
so I was given instructional jobs in the reinforcement depot, reinforcement camp I should say. And I became a sergeant there. I didn’t want to retain my rank because it kept me from rejoining my unit so I had myself demoted and went
back to the unit. By this time of course Japan was in the war and we were anxious to come back. But suddenly, Rommel. Once again by this time over this period there were fights between the allies over who would win one round and the Germans Italians would win the next, so there’s this retreating two and from and then the big threat came
and Rommel was really threatening Cairo and so on and I had by this time rejoined the unit up in Syria and we suddenly called back to the front down in Egypt. And we got there and just managed to be successful in holding it and while there we stayed
for some months of course while we regained our strength and so on and by this time of course, Rommel, ah Montgomery was the commander and chief of this area and we prepared for what became the Battle of El Alamein. It was the second Battle of El Alamein as far as we were concerned because we fought when we first got
back into Egypt and we held the line until we were ready for what is known now as the Battle of El Alamein which was on October 23 it began. That’s where we were and from there we went back to Palestine and embarked and came back to Australia and from then on we went into action in New Guinea. But of course the New Guinea campaign had been on from
December ‘41 no ‘42, 41 ,41, and I mean the Kokoda Trail had already been fought and Milne Bay action which stopped the Japs action, stopped the Japs coming back to Australia and then we went into action there. We were in action at invasion of
Lae which we did from the sea and the 7th Division did it from Ramu Valley.
we must have been surrounded greatly by Irish people you know the nuns and so on because we acquired Irish pronunciations and it showed up when we went into South Queensland. We went to Harrisville and when we registered for the first day at the state school at Harrisville the wife of the head teacher, there were only two teachers, the wife of the head
teacher said she was so entertained by our Irish brogue that she kept us talking considerably instead of being (UNCLEAR). We arrived late and she sort of intercepted us as we came into the school grounds and when she found that we had this Irish brogue it entertained her so she kept us longer than she generally, she told
my mother this of course, than she would have if it had just been another sort of person in the same situation. So she was quite entertained and your remark about being an Irish background, yes.
from dingo hunting and that sort of stuff and sandalwood they did a lot, Sandalwood of course was a worthy sort of an export at those times until they chopped it all out unfortunately. China of course made great use of Sandalwood. I can remember he used to
get great numbers of brumbies and I really don’t know what income he got out of it. I don’t think he got a bounty or anything like that but anyhow these brumbies were a great sight stampeding through, there were various ways until they were put into a big yard, you know a big strong yard. They were quite ferocious, quite threatening actually.
But the mainstay of those who were there was actually mining, still looking for gold and there were a fair number of Chinese doing that and one memory I have of that is I was with my father who was going around his duties and we came to what seemed to be a well and with my father of course went up to it and
shouted down the well and there I was as you know just an infant really and suddenly out of this well came this head which was that of a Chinese and it gave me the biggest fright in my life and that’s the sort of thing that went on you know.
Remember right back in the horse and buggy days and in fact it was hard work for the buggy because no road or very little road and it was all very rough. When we went from Maytown to Laura was the head of the railway. From Cooktown to Laura just a rail line it doesn’t connect up anywhere else and when we go from Maytown to
Laura to catch the train to Cooktown that would be by sulky and we’d have to stay overnight on the way that is outdoor camping not stay at a hotel or anything like that, and we’d go to Laura and catch the train which I think was once a week, down to Cooktown. In one of these instances when we were the last trip actually mother
was advanced in pregnancy with a sister who came, Leila, but in the sulky my brother, younger brother he was two years older than I, and our situation would be to sit on the floor of the sulky which was quite close to the tail of the horse pulling it. He used to make
lots of smells of course. We got the full gust of them and my brother who was one to fiddle with anything that looked a bit mechanical. There was this handle below the seat it was for adjusting the seat too and he used to turn it like fast and slow and so on and made the adjustment and of course mother heavily pregnant was in
the sulky and a black maid and they were the two. My father would be riding a horse and so on and any furniture or anything like that was carried in a special heavy wagon. Anyhow my brother was playing with this thing and he twisted and twisted until the seat went right off and mother and the
black maid tumbled out of the sulky and onto the very rough track below. And poor, I think her name was Mary, she broke her arm and mother of course was in an anxious state because of being pregnant but we got going again and so on got back to Cooktown. I don’t know whether that led to an early delivery of
Leila or not but it was quite a startling experience.
Yes, see there was another duty my father had business, you know, I don’t know what that would be but various ways he had business and they’d call on us too. I remember one Japanese captain gave me a, I’d go with my father you see, gave me a pigeon. He said “You take it home”, you know. Of course I got home it flew away of course. I imagine it went back to the Japanese as a
homing pigeon but at home in Cooktown and he probably had it ready there to stew it. He gave it to me so nobody gained out of that transaction except I was angry with Japanese for a while. And but that’s the point, these luggers, troker shell luggers, of course they’d find a pearl or two occasionally they were
quite a scene in the river then. The river was quite broad at that part, a very pretty river.
Aboriginal or something like that. They’d be drinking and fights like that. That’s the only real conflict around the place. The rest of it was you know quite neighbourly and quite pleasant. We had a good time as kids because we were always, frequently on the harbour. We did other things too of course.
I remember in one particular case the police station there was sort of a mall; it was our residence which combined the office of the station and our own residence and then there was the gaol which was rather a, well wouldn’t hold any of the people of today confined very well because they would get out of it. Anyhow
there was this area that was government property really, such as the court house and things like that, and we found plenty of time there but I have in mind in particular there was a store room which we used to use to have pictures. We had a magic lantern and things like that and but also kept there were exhibits such as
skeletons and things like that so we generally had to make our fun with various things. Frightening people who came to see magic lantern and suddenly they had a skeleton sitting beside them or frightening them somehow or other. In this warehouse too it was close to, were really low to the ground, so the fowls used to lay eggs and we could never get them you see. But after a period of course eggs accumulated and
I’d go under. They’d send me under because I was the smallest, and a little Aboriginal who was the son of the police tracker and he was similar size to me, so we used to go in and get these eggs which were largely rotten by that time, tropical heat and so on and we’d distribute them amongst the boys and then we’d stage a fight, you know an egg fight. That used to be quite
an occasion because the eggs used to stink like anything. When we ran out of ammunition and had the pleasure of our fight we’d ducked into the river and tried to clean ourselves up. I think the smell stayed around a long time.
friendly. And my mother and father and so on were as generous as they could be in various ways so my mother did quite a lot of sewing for them and things like that. It was all very good actually. They were treated well too you know, they weren’t treated like anything inferior or things that did happen later on by various people but they were given there position quite
well. Actually they were very close to being the tribal style you see. A couple of times a year they would assemble. They would come into town, Cooktown, of course most of them were still tribal in their living and you see and they’d get a handout of blankets and things,
blankets, tobacco and things like that. But it was only a, it wasn’t all that they used throughout the year, it was a contribution, a help of course but they’d. I remember the Aboriginal widow. One of the things was if she was a widow they used to get clay or something like
that and have little balls of clay around in their hair and that would denote their position as being a widow. But there were they weren’t, the group I’m talking about weren’t really urbanised or anything like that and the north shore of the Endeavour River that was not covered by any
housing or anything like that. The Aboriginals at certain times of the year used to congregate there and their huts there were genuine bark huts, not galvanised iron or anything like that. They used to congregate there and we used to go over there and play around with their piccaninnies as the term was in those times.
So we had a lot of time with Aboriginals and then of course the black tracker and his family and as a matter of fact my mother acted as a midwife for one of her children and she acted as a midwife in Maytown too for, I told you about Mrs Parsons with 15 children, she helped with a couple of those actually. That just about covers that area.
comparatively I mean. Because most of the residents weren’t so conscious of the rest of the world I think. I mean that’s a memory that stays with me anyhow but we sort of knew a fair bit of general things. I mean the name Theodore was one that would come up. Theodore had been a premier of Queensland and there was a
scandal about Theodore after he became treasurer in the Labor Government in 1929, Scullin’s government. But that sort of thing was our knowledge but it wasn’t the sort of information that most kids would have come across. But then again being the policeman, the police station, we received
more news than the ordinary resident you see. Incidentally, the big feature as far as Cooktown was concerned was the only contact at that time with the outside world was the motor launch that used to come from Cairns once a week. It came up on a Tuesday and stayed and departed back to Cairns on the Thursday morning
and that was the big social feature of each and every week was to meet the boat as it came in on the Tuesday and such news and anything that was good to be expected, a present or a purchase from one of the bigger firms, that would come up on that boat so it was the magical thing the arrival. It was called the
Morinda in those days. Charles Hailes of Cairns. The Hailes company became quite big in boating in later years, you know war time and so on. I don’t know what the situation is there now but they’ve probably disappeared by now.
dealing with that. As a matter of fact as I said before I read Idris’s Desert Column with wonderful fervour and the other one. Also I should mention Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom was another one and quite a few others but I can’t recall them quite now. Sorry I recall the one about the Foreign Legion, PW Wren’s
about the foreign legion anyhow. I was well and truly international by then because that was about the Foreign Legion. Oh yes I was fairly conscious of the, you know British Empire and faithful constituent from my point of view. But I don’t think it
was quite that way with most of the others. When we talk of Cooktown my activity as kids I just remember the presence of the flying foxes. We used to have great fun amongst, they used to in the day nest in the mangroves along the river and of course we used to we had our Daisy air rifles and so on,
and we used to go up there and shoot at them and so on. That’s another thing I recall about the Daisy air rifle all the birds there were fig trees and things like that a great number, mangoes, and the birds used to come in great numbers. Ida Jenkins who had the hotel quite close to where we lived she told us
that “She would like some pigeon pie”, you see, so we said “We’ll get the pigeons for you” and we shot like anything and gave them to her. She couldn’t use them because they had some many wounds from our previous shooting. They were covered in wounds. Shows you how effective a Daisy air rifle was.
looking forward to the new sights you know. Up to then I’d only been to Cairns and up on the Atherton Tablelands and that area and Brisbane of course was a magical picture for me to see you see. So we went down and the trip down on the train was quite a wonderful experience going through the cane areas and so on. I remember in those days they used to,
they probably still do, but the fettlers were a big thing. They’d spend their week out doing their work along the train lines. Whereas now they get in a car and go out and come back and sleep at home but in those days they used to have camps along the way and sometimes they had their wives and family with them. This is right beside the rail line you know. So it was quite a hazard for infants and so on although the trains were so noisy I think they got
plenty of foreknowledge of us coming but when we were on the trip down for instance the fettlers who would be away from home. There were many cases away from home they used to sing out “Papers, papers” and what was the latest would be thrown to them. We used to as kids as we’d hear this “Paper, paper”, we would have a paper bag
full of water or something like that and used to bomb them. Poor fellows, so we were bastards in that regard.
in those days the Victoria Bridge across Brisbane was our big feature and the building under construction that dominated the city was the Brisbane Town Hall and the tower of the Brisbane Town Hall was something marvellous from our point of view. Of course, insignificant by today’s standards. It turned out to be a wonderful building actually.
