we lived in Morpeth until I was four and a half. I started at school at the Morpeth School and then the family moved to Tenambit. It was a one teacher school at Tenambit. I went to school there for a few months and then we moved to Largs. I went to school there
for a few months and when I was eight year old we moved onto a share dairy farm at Vacy in New South Wales. My father had been working for the Hunter River Steam Ship Company, among other things, in Morpeth and
while we were at Vacy, and at Larges we went onto a small farm, lucerne growing; and Vacy was a mixed dairy farm and we grew crops for the cattle to eat. When I was eleven years old
we moved from there to another share dairy at Fosterton, outside Dungog. It was dry farming there, there was no irrigation as there had been at Vacy. We stayed there until in 1933, the
Depression, the owner of the farm said the daughter was getting married and he wanted her and her husband to take over the farm on a share basis, and jobs were hard to get, and there was a man that went by the name of Hook who owned the property. He had just bought a second property at Gayndah,
just below Tiaro in Queensland, and her father knew his parents, who had the property down at Dungog, and he went down there and had an interview and decided that we would come to Queensland and take on a property on a share basis,
on the agreement that if after six months, if either side was dissatisfied, either one could give notice. We were there for the six months, my father gave him notice. He was a hard man to get on with, and he purchased a small property at Cooroy where the dam now is.
It was called Six Mile Creek, they now call that dam Lake McDonald.
inevitable, the way things were progressing in Europe, and the CMF decided to expand and they formed a platoon of the 49th Battalion at Cooroy and I immediately joined it in January 1939. We
just had the normal training and a couple of camps where I got the training. I took to the army like a duck to water you might say because I’d been used to discipline, I’d been used to hard conditions or you might say ‘tough living’.
And in September we could see that war was inevitable and the platoon in Cooroy, we manned the telephones day and night for about a fortnight, in August, and
we were mobilised and we were standing on the wharf in Brisbane waiting to be taken over to Moreton Island, to Cowan Cowan, on full time duty when we heard Menzies [Prime Minister of Australia] declare Australia was at war. We were one of the first mobilised troops in Queensland. After a period at Cowan Cowan
there was talk of them forming an AIF unit and I put my name down to join it because I believed then, and I believe still, that if anybody thinks anything of their country, that it should be the single men with no ties that go first.
I went into camp with the CMF at Enoggera. We went into a full time camp there and I put my name down again for enlistment in the AIF, the 2nd AIF as it was being called then.
My home address, although it was Cooroy, my enlistment papers show my home address as Enoggera Army Camp at that time. I entered the Redbank Camp in November 1939
on the understanding that I would go to the then being formed 2/9th Infantry Battalion, the first infantry battalion formed in Queensland, because they were short of NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] and I was a corporal. At Redbank they decided that they would keep me there as an instructor. Therefore I didn’t immediately join the 2/9th Battalion. I was
there until in April, March or April, I’m not quite sure at the moment when it was, that the 2/9th Battalion, which had previously moved to New South Wales at Rutherford Camp and then to Ingleburn Camp, were preparing to sail for overseas and there
was a consignment of men whom they called the first reinforcements in Redbank, were being sent down to join the 2/9th Battalion prior to their sailing, and I paraded before the camp commandant and requested permission to be transferred to go with the first reinforcements to join the 2/9th Battalion before they sailed.
It was granted, even though they told me that I was ear-marked for a commission if I stayed there. I said I wanted to prove myself in action before I led men, and I went down and joined the 2/9th Battalion at Ingleburn just prior to them sailing on the 5th of May 1940.
I stayed with the 2/9th Battalion through. We were destined for the Middle East, but in the meantime the battle in Europe went against the Allied troops, or mainly the British troops then and the 18th Brigade, of which the 2/9th was part, was diverted via South Africa
to England. We landed in Greenock in Scotland, just too late to go to Dunkirk. We transferred down to Lobcombe Corner at Salisbury, where we were reputed to be the best equipped troops in England, and we stood by while the British Army reformed and
we used to lie down in battle order, in battle dress, at night waiting to receive orders to be transported to anywhere that the Germans attempted an invasion. That was our understanding there. We trained there at Lobcombe Corner and
in the training, during the main air battle for Britain we saw a lot of damage. Those that of us that went on leave or even during manoeuvres we could see the ‘dogfights’ taking place in the air over us, and in the main Battle for Britain and the bombing, we were there, and when it subsided and they could see that they couldn’t take England by air or bombing,
they transferred us down to the barracks at Colchester, in the south of England. We were only there a few weeks, we then trained and we went back up to Greenock in Scotland and were transported back via South Africa and up through the Suez [Canal] into the Middle East to join the rest of the
divisions there. We were trained in Egypt. We were camped at Ikingi Mariut and from there the battalion was just too late for the first push up the desert, and although we were originally formed as
the 6th Division, part of the 6th Division, we were an independent brigade while we were in England. We were an independent brigade then because they had to put the 19th Brigade in with the 6th Division. The battalion took part in the last battle to take Jaghbub [Al Jaghbub], down in the desert. From there the battalion went into
Tobruk as an independent brigade and they fought there until being relieved by the Polish regiments, and then they came back and went up to Syria for a few months.
Then they were shipped home. We didn’t know where we were going to go, but for all intents and purposes we were bound for Java, but the Japs [Japanese] got there first. So we were transported home. The battalion then trained. We landed first in Gawler, South Australia and then in Tenterfield, New South Wales and then at Kilcoy in Queensland,
and then, in August 1942 we were suddenly moved to Milne Bay. We got there about a fortnight before the Japanese invaded. Even though there were CMF units there, it was the 18th Brigade that bore the brunt of the fighting when the Japanese had been stopped
in their invasion attempt. The militia met them first where they landed, the CMF, but the 18th Brigade, we had to go in and drive them back when they were withdrawing, and they were in defensive positions and we had to find them and drive them out, so we suffered the heaviest casualties. From there the battalion,
I myself was wounded again there. I’d previously been wounded in Tobruk, but I was wounded there in the last little action. The battalion went on and suffered terrific casualties at Buna, Sanananda and in fact they were almost wiped out there. They suffered the heaviest casualties of any unit, and they came home.
I didn’t rejoin them until after they were back here in Australia, and then I joined them up on the [Atherton] Tablelands and I was with them again when they sailed to New Guinea the second time and they went into action over the Finisterres. I was left behind and left out of battle at Port Moresby. I understood
that I was to come home to get a commission because there were no more commissions in the field. They told me each time they wanted to give me a commission I got wounded or something happened, that was their excuse. I came back to Australia. I thought I was going to the officers’ training school. Instead of that, after having a short leave, I reported into Brisbane and found that
I had been shanghaied to Canungra as an instructor in jungle warfare. I was there for six months before they could relieve me. I went back to the battalion, rejoined the battalion which had returned to Australia again for a short period and I sailed with them for Morotai and from there we did
the invasion of Borneo through Balikpapan. I was with the battalion there until the peace was declared. I applied to go to Japan in the army of occupation [BCOF – British Commonwealth Occupation Force]. There was so much red tape and um-ing and er-ing that went on,
that I got sick of it and I asked to be discharged. Came back to Australian and discharged from the army at the end of November 1945.
and take over the farm, the small dairy farm, cane farm, at Cooroy where the dam is now, or Lake McDonald as they call it, but I couldn’t agree with my father, his ideas, the old ideas of farming. It’s only horses and plough that we had, and I moved around a little bit. I went for a holiday. My sister then was living in
Victoria and I went down there for a while. I came back and I had been studying a little bit on animal husbandry and the later methods, and doing a bit of part time work. I moved around getting experience. I worked on a dairy farm in Gayndah where they were introducing non-stripping of dairy cattle, to get experience in that. I hadn’t had experience
in sheep and I attended a refresher course in farming, six weeks at Gatton College. I met an ex-army man there who had a sheep property out at Meandarra near Tara and he was looking for somebody to work and we became friends
at the school and he asked me if I’d like to go out there and work for him for a few weeks during the shearing to get some experience in sheep, which I did. At the end of that period, while I was there I sat for the entrance exam to the department in the Tara school room. I had a horse fall with me and I had my arm in a sling and the
carpenters were working in the room at the school and they were holding school underneath it, and I passed the exam. Incidentally I left him for a while before that. He asked me to go back, if I would go back, I had to come back to Cooroy to help with the cane harvesting and he asked me
if I would go back and look after the property for him while he took his family for a holiday. I did that and it was then I sat for the exam. When his family came back from holidays I left there and came back to the farm at Cooroy. I lived there but I
went cane cutting. In those days it was cut by hand and cut green. I cut cane there and in October of 1946, it would have been
October 1947 I was called up for the [UNCLEAR] exam in Brisbane. I passed that and I was appointed as a stock inspector on probation in what was known then as the Department
of Agriculture and Stock. I had a couple of weeks training in Brisbane, mainly picking up ticks and counting them for the research out at Yeerongpilly and getting some equipment together. I was stationed at Helidon in 1948. In the December of 1948
I was there, and in June 1949 they transferred me to Helidon with my own sub-district. It was there that I met the girl who was to become my future wife. I stayed with the Department of Primary Industries as it later became known, they
changed the name from the Department of Agriculture and Stock. I stayed there for years and then was promoted and transferred to Maryborough in the beginning of 1957. By that time we had two children. I was inspector of stock division one and slaughtering inspector
here. I passed the exam for district inspector of stock and I stayed here in Maryborough until the early 1960s when we were transferred to Cloncurry. I had the district inspector of stock for the whole of the Gulf Country, the biggest stock district in Queensland it was then. It was a big district. There was one inspector,
and additional inspector at Cloncurry and one inspector at Normanton and one at Julia Creek, but I had overall administration over the whole area and the inspectors. Also at that stage police were acting inspectors and the district inspector had the jurisdiction over all police regarding them issuing permits for stock movements and those things.