The Story Bridge was just about under construction when we arrived there and that was a thing that we found as something wonderful crossing this big river as we thought, and of course later on was the Story Bridge but those bridges were the pride of ourselves and of course the things are crossing the
river many times now in various ways now, don’t they.
And there was great unemployment. Eventually before long we were transferred to Harrisville and they had a rule. They issued families with a ration ticket which provided some food for the week according to the size of the family. It was adjusted that way but most inadequate of course and the other thing
was that people collecting ration tickets, they would at least, the government and various other people said that “They were sponging on the state” you see so they made the rule that the person to qualify for a ration ticket they had to walk, not walk, make their way from where their home was, say Brisbane, to other places and by the next ration
ticket next week or fortnight I think it was a week, they would be another town picking it up there. They couldn’t be picking up got the last one. That meant they were supposed to permeate throughout the population and if there was no work for the poor beggars they’d get out to somewhere say Cunnamulla and there’d be no work there and son on and it went on and on for years. And it was most conscious,
evident to me because we lived at the police station. Once again my father would be issuing these ration tickets to these people you see and they’d queue up. I mean a remote town there would still be a queue of several people. The usual thing was that mum stayed back in Brisbane or wherever the home was and the father used to collect the ration tickets and send something to the mother
and she looked after the family. But the thing about it was the very heavy retrenchment on the rail services you see. And in those days the people on staff would wear a particular uniform or type of clothing that meant them all the same, uniform in that sense, not a braid sort of thing not like a soldier would, anyhow the
point was that because of this act of having to all dress in that you’d look over at say where my father would be at the courthouse and he would, there’d be this line of men who wearing black hats and dark clothes similar to what you’ve got there now. So it emphasises the fact that the railway people were really
hit by the Depression so hard that of course there were many others as well as that.
I’ll tell you a few instances. Well as a policeman he was a very conscientious man and I don’t think this would happen to anyone else but my father but he’d go to bed in the normal way, at about 1 am he’d get up and put on his uniform and practical wear, and go and check on the town then to see that no villains had done anything
or were doing anything and he’d come back and go to bed and he was wonderfully conscientious. But even so the local general store, in between the time he went to bed and got up and went back to bed, and while he patrolled the town somebody came and robbed that store, so all his good industry was
lost. Another one was where he did the same thing and AE Moore was the premier of that time. He was the Nationalist, I think he was the United Australia Party but anyhow he was premier and of course everybody was angry about the hardships of the depression so he used to stir the police up and
bed and so on, went down town and when he came to one of the hotels he saw, in these days there wasn’t an electric light in Harrisville you see, which was an ordinary light, ordinary kerosene lighting, he saw under the doorway of the back of the hotel the emergence of lights under the doorway. And of course a certain amount of
chatter obviously there were people in there playing so he raided the place and of course there were these people gambling and he went about his business about taking their names and all that sort of thing that happens and amongst them was of course the sub inspector or inspector of police who in charge of his own district, my father’s district, and who was
stationed at Ipswich. And of course he came to Toohey, Inspector Toohey it was, who was already known to be quite a gambler who used to go to the various country places and find his gambling cronies and I don’t know play some gambling game with cards. Anyhow, he raided this and found Toohey amongst them. Toohey being a senior officer he said “I’ll take charge of this
sergeant” and sergeant said “You will not”, so of course he finished off whatever duties that were required and he knew that next day he had to report to Inspector Toohey of Ipswich. And he found this chap Toohey gambling and charged him again with this act of breaking the law. Anyhow so it became quite a heavy brawl
that went on. Toohey was a very influential man too as your would probably expect having these social talents, he would have made lots of friends so there was a lot of influence thrown around and Toohey was very strongly in the lead of course but he also answered to his gambling instincts just the same. Within a short time
he was motoring back from, I think it was Rosewood, back to Ipswich early morning in the heavy fog and at Ambly his proud Buick car which was a prestige thing in those days in our area as the Cadillac came later, so driving this he hit the wrong area of road. It was called
corrugated something or other. Anyhow, it was quite dangerous and he should have known better and he turned his car, great damage to the car and he was killed. So later on of course, there was this high official funeral with all the band and glory that they carry on with which we attended. We as a family attended, mother and the kids, but Sergeant Guilfoyle did not
and that’s how Toohey closed off his gambling career. Other situations like that. Another instance was that you know talking about the duties of a policeman. This ice works a bit out of town. Machinery and that had a lot of ammonia in it being ice works. Some part of machinery blew up and of course the bloke in it
who was a workman in the ice works; he was both scalded with this ammonia and whatever, other chemicals were there and of course he was quickly killed. On this particular day by that time my father had my brother collect this corpse and brought him into the courthouse you see and
there was the corpse, skin peeling off him and of a terrible sight. I came home from school for lunch, heard about this, I wanted to see what it was all about. I went over there, terrible sight, oh it was terrible, anyhow I didn’t go back to school I can tell you.
I should have been really told off on this occasion. I used to do the family messages pretty often. We need some butter or something like that and I’d trot off down to the local shop and we used to run an account and pay at the end of the month, so all I had to say whatever’s wanted and of course I’d run back home with it. I got so well known by the shopkeeper of course that
if I wanted I say a lolly in the order it was put in for me and I had that liberty you see, that understanding. Well I was making a bit too much use of this particular and it got that way that my immediate neighbour’s kids would come along with me and have the same privilege as I. Then my philanthropic
reputation grew so the kids from the other end of town came too, so the order got bigger and bigger until the greengrocer who should have curbed it in the beginning was afraid by this time to give the bill to my parents. So of course, here I was playing cricket at this time well down the road. The pitch was well down the road and
I still heard this call from mother and I came to her and we were still in our big paddock. We lived in the centre of a big paddock and she by this time had picked up a bit of dry broken branch of something and she was going to admonish me and discipline me with a smack with this.
She was crying, fancy going to tears over this now and she was crying showed me a. Anyhow,
I felt so guilty about this. She said “How can I tell your father?” Sorry this is silly.
doing the banking was the act of taking it to the bank. Coming back from having gone to about four or five banks there was this great queue, when I say great queue, probably about 100 men, and they were I could see this was near the GPO [General Post Office]. I could see that they were intent on joining up, giving their names for joining up. So I joined the queue
and I was there quite a while and incidentally my office was right beside the post office, so the staff looking down would have seen me there. Anyhow I stayed in this queue for quite a while and then a bloke came to me and said “I think you’re too young for this queue” and it turned out up to that moment I’d stayed in this queue to give my name and they were collecting names from First World War
veterans and here was this kid amongst these old men and of course I got out of that queue and joined up much later.
surrendered, because I remembered this as an argument with my family. They said you know “Paris had just surrendered” and the headline was “Hitler has a secret weapon”, so my argument that was right at the very day sort of thing. My argument was so has Britain. So from there after I used to call myself Britain’s Secret Weapon incognito.
After my name I used to put “BSW” and in brackets incognito. You know how they have incorporated in company names. From then on even the letters home from overseas I mostly wrote my name, “Love Clem and BSW incognito”, so the family thought that was quite a good joke and it sort of won
the argument regarding giving authority for me to enlist.
wasn’t any. I’d have paid attention to anything like that but there wasn’t any great preparation, campaign like that. There was various advertisements that encouraged one to join the air force and things like that but they were only small things in the trams you know. You had to be very interested to read them
you see, which I did read of course. But I wouldn’t say there would be a big effort comparing to our style of a big effort in these times to get our story over. There wasn’t much like that at all. Before the war one of my friends joined the army and he eventually, when I say joined the
army, joined what we used to call militia not the professional army. He persuaded me to, encouraged me I don’t say persuaded me, it didn’t take all that effort, to join the militia. He said “Well come along and have a look at what we do”. Drill night they used to call it. We got there. I went a few times, probably three times. I used to get to the drill shed where
these fellows would be and instead of doing any drill they’d sit down talking all the time you see and the corporal didn’t come or the sergeant didn’t come and they were all so casual about it and they did nothing and they talked about how they went and did a camp down at Redcliff and bashed up somebody and talked about their girls and things like that, but they didn’t do anything, any real exercise. And I put up with
it about, three times I think it was and I three, three attendances, that would be one night per week for about three times and then I thought “Oh damn this is no good” and it nearly stopped me from. It wasn’t until war really broke out that I turned to giving service, yeah.
little story in this one. July 15th 1940 was my day of entry into the army and I turned up at Kelvin Grove in Brisbane camp. That’s where the acceptance took place and there I met, also about to go in, were several friends. So of course we
were a group from then on and enlisted there, went out to Groverly and at Groverly issued with our army equipment, dress equipment at Kelvin Grove went out to Groverly. By that time in army uniform, very sloppy of course and I’d just
surrendered my civilian things to go back home and the point was that I had never worn boots before, always shoes you see. I got into these heavy boots and clothing that was unfamiliar to me and when we got to Groverly of course, immediately they couldn’t occupy.
They didn’t have the force or the arms or anything like that to do any real training at Groverly. They just accepted a group of raw recruits you see each time, so to occupy us they kept us marching. There was I with these new boots, never worn boots before and suddenly put into a lot of marching. That’s the only way they could keep so many troops occupied. Well the boots played hell with my feet and I was
quite crippled but I still had to try to march. That went on and on and eventually of course I grew accustomed to my boots and throughout the war they were wonderful friends of mine wearing boots. But also at this camp the food was so terrible. They used to give us stewed rabbit and sometimes it was beef but the beef was so rough that what
they call the pistol in the penis of a bullock was also in the stew you see sometimes. Most of the personnel or new recruits were largely fellows from the country. They were horsemen and stockmen and so on and many cane cutters too. Many cane cutters came from down this part of the
world up to Queensland looking for employment you see. So we had people from all directions but the point was that this food was so terrible they eventually had a riot and things improved a little bit but by that time I’d departed from the camp.
People during the Depression ate a lot of rabbit and but they were so roughly done. I mean people could make quite an acceptable dish out of rabbit but not the army of course. But the point was on that on this first day here I was suddenly swapping over civilian suit and things like that
which was you know quite smart, and got into this drab clothing. The entertainment in the area for the various camps, they’d be troops of young entertainers you know, they’d be going from, they’d get performance experience and many were very good. They’d go from camp to camp and that’s how a lot of the entertainment took place you see
and was provided. I remember here I was in this fresh uniform and I went to the entertainment of that night which was in a hall within the camp. I was so bothered by looking so shabby in my over large uniform and sore feet from the boots and so on. And there was this
pretty girl as I regarded, doing a performance and I admired her greatly but then somebody nudged me and gave me a piece of paper and on it was this girl’s name and address you see. But I was so shocked by being spotted that I left the place in an embarrassed hurry you see.
Of course I never made any contact.
She did a song and dance sort of thing which was very popular act in those times. Tap dancing and looking cute and what do we call those ballet dress things, tutu or whatever it is. That sort of thing was the style of course. So from then on of course, this camp,
various officers selecting for forming up the units, say a battalion or something like that. They’d come along and pick out the personnel whom they wanted, regarded as suitable and that so I was picked out of a group and become a member of the 2/15th Battalion which was at Redbank, which was rather close, between Ipswich and Brisbane, and there I began my training as a serious soldier.
But my battalion at this time it had already departed for Darwin and I didn’t join the battalion until it came back after five months, four months I think it was, and we departed for the Middle East on the Queen Mary.
when we joined that as I said the battalion had already departed for Darwin, so I didn’t go up to Darwin at all and they went to the Zealandia and came back in the Zealandia. As soon as we got to Redbank and started to soldier on, of course did a lot of marching of course, but also
various exercises that general drill and so on that’s physical drill, not with weapons at this stage. Quite shortly of course we took on rifle training and getting to know various mechanical things such as assembling and disassembling
machine guns, Lewis guns I should say, which were machine guns. They were on issue then but they were antiquated and they didn’t serve us later in the war of course. But at this stage the gun to use as a machine gun, a light machine gun was the Bren gun, which we used, wonderful, faithful weapon for us throughout the war.
So we did all this, spent the day doing various types of I think we called it bulldogging, I’ve forgotten now, anyhow the point was we were in squads and did our training and bayonet training. I’ll tell you a little story about Groverly, oh we’re at Groverly yes, about bayonet training my initiation.
The point was emphasis on physical fitness and target and knowing weapons, cleaning weapons and all that sort of thing plus a lot of cookhouse duty and guard duty and all those things that are supposed to build a soldier into a soldier. But talking of the bayonet, I had a little bit of that at Groverly
before I was selected to go to the15th. Here we were on guard duty, my first acquaintance with guard duty and Sergeant McNamara who was our instructor, and he was a wonderful example of a sergeant you know. Impressive as a good man and a man of ability you know, physical ability I mean.
a, Groverly at that time was just a lot of tents of course and there was a paddock and in the paddock was a car parking area but the cars weren’t a common item with people in those days. They were very privileged persons able to afford a car but there was this parking area. Well the position that I took up at this time of night near midnight was right up where the cars
were parked. Sergeant McNamara said now “Your duty is to go where cars can go, people can enter where you are”, this sort of a moat gate it was right out in the bush and “They can enter that way but at midnight they’ve got to come through down to the main gate, don’t let them in, make them come down to the main gate” and it was after hours, actually after midnight and “Report to me and I’ll look after them”.
So off I went and the guard went around the whole squad of guards. You’d relieve a person already on duty at that spot you see. So here I was having learnt how to be a guardsman during the day, at night of course I was on this spotting duty and I was sloping arms and coming to attention and so on,
just as if I was the Coldstream guard in front of Buckingham Palace. I just went up and down and eventually the point was I was very raw at handling a weapon. Midnight came and this car load of fellows came along and of course
they stopped when they came to me and told them “I can’t let them pass” and he tried to talk me into it. It was a very simple thing to let it go but my duty was to hold him and send him around the other place and he started to talk to me and of course there was much encouragement from the rest of the car you can imagine on a Saturday night, they were all primed up. And
he was talking to me and he suddenly let the clutch out and started to rush forward. I brought my rifle down, it had the bayonet in it you see, down in front of him and suddenly I found the bayonet was right at his throat. By that time he just stopped and of course he quickly went into reverse and did what he had to do.
But crikey it was my initiation and it was very close. I’d learnt my guard duty but what happened of course was I didn’t know how to come out of the on-guard position. My tuition for the day didn’t register well with me. So I had a very quick experience with the bayonet.
to camp and see open-camp which meant going away and of course all my visitors, each one brought me a present you see a little thing which helped me on my way. We had to, as we marched, as we marched down to the station and we carried that was our personal thing.
Well family and friends had brought me tins of food, largely tins of food and other things like that and of course that meant I had a heavy pack to carry. I had to find room for that in my kitbags, we each had two kitbags. Well of course they were so kindly they gave me all these presents but that meant I had to put them in this kitbag and march
along with this extra weight. So I had to march from the camp at Redbank down to the railway station with this terrible heavy bag and every time we changed trains or anything like that I had two terrible kitbags to lumber about. By that time, by the time we got to Palestine,
they’d cost me so much effort, because I was determined that I’d keep them for the time when we became critically short of food and Clem would therefore provide the food for everyone. But as we were sent up to the desert all these kitbags were taken from us, put into a storeroom and after I was up in the desert and came back
wounded and so on and requisitioned for my kitbags. The kitbags came back, the food was taken out of them, stolen out of them. I lost my camera and all things, so I provided food for some dishonest Arab who was living in Alexandria comparatively rich for a few days I suppose.
You’re talking to the wrong person, I’m not from Sydney. Darling Harbour?
The train came in at Darling Harbour and of course that was a well and truly a functioning wharf then and we got into a tug boat, tug, and went over to Athol Bight and that’s where the Queen Mary. Yesterday, I looked through an old negative that was in that tin I’ve told you and I took a photograph of the bridge and that was my first sighting of the bridge. And then of course we went over to Athol Bight
which was over near Taronga Zoo and that area there was a tremendous Queen Mary. It was already crowded with waving, shouting troops and we boarded it and around the Queen Mary all the time were constantly running were sailing boats and motor launches and so on crowded with people waving goodbye to
some member of their friend or family, and of course the troops threw back tins of, in those days people had roll your own cigarettes you see, and tobacco tins were very popular because they put notes into these tins and threw them out to people in the launches and those people of course posted them to
these numerous addressees. So it was quite a lovely time actually and of course getting on this wonderfully large ship that was a really great experience and of course the journey in it was a great experience too.
had not been converted into a full troopship so many of the cabins were still there but they were occupied by people of rank, mostly you know officers and so on. In my case I happened to be given, we, about eight fellows I think there were, a cabin so it was fairly well set up from our point of view.
Our activity of course was plenty of drill, physical drill, not rifle, not weapon drill. I can’t remember if we had weapons on the Queen Mary. I don’t think we did. No, I’m pretty sure we didn’t but we did a lot of physical exercises and so on. Of course we were put on sentry duties
so you couldn’t get into the cookhouse and that sort of thing. Very impressed by the kitchen area of the Queen Mary. It was quite massive and it was very nice being put on duty down there. One could sneak an odd morsel or something or other. Somebody handing out the food would look after you.
officially became a boxer. I had enough knowledge of punch drunk situations. There wasn’t a chance of converting me into a boxer. During my youth period you know when I was in employment, I used to at the end of a day’s work I used to go off to a gymnasium nearby, exercise a lot and of course in those days these
boxers would come from overseas and so on and they’d look for sparring partners and they’d persuade you eventually “I won’t hit hard I just want to keep in trim sort of thing so come in and be with me, you know, be my sparring partner”. Once they got you into the ring they’d spar for a while but eventually they’d go back into their
habit of punching hard. You got fairly knocked around.
is just like looking at illustrations from the bible. There were these you know traditional dress and there were the asses and the camels and things like that. It was just like well seeing an illustration in the bible and now days you look at the same areas on the TV and they’re in the modern dress of European and the scene has sort of changed so
greatly. So when we got there I was quite amazed to see this traditional scene say and as I told you my experience reading Desert Column by Ian Idris was a special bonus in that regard. I both had some foreknowledge
of the place by reading that and other things of course and it was just wonderful to see the names of places that he mentioned. And another thing about early arrival there was the, when I first saw this group of women whom were doing roadwork you know. They would get a
fair sized stone and tap it into position in the road you know. That’s how the roads were being made. Of course it confounded me for a moment to see women doing that sort of work but of course in Australia not long before that the women did heavy manual work anyhow you know on farms and settling in
Australia was a difficult thing, but to see women road works as they did there was a bit of a shock to me. The other thing of course was where we built our camps and nearby there were still the dugouts and that from the First World War and that again was a well very interesting point for me
and I should say that somebody even in that situation there was still someone who had the luck to pick up a roman coin and that was I thought we were going to be finding those things quite easily, but that’s the only instance I heard of a roman coin being picked up. I expected seeing the traditional pieces as I reckon from the bible
made me expect anything that was centurion or roman or traditional Arab but they got us to work rather quickly so we settled down to see our own life rather than observing so much.
Can you tell us about the setting up of the camp there and some of the exercises you were going through?
Yes. The camp to which we, my battalion I’m to referring to now, my brigade actually 20th Brigade was quite close to Gaza itself. Gaza in these years would have covered that area by the modern spread of the city of Gaza. But we, Carlo 89 as it was called,
and when we first arrived there we lived in tents of course. The new instruction for us was that you take care of your rifles, which of course is a natural thing and you don’t just leave your rifle say on your bunk or something like that you had to chain it up because the Arabs and the
Jewish people who intended to be opponents they were too eager to steal our weapons and there was always a guard about you know in the company area, a sentry keeping an eye on all those things.
We invariably had to chain the rifles in a group in the centre of our tent and of course most times we took out the bolt of the rifle too. That was extra precaution and of course other than that the tent to which we went at this time they were made with strips of bamboo and we each had a stretcher of
bamboo. They were frail things and they soon broke down and we went back to our normal experience of camp life and that was on the ground you know and using a ground sheet and things like that. The tents were, I think there were eight to a tent. Quite tight fit actually, however we got by that and
once again there wasn’t a great deal of weapon supply for we were about to enter the fighting area, the British army still had not had an abundant supply of weapons, so there was always this problem of whatever you had to do you quite likely use a substitute for the weapons you would ordinarily used. But
as we assembled or congregated for the departure into Egypt to join the successful activity by Wavell’s offensive against Marshall Graziani, the Italian commander. By that we would go up there and relieve the 6th Division.
As I said before they went into another campaign in Greece and Crete.
Palestine as a countryside there was, it was a very pleasant appearance. The mimosa hedge, the mimosa was used as hedges in many parts and so were the cactus, the prickly pear, which of course horrified us to see the prickly pear growing in huge
plants more or less in hedge like. And here in Australia of course it was such a big problem. The wheat fields were the prominent things from our point of view. We were in that part where the wheat farms were and the other
strong experience I had was we went to firing at the range and I was quite pleased to see, we got to the range and in that area, not just at the range, but there was a great amount of gum trees, the eucalyptus tree, which they used very much as a soil binder and
reafforestation idea, but it was lovely to see the eucalyptus.
didn’t have the confidence of the Australian population at that stage and likewise with the army. When he got over there, there were probably more people against Menzies than for him amongst the soldiers. Anyhow he came back and there were changes. He lost the Prime Ministership and so on. John Curtin eventually succeeded him [Arthur William Fadden succeeded Menzies as Prime Minister in 1941, then came Curtin, 1941-1945]. When we
got by train back into Egypt, we crossed the same point of the canal that I mention, El Kantara, which comes into my life again after I was wounded there. We went by train to as far as, near I can’t remember the name of it, near Alexandria anyhow. There we got
into types of trucks, sort of an improvised sort of thing and went off towards Libya and of course we were going to replace the 6th Division. What pleased me was of course we were following very much the 6th Division’s activity and it was good as we got to the first notable place which was not a very large village, was Sidi
Barrani, oh no Mersa Matruh before that, then Sidi Barrani. There was this village, their dwellings were adobe sort of things made out of sand and mud and that in it. A native dwelling would be of that make and here this Sidi Barrani was absolutely raised.