At the end of 1966 they decided to transfer me back to Maryborough ostensibly because of my knowledge of ticks and the work I’d had among them, to take over the Maryborough stock district which then covered the slaughtering and it covered from
Miriam Vale in the north to Cooroy in the south. Also included Gayndah, Mundubbera, Monto areas and I was in charge of the district administrator, district inspector. I was in charge of all those districts. By then they’d broke the department up into various areas. There was
the dairy branch were on their own, the slaughtering branch were on their own and they formed what they called the Veterinary Services Branch and I stayed with Veterinary Services Branch, which meant that I didn’t have the supervision over the slaughtering inspectors, and dairy branch, they supervised
themselves. Later on they decided to split the Maryborough stock district and they made Gayndah, Mundubbera, Monto area into a separate district, so I only had a smaller district to administer. I stayed with the Department of Veterinary Services. I was unhappy with the way they were going as
regarding shooting cattle that proved positive for brucellosis [bacterial disease], among other things, including the fact that they hadn’t promoted me to the division one job that I was doing. even though for the last twelve months of my career, the divisional veterinary officer here
took twelve months off to attend a school and they made me administrative inspector over the whole of the Maryborough division, which included Kingaroy area as well, and for administrative purposes I was over the head of the veterinary officers, without a diploma or without a degree. Finally I’d have enough of them and at the end of 1978,
I told them what they could do with their job and walked out.
I’ve mainly just concentrated on the family. I made sure that our two sons got an education. They both have degrees and I’ve looked after and helped them with their properties. I’ve done most of my own work, my own painting, my own carpentry, I’ve done my own gardening, bricklaying. You name it, I’ve done it.
I joined the bowling club, but until recently I belonged to three bowling clubs. I rarely play bowls, especially when my fingers got twisted. I gave it away. I did belong to the RSL [Returned and Services League] for many years and I became dissatisfied with them when they started the club system, especially in Maryborough,
even though I’m a life subscriber of it and I’ve been a member of the RSL since early 1946, I’ve been a permanent member, and for many years now I’ve been a life subscriber of the RSL, but I don’t attend meetings any more because I don’t believe in the club system. It’s just developed more or less into a social club in the towns. Anybody and everybody
can join as a member. The RSL has more or lest lost its way. There’s been breakaway groups with the ex-Vietnam Association and Malayan Vietnam Associations and things like that, but I still believe in the RSL. I believe that they do a good job, but I couldn’t agree with the ones in the city area as you
might call it. So the best thing to do is keep away. But I still belong to it. I’ve an interest in the other people, but towards the end of my working life I joined the masonic fraternity. I’ve been a member of that and through the chairs in many orders of masonry. I’m still active in it.
My elder son has a home, a holiday home as he calls it, at Tin Can Bay, which he’s owned for twenty years. He married a Gympie girl while he was teaching in Gympie and he bought the low maintenance property there,
for somewhere to call home, because if anything happened to him she would have had to get out of the school house in about a fortnight with nowhere to go. So they bought that because her parents lived in Gympie, we lived here, and I became his caretaker and I look after it. I go down there regularly, I know the yard, look after the place and I’ve made many friends down there.
has traced our ancestry back as far as they could in Australia, and I have in my possession a copy of the wedding certificate of our oldest known ancestor in Australia, and he was a master mariner born in the colony in the date that was two years after [Governor Arthur] Phillip settled it. That’s when he was born here.
There’s no record of his parents because any of the historians in the genealogy branch, they said they were not convicts otherwise their records would be here in Australia. You’d have to go back to England where they originated from, and I believe they originated from Wales. That’s as far back as we know, his parents. And he was born
in the colony and when he was married he was twenty-nine and he was a master mariner. That means he was ship’s captain. When he retired he was given a grant of land on the bend of the Paterson River at Woodville. They had twelve children. So the family is Welsh Catholic. We were never a close-knit family, and later on when he died
somewhere along the line the place was known as Orange Grove Woodville, was split in halves and there were two brothers that inherited a piece each. My grandfather, my father’s father, John Powell, he inherited one piece. He had three boys. He married
and they had three boys from that family and they were farmers. They had an orange orchard and dairy farm and grew lucerne and things like that, and they were horse breakers. They used to break in horses for the yearling sales. My father left, he went to school in Woodville. Apparently from what I can find out he left home when he was fourteen and they didn’t know where he was for a few years.
He was on different properties working in New South Wales. He came back and my mother had migrated from England from Yorkshire in 1914, and she was working on the property, Tocal, across the river from there and they met up and
they were married in 1916. My eldest sister was born in, no, they were married in 1915. No, in January 1916 they were married. My eldest sister was born in the end of October 1916, and he moved to
Woodville and from what I can understand he worked in the Newcastle Steel Works and he worked as a labourer at different places prior to working for the Hunter River Steam Ship Company on the harbour, working boats up and down the Hunter River and the tributaries, the
Allen, the Williams and the Paterson Rivers. I’ve lived on all of those rivers, more or less, until the Hunter River Steam Ship Company folded up. The rivers became silted up. The old paddle-wheel steamers couldn’t get up there any more and they used to go around of course to Port Stephens. He obtained his harbours and rivers skipper’s ticket, but then
it was Depression years and they were putting men off, and he elected to leave the company and leave another man who was married with a bigger family have the job for staying on, and he started taking labouring jobs around farms. That’s when we moved first to Tenambit where I went to school there, and then to
Largs where we were on a little property there that belonged to one of his cousins, and from there we got the job on the share dairy property at Vacy.
as I said it was only just through a little paddock and across the road, so I didn’t have far to go. From there we moved to Vacy. That was a one teacher school. To Tenambit, that was a one teacher school and I must have been only going to school there for about six months because I know we weren’t long living at Tenambit.
From there of course we went to another one teacher school, the Largs School. I went there. I can remember being there, I can remember one incident there because I was the new boy there, and the headmaster was a Mr James and he had an obnoxious son about my age who used to belt all the kids around because his father was the school teacher, until
he struck me, and I belted him. His father dragged me up the steps of the school to punish me for fighting, which he did. As soon as we got out of school I went home and my father went up and dealt with him. Told him just what he thought and never to touch me again. I can remember that. We must’ve been there about six months because,
around about six months because I was eight when we went to Vacy. I attended the Vacy School there until I was at Vacy on the share dairy there, irrigation farm, for three years. I went to the Vacy School for three years. All of those schools were only one teacher schools. The
same at the Fosterton School, was a one teacher school. Vacy School was three miles away. We had to go three miles backwards and forwards each day. I had to help with the milking and the farm work before I went to school and I had to help with it when I came home, the same at Fosterton, and to do that I had to run. At Fosterton, over a country road,
I measured the distance as just over three mile from where we lived to where the school was, and I could run that in under four minutes. It was a matter of necessity, because I had to work before I went to school which means I had a limited time to get there and I had to work when I got home on the farm, so I had to run to get home.
I was supposed to be an apt pupil at school. In fact, at the Fosterton School I’ve got a certificate up there to show that I passed the examination as they called it, the permit to enrol in a secondary school when I was eleven. But of course
in those days we had no relatives living in, the nearest high school was Dungog or West Maitland, I think was the nearest high school, and with no relatives that could have boarded me, there was no transport to get there. So I had to continue at the Fosterton one teacher school with correspondence lessons until I was at school leaving age. I didn’t get any further
education. They used to send out what they called correspondence lessons. They were on paper, you had to supply the answers, write out the answers to them all and hand them to the teacher and he’d send them away to the school there. They used to send out enough to last, I’m not sure whether it was a month at a time and I used to complete it all in a few days, and the rest of my time I
spent helping the school teacher in teaching the younger classes. When my youngest brother was born in November, the year I turned fourteen, I had to leave school and help because my mother was indisposed with the new baby. I left school about a month before I was fourteen.