All the buildings were shot down by explosions and so on, shells but there standing right in the middle of it was the Italian monument with an Italian fresco on it the symbol of the fascist party in Italy at that time.
It was typical of Mussolini. Wherever they went they crossed the, as soon as they got into a town Derna or whatever town they were in, suddenly there was this statue, a sort of a symbol the Italians had been here.
was concerned. It was flat and just unpleasant to me. Most things that I found that were new I always experimented with anything, which used to terrify people, because I examined mines and things like that when I shouldn’t have you know. I’ll probably tell you later about one particular story of a mine.
Anyhow, on we went to Bardia, and so Tobruk of course and Derna, Barce, these are places we are still going up towards Benghazi. Benghazi, it was an impressive town. The other ones were just villages you know. Nothing marvellous about them but quite reasonably good you know.
Derna was an attractive little town and Barce was too and then Benghazi was much more impressive. It was the main city of Libya, Cyrenaica, I can’t remember, I think it was in Cyrenaica, just another State part of the Libya nation. And on we went to up to the Gulf of, I forgot whether it was Tunis
or Tripoli, I’ll have to look that up.
We were relieved by the Free French, my particular part of the battalion. When Germany defeated France in Europe, the Free French or they formed the Free French, but the Foreign Legion split. Part of the Foreign Legion wanted to be with Vichy,
France, loyal to Vichy, France and the other part formed up to support General De Gaulle. Well, the fellows who relieved us were General De Gaulle’s followers and they came from Chad, the country called Chad, which is in central Africa down near the Congo, but a bit further north
did some work with them you know to get them acquainted with what was happening in that part of the world and they were very impressive people. I often think of several faces amongst them that I still remember. And the next position of course we went or one of the next positions we would have had a couple of others, I can’t remember
but, I think I already told you about taking up a position behind Benghazi where the trains were full of prisoners of war. The British still wanted to keep its prisoners rather than let them escape and fight again. They were entirely Italians at this stage because the Germans hadn’t presented themselves and they were 6th Div captors
or Wavell’s army, of which the 6th Div had been part, and as we were in this position ourselves very close to the railway line and these trucks full of prisoners were passing us and they were on their way actually back to Egypt.
Italians that would be just as two sportsmen say football followers who are opposite teams would just say, jokes against each other but there was never any bad treatment, violence I mean, to prisoners of war. As a matter of fact we were talking
of this subject. I think it was about the time the Yugoslav recent war, you know the Yugoslavs and the Serbs anyhow, the recent wars. Well that brought up the subject of soldiers, armies, maltreating the prisoners of war and we as a group were
reminiscing and we said “Gee, we have no instance of where that happened amongst our forces.”
the following army or soldiers behind you see because the forward troops, it applies to everything, soldiers you know were fighting and if a soldier wants to surrender they throw up arms and so on. Well OK, you let him surrender but you don’t get particulars from him, you just let him go back a little bit and only a short distance and somebody sees him of course but it’s the followers of
the platoon or whatever company who take care of the details of the prisoners. If the forward people were stuck taking details and that the enemy would overwhelm them the forward troops would be engaged in just making him surrender and then the back troops, following troops would be
taking care of any particulars such as you might wonder about their names and so on.
other company, A Company took over from that unit. We were right by them and the tanks pulled back because they got frightened and they pulled out. They left the infantry fighting out. Well, we were that way ourselves so it wasn’t any, it was infantry
against infantry and the artillery and the machine gunners were all fighting fiercely. It’s an awful experience actually. I mentioned wine. We’ll talk about the wine. This memory I’ll just talk about.
The day before when we got back to Tobruk after this retreat and I told you how we lost so many as prisoners of war and we got back to into Tobruk and I was moving around somewhat because we were trying to find out forces and so on.
I was going to say you mentioned the wine. When we were back in Tobruk and we’d lost so many prisoners of war. They called on fellows who were the youngest people amongst them and I was 18 you see so
I was always a bit on tender hooks about being pulled out and sent back in the rear lines instead of forward as a soldier you see. When we got back to Tobruk, this is the day before the action that I just mentioned. They called on me and several others and the
reason was that I was a two inch mortar man as well as being rifle man and so on. A two inch mortar man, a two inch mortar man, that was the reason they called us back but I wasn’t to know that point was that they’d lost so many as prisoners that he wanted to form up a mortar platoon again and the ones who had this two inch mortar training at least had some
knowledge of how to start you see, so the purpose was I had to report up to headquarter area which was just being formed because the real headquarters had been taken as prisoners anyhow and they left me standing there and I was wondering what was going to be and I walked out on them. I went back to my platoon and my company and I rejoined you see, rejoined the platoon. I was angry with
my officer, because I thought he’d put me in you know. He didn’t explain but the point was as I told you, they were forming the platoon and as I walked back to my company there was this chap in the slip trench and he was completely covered in sand you know and it was a dust storm and the only part you could see that was a man, a living being, was his eyes and his
lips were moist and therefore the flies were ganging up around those moist parts. There he was in this trench and he of course had got to some of this Italian wine. There was a lot of it around you know and there he was and I remember having a thought “How useless you are”. Well then next time when we were
in El Alamein, which is about a year later you see, there was this fellow whom I cast aside in my mind, at a machine gun fighting it out with a Stuka and he coughed coming down like that and of course he was killed, but I mean how you judge a person by
the wrong indicators really. I often think of…his name was Neville. He’d proven to be a wonderful soldier and there he was fighting it out with a plane that was firing massive bullets at him. But that’s the sort of thing.
was the month of April and it was a reasonably, that would in the summer really, but anyhow this night was so cold I thought “Oh gee, I can’t put up with this much longer”. Anyhow, the point was of course the morning came and somebody else took over from us and we further back and so on. You’d hop over each others’ position.
Your friend or maybe part of your own company or another company, part of another regiment or battalion but that’s the point. You don’t sort of dash back, right back at all. You do it in stages and you support the other company, other group and you go back in steps and stairs sort of thing. Therefore we, yes I do remember
I was quite glad to get away from Barce. It was so cold for me.
We would have taken up another position quite shortly but the point was that we, the battalion proper plus numerous other retreating armies, they went on this particular road directed by a military policeman. They were British policeman. They used to call them Red Caps. They used to wear red on their cap as part of their uniform.
And they, this Red Cap directed the battalion one direction whereas we later on, because we raided a food dump, we lost our position in the retreating column and therefore to catch up we took another road. By the fact that we did that saved us from being captured you see, because the rest of the battalion stayed with the headquarters
and fell into an ambush by Rommel. That’s why as I’ve said about Tobruk they were forming up another mortar platoon. That was the reason because we lost about a quarter of our battalion that way.
pick up and if it was something of curious appearance or something, we always picked up souvenirs and so on, so we were quite on the alert. As we got to this spot it was quite evident it was an army area but it was just a warehouse with certain grounds.
It was obviously a shed, several sheds of storage you know. So we took our chance and went in and there were no guards on it. They knew damn well they better get going, they got out early. There we found food that we hadn’t seen before. By today’s reckoning it was nothing special but
from our point of view we always had bully beef and biscuits you see. Well this depot, food depot, had meat and vegetables. That’s canned meat and vegetables, which we thought were absolutely delicious. That was our first experience with it and then some fruit, pineapple or something that we got very sick of
rather soon but at this stage. Food, salad, it was awful concoction actually but from our point of view at this time we picked up some of that and carnation milk. Always remember the carnation milk because it had labels on it. You know attractive labels. Well, most of the other things were just tins or something. Also the quality of carnation milk wasn’t very good. After no time
in the desert you opened it up and it was sour almost immediately you see. So we didn’t have any milk even when the army thought they were supplying us, because carnation milk went sour. So from then on we had good supply until right back until we provided that as our supply, until we eventually got back to Tobruk. But right through the
supply was always poor you see because we were in a siege state.
and so on were just villages but they had a special sort of dignity about them. Many of the dwellings in Tobruk and also Derna were white. People over that part and like other parts of Egypt and the Mediterranean, their fondness for white buildings is a white spread there. And they do
look attractive. As I said earlier about the fresco, the symbol, most of these buildings it’s also invariably in a place of note, say on the buildings. There’d be this special symbol of the fascist, that fascia I can’t quite remember the name, fresco. Anyhow the point was
it was the fascist symbols, so Mussolini used to put this up rather promptly every time they came to a town or village. So Tobruk had a fairly or very good harbour but too small for the passage of traffic that was going to come there, and a white church and several other buildings that were white. One being used as a hospital,
a clearing station rather than a hospital, because they couldn’t look after anybody in Tobruk for long. It was constantly being raided you see from the air and we had no air support after the Good Friday attack that I’ve mentioned. So the Germans had a good
uncontested opportunity to raid and it was going on all the time because see water traffic couldn’t get in there very easily because the aircraft, German aircraft, were always bombing them and things like that. When I came out, wounded of course, I was brought out by a destroyer and
it was raided all the time.
fortifications. They were built of cement, underground and at three points in each post we used to call them. Each post was a firing position and of course that’s where we had our machine guns and ourselves while the, I’m talking about the forward position here not the further inland,
and they took up position in these firing positions on this post. Well then that wasn’t good enough cover. I meant that there were big gaps in the perimeter and we built extra posts in there and we engaged the enemy from there too. Of course we were firing at them fairly
frequently later on when they made the raid and tried again to take Tobruk and pierced our defences somewhat. We call it the Salient. It was at Salient that I was wounded.
come up to us, the mortar team, and they’d be fairly well back from the frontline. Not far back, a little bit further back than say the infantry would be and they would of course pick their targets amongst the German/Italian. The other side would reciprocate and give us a hiding you see.
Their mortars, the German mortars, were better than ours as an explosive doing damage. During the day, mostly in my case in the late afternoon due to our position in the perimeter, they would give us a hiding one way or another. They’d probably see one
of us who had diarrhoea or something like that and had to expose himself during the day. Well, if you did that many times you would be sure to, if you expose yourself many times, you can be sure that by when the sun got in the right position from their point of view you’d get a pounding from their mortars you see.
It used to be a real bother.
There was one of those posts that I just mentioned and it was right out into the middle of the, it was very much the exposed position as far as these posts were concerned. And in the evening, in the afternoon, late afternoon,
the Germans used to give us a pounding on that post because of course we have to be on guard, you have to be watching, you can’t just say “Oh he’s coming down I’m going to get down in this cement place and be protected”, because obviously if they’ve got anybody on guard they are going to come up and take the position, so we used to get a hell of a hiding there.