I had no further schooling from then on.
and I used to plant the corn by hand, drop the corn, maize, as you call it. And sorghum, I used to help with the harvesting of it. We used to grow, we used to supply seed for Dransfield Seed Company, so I had to cut the heads off all the sorghum and thrash that out, the seed. The same, we grew
maize, I had to shell that and send that to Dransfields as well as keeping some to feed the animals on, pigs on it, at Vacy and helping move irrigation pipes. As a matter of fact when we went there
my mother of course had never been on a dairy farm. We went there in the January and the school days, at Easter that year my father got a poisoned hand and couldn’t milk. We’d only just learned to milk, my mother and myself, and I think we were milking about twenty cows on that small dairy at that time by hand, and we had to milk them between us. It was
all the time over that Easter while my father had his poisoned hand and couldn’t use it, and we had to do that between us, feed the pigs, feed the calves. The only thing father could do was turn the hand separator with one hand. We had to do the rest. From then my school days and
afterwards at Fosterton I used to help on the farm. But by that time when I left school I could use a scarifier, a horse and scarifier. I’d learnt to use that, and a roller. I’d drive the horses in a roller, a wooden roller that they used in those days or what they called the diamond harrow, a heavy wooden thing with spikes in it and once the grass
accumulated underneath you lift it and let the grass fall out and drop it down again. It was terrifically hard work, heavy work. Rabbits were a problem of course. We had to get rid of rabbits and apart from occasionally setting out poison trails and putting poison in burrows we had to set traps, and I used to get up of a morning and before we got the cows in
and go around the traps, and do them again before I got to school, skin the rabbits that were in there, peg the skins out. The same in the afternoon and again at night; go around with a lantern and take out the rabbits that had been caught. And we used to, of course, shoot rabbits. I became a good rifle shot, and cut them out of hollow logs or dig the
burrows out. I had two dogs that used to work with me and they’d indicate by scratching on the ground or sniffing along the log just about where the rabbit was sitting in it, so you knew where to cut a hole in the log or where to dig without digging the whole burrow full length. Although I was a good shot with a .22 rifle and we had the training
there in the use of firearms, my father would never let me go out shooting on my own until after I was fourteen, without he was with me, even though he knew I could shoot and I knew how to handle a gun. That’s what stood me in good stead when I joined the army. I knew how to handle firearms. I knew all about them.
Tell us about joining the CMF?
I could see the fact that there was a war coming, as I said before. I always believed that the first to go, if anybody feels anything for their country, the first to go should be the single men with no ties, and I was in that category, so as soon as they formed a unit in Cooroy I joined it.
After a couple of camps I was promoted to corporal. I had the advantage that I knew how to use a firearm, even though it was only a 22 or a shot gun and not the army rifle. But the man that had the little property alongside of us in Cooroy, Norm Hill, had been a corporal in the First World War and he
gave me his text books that he had on firearms and how to strip them, how to look after them and duties of NCOs and things like that. So I had that to study and in those days there was no TV [television], we had an old wireless, but nothing else,
and no telephones or anything like that, and all you did at night was more or less read books. So I read those and when I went into the army, as I said previously, I took to it like a duck to water. I was hard trained, so the training didn’t worry me at all, and I could just lie down on the ground and sleep as we did in those days and had no trouble, so I soon adapted to it.
I was good at cricket and tennis. They were the main two things we played in those days at country schools. There was no football when I went to school. I couldn’t, we were so poor that I couldn’t go away with teams because I didn’t have any shoes to wear, played bare-footed. This discipline in the army didn’t
worry me at all. Although I rebelled occasionally because of things I reckoned were wrong and I’d say so. Some of the ones in charge there I stood up to. When I joined the AIF
and I went into Redbank I was wearing the two stripes. I was a corporal in the CMF, and even though we had the stripes we had to go in as privates, but immediately we were there, even for the ones that were in the reinforcements or were just coming in, if we had stripes
we were put in charge of men, and then the AIC [Australian Instructional Corps] instructors that were there, I did a course under them at the Australian Instructional Corps as an instructor and apparently I was fairly good at instructing. I went through the process of course being made a lance corporal, then a
corporal, which rank I retained at Redbank and I retained it when I went to the battalion and instead of dropping back to a private again I had my rank confirmed when I joined the battalion, 2/9th Battalion.
or in my case you’d say it was inevitable. And I think Australia could too because that’s when they started to enlarge the CMF units and put them into more permanent camps, do more training. Actually if I had stayed with the CMF for much longer than I did instead of enlisting straight away,
I would have probably got a lot more promotion because the chap that had been my lance corporal got a commission. They wanted more men, more men and the ones that had done a little bit of training got the promotions. I’ve always said then that no man knows how he’ll go under fire, and I did not want to lead men unduly until I proved myself under
fire. As a corporal you’ve only got a few under you, but once you get to a commissioned rank with a platoon and beyond that you’ve got a big responsibility. Even though I found out afterwards, and I still maintain, that the main man in a platoon is the platoon sergeant, that’s where I finished. But because of my being an instructor I was used by the battalion
for a lot of instructing. Instructing, you know, reinforcements. Actually in Tobruk we got reinforcements come in there that got no training or very little training. They were just put into the army here in Australia, sent overseas, said they would receive training in Palestine, which they didn’t get. They were sent either straight to Greece some of them, and then when Tobruk happened, they were sent
up into Tobruk and they had little or no training. When we were up right in the front line, at the salient as we called it, or up the front, for these men, there were some of us used to be sent back behind the actual front line to train these fellows
in the use of the different firearms, and I was one that was sent back from Don Company that I belonged to as an instructor. In fact that’s mentioned in Frank Rollison’s book that he wrote, “Not a” – what did he call it up there? Anyway, he mentioned me in that and he also
mentioned the fact he reckoned I would have been a fine company commander. But that’s just his opinion. The army training didn’t worry me at all. The fact that I’d more or less grown up in the bush and knew bushcraft, and I knew different ways of going around if you were stalking an animal and you read the land,
and you’d read the wind and you’d know where the cover was and how you could get around to get closer. Things like that. It’s more or less instinct.
along the other side. That was all we were doing from where I was. There was artillery there, but us an infantry, we were out further away from that. We were only there a couple of weeks or so before they left us. There was one incident I can recall. I was with my
section, we were on look out on the high point looking with binoculars, looking to see anything suspicious going down the other side of Moreton Island, and we saw this black object going past, move and disappear, and then it would come up and be in a different direction, and we looked at it for quite a while and they reckoned that
it wasn’t a whale, it wasn’t spouting. We sent word back down that it was suspicious, that it looked like it could be a submarine travelling along the surface there. There were one or two officers, I’m not sure now, came up and they looked at it and so forth and they decided it was only a whale,
just whales migrating past and so forth. The next day one of our own subs [submarine] surfaced in the Brisbane River. They won’t, officers sometimes won’t, take notice of what the other ranks tell them.
and all the facilities that they had for passengers. We were on bunks or beds as you called them. We had full facilities. The only things they disconnected was the bells from the cabins to the stewards on board, but we had all the facilities and the comforts of it. We did a bit of training up on deck, just mainly physically
training during the voyage, that sort of thing. Of course we had to have post out, pick out, looking for submarines and things like that. But we had a really good voyage, even though we went right down, we called in at Perth. Then we went down and we called in at Durban and we
went ashore there, not Durban, Capetown going over, and we had leave there and had a look around. We had a route march through the town and that sort of thing, and we went around and pulled in at Sierra Leone, but didn’t go, it’s a white man’s grave as they call it, we didn’t go ashore there. They just refuelled or got the supplies
on. It was only the sailors that went ashore there. We were on the boats. We had a couple of incidents. I was with the reinforcements. One lad died and we buried him at sea on the way over. We saw a few burning ships and the destroyer escort racing up and down dropping depth charges for submarines that had been sighted in the area.
We had a more or less uneventful voyage through.
were camped. We were there for, we landed in June 1940 and we were there until, it must have been in about September 1940 we were camped at Lobcombe Corner in tents and things. In fact, when we set up there
there was very little camp at all. Our showers were just along there and it was cold water, which we weren’t used to. The British Army had set up a NAAFI [Navy Army Air Force Institute] canteen there close handy, but there was no sort of big towns around
near where we were. There was what they called ‘the Wallops’, Nether Wallop, Middle Wallop and Ainsbury and places like that, and the nearest big town I think was Salisbury itself. We used to get a little bit of leave and could go to some of these places, but the people’s reaction was the fact that because the Australians were there,
because duly to the Australian record of the Australians in war and the fact that they were, apart from a few Canadians who were there, they were on their own. The Yanks [Americans] of course hadn’t come into the war at all and it was a relief that they were getting assistance, and the fact that they had nothing after Dunkirk and they were so relieved to see us
and they welcomed us, really welcomed us there.
I think we had a route march through Durban too if I remember rightly. I’d have to get my diary and have a look at it. I’m not sure if it’s upstairs or downstairs at the moment because I’m revising a book that’s being written on the 2/9th Battalion. They’ve sent me the proofreading sort of bits of it to see what I can recall against what the fellow is writing because
the history of the 2/9th Battalion has never been written. There are different book have been written by different people, but the main history has never been written. They paid a couple of people to do it and then they got all the records and then dipped out and didn’t do it, and haven’t returned the records that were given to them, the battalion, but the chap that’s doing it now, he retired, he’s an army
officer in Canberra and his father was with us, with the 2/9th Battalion. He came over as a reinforcement and his uncle was with the 2/12th Battalion and he’s written a book, two brothers at war, as much as he could find out about what his uncle
told him about his life in the 2/9th and what his father told him, who is now deceased, has told him about his life in the 2/9th, and that has induced him to try and write up the history of the 2/9th Battalion and put it in book form himself. He’s
trying to piece everything together from what he can find out from records in the war office and from talking to different men, different people who were there. But the trouble is now after sixty odd years there’s not many of us originals left and we’ve all only got our own story of what happened to us individually, not the overall picture of the battalion. I myself,
of course, I was wounded in Tobruk. The first night, I wasn’t there in the initial thing. When they went to Jaghbub I had trouble with my nose that had been broken and I had trouble, like a lot of us did, breathing. The morning or so before they were to go to Jaghbub I went on sick parade
because I was having difficulty breathing and then the doctor sent me back to the line, but then the company commander was at the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] afterwards and then I got called back and said, the doctor said he was sending me to the British General Hospital for an operation on my nose, which they did. Took the nasal septums out of it and they told me that I died under the operation, I swallowed
all the blood. All I can recall when I came out of it I was back in the ward with all the nice polished floors and gas cylinders all around me and all the Red Caps [British military police], the senior officers, medical, with their uniforms on and nurses looking at me, and my memory is coming around from the operation, leaning over the side of the bed
and up came all the blood, and I can still see it spreading out across the polished floor. Of course the gauze was all stuck up my nose. Part of the treatment was a bottle of stout a day and I didn’t drink, so I was popular in the ward, all the different ones coming around to get the bottle of stout.
in a day, and back behind, and later in the day the battalion went up in the most dangerous part of the perimeter where the Germans had broken through, and I went up to a section and they were going out on a patrol that night and there was a patrol to go out, and I
volunteered. The first and only time I’ve ever volunteered for anything like that in my life, because you don’t do it. They all looked at me and I said to them, “I’m no hero, but I’ve got two stripes on my arm and I will be asked to lead a patrol eventually and I want to find out what goes on under somebody else.” There was an officer leading it and he did what he shouldn’t have done. He took a ‘sticky bomb’, as we called it, out through the wire.
We hadn’t gone all that far out and we ran into a German patrol and got shot up and we carried back two men. One died the next day and the other fellow lost his foot. We came back and got back in and the next day the sergeant looked at me, I had marks down my face and
blood, and he just said, “What happened to you?” I said, “I fell over. I was carrying a Tommy gun [Thompson submachine gun] and I fell over and bumped my face on the Tommy gun.” I didn’t want to tell them. I’d go down as ‘wounded in action, remaining on duty’, and worry the people back home. So I didn’t report it.
who were in front of you. You could listen if you could to them talking, or see if there was anybody out there patrolling on their behalf. If there wasn’t, there was a small number, you could fire on them and get back. Some patrols used to go out and you’d see
where they’d set mine fields. Some of the patrols that went out, they’d pick up their mines and put them over on their roads where their vehicles went, reset them over there. But there was disturbed earth where they’d set the minefields or anything like that, or mainly listening and what you could observe, whether there were troops moving about or whether there were
vehicles moving about, things like that. Then there were the different fighting patrols who went out deliberately to attack some of their positions. But towards the last the Australians controlled no man’s land in Tobruk. They became so desperate that they brought in searchlights, and you’d be out there
and all at once there’d be a searchlight blast down. You had to hit the ground because if they put it down and you were standing up you were silhouetted against the light. They could see you. You never knew if they were putting it in front of you or behind you, so you had to be on the alert the whole time. As soon as you see the light, they were movable, they used to move them. You didn’t know where they were on, the backs of trucks, located,
and as soon as you saw the light shine it was usually up in the air first and you’d see it and you’d hit the ground so that when they beamed the light they couldn’t see you. The light would be shining either over the top of you, or so that you were down you weren’t silhouetted. I don’t think there’s any mention of that in any
of the war histories that they used searchlights against us.
we didn’t leave Britain until the October and in about the December, January the 6th Division made their first push up against the Italians. There first and main battles were Bardia, that I can remember. I think there was Sidi Barrani before that.
Bardia and then Tobruk and then they forced the Italians back. They followed them back and they took all North Africa right up to Derna and Benghazi, right up the top there, they were relieved by the 9th Division that had arrived in,
arrived over in the Middle East, and they came back to reform to go to Greece. The British intelligence had said that there were no Germans in North Africa, it was only the Italian army that was in North Africa, but the German army were coming down through
Greece. So the ones that were up there, they were more or less, they were untried, they hadn’t been in action at all. They were trained but not fully trained. They were not seasoned soldiers to a lot of extent. Even the British that were with them as well,
in charge, the units that were up there, and the next thing was that Rommel started coming down through there with the whole of his armoured division. I was back, after I had my nose operated on I was back at
Palestine camp, and Blamey ordered that they start their own Australian intelligence school to train the officers, men in intelligence work, and I got sent to it. I was only an infantry corporal, and there were men from different units there.
There were also officers there, some high ranking officers there at that school, and I understood that the idea was that once we’d done that school and been trained in intelligence work we would go back to our units and go into the intelligence sections. Some men were already officers. Others that were trained went to their units and became officers in the intelligence section.
That’s how I came to be sent to that school. I don’t know that it was ever utilised. As far as I know it was only the one course. I don’t know whether they ran any more.
direction finding by the stars, direction finding compass at night, map reading, long range desert patrol work and things like that. We had to plan actions
against things. One thing, we were taken down to Beersheba and shown the ground and told what units took part in the battle of Beersheba which was the last charge by a cavalry unit, the light horse. We were shown the ground and then we had to plan the battle tactics
using the number of men we had, the machine guns, the artillery, the light horse, position the men and plan the battle, the time to commence the artillery and when to start it, when to stop the artillery, when to start the machine gun firing from their positions,
like put them in the positions. Then where they’d have the light horse stationed so that they could make their charge and things like that. That was the type of training that we got. Then we had to go direction finding across the desert part there, like long-range desert patrols
with just a map and compass and find our way from one point to another. Of course a lot of the training was what to look for and what to listen to, if you got conversations or heard a little bit of information from here and a little bit of information from somewhere else, how to put it all together.
A lot of it was mainly direction finding and finding your way around, so I suppose you wouldn’t get lost because that’s what happened to some of the units that were coming back from Benghazi. They ran right into the Germans. The Germans had better intelligence and that, and they went right around
them and they came in between them and where they were trying to go, in behind them you might say. They also had their spies there, and they had them dressed up in British or Australian uniforms and directing them down to where the Germans were waiting for them. It was very poor intelligence work on behalf of the British intelligence
there that they had no idea that the Germans were in North Africa. They knew they were in Greece, but as far as their intelligence was concerned it was only the Italians that were in North Africa.
I managed to get to see some of the old biblical areas, all around there in Jerusalem we’d go on trips right through there. I’ve got pictures of the Garden of Gethsemane and the old walls of Jericho, the Dead Sea, all those sort of
places that I managed to get to. Down in Cairo, I got into Cairo and that, because in those days at that time I wanted to improve my knowledge of things and I visited places. I got to see the Karvitkin [?] and Jewish settlements
and talk to them about their methods of agriculture, what they were doing and how they were doing it and talk to some of the ones that were in charge of it, and see them road making with a hammer breaking up the blue metal. Women on the side of the road and loading
boats. We said, “We never want to see our women do that.” Now they demand to do it. They want to be equal. And inquired why were the orchards, why they didn’t have machinery and that in there, and they said that if they put machinery in, all those people that worked there were only getting small wages, but they had a job and they had a living.
The same with them breaking up the stones on the side of the road, they said if they put big machinery in, like all those people would be out of work and they’d starve. So that’s why they did it that way. That’s where I first saw the intensive style poultry farming. They used to have the chooks in the cages and they’d cover them.
They had big lights in there, and they’d put the covers on them and the chooks would think it was dark so they’d go to sleep and they’d give so many hours in the darkness. Then if it was still dark they’d put the lights on and they’d end up and they’d lay again. They were literally getting,
some places were getting two eggs a day from them. They had no feathers on them. It was intensive style and that’s what I was interested in, that sort of thing, and see the way they used to plough with a wooden plough and perhaps a donkey and a cow side by side, things like that, primitive methods. They said if they used machinery all the people were out of work.
sometimes you could hear the, if you hear the explosion when they fire you’ve got time to know there’s a shell coming, if you hear it. If you don’t hear it, it’s arrived there before you hear the noise coming through the air. That’s what happened when I got hit and a mate got killed in Tobruk.
We knew we were a ranging mark. I’d lost men there previously. They used to shell us every afternoon. I did not hear the one that hit me. It was a direct hit on the dugout. I came out of it, I shouldn’t have. My mate was in there with me, there were two of us in this little thing, in the side, and they buried him there.