One of these outposts, which is what I said we made ourselves and while I was there of course, morale was dropping very much and the only morale raiser we had at this situation was to make a pot of tea. I thought “I’d do this for the sake of my friends who were in the post with me”. I think there were four, four
or six, I’m not sure. I think it was four and by this time we had some bits of Italian equipment and so on and I had this Italian Dixie. A dixie of course is a container. You know what a dixie is, yeah. And I was going to boil some water which we know was a risky thing to do because once you’d start a fire,
the heat of the fire, although it’s only a modest little fire, the heat of the fire, you can see it in the mirage you see. However these Germans were rather close and there I was with this dixie Italian, Italian dixie and I’m making the fire, I put this Italian dixie up on the
sandbag you see and just had my hand, just putting it there, and a sniper smacked it out of my hand. We still made the tea because it was you know a fairly common incident. Then another one, the mortar activity again. We went from there, a short rest and when I say short rest, just
another section would have taken over from us from that spot. When I say a section, 10 or 11 men you know. They were small as part of a platoon. I went into another one and once again got this pounding from the mortar and remember by this time we’d had a lot of
this and nerves were going by fellows one or the other. There is always someone strong, someone could support them sort of thing.
We called them dugouts, covers with various things and this day the mortar was giving us a hell of a time. Picked on our particular post you see and I was in one with Sam Abrahams and the corporal was in another one and so on but there were three of these
little posts and we were joined by a shallow trench, connecting trench you see. I said to Sam “I’ll go and see how everybody is” and I went around to these follows, the other fellows, and said things to encourage us and that sort of thing. I wasn’t a corporal but
I was usually given responsible positions as I just got back to where I had. Sam Abrahams was in there and this one had a direct hit, this position and of course Sam was killed. His whole chest was knocked out. Well I would have been in with him if I hadn’t
done that. Anyhow that’s more or less say about a few months after that. The same thing happened but in another position of course and that’s when I copped it of course. Well, when I was wounded I’ll explain why we were in this position. When I was wounded I told you about that, they took me out
by boat. I was unconscious for a week.
mostly, it’d be about 500 yards I suppose. The position where I was wounded, that was the Salient where Rommel cut into our Tobruk defences, and it was heavily mined and just before I went into that position that I was just talking about when
I was wounded, what we were trying to do was straighten up the line. In other words, push him back out you see and in the night a digging party and engineers and so on would go out into no man’s land and we’d dig a position for ourselves and be there in the morning and if the Germans made any attack on us well of course we were
a little bit forward. And we thought we were doing something that was winning but rather stupid actually because the little bit forward we got would be covered by rifle fire anyhow. If you gain a 100 yards in a situation like that it doesn’t achieve much really but the point was of course casualties, obviously. I remember
engineers would try to clear the mines and the mines were not just for a heavy vehicle to go over. They had little arms on them that you screwed in and through that arm you would attach a wire that would go from that mine to another mine and so on. There’d be this network of mines and then these wires with that arm in it were anti-
personnel so even if you stood on a big mine it needed a tank to set it off. These trip wires attached to the mines would cause the mine to detonate and of course you’d become a victim of the mine. The engineers would clear these mines and we then, we would, they’d put a tape for us to follow, so
you had to stay on that tape, otherwise if you went right or left, only inches mind you, you would probably set off a mine you see, so then there’d be a string of mines set off and everybody would be probably wounded you see or killed. And trying to carry a wounded through that is so difficult.
doing things either out patrolling or doing varying things such as the mines I just mentioned. It was complete heavy activity all night. We tried to sleep during the day, but of course then again that was difficult because of flies and heat and so on. So it was rather strenuous that way. We really didn’t get true rest until we pulled
out of our position and into the rear you see. By that time we’d have our first bath by going into the sea. There’s a nice little beach quite close to Tobruk itself, so mostly got into that sort of position. But if you were in one of these positions, close obviously someone had to be right up to the sea,
otherwise the Germans could be creeping along there and doing damage to us but the people who were in positions near the sea of course, so they had a chance to swim more than we did. This beach that we went to was very close to the Tobruk harbour, so even when you were
resting at the beach there’d be this shrapnel coming down from the anti-aircraft fire you see, so it was keeping us occupied all the time.
seldom but that did help the morale quite a bit. The only activity I did with any real relaxation connotation to it was the swimming as I just said there. And oh the desert rats, they were called “Geebowers” actually. They were sort of a rat of course,
but they had a little bit of a tuft on the tail, you know hair, used to be quite fast. You would only see them very seldom but oh yes we’d try to catch them and it took a lot of running and chasing. I never caught one of course but that was one relaxation and that I can remember. That’s about all.
Didn’t have good reading either. Had no preparation for that, so anything that was a piece to read; how trivial it was one was apt to pick it up to read it just for the relaxation of reading something you see.
the others I can’t speak about them. But this one, the Germans used to raid, air raid bombing the harbour, and this was going on constantly and of course our main supply came in at night.
But even during the day there was this fighting going on but when they made a raid very often they would then come around and machine gun the infantry positions, artillery position and so on like that. This particular day the Dawnia [?], I called it a Dawnia, I think it was a Dawnia, I was a bit of a
specialist in identifying aircraft. Anyhow this Dawnia came quite low around the rim of the Tobruk - the four parts that I mentioned. And he was quite low and you could just see their faces and of course they’d smile at you and let you know you were in a miserable situation. As they passed us there was this
Jack Hall, we were all firing at it you see, but as it passed us this Jack Hall, on the machine gun, remember the aircraft was very low he poured it into this Dawnia and smoke came out of it and so on and it landed. It crashed but it didn’t break up entirely. It landed as a
complete plane but it was put out of action though, but that was quite a thrill for us to get back at the aircraft, airways. We had a similar experience later on in Alamein too. We brought down one aircraft there with rifle fire. That’s where I told you about the fellow with the, Neville finding him drunk in Tobruk and later on at
El Alamein how he took on this Stuka that was pouring bullets into him. The other things that stays in regard to that post and it was just about the same time the air force again raided us and amongst the bombs that were dropped, there was one very big one, about 500 pounds it was. And it dropped right
where our latrine was so when we went to the latrine we had this big bomb beside it. It was a dud you see, so we used to have fun tempting the dud to go off. It stayed there for our entire time. And the other one, in the same position was the
2/10th Battalion, which made their raid through us on this area, the same event I mentioned before. This was within a few days of Rommel gaining this position they made their attack through us and when I say through us we were in these posts and they set off their starting line to attack Rommel’s forces from the side
and it was quite ferocious. We took the wounded in and had to leave the dead there and brought in wounded and wounded. When we fired at the planes we started to get into this
post we jumped from the top down into, onto sandbags and went in. We were doing this time and again and in the morning
found each time we jumped in, we were jumping on a man’s corpse. It wasn’t a sandbag at all. Just one of the 10th, 2/10th Battalion.
It was a very unsuccessful raid too. They didn’t get anywhere.
my position was a similar position but in another part of the Salient you see. And as we had been, as I’ve told you, attending the wounded in the, as we trying to advance in the Salient and pinching parts of no mans land to get further up and closer to the Germans and so I was in a similar position but this day he gave us a hiding
in the same way, routine performance for him. And this time the bomb hit directly onto the one I was in but I was in alone. Therefore, I was the only casualty and that tin that I’ve got in there that the piece of shrapnel still stuck in it, that was, I had my head on that. This was my routine in this situation so I would have had it that day.
My head was on the haversack and that was in the haversack. The haversack of course it is a, you know what a haversack is? The bomb landed, hit the position that I was in and went, the haversack I used to use as a pillow in that situation.
and I put these photograph negatives in the tin and that’s how I was carrying it in my haversack. The bomb hit directly this position I was in and my haversack, that tin was in it, the haversack itself was absolutely shot to pieces and I didn’t know that of course. When I was in hospital in Egypt in El Kantara as
I’ve already said, that was returned to me, the haversack was, and of course it was a shattered haversack, so I just threw it in the rubbish bin and kept the tin as a souvenir because it was a terrific indication of how much hit around me and that tin of course still has the, is all bent up by the percussion of the bomb and a piece of shrapnel still embedded in it.
So, of course I was rescued and they attended me until nightfall and then they took me out. This was the procedure. This is what happened to me. I don’t even ask. My friend Wesley Vesalley was the main person rescuing me but he was killed later in Finschhafen and they looked after me to dark and the wounded were taken out
when night came of course and I was taken out and put on the destroyer which was the Vendetta, Australian destroyer, and brought back to Egypt. Mersa Matruh was the landing point at that time.
After being in hospital of course I’ll go to the symptom of bomb happy there too. Right, then I thought I was quite well. It was sort of the end of the period in hospital. I was about to be discharged and amongst the sisters was this young
and very charming person whom I was going to contact later at first opportunity. I asked her her name and all those things that I needed to make contact and off I went, discharged. That meant I was going back to a convalescent camp and of course ultimately I would go back to Tobruk.
But I got the particulars of this charming nurse whom I hoped to contact again and off I went to the convalescent camp. I was hardly away half an hour you know on my way and I’d forgotten her name, forgotten everything about her so I never made any contact. That’s how the brain gets knocks around and I went off to
convalescent camp which is up near Haifa in Palestine and about 11am each morning a mail plane used to fly over. It was a regular thing and it was only an air defensive mail plane. Immediately, I was conscious of this aircraft flying over. From day one
while I was there as it was near 11 o’clock it passed over, I would be terribly nervous and I’d resort to getting into a slip trench and letting it fly over and to me it was a terrible feeling. Of course, no one else knew it. I never reported this. It wasn’t observed
by anybody but it was pretty obvious because later it showed up and every time the plane was due to fly across our camp there would be this nervous expectation and by the time 11 o’clock I was very, very frantically nervous you see. By that time I was in a hole which was dug as an
air raid shelter but of course that was never noticed by anybody, so it was never on record. Ultimately, having had this convalescence I went back to the depot from which people went back to their units and so on.
I guess what I’m asking is, was it a diagnosis? Did somebody come and tell you that this is what was wrong with you?
No, never. I never complained about it as a sickness like that and I don’t think it was on my record at all. The wounding was you know the flesh wounds but I don’t think the concussion and that which is the shell shock thing was ever on my record. In fact it contributes to my,
the fact that’s not on the record, contributes to my, to the fact that I’ve got Parkinson’s Disease and they don’t observe it. They don’t, the Veterans’ Affairs don’t observe it but had that been recorded those days at that stage I suppose it would be recognised but they say that Parkinson’s Disease could occur and be caused by something else, but actually
the time was when I was wounded I am sure of that because the x-ray of my brain shows I had a trauma and it’s supposed to be about that time.
people who had been wounded and ready to go back would be sent there and so on and the new recruits who came from Australia would be there too and so on. And I was anxious to get back to Tobruk. That’s where all my friends were and I reported to Meegazi and I was on shipment to Tobruk and I lined up for it and they suddenly pulled me off the parade you
see. And it turned out that the colonel of the camp, in charge of the camp, identified me as being bomb happy or too knocked around to be going back into action, but next morning I was put on duty and he came along and I, a fairly timid sort of character, and being approached by somebody of
rank would not be angry or rude to such a person especially when he had the power to retaliate and more. But this day the colonel came along who was looking at the various people who were on duty in various ways and he came up to me and he obviously knew more about me than I thought he knew
and I went crook at him. I really had a temperamental, abusive session with him. He sent me on leave. Oh the other thing, when I was blown up my pay book was lost in it you see. It was all shattered, they eventually gave it back to me but the fact that I had no pay book I got no pay.