I didn’t hear that shell. It was just, I sort of blacked out. I came to and I thought I was gone. I sort of blacked out again and my mates, when the shelling finished, they came and pulled the debris off me and
got me out. I had my clothes blown off me. They didn’t, I had cordite and powder burns, black all over me, dirt all over me. I was blinded and deaf, both eardrums burst. A few little wounds and that all over me, but mainly bits of cordite and little bits
of shrapnel and things like that. There’s a bit there still they won’t take out, it’s sitting on a nerve. No real damage except I regained my sight, I regained my hearing. My eardrums healed, but I didn’t hear that shell. It’s one of those things that I was just lucky. By all rules and regulations I should not
officially, when I got back to the unit the same doctor, Dr MacGregor, that we had at the last in Tobruk, had him in Tobruk, and he asked me did I smoke and I said, “No.” I said, “Why?” and he said, “If you smoked occasionally, I think it might help to steady your nerves.” I didn’t realise I was showing it.
I’d never rolled a cigarette. I’d smoked a cigarette occasionally and didn’t like it. I got a pipe and half the time I used to just hold the pipe in my mouth with nothing in it, chewing the stem. I did that until after I was discharged from the army. I always say that when I got married I couldn’t afford it. I just gave it
away. I only smoked at night, mainly holding an empty pipe in my teeth. I’d be holding it between my teeth. I don’t blame any man for cracking under fire. That’s what I said from the start, I would not accept a commission until I proved myself under fire. I did not want to be one of those
that ran and left his men behind, and no man knows what he’s like under fire. The strain and the tension at all times, you never know when you’re going to be fired on, when you’re going to be bombed. The main thing in Tobruk was the screaming Stuka bombers that used to come down and the scream of them. We
had no air support, nothing there, and they’d come down. You’d swear they were coming right at you, and they’d scream, screaming noises they used to make, the Stukas. They’d drop the bombs right at you, you could see the fellows leaning out the side laughing at you because they knew you couldn’t fire back, you had nothing.
to the battalion. He was the cause of me being sent to the hospital when they went in the first place. He put me on a charge sheet and he was judge and jury because there was light shining from my tent and I wasn’t even in it. I was away at Ikingi Mariut before we went up, and we never ever saw him except when we were back out of the lines in Tobruk. He came up to the front and he was known for what he was.
He was a barrister by trade. His father was the general manager of Burns Philp, a commission, and afterwards he was sent back to the AITB [Automotive Infantry Training Battalion] when we came back to Australia. We never saw him again and he had to be promoted and when we were up in
New Guinea the second time he came back to the battalion with the rank of major. He had to be promoted, that was the way they went on. I believe our CO tried to avoid having him back but he couldn’t avoid it. I was left out of battle when they went over the Finisterres and he, up in the mountains there on Shaggy
Ridge he copped a two inch Japanese shell all to himself and fell about 200 feet down the mountain and nobody would go down the mountain and pick his body up, until they were forced to. One of the old corporals, or a sergeant by then in the battalion, old Jock Hall from Nambour he lived, or came from Nambour, I believe he said, “The best thing that ever happened to the battalion.”
That’s the sort of thing that happens in every battalion.
story that we knew, we could neve substantiate them, it just gets through to you, that they sent up a forty-four gallon of drinking water by mistake and he had a tin bath and he poured out and had a bath to himself and then poured the water back in the thing, so the men wouldn’t get any additional drinking water. Whether that was true or not we don’t know, but you hear those
stories. Unless you see it and know it personally it’s just one of the furphies [rumours] you get through. Occasionally we used to get a drum of brackish water and when we were back behind a little bit, so that we could have a little bit of a wash and wash our clothes if necessary, but on one or two occasions when we were back behind we went to the beach and had a swim.
Went down there and could wash our clothes and have a shave and a swim and clean up. Different ones on guard in case they came over shelling and strafing because German planes were the only, they had control of the air and occasionally a reconnaissance plane would come and they’d see what you were doing and send them over. They’d radio back and of course the next thing they were over strafing and
bombing. But he was disliked right from the start. In fact he joined us just before they went to Jaghbub and on parade, and he came to Don Company on parade there one day. He said he’d seen the best army in the world on parade in Berlin and we were no match for it, which didn’t go down
very well with any of us. He’d been to one of those, Oxford or Cambridge [universities] or somewhere over there in England.
a sense of humour. You hear that, all the time there is somebody makes some funny remark or sarcastic remark, you know, that makes you all laugh. There was no, occasionally fellows living like that had a bit of an argument or a falling out. We had
the British Royal Horse Artillery in Tobruk and we had the Northumberland Fusiliers Machine Gunners. The machine gunners were behind the front lines and the artillery were behind them, and they said when we saw them, we used to
tell them that we weren’t worried all the time we knew we had them behind us, and they used to say they weren’t worried because they knew they had us in front of them. Each supported the other. We knew the British Army wouldn’t give way at all, they’d fight to the last and they knew that we’d fight to the last too. All the while they were covering us behind
and firing over our heads, that sort of thing, supporting us. They did have what they called the bush artillery, the captured guns and some of the base units, that had been base units, and units from headquarter company and that sort of thing, rig them up and they used to fire them as artillery pieces using their own captured shells. They became proficient at it too.
my section had one fellow who was getting ready to get on patrol and the next thing there was a rifle went off and he’d blown his thumb off. It was supposed to be he had his hand over the muzzle of the rifle and he caught his blanket in the trigger
and blew it off. Of course you can never prove those sort of things. They went down as accidents. Very rarely they went down as self-inflicted wound. I know another fellow who was getting ready to go too out on one of the patrols and the next thing he’d taken his boots off and was supposed to be lifting a rock up on top of his
dugout to reinforce it and dropped it on his foot and nearly cut his toe off. Of course he went out too. Things like that, that was in Tobruk. There were a couple of fellows in the first action at Milne Bay. Supposed to be carrying a loaded cocked rifle over their shoulder pointing down and got a bullet through their foot. There was one
sergeant with us, he’d only just been brought out of the orderly room into the front line unit. He’d been back in the orderly room, an orderly room sergeant back at base and he’d been brought back to the unit. Came up into the platoon and the
first night in Milne Bay we bivouacked in a circle and all sort of laid down in front of it, and had perimeter around to fire there, and heard the rifle go off and sang out and they went there and his rifle was still smoking and he had a bullet below his knee, but he died of shock.
You can’t prove it wasn’t an enemy bullet that him, but generally expected. That’s why I say I never blame anybody who lost their nerve. It can happen to anybody at any time, but usually they covered up, wounded in action, or in his case, wounded in action, died of wounds. You never
blackened a man’s reputation.
the original battalion and that were trained but the reinforcements weren’t. It tells you in that book where Rollison said that they came up and his book, it’s his war story, and he was only in the army a few weeks and they were sent overseas and told that they would be trained in Palestine.
When they got to Palestine, the camps there, some of them were sent to Greece to reinforce the 6th Division. Others, they came up to us in Tobruk. They weren’t trained at all. They were unfamiliar with the weapons, and I think you read a little bit there that he said,
“Where possible, and there was such a shortage of weapons that they were taken back behind the line and trained in the use of those weapons.” I was one of the instructors that was sent back. I used to go back from the company I was with, Don Company. They used to send me back. We’d go back there and we’d do weapon training.
Training with them, pulling the pieces, putting them together again blindfolded and things like that, and practise firing with them. We’d go through the motions because we didn’t waste any bullets and didn’t use any blanks and make noises like that. When it came evening we’d send them up and they’d probably go out on patrol with that weapon the same night. Tommy guns, that
we didn’t have, then we’d been issued with the Bren gun. Previous to that we had the old Lewis guns that they used in the First World War. There were weapons like that, or we’d teach them grenade throwing or use of grenades with a launcher from a rifle, how to fit it on and the angles to hold it to get the trajectory
to fire it, fire the rifle, and that would send it out and project it away. There was training like that that they’d never had.
I can remember walking back. I refused to leave there until I made sure he was dead. I couldn’t see too much at the time, but they assured me. The fellows dived out of their dugout of course as soon as they knew it was hit, the same as I dived out before, and I can remember them getting me out, lifting me out,
taking bits of rocks and things that had been the roof of the dugout off me and getting me out, and I can remember saying about getting Jimmy out. They said, “No, he’s gone, he’s gone. You can’t get him out.” I said, I can remember saying, “He’s breathing. I can hear the air and the noise coming out of him.” They said, “That’s just the noise coming out of his
stomach.” I can remember saying that, and I said, “No, you’ve got to make sure he’s alive, get him out, get him out,” and the fellow finally said to me there’s nothing he could do for him, he’s blown into three pieces. I found out afterwards there were bits of bone
embedded in me. So then I said, “Yes,” and they assured me he was dead and they came out, a stretcher bearer came up and they lead me out and took me back. I walked back to the platoon headquarters, back to there and I can remember looking at my platoon commander and I could see him
turn his head away and he was sick in the bottom of the trench because of the look of me. Then I think, I’m not sure whether they took me back or got me on the stretcher, and they got me back to the battalion headquarters and the commanding officer, ‘Sparrow’ Martin as we called him,
Lieutenant Colonel Martin who’d been the original CO, I got back to him there and I can remember a little bit of it. They told me I abused him and I told him exactly what I thought of the position, and not being a ranging mark and the men I’d lost and that, and I know he got his own tunic and put around
me. His own jacket put around me and called for the doctor. Dr MacGregor came up and he looked at me and he said, “Oh, it’s you Sandy, I didn’t recognise you.” They didn’t. I was powder burns and black and dirt all over me. Of course they got the ambulance and they took me back to the
Tobruk Hospital, one in the open air. I can sort of remember that, and I was there for a couple of days because they got an air raid over it and at the time there were holes in the roof and we were in there and there was no protection really. But I got out and then they took me down and put me on the Hotspur, another
British destroyer, and I went out on that. Ended up in the hospital in 2nd AGH [Australian General Hospital], I think I ended up in. I gradually got my sight back and the nurses used to come and sit alongside of me in the ward and pick the bits of stuff out of me, cordite and things out, and gradually cleaned me all up.
I know the doctor ordered drops put in my ears. I remember that, and the sister put one in the first ear and I reckon I felt it come right down to my shoulder. I jumped. “No way,” I said, “That went right down, right down through inside my neck.” She looked and she said, “Of course it would, there’s nothing there to stop it.” But they were amazed when my eardrums healed. They were both
perforated, both eardrums, and it was only a couple of weeks later that the unit was relieved and came out of Tobruk and one of the first things our CO did was come around the hospitals to visit the wounded, and he came in. I can remember, I was recovering by then, and he had his officer, his adjutant at the time with him.
I think he was his adjutant, and they spoke to me and I told them the position I was in and said I didn’t know whether I’d ever get back to the unit. He said, “We want you back in the unit if at all possible,” he said. After he’d gone he said, “Colonel Martin said when you get back to the unit you’re getting a commission.” He said, “You’re to get a commission.”
He’d gone by the time I got back to it. But I saw him years later just a couple of years before he died, not all that many years ago at a reunion in Brisbane. There were a lot of reinforcement officers there and some that had been with the battalion earlier and they were talking about it and they said, one of them said, “We could never understand why you weren’t an officer,” and I said, “It’s
just one of those things that happened. It doesn’t matter now. It’s all water under the bridge. It doesn’t matter now.” Old Colonel Martin, he was brigadier then, retired of course, and he said, “You earned a commission. It does matter. You earned a commission and you should have had it.” I said, “Perhaps the way they treated me kept me alive.” Otherwise if I’d have got a commission like
my mates did, most of my mates did. They got their commissions in the field at Milne Bay and they told me I’d get one, they all got killed at Buna, the majority of them. They’ve ended up, so being left out of battle and the way I was treated possibly kept me alive. I was sent to different units and even divisional headquarters and that to
instruct them and smarten them up on parade ground drill and things like that. I was instructing all reinforcements at different places, and of course as I said, I got shanghaied to the jungle warfare camp in Canungra. I was there for six months and the CO couldn’t get me relieved. Even though
it was Colonel Clem Cummings by that time and he’d been promoted and transferred. The day my six months was up at Canungra they had another sergeant there to replace me and I went back to the unit.
across there were broken. It took years and years of manipulation to get those working again. As I said, there’s a little piece of shrapnel in there and the doctor looked at that and he said, “That’s sitting on a nerve,” and he wouldn’t touch it because he thought if he touched the nerve it might leave me with a stiff finger. It only hurts if I bump it. And I was sitting getting treatment one day and one of the
doctors came around and I said, “There’s a little lump on the side of my head there and it keep weeping, and it feels to me as if there’s something sharp in there.” He had a look at it and he got his magnifying glass and he got a probe and he said, “There is something in there, there’s something there.” So he got the sister sent up and he had another look and
he dug in deeper and he pulled out part of the nose cone of the shell, the piece of metal that was there. “Oh,” he said, “I never credited that was in there.” He said, “Just as well you’ve got a thick skull.” That was all the remarks made. I had that for years, I don’t know what became of it. The bullet they took out of my leg when I was shot in Milne Bay was there,
it didn’t go through. I gave that to my mother and after she died I got it back again. It’s upstairs there somewhere.
I just can’t think of the name of that boat. It’s in that book that Rollison’s written but I can’t remember it. It had been just a passenger boat, more or less a cargo boat for inter-island trading and it was crude conditions on it, and we struck bad weather and we
had to do a submarine watch out on the bow of the boat. I know one night they had us on submarine watch out there, myself and the section I had then at that time, and it was so rough we tied ourselves on, and the skipper when he found out we were there he ordered us off the bridge. It was too rough. He said no submarine would operate in that weather anyway. So we got ordered
off the bridge. But people weren’t too happy coming back. The conditions, we were crammed in like sardines down below decks. I know there were some tough boys in the army and they were putting on a bit of a disturbance and singing out, playing up a bit and making noise down below, and one of the officers who was there went
down to quell the disturbance and show his authority, and he went inside and one fellow said, I believe he said, “God, strike me pink, here’s Errol Flynn.” Errol Flynn got hit behind the ear with a tin helmet and the next thing he knew he woke up in the ship’s hospital. They were just at the stage they weren’t going to listen to anybody like him.
he said, “That’s the end of Singapore, it will be next.” He said, “I worked there on installing the guns protecting the harbour and they can’t turn them. They’ll only fire out to sea.” And that’s what they did, they came down inland and their harbour protection for Singapore was useless. They couldn’t turn the guns.
So we knew what was on, and when we left India of course all the story was that we were bound for Java. As a matter of fact, some of the units, particularly a machine gun unit that landed in Java and their guns were on
another boat and they walked practically straight into a Japanese prisoner of war camp. This was the muck-ups in the army you get everywhere with administration. I know that for a fact what happened because the fellow who was in charge of that machine gun unit, I struck him
years afterwards at a reunion, he’d been promoted and was our original adjutant, Willy Wearn, he was a permanent soldier. W.W. Wearn, ‘Weary’ Willy Wearn we used to call him, and I believe in Singapore, Changi Prison, he was senior to [Sir Edward ‘Weary’] Dunlop, but Dunlop
claimed seniority because he was a surgeon and he knew he could do more the men by being in charge than he himself could being a doctor. He could demand more for the men. But we didn’t know where we were going and we were sort of on the ocean there and finally
there was no word where we were going to and during this time there was the argument between the Prime Minister, Curtin, and Britain about where we should go because the British wanted us to go in on the Java side and go into Burma from that side. The 14th British Army under General Slim were in there holding the Japs out of India, out of that area, and then we came,
the next thing we knew we were almost home when we got the word that we were in Perth, or Fremantle, off Fremantle, and then we came around and we landed in Adelaide, Port Adelaide, and off-loaded there and went to a bit of a makeshift camp outside Gawler and
our carriers and transport and that sort were on different boats. We had to wait for them to get here and unload them. In the meantime some got leave, the ones that were in their own state or close to it, and we went from there, we came up to a camp outside Tenterfield and we were there for a little while and some of us got leave
from there, the Queenslanders, and then from there we went to Kilcoy camp and from Kilcoy that’s when we were sent to Milne Bay. We left from there and went to Milne Bay.
that came here were base units, they weren’t fighting units. A lot of them, especially in Brisbane, were Negro units. That’s why they were on the south side. They weren’t allowed to come over the bridge into the main part of Brisbane. Americans there, and they didn’t ask any questions with them. If any of them played up they shot them, they’re own troops. And of course they’d taken over everything. We weren’t here long
enough much to get into tangle holds with them. Some of our fellows did, had fights with them. Then we went to Milne Bay and then they took the credit for everything. They didn’t say the Australians were doing all this, it was Allied Forces. Everything that happened up in the islands, New Guinea and that, it was Allied Forces. The Americans were
putting in the airstrip at Milne Bay but they did no fighting there whatsoever at Milne Bay. They went over there and I believe they were outside Buna for weeks and weeks there and wouldn’t move. They didn’t move. They reckon while the Japs left them alone they left the Japs alone, and they
got the best of facilities of course, the best of food there and they took over everything and dictated what was happening with MacArthur. They only reason they came to Australia was they had nowhere else to go. It was the only base they could get. They’d been kicked out of the Philippines.