The fact that I’d lost my pay book when wounded didn’t matter to them. I got no pay because that’s one of the things I abused the colonel about you see. He gave me some money and sent me on leave again. He himself provided the money. Of course, I found out later the colonel had a fund, a special fund for that,
but I didn’t know that. I thought he was making this personal contribution to me. And he sent me, so I was pulled off the embarkment and I was put on staff at that camp and I was an instructor there for a period again. I was promoted to sergeant and I was still there when the Tobruk
siege ended so I didn’t go back to Tobruk. My battalion came back to Palestine and they went up to Syria and I arranged to be demoted again and went up to Syria.
know where your enemy target is and in this case we’re talking about say El Alamein, not the big battle there, smaller ones. You’d just go forward. You would have studied a map of course and you’d go forward and hope you’re not bowled over by the time you get up to the enemy position as the fighting men, I don’t mean the mine field. You go through the mine
fields and so on and hope you don’t get hit or you might go on the back of a tank. If we had the tank support we’d do that but we did an operation whose code named was “Balimba”. The tanks pulled back. They didn’t support us right through and that colonel was in a Bren gun carrier and struck a mine and he was badly wounded.
He survived it though and we got over to the Germans and had to fight them.
The two Devony brothers were in the fight with me. Harry Devony was killed and Doug who was a gentlemanly sort of a fellow you know, very polite and so on, and of course he had to find anger too to fight the enemy, but as in this fight there were Italians and Germans to take on and he was just about to take a prisoner of war, two of them
actually. And he said, we were talking about the Yugoslavs a while ago and this is where this remark came from him. He said “You know I remember I was always sympathetic to them, I remember during Balimba, I was going to, these two Italians and I felt like saying to them, “Don’t be worried I’m sorry that I’ve got to do this”, and suddenly Doug was hit. He didn’t make this expression but I know he really
meant it he was really. He would have killed those two men if they had done the wrong thing from his point of view. But he said he’d say “I’m sorry I’ve got to do this” and he would have. That’s just the way he would have spoken to them. Of course he was wounded, very badly wounded and his brother was killed and my other close friend
was Noel Collins. He was killed there too. Yeah.
that Rommel was expected to make a thrust down well into the south of the Mediterranean you know, right down there. When he did that it was expected anytime. Once he started we were to raid on their flank and it was code named “Balimba”. Balimba of course is a
Brisbane beer and was a favourite of the troops in those days of course. Not that they got any over there but there was always nostalgic talk about Balimba and so on, so the colonel code named this particular battle Balimba. So we lined up of course well before dawn and we made this raid.
Mention Roy Donnelly to me shortly because he’s characteristic for this type of fight. Ok, we’re crossing no man’s land at the ready to fight the Germans and there were minefields of course. Engineers had been through gradually over a period of a few days making
a break in the mine field by delousing the mines and we entered through that way but of course there is always a big chance that not all mines were found by the engineers. Very often they can’t do their job because of enemy activity against them. Anyhow we, that is my people, my platoon company and the other rifle companies; by this time
there was a fierce exchange of fire. We were fighting like anything and we got Germans and Italians, mostly German. We held the position for something like four hours I suppose and then we had to. We were given command to withdraw. We went back. By this time of course the colonel had been
badly wounded in a Bren gun carrier they called them. They were track vehicles. They weren’t much protection. Anyhow we thought they were when we first saw them. The colonel had that; I was on foot of course, we were fighting. And he was badly wounded and his 2IC [Second in Command] came into action then and we withdrew and we were pelted by the Germans of course but
we won the fight but it was only a short fight.
had different positions you see. The point was Roy became such a good man with these special patrols. Did I tell you about when I was on patrol, the fellow took the first pressure? Anyhow, this is a similar situation but this is Roy Connelly. There’s a photo. He was so good at patrols he
used to get in right behind the enemy and get all detail and all that. Well eventually of course, this battle of El Alamein was what was being planned and patrol activity was very much in action because we wanted as much information as possible and all that and Roy used to get in quite close, right in the German area where a post
was I mean and on this occasion, best example of course. He went out on patrol and ascertained where the listening post was. You know what a listening post is? It’s a sentry soldier; you have a hole drug in a protective set up right out into no man’s land and
he’s there to foretell if any enemy activity is happening and he sends back a message to there, so the company or platoon or whatever is at the ready. Well, Roy of course found where the listening post was and noticed, already knew of course, but noticed that as the tucker truck came up for the Germans.
Tucker truck is they carry in our case and similar to Germans say company headquarters which is still behind the line and bring out say a hot stew or something for the soldiers. Of course the people in their platoon position would be further back and the fellow in the listening post, he would be by
this time he’d know about the time the truck would come and he would be more intent on listening, he’s still got to stay in position, but he’d be listening for the tucker truck to come with the food. Because everybody was rather hungry and the food wasn’t all that choice either, so a little bit of food made it very welcome and worth listening for. And this happened of course and Roy noticed the activity or inactivity of the
listening post individual and he, because he was listening more for the sound of the truck coming which wouldn’t be, it would carry in the desert situation but wouldn’t be all that noisy. And he calculated that the listening post man would be listening for the truck rather than looking out the front where he’d look for hours anyhow and he crept up on him and
grabbed this bloke by the scruff of the neck and frog marched him right through the mine fields and he’d just come through, so he more or less had an idea of a safe track through it and marched him right across no man’s land and right up to battalion headquarters. By this time the bloke had shit himself and here he was with his full pants. They slammed him down on the ground or something like that, I don’t know
that, and interrogated him and so on and got worthwhile information and it contributed to their preparation quite well. But that’s the sort of, he was a great fellow Roy and he was killed up in New Guinea. His brother was killed a week later I think it was, and then his other brother died as a prisoner of war. He was only 18 too.
I don’t see how one could but you make a big contribution by doing things like that. But we used to say, the chap who was a good friend, we were very good friends. We had a cabin together on the Indrabarah on our way across to the Middle East. We changed from the Queen Mary onto
this ship and Wes was my sergeant and in Tobruk when I said I was angry with them for when I reported up and after the retreat to Tobruk, well of course, knowing he was a friend Wes, it was from there that position down to his platoon that I went to come back to the rifle company. He
supported me there but of course he would have needed me anyhow because we were short of people but that was his friendly act you see. Anyway Wes was eventually killed in the engagement that I had, that I was wounded in later.
at Balimba, I had a sub-machine gun which we called a Tommy gun, an American weapon, made in America. It was a very important weapon for us and in New Guinea I still had a sub-machine gun. At that time it was the Owen, an Australian gun. But the Thompson sub-machine gun in the desert was a good gun
but you had to be very careful because there was so much grit and dust in the desert. You had to keep it operative and also if you took it on patrol, I experienced all of these things of course, it had two types of magazines and the smaller magazine held 12 shots and bigger on which
is like a round magazine and it, although it carried about 45 shots I think, bullets, well bigger calibre bullet, about 45 or 48 calibre. The big,
it wasn’t any good on patrol the big magazine because the bullets in the magazine used to make a rattling noise, so you had to use the, a small one in a patrol engagement but in a fight like the Balimba one you use a round one because you had more shots you see.
forces and also at Milne Bay by the 18th Brigade and when we came back from the Middle East, it was intended that we would, Curtain and the Australian Government intended to send us directly into action up in the Indies and so on, but by the time we got there, all that was over you know Singapore had been
surrendered and so on. We came back to Australia and went to Atherton Tableland and trained there and it was to be trained for an invasion from the sea of course and therefore we spent a lot of time at Trinity Beach down near Cairns and we had invasion craft there.
They were supplied by America and we did a lot of exercise there and of course up in the jungle area on the Atherton Tableland and that was our preparation for New Guinea against the Japs there. As it turned out, it was New Guinea but it could have been other parts of the jungle. We shipped up to Milne Bay and we were there I don’t know, a couple of weeks I suppose,
and then it was planned that the Battle for Lae would be taken. Salamaua still occupied by elements of the 18th Brigade, that’s an island all the way up to Lae, and we were to bypass that and take Lae from the sea and at the same time from inland would come the 7th Division
and that would come down the Ramu Valley and take Lae from that direction. This is what happened and of course we landed out of Lae and turned in.
was different from the one we’d trained on mainly but anyhow it was a bigger one and better one from our experience and it had planks down each side, which they would drop as they got to the beach and we would run down those planks and engage in fighting right away. Well of course landing craft was full
of troops all ready for complete action and the first wave of these landing craft came in. They had another two battalions in the brigade, see there were three battalions in the brigade. The Two battalions that went ahead of us were the 2/13th and the 2/17th and we of the 2/15th came in following. Well they, the ones ahead of us, struck
reef, rocks not coral, and they were a bit off course and things went a bit wrong that way. They got in and secured the beach head and we came in and we also struck reef and were not so much off course but a bit off course, and we had to come down there with a boat having hit the reef.
We came running down to engage in the fight. Of course we had heavier equipment. The motor struck the reef and from my personal experience, there were quite a few casualties, drowning you know over the mortar plates and things like that they were carrying and they were too heavy and drowned.
but I still had weight, I had ammunition weapons you see. The rifleman had that but the mortar men had these heavy weights too. The machine gun, Bren gun’s a heavy thing in that situation and when I went in of course the water was right over my head but I did the sort of a kangaroo action, you know down and jump ahead like that. Each time I jumped my head came up and I got a bit of air.
I did that towards the beach and we all probably did that. I can’t remember whether I checked with them but they must have because they wouldn’t have got in otherwise. Anyhow, it was sort of a natural thing to do. Anyhow we got into there. We had more fighting up towards Cateeka [?], the native village that was in a bit. That settled down so we headed off to Lae, oh not Lae, Finschhafen.
Well, we were north of Finschhafen by this time. We went down south towards Finschhafen but the Japs held the bridge there and we were directed, this is B Company on our case, to go in up the Hell’s Back [?]or Hell’s Back range, I’ve forgotten. Hell’s Back I think it was. One is sort of a tributary of the other one range. I might have the names
wrong. We went up there; we had to climb this range and it was very wet and very sodden, no rocks or no. It was real thick mud sort of thing. These fellows with the big load again. We had to help them, of course it was too much for one person to say carry a mortar, a mortar plate, had to pass that up and so on. All that sort of equipment you see.