They’d been kicked out of everywhere. Pearl Harbour, they’d been bombed out of there and Australia was the only place they could form a base and reorganise. But they had the equipment, they had the air power, they had their navy here and that, and they had the airforce and the equipment to build roads and everything there to
deal the massive blows on the Japanese shipping, and the airforce to bomb their airfields. We didn’t have them.
one big hut there and the womenfolk slept in that hut and the men slept around the outside standing guard over them. Of course I can’t speak for everybody, but there was no way at all we intended interfering with their women. We didn’t in an overseas country and it
wasn’t the general way of life for the Australian soldier. Just the short time I was there and you were walking along the road and there was a native coming towards you, they’d step sideways off the road to allow you to pass, and if you put half a tin of bully beef or half a packet of biscuits down they wouldn’t touch it unless you gave it to them. Apparently before
the Australians had been there too long fraternising with them they’d lost all that, they’d thieve it every chance they got. That’s what you get for fraternising with the native population after they’ve been treated differently by the missionaries and church people. They were taught respect, although the
natives at Milne Bay went out of their way to help the Australian soldiers. Any that were caught were brutalised by the Japanese, men and women, especially women, the way they treated them in the short time they were there, the brutality that went on. When we went back there this time for the dedication at Milne Bay we
still had their respect, the ones around the Milne Bay area. They really greeted us, welcomed us there and put on shows for us and treated us well with a meal while we were there, a cup of tea and sandwiches while we were there and things like that. They are different. The race of natives
in the Milne Bay area are different to the ones over the other side of the island, Popondetta. They are different altogether. They seem to be a cleaner race of natives there and they had their own little villages and that, but it’s all clean, and the coconut plantations have all gone. It’s now
oil palms for the oil. Of course they weren’t in flower while we were there, but there’s still the kunai grass and a lot of the jungle and that there that we saw along the coastal strip at Milne Bay when we first landed there. The airstrips and that have all changed, it’s all different.
the Japs were going to land and they did have defences set up around the airstrip, but the CMF were manning those further up and they were up near KB Mission further up the coast, and to all intents and purposes they had no defences whatsoever set up. We just had to
wait and see where they landed, and as it happened they landed in the wrong place. They mistook, they were intending to land at Gilly Gilly where they knew we were and the depth of the harbour, but they landed further up the coast towards the strip, towards the point and had to come down from there. They
struck the CMF camp there in defence. Fortunately they got information that they were coming and they landed on Goodenough Island with their barges and they put them all there with their barges that they intended coming across to the mainland on, and the airforce
that were there, the few that were there, they strafed them and sank most of their barges. Then when they landed they landed where, a different place than what they intended to, I call it Wagga Wagga, we sort of said ‘Wagga Wagga’ when we were there. But it was mainly the
air force, well, the Battle of Midway, the navy stopped a lot of their navy getting in there, and it was the airforce, the few that were stationed on Milne Bay, Australian air force that strafed them and bombed them and sank their boats and killed a lot of them before they got there. Later during the invasion, I believe since
that they intended to make a landing on the other side of Milne Bay and come across the point, the track across there. There was about 2,000 of them and the airforce got onto them and sunk them. The navy sank a lot of the boats that were bringing more reinforcements in.
They never reached Milne Bay. So it was more or less navy action and the air force that did the most damage to them. We did the damage because the ones that did land, we stopped them from getting a foot hold there and taking Milne Bay. From the information we
received they did not know that we were there at Milne Bay. They knew that there was a force there, a small force, but they did not know that our brigade had landed there, that there was a larger force than they expected at Milne Bay.
Tell me about the first time you met the Japanese at Milne Bay?
Well, when they first landed it was the CMF that struck them first, the 61st Battalion CMF, and they fell back to the airstrip and they met them there and they were behind cover at the end of the airstrip, and the Japanese came down, marching down there and singing out and
yak-highing and that, and they had to cross the open airstrip and the Australians were waiting for them. They just mowed them down. The 2/10th had been sent up there too. They met them at the airstrip and they denied them actually getting across the airstrip. We don’t just how many Japanese were lost or killed there, but they estimated
there was about 800 killed there. We know further on where there’s a bit of a memorial to ‘Bluey’ Truscott, who got shot down there. Strafing at tree level he hit one of the trees and crashed and got killed. There’s eighty buried in one grave there. They just bulldozed them in and dug a mass grave and buried them. But
nobody will ever know just how many men the Japanese lost. They lost practically all their invasion force. If we hadn’t have held Milne Bay they had access to, they had the airstrip there, they could have mobilised the force and taken Port Moresby no trouble whatsoever.
They had landed at Buna and they were coming across the ranges there and they got to the end of their supply line at Kokoda. That’s about as far as they could have possibly got across there. But if they had have got Milne Bay with the airstrip and the harbour there, they could have reinforced their
men and they could have come around and taken Port Moresby and they’d have been right behind the Australians that were defending Port Moresby, and then there was only just a little string of islands between them and Australia. So the Battle of Milne Bay was like Tobruk, it was the turning point of the whole war. The 2/9th were the first troops to defeat –
or the 18th Brigade – the 2/9th was part of it, were the first troops to stop the German army at all and we were the first troops to defeat the Japanese on land.
2/10th went in on the airstrip. They were relieved by the 2/12th and they pushed them back to KB Mission. There were a few huts, it had been a mission station there, KB Mission, and they got stopped there. The Japanese were falling back and defending because they were under cover and up in the trees and we had to drive them out. The 2/9th, we were
sent in, went up from Gilly Gilly. Some of them went up the road to KB Mission. Some of us got in little dinghies, little launches and we went across the point and the harbour and landed in KB mission, and that was in the afternoon by the time we got organised there.
The 2/12th had been held up and C Company of the 2/9th relieved the 2/12th and they went in and they drove the Japs back a bit further and they were held up. I was with Don Company, the 2/9th, we went inland on the flank and came down on them from the side and we got to
a creek there and that’s where we stopped for the night. We bivouacked there and to bivouac, what we did was fell all the scrub, the low lying scrub and that in the perimeter, just cut it all down with bayonets and our what’s its that we had, knives in our belt,
machetes, and we put it all level to the ground as much as we could, and all laid on the ground sort of inside it and had men standing all around the edge of the jungle to fire at any noise outside during the night.
When we first met them we went in on the flank of C Company and we didn’t strike, or I didn’t strike much resistance there, but there was a little bit of resistance when we drove them back. They had snipers up in trees and things like that and we lost men.
That was at, we got held up on the creek. We were going in there and my section that I had, one Japanese soldier was on the bank of the creek. He came trotting out of the jungle there and we spotted him before he spotted us and they cut him down, rifle fire and machine gun fire.
Then we went a little bit further down and we struck a couple of machine guns, light machine guns being manned and I lost one man there. Two actually, he was number two on the Bren and I was alongside of him and they fired, hit across, went across the front of me and blew his stomach out and he died the next day. His brother was my lance
corporal, and they engaged the machine guns there and finally overtook them and they went back across the creek, and that’s where we stopped. It was getting late in the evening. That was our first encounter with them.
When I lost my first man I stayed with him and I lost, I was ordered to stay there until stretcher bearers got him out, he died the next day. His brother had gone out, and the platoon commander I had, he was only a sergeant, he hadn’t got his commission then, and he ordered me to stay with him until the stretcher bearers came up and took him out. Then I was on, the
section had gone on and I was looking for them and the company commander came along with another platoon and he said to me, he told me to tag along behind him until I found the rest of my platoon. He had the job, we had to go inland and go around across the creek and go around behind and come in from the rear on that creek where the Japanese were. We thought they were still there.
We got around behind them, it was hard going and no telephones or no communications or anything, and I just tagging along with him. We came in behind them and we struck equipment and a Japanese officer came trotting back towards us and he spotted us and he pulled his revolver and fired at us and shot one of our party
in the stomach, so we had to fire at him. And the others with the noise and that, we knew there were more of them further in towards the creek, so we had to retire out of there and we had to carry the fellow out. We had to get him, we had a stretcher bearer with us being company headquarters, we had a stretcher bearer and we had to get him on the stretcher and carry him out, and then do a detour back
around and come back around back to our own troops on our side of the creek. When we got back the CO had two companies ready to make an assault across the creek, and the company commander that we had then, Captain Hooper, he’d been with us from the first, but it was his first action, he’d been back at the ITBs [Infantry Training Battalions], he relieved him of his command
and sent those two companies across the creek. The Japs were there waiting for them and they got slaughtered. That’s where John French won his VC [Victoria Cross].
an air strike or an artillery strike. I don’t know what happened, but then we went in without that barrage down in front of us and the Japs were there waiting in position, waiting for them, and they ran into heavy machine gun fire and mortar fire and that and they had to withdraw
back across the creek. That’s where John French won his VC. There were other ones reckoned that were earned there. Then they withdrew back to the position where we were and we dug in there for the night on that side of the creek. The next morning when they sent the troops forward they’d withdrawn further back.
There were a couple of wounded lying over there, our wounded. They recovered them and got them back. From then on I was with, I had regained what was left of my section and our platoon sergeant had been wounded and the
platoon commander said to me then, he said, “You’re now the platoon sergeant.” I was the next in line. I said, “Well, can I stay with my section until the action is over and do both jobs?” He said, “Yes, if you want to.” So I was, I stayed with my section and I was forward section
in the advance forward there. We came to what had been one of their headquarters at Wagga Wagga where their supplies were and barges, and all the medical equipment where they had been treating their wounded all laid out and stuff there. We took that and stayed there and then another section,
a platoon then was told to take over as the leading platoon and I went back, the platoon I was with, we went back behind them. They went across a creek there and their officer in charge of them left them there and he went back to
company headquarters. He wanted to get further orders, and the Japs were waiting for them and they, the 17th Platoon, and they opened fire on them and I forget how many were killed and wounded out of that platoon, and I went in, was ordered to go in and cover them as they came out. I went in
giving covering fire and firing into the bushes. You couldn’t see any more or less. The Japs were under cover. You’d just fire to where the noises were coming from. An occasional one you could see. They got the order that the platoon were all out and to withdraw. So I ordered my section back, and I’m coming out backwards and facing them and I got a bullet up through the leg up here.
I was carrying a Japanese revolver that I took off an officer that no longer wanted it, hanging off a lanyard in the back pocket of my trousers, and it bounced that out of my pocket and the bullet didn’t go through. It was a big blue lump hanging in there, and I got myself back. Walked back, got myself back out to where the battalion headquarters were and they had the other wounded on the ground there and
then I laid down on the ground and my leg went stiff and I couldn’t move it. Then they got ready for a counter attack. They thought the Japanese would counter attack, but anyway they didn’t counter attack.
As I said, I got myself back to the battalion headquarters where the stretcher bearers and the other wounded were, and they were preparing for a probable counter attack, and when I laid down my leg went stiff and I couldn’t move it. They
went forward and the Japs had withdrawn. So that was in the afternoon, so they bivouacked for the night. I got taken back with the other wounded and I thought, well with the wound, the bullet I knew was there, I thought they’d just take it out and within a week or so I’d be back with the battalion. Instead of that
they put me on the hospital ship, the Manunda, that had come in and brought me back to Australia. The following morning when the battalion moved forward the Japs had evacuated. They had all gone, except for stragglers. I was one of the last wounded and I never got back to Milne Bay. They brought me back to Australia on the hospital ship, stuffed around. I ended up at the old Glennie [Girls’] School
that had been turned into a hospital in Toowoomba. By the time they got around, they were going to operate and take the bullet out, all the dirty pieces of my trouser leg, my trousers and that had gone in there with the bullet, it had turned septic and I had septicaemia all up in my stomach. I was out of action for longer than I should’ve been.
I thought that they’d just take the bullet out and clean it up and it wouldn’t be too long before I’d be back with the battalion again. Instead of that I ended up in the hospital and I didn’t get back to the battalion. In the meantime they went from there, they went up into action at Buna and Sanananda where they lost half the battalion, more than half the battalion.
Horrific things there, so that’s another thing that saved my life probably because the mates that had got their commission, corporals and sergeants and different people there that had been promoted, they were all killed or badly wounded at Buna and Sanananda.
It was just the luck of the draw the things that happened.
gave us ear plugs for the ears. I didn’t think that affected me at all but when I came back I lost all my balance. I couldn’t balance myself at all and I’d stagger and that was for quite a while, and I went to the doctor and they did a scan and the only thing they
could come up with, and there was a lot of it going around at the time, was a viral infection inside the middle ear, inside where they couldn’t get at it. It was a virus and they could do nothing about a virus, and there were young people around the district that had the same problems around that time. I eventually got over it. It comes back every now and again for no reason. It seems to be
just suddenly hits, and when I was up I saw him a week ago or so because I had to go up for an examination for a driver’s licence. I’ve got to get a medical certificate every twelve months, and I told him about it and he said that once I’ve had it it will keep coming back. It’s just one of those things that you can do nothing about. That’s why I feel
I’m better without shoes on. It seems to affect me when I put shoes on, and especially shorts and long socks tight around the leg, and on slippery floors, a shiny floor. I seem to get that uncertainty that my feet are slipping out from under me and then it will pass. When I went away yesterday, going down to that funeral I carried a walking stick with me just in case.
The way it affects me a walking stick is no good to me because you want to grab something and this arm won’t work so I’ve only got one arm to grab at anything with, and a walking stick is no good because it only stops you from falling. That’s the way I feel about it, but it’s better than nothing. Normally I don’t even carry a walking stick. I’ve got it, they gave it to me in
Greenslopes Hospital when I had my spinal surgery. They issued me with a walking stick but I’ve never needed to use it, but they gave it to me for nothing so I took it.
them and more reinforcements came up and just went on with normal training and doing bivouacs and things like that, but a lot of the time I got sent to other units as an instructor. I know the divisional headquarters reckoned that the men attached to divisional headquarters
like the office staff and base staff and that were getting lax and lazy and undisciplined. So they wanted them put back on the parade ground doing parade ground drill, rifle drill and that sort of thing, and smartened up again. So I got sent from my battalion there to do the training and things like that. That was there, and the reinforcements, different
ones if they were put on parade ground drills to smarten them up on the parade ground or to give them weapon training, I would be there as an instructor. That’s probably what saved me. They used me and when we went back over to New Guinea I used to be seconded to
the New Guinea force headquarters for things like that. Then when the unit went over the Finisterres there, went into action there, I got left behind at Port Moresby as what they call left out of battle. It was the personnel that they considered could form a nucleus of a new battalion
if they suffered heavy casualties. That’s when I understood I was left out. They told me I would eventually, because there were no more promotions in the field, there were so many reinforcement officers coming up from disbanded units that there were no more field commissions and I had to come back to do the officers training school to get it. That’s what I understood. They called me out and sent me, I came back to Australia and they gave me
a few days leave and I had to report back into Brisbane. I reported into Brisbane there and they sent me to Canungra. I looked on my papers there, it was authorised by New Guinea Force, not the CO of my unit. When I found out I was Canungra I couldn’t do anything about it. They said I was there
and I had been seconded there for six months. I wrote to him and told him where I was and asked if he could take me, if I could return to the battalion. I saw the telegram that they got there, “Services urgently required by the unit in the field. To be returned immediately.” They showed me it. They wouldn’t let me go.
I had to serve my six months there. Even though he’d been promoted and gone, at the end of my six months there they had somebody, an AIF instructor their to relieve me. I was one of the first AIF officers, I think if not the first AIF instructor who went to Canungra general training school. Up until then they were all CMF officers and NCOs that
hadn’t seen action or anything like that that were doing the training at Canungra. They were training them in the wrong things, things that we didn’t do in jungle fighting, and from then on I got sent there and they sent AIF men that had seen action to Canungra as instructors.
I went back up to the battalion. They’d returned to Australian then again after the Finisterres. They returned to Australia and I rejoined them and I stayed with them then and trained with them up on the Tablelands and a lot more reinforcements. A lot of the older ones were gone and got out, and we were then trained up at,
outside Cairns up at Trinity Beach, up there for invasion training and then we went to Morotai and were there a little while and a lot of men got sick there, and I did too, and popped a thermometer in my mouth and the next thing I was in hospital with a wog that was going around, influenza
type of thing. I was going around all the tents looking my men and then the battalion got word that they were going to Borneo to the invasion of Balikpapan, and Mert Lee, that was then the CO came to the hospitals and there was another sergeant and myself in the hospital there and he came into the ward and especially asked the doctor if we could be released, if it was possible for us to be released
to the battalion to go with them into action. We were both old originals, and they released me. I said I was well enough to go but I had to go through the process. I went to the staging camp there and there were supposed to be a staging camp there for a little while. I’d been classified as fit
to go, and they had two or three fellows who’d been AWL there and they wanted them returned to the battalion. They wanted somebody to escort them back to the battalion, so I volunteered. I said I’d take them back, so they issued me with a rifle and I found out afterwards the bolt didn’t fit in it. I took them to the battalion and the battalion had already started to go aboard the Kanimbla, the boat to go for
the invasion of Borneo. So I rejoined the battalion and went with them. I was with them for the Borneo campaign. The other sergeant didn’t get out for a couple of days after me and he wasn’t at the actual landing. That’s where I finished up,
in Balikpapan, through the Balikpapan campaign. The platoon I was with, Don Company, we were keeping contact with about 800 Japanese that were moving down the coast towards Banjamasam in Borneo. We were just keeping in contact with them, walking behind them. We had a couple of natives with us, ‘Nika’ officers,
sort of Dutch army fellows. We had one of them with us and some of those fellows down where we were, the natives, they were head-hunters. They had no use for the Japs. We were keeping behind them and we got out of wireless contact with the wireless that we had and we were out and finally they
contacted us by a little aeroplane and dropped us a message to rendezvous on a certain point on the coast there and we went in there and they came ashore with a boat and picked us up and told us the war had been over for two days. They dropped the bombs and the Japanese surrendered. So we were out for at least two days after the
war was over before we knew. We heard afterwards at the same time those Japs heard the news too and they were coming back towards us to surrender. So I don’t know what happened, apparently they surrendered to somebody, but we went back to where the rest of the unit were.
they bombarded nearly out of existence. We met very little opposition. It was only more or less rear guard action if you got caught in an ambush or mortars, ones that were going forward. The Japanese were retreating all the time and they were just fighting little rear guard actions.
Actually the platoon I belonged to as platoon sergeant, I wasn’t with the patrol that went out. I think we had the last man in the battalion that was wounded. One killed, he was the forward scout, should have known the Japs were there but he’d never seen action until Borneo and there was nothing, and another fellow who’d never seen action was second scout. He’s down
at Hervey Bay now. He got shot up and that was the last I think killed, and one more or less killed in action or wounded in the unit. We buried a young lad, I think he was seventeen, a young lad, we buried him alongside the track up in Borneo. They’ve recovered him since I believe. They recovered the bodies like that.
Just marked a spot where you buried them, and the other fellow, Cunnington, he joined us a late reinforcement. His brother was killed at Milne Bay, and he came in as a late reinforcement. He was younger and he was one of the last wounded. I don’t that there
was anyone wounded after that because the Japs sort of pulled back, and then when we were following, that’s as I said, we estimated about 800 of them that were withdrawing and we were just trying to keep in contact with them as the were withdrawing and going towards Banjamasam.