Anyhow, we got up there and we went on our way towards Finschhafen. We were sort of up on the crown of the range then.
been perhaps the most experienced troops. That’s the ones who did the full desert period and so on. I think we would have been about the most experienced troops in the AIF. Anyhow, down we went and we eventually got to this river which was the one, which was further down, stopped by our forces down there and we engaged a patrol, a
Jap patrol, just before the river. When we got to the river the company commander, the intelligence officer and the company sergeant major, they went to the edge of the river making a reconnaissance to see what they would do about getting across it and whilst they were doing that a machine gunner
shot them. By that time there was one fellow killed, Tom Kid. He was killed by mortar fire. These others, Wes Versally, my good friend, and the company commander was Allan Kristie the captain, and the intelligence officer was Ian Harpom, He was a lieutenant.
They were shot by this gunner. Whilst that was going on I was, not whilst that was going on, immediately after, I with a crew of my men and Col Logan who was a lieutenant, we cut our way back in through the Kunai grass to make a track for us to get supply up
and take wounded out and we did that and came back. One incident. I got up a tree to make an observation and I had to share it with a green python and I decided then I’d rather face a Jap than the green python. And we came back and incidentally I was taken down that same track a couple of days later in the
wounded. Came back the brigadier decided we would try to make a beach head there and attack the position where the machine gunner was. Of course he had a supporting force around him carried out, lined up for an attack there and the bloke
who shot my friends - I took him on. And of course they were so hidden. The fact is he’d been shooting considerably the day before, so I could see the cover that gave him, support and hide him
had been shot away largely because it was thinned out by machine gun fire and I could see that there was a certain protection, so I stayed on the edge of those machine gun fire. It stayed in the thick growth and it was very difficult country and
we went and fought that way. The machine gun of course sat up there like a cone, like a funnel I describe it in that. The machine gun has a sharp point up there and fire spreads out like that. Well I went up that way just where I could see his field of fire was not catching on. Got right up to him
and I had to get across his fire. I couldn’t throw grenades because they would roll back on me and by some miraculous situation which I couldn’t calculate but it just happened, there was a pause in his fire and I’ve managed to get across. I was right up to him, by two yards away fighting
him of course and he got me in the chest but I got him in the forehead. And I must have got him directly because I fell in his path and my presence would have been known to him because I was instructing my fellows what to do, shouting to them and
they went on, they had a great victory. I brought back, as a matter of fact I found my way by the cable of the signal man who carried it past me. I wouldn’t let him look after me because it delayed his work.
I used the cable to get back to headquarters. They went on and it’s written in that history there. It’s got there that I was only two yards off. That history was written by somebody else. I didn’t tell them that. I was hit in the chest. I was right up on. Well,
when a machine gun fires, each burst has at least five shots in it, so I should have been hit by five bullets but I was right up on him and I don’t know why I was hit by one bullet. It went in there in the sternum, came out through the lung there, lung cavity. And we didn’t lose, we lost a few there.
A lot of the, the other company got more Japs than we got, they were Marines but supposed to be crack troops too and Fred Fink had caught the others around there. They killed over 50, I think. He said they killed more but they were lost in the grass and
they only notified their presence a few days later. I was evacuated down to Lae on a barge overnight. Anyhow the Japs counter attacked by the time I was back in Port Moresby hospital. The Japs counter attacked and they had another big fight at Scarlet beach. They nearly won it that time.
Well the fight went on and our forces got up to Sattelberg and won that. Diver Derek was awarded the VC [Victoria Cross] for that. One of our chaps should have got the VC too but they mucked up his you know recommendation. He was awarded the VC and I was awarded the MM [Military Medal].
than most of my colleagues because I told you earlier about Cooktown. The Japs were you know regular there but most other people hadn’t seen a Jap before who were engaged in that. I went to officers’ school and then came back and did some jungle training at Canungra Queensland. Whilst I was there, there came an opportunity to
join the paratroops. The colonel of the paratroops battalion came down and picked, I think there was 17 of us, to join as reinforcement officers to join the paratroops, but I never actually got into the battalion of the paratroopers. I was doing qualifying and other things down in Richmond NSW. Here, that was our base
and whilst I was there I was taken off to do the action in the Malaya you see. A colonel recommended. They only wanted one person but the colonel recommended four or five, I’ve forgotten now, to the director of military intelligence, so we went down to
Melbourne. The headquarters was there and we were interviewed by the Brigadier Rogers himself, who was the director of military intelligence. I was the one chosen and so I flew off to Colombo and got there almost on the Victory in Europe day.
A couple of days before I think it was. We lived in cottages around, there’s a well known holiday spot, what’s it called? Cape Lavinia. Lavinia anyhow.
and of course he came back as a interpreter with the British forces you see. Lasaru was his name. The thing is you want a description of it. Well, I reported into Colombo from Australia of course and there wasn’t much to do immediately
so I helped with various little chores. They used to pack things for the persons like myself, who would be dropped behind the line, so there was these little pouches that had MA on them which was money for Malaya. British printed money the Malayans were afraid to touch anyhow, because if they were caught with any of it on them they would
be executed so we had to have an alternative and they issued us with gold. Gold of course, all the Asian people are very familiar with the trucking with gold, of course and even the humblest peasant will take gold. He wouldn’t in this situation take a British note or anything like that. And that was how they supplied us
to prepare for our activity behind the lines you see. Well I prepared packs like that for parties that were going in and did various other helping things like that while filling in the time virtually. I tried to learn some Malay but didn’t get anywhere with it. I’m a dull character with foreign languages. Anyhow,
eventually I was put on a particular operation which turned out to be well down towards Singapore. Dropped into the jungle there.
soldiers, a party dropped in there previous to me you see. And there was one French Canadian, two French Canadians; Pat Hanner was an Irish Canadian of course and one Chinese fellow, a Canadian, Canadian born. They sent him to be for language purposes, he was a fine fellow but of course his
difficulty with the Chinese language, as in Malaya was just as bad as for him as it was for us you see. His Chinese knowledge was not all that fluent either. So they were there on the ground and with a few guerrillas who were Chinese. There weren’t many Malayans, Malays who joined the guerrilla forces. Anyhow there was this party to receive me
when I dropped in from the Liberator.
and then I got in the aircraft of course. It had a load to drop on various places for troops behind, parties behind the line as I was to be and myself and my interpreter. When we got over the target, my location area, which was at dawn.
During the journey of course I slept largely because we were way up high and there wasn’t anything to see at night time. Anyhow, I slept very largely and as the time approached a bloke gave me a cup of coffee or something like that, one of the crew, and then I dropped by going out the chute through which they throw the loads out when you know they’re dropping
supplies to people below.
cut off into the jungle with the party that was already there, they had the directions of course and I, we, joined up with the Chinese guerrillas. I should say the guerrillas who were mainly Chinese because there were some Malays but they were very few. In my particular group I think there was one but in the entire forces throughout the Malay area
the various parties similar to this they had an occasional Malay. There weren’t many but the Chinese were very determined and they weren’t all that friendly. Later, by the time peace came I had two Australians who had never been caught, run. They had spent their time with the guerrillas all the war. And they,
you know, instead of being wonderfully friendly with them they were quite angry about it you know.
a French Canadian. I think he was actually Spanish, Spanish ethnicity but I used to think of him as French Canadian. Well, he used his radio you see. All we could hear up to this stage was we didn’t know where any prisoner of war camp was. That
turned up after but we had a fair amount of information to pass back you know, troop movement or activity rather than movement and things like that you know. That took us, it was very difficult putting that in code and so on. That took a lot of time and later on of course after we found out there
were two prisoners of war camps but by that time I’d come out of the jungle. This was right at the end of the war really but no forces had arrived. By the time I’d come out of the jungle it was just ahead of the peace being declared.
what would you call them? A little man very proud of his, “Nobody’s going to boss me about”, that sort of style. And here he was in the jungle going to meet this bloke from AIF. He presented himself, you know when I hit the ground. He stood up in a very formal way and he had his campaign medals all ready on his chest
and he had been awarded the MBE [Member of the British Empire] and that was there. He was doing this in the jungle and I thought it really tickled me to see this fellow prepare, all this proud preparation, to show who was who about this. Anyhow it turned out alright. He was never all that glad
handy, he was always a sort of a serious but he did his work fairly well.
and that was passed that way. We had to put it in code of course. That was done mostly by the signal man and Left. Cazer as I said and we did all this preparation.
Lots of pieces of information that I can’t remember exactly what but anyhow we sent back all we could about what we knew. All the time the relationship or friendliness of the guerrillas was a difficulty. In the jungle they didn’t really associate with us. They stayed in their little area and
they wanted us to stay in their area. I thought this was wrong. In between us was this, this was in one particular camp but this was typical of their method, in between us the cook with his stew pot and so on was placed and he was a sort of intent on this stew, but he was always watching us you see, which didn’t worry us at all. It did worry us in that we weren’t
achieving any friendliness. This applied to other guerrilla parties, other parties similar to ourselves. They had this same attitude from the Chinese guerrillas because they really had in mind as I said before, to take command of Malaya and they were our allies only for this period, as well we had a common enemy.
Of this I am referring again to the cook. My memory of their cook’s situation was, of course he was always sitting there stirring a stew but the stew was so full of a lot of small fish like white bait and it was so stinky the Japs if they came anywhere near us they would smell this quite easily. It used to bother me but anyhow
they’d had all this success for so long and that’s how he kept his eye on us if we were about and of course as we moved around with the guerrillas, each one was sort of, was sort of, in charge of us. And I’m talking about reporting back to their headquarters not as an operating team. And that went on all the time and
it was a sort of touchy feely all time. In regard to the two Australians who had never been captured. I should have looked up their names but one was Ross McKuir and the other fellow’s name was Sheperd. I’ve got it there recorded somewhere and then a third one turned up later but these fellows came out while the war was still on. Peace hadn’t been declared,
the guerrillas shifted them around apart from us you see. In other words the aim was to keep them away. They never told these fellows that they had two fellows from, never told them that present amongst them these parties from, dropped in from headquarters. They just kept them in ignorance of that and they kept us in ignorance of
the fact that there were two fellows around you see. Instead of rejoicing, having a meeting they just kept us aside. That and for other reasons these former refugees, or whatever you might call them, escapees, they had this resentful feeling towards these guerrillas. It wasn’t a complete act of happy friendship because
they had this feeling, not only on that matter but treatment while in incarceration you might call it.
been something quite official, maybe say a lawyer or something of that status. He was fluent in both Japanese and Chinese and so on. I said we were going off to, had to find out the locations of the prisoners of war camps. It turned out later, I’ll cover rather quickly, there were two that were found
and I’ll report that back in a moment. Anyhow by this time the Japs are supposed not to know that they’ve lost the war and all the areas such as warehouses and whatever, this is a small town remember, any place that had any pretence of might at all such as warehouses and they were all guarded by sentries and they
of course were Japanese soldiers.
incidentally this area, oh I’ll say that later. Up to the airport and the entrance of course had this guardhouse at it and got out of the car, strolled up to the guard and he was quite nonplussed and I said, I made my remark about who I was and so on and “I wanted to let you know that peace has been declared, you lost the war”
and the guard didn’t know what to do but then he, instead of showing fight at all or threat to me he turned and went to the command of the guard who was a lieutenant or something like that and the lieutenant then of course sent messages to the colonel at headquarters. While I was waiting there one of the men,
one of the soldiers told by the lieutenant of course, came up to me and said “Would you like a cup of tea?” When I’d seen Maxwell Smart in later years of course I always think of this situation. He’s a bloke going in to win and what’s he going to do - drink a cup of tea. I thought I gave it some consideration and I thought it rather funny when you think about it.
I thought “This could be doped”, you see. It made me reconsider but of course, obviously I’d have to have a drink of something at some time in the near future, so I said ‘Yes”, so that gave me rather a strong front that I didn’t really have.
and instead of coming down, various officers came, say a lieutenant, a captain , a major. They all came one by one you know and they’d go back with the message. Nobody could believe that they’d lost the war and so on. They’d heard nothing about it. Eventually instead of the colonel coming down to where I was at the guardhouse, we were escorted up to where the colonel was and there was this headquarters. The
colonel was in the middle of the, and all his various officers were lined up beside him you know. So we had this combination of authority in front of us and anything you’d say to him would be referred to number 1, number 2, number 3 who knew a bit of English and something like that. And it took a whole day to negotiate that he had to acknowledge having lost the war
and it took another day to negotiate that he had to surrender his car and that sort of thing went on all the time.
taken back to India either by ship or by plane you know. But the captain who, they were Sikhs, and the colonel was, and his brother, who was a captain. The colonel was a, you know, have the name Singh after their name.
I’ve found his name there a few days ago but it’s too hard for me to pronounce. His brother and then a few others, they wanted to go back to Kuala Lumpur before they departed for India because pre-war they were stationed there of course and there were a lot of Indian people in Kuala Lumpur and they had special friends they wanted to see. I, by now, had the Japanese car, the Japanese colonel’s car. He gave us the previous day
an old bomb that was on the strength of his, an old bomb and we’d lost so much time that we couldn’t and the way they parlayed our demands. It was too late, so I had to accept this little shaken up model and the next day came back and got the other one and that meant coming back from Batu Pahat.
Anyhow the point was these people wanted to see the friends in Kuala Lumpur. So this captain, he hadn’t driven a car for so long, so I gave him the chance to drive this car and it was a Ford Mercury. It was a prestige car of those days you see and Ford had a factory, an assembly factory in Singapore. Of course the Ford name was big as far as
that part of the world was concerned. Anyhow we got in this car and we were going up to Kuala Lumpur. This, pre dawn, and we came to, the highway was really quite good but there were bridges blown out you see, so you’d take a bypass sort of thing. And we came to one point and the captain newly at the wheels of a vehicle, you know in control, was speeding
and we came to this spot where the bypass was and instead of that he went straight ahead and we went straight across the bridge area, where the bridge was broken and got to the other side. Of course the car was damaged quite a lot in the braking area and the recoil springs, what do you call them? Shock absorbers
and things like that. Anyhow, well we did this tour and looked at these friends and we were heading back. We had to head back quickly. This was the next day.
at Penang and so on and coming in and taking over that area and we met up with some of these forces and of course these fellows knew each other and the captain and so on. We stayed there the night with these officers of the Indian regiment and this is where I had a colour experience. The officer, one of the officers in the occupying
force, the new force, he by this time had been told by the captain you know my part in the performance and these Indian officers were ignoring me and treating me, not outwardly rudely, but they were ignoring me and so on. And the captain fellow, my friend he told them about me you know, what my part was so this young officer said
to me “I hate you, I hate you. I’m grateful that you were brave and rescued my friends but I hate you because you are a white man” and that was right back then you know. Of course he knew what we’d been fighting for and of course I had to sleep on that one. Then we got back to
Kluang, where the camp was and we made preparations for their repatriation. There was something else I thought of while I was saying that. I can’t remember what it was. What I say next is not it.
I was going back to Batu Pahat where the rest of my party was and as I went along the road of course I had no, hardly any brake power, and it took me a while to pull up but I saw this Chinese woman in a cooly hat and black dress as they wore and she was carrying some load, I forget what it was, but it was a bundle of twigs or some humble article
and I thought “I’d pull up and offer her a lift”. I just remembered what I wanted to say too. As soon as I got out of there, of course a car went right past her because of the lack of brakes. As soon as she saw me, I had a slouch hat, soon as she saw me she went “Ooh ooh ooh” and ran in the other direction. Of course I thought she was frightened because she has seen me, a soldier
but it turns out I think, I think, she was afraid of being raped, but I only thought of that years later. But they’d gone through so much of that treatment that as soon as she saw this man.
So she ran off you see but I think I thought I’d be friendly. The point was I wanted her to see that the British were back, which was the way they saw it, and instead of that is, took scare and ran away but then consideration later made me realise she may have thought I was going to intend raping her. Anyhow your point about uniform there. When we came out of the jungle
and we went to this town Batu Pahat, the crowd of people, the whole population were excited and surrounding us and doing all sorts of cheerful acts. The kids of the town saw me and I was the only one with a slouch hat but because I had the slouch hat they picked on me because that’s just where the Australians had been you see. They’d say “Hello Joe, hello Joe”
and they were doing various signs “V” for victory and various signs like that and for a moment I didn’t realise that “Hello Joe” was a call to the Australians you see. I did realise eventually but they favoured me, the kids of the town, favoured me because of my slouch hat you see and of course everything I did they’d follow. They’d be like a group of
teenage people who follow around a prominent star or something like that. But the other thing is in regard to the slouch hat. This is what I was trying to recall a moment ago. The Malay people were encouraged by the Japanese to raid them, you know knock the Chinese around, and there were a lot of them who were actually
injured. They used to attack them with perangs and things like that. A perang was a tool of their farming very much in use you see, so they always had this weapon. So because of the Chinese being picked on so much and we wanted to let everybody know that the war was over. There was only myself and several Canadians who’d
showed ourselves at this stage. I went from Batu Pahat again to the town further up the coast which was called Muar and this was in late daytime, later afternoon and of course showed ourselves around there and then coming back. This is also to tell these Malays to stop slicing up the poor Chinese
which was happening so frequently then. And on the way back by this time it was dark and they knew the car was coming and apparently the only person driving the car would more likely be Chinese rather than Malay. Each time when these people virtually set up an ambush but of course they only had these weapons they didn’t have
really lethal weapons for those times such as revolvers or rifles and things like that. They’d come out of the bush and stock the proceeding. There was another person driving of course but it was my job to stand out very quickly, get out, and let them see the slouch hat and tell them off for doing what they did and the British are back that sort of thing. And of course they’d be very contrite
and they’d disappear into the woods and so on and that was the beginning of the renewed presence of the British forces over there.
Had you met up with the regular Australian forces?
The prisoners of war? Had I met up with them? Not at that stage. Eventually I got down to Singapore and I was at Changi camp and most of them had been evacuated by then but there were still some around. The Brigadier Gallagher who was is charge of them he was still there. I don’t know whether he’d been home and come back I don’t know, I think he might have been, but he was a very quiet and rather sick man of course. I had
dinner with him of course and I got a load of wheat to take back to the population up where we were. They could only supply wheat because they didn’t have enough rice and everybody wanted rice of course. And we had a drop from an aircraft. A couple of aircraft came over and dropped food and medicine and things like that. By that time we’d marshalled the talent in the
town and they’d helped in that thing. That was it. We got the two prisoners of war camp, we found two, they were all Indian prisoners of war as I said. They were quite well treated. Their equipment and clothing was still their issue but it was in good nick.
Wild who had been a prisoner of war himself. A man of great repute. He had been with the British embassy in Tokyo for quite awhile. He was quite fluent in Japanese, Japanese speech, yes. As a matter of fact his photograph. I’ve got a book there. I can’t pick it up.
He was so good that he was the real person to use for that job. Of course he’d been prisoner of war all those years and they couldn’t spare him to let him go home after the war. He was a tall thin man, quite sick really, obviously he would be and he applied himself with great tenacity to catching these fellows and of course he carried out the interrogation,
but he needed a bit of help and several of us did that but we had to use an interrogator. I wasn’t very good at that because I didn’t have the language and bit difficult using an interpreter when the person whom you’re questioning is a tricky character anyhow you see. I wasn’t very good at it but at least I was helpful you know.
And we went to Sumatra and caught up to one bloke in particular who. I later read a book and he was the executor.
I’ve already intimated. Well, Cyril Wild was on that job of catching up to various Japanese force members who had a bad record, accused of being atrocious with their directions of looking after the prisoners and other
people like that and there were quite a few accused of execution using the sword. Incidentally once again I go back to the area where I was at Kluang, Batu Pahat that area there. That’s where the Australians met the Japanese and had their biggest fight with
the Japanese at that area. After the Japanese took over, you know won that area and went on to Singapore, they executed quite a lot of Australians right in that area. The ferocious persons whom I’m talking about, some of them were accused of participating in that so,
Cyril Wild being fluent in Japanese he was too precious to let back to the United Kingdom to take leave after being in prison so long. So he had to get straight into work and do what he could to catch up to these people who had a bad record, Japanese personnel. So that’s what we were engaged in.
And of course, the prospect of going back to Australia while I could have taken it any time, somehow I decided when to go. And I think the ship, I came by ship and once again I can’t remember why. I could have flown back. I think the ship was the Sicarcia [?], I can’t quite be certain of that. I’ve got that name somewhere.
I came back by ship and I served a, I’ll have to go back on the matter. Whilst in Singapore, by this time there was a lot of celebrating and lots of parties and there were the company of Australian paratroops sent over so I joined up with them and met them and
engaged in their festivities. Whilst there at one party, a person of Singapore had a toy snake that had segments cut in it and it used to wriggle quite convincingly as a snake would if you observed a snake. So I used to use this as my trick toy.
One of the Singapore people went down to the markets and got one for me. I used to use this as a toy and on the trip coming back from Singapore to Perth I used this many times and tricked many people with it and it was quite an item as far as the ship as concerned. The ship was already filled with a lot of people who had been prisoners of war,
either civilian or service people. And of course this snake was, I never let on it was a toy. It was invariably taken as a true snake. There were certain others on the ship who had monkeys or something like that to as a pet. Well as we got close to Perth there was a notice given out that “Anybody who had a pet
such as monkeys or so on must surrender them” and they would be executed. They wouldn’t land in Australia. So I had these stewards and so on getting my food for Freddy, this was the snake, so as this notice went out I had to stop feeding Freddy and the stewards ceased to bring me raw egg and things like that that I pretended Freddy had.
When I got back into Australia I got off the ship at Melbourne and I was with one of my colleagues who did a similar drop and knock with me, separate part up near Kuala Lumpur. And he, the ship pulled into the wharf and John Leeth is this chap and his fellow at the wharf meeting him was
an old friend of his. So we went off. By this time they hadn’t permitted passengers to get off the ship, so we jumped off from the top deck down to the wharf and buzzed off and to this fellow’s home you see.