and my mother was Ethel Ilene May Munroe becoming Moule. I was born on the 24 December 1918, five years after my parents were married. I lived my early life on the New England and then early schooling. Not a great education but sufficient to get me through
I’m happy to say. I went through to a qualifying certificate and I won an adversary that helped me with my education. Then as a young man I went to work early on a sheep and cattle property, a large station.
There I progressed up to become interested in agriculture; we had nearby at Glen Innes an agricultural college for agricultural station as we referred to it. Because pasture improvement was in its infancy in New England, we started off in this program of improving the pasture.
I became very interested in it and I use to ask a lot of questions of the experts of the Ag [Agriculture] station. From there I progressed to being the tractor driver, preparing the ground on virgin soil and working around with a rotary hoe on the tractor turning up the soil wherever it was possible to do so. This was done in three forms, you’d turn it up and then you waited for rain,
and went another and finally the third you’d be going deeper each time and you’d apply your mixture of seed and fertiliser to the soil. That was my early days working on the station and then sometimes there were other duties with sheep and cattle. We formed a Light Horse troop, a 12th Light Horse Regiment
the Emmaville troop that was fell short of numbers so they combined with Emmaville Deepwater and the manager of the station being an ex Light Horse man from World War I, and the leading hand and he also being an ex-Light Horse man they together with a few other people who were interested around the place encouraged us young fellows to
become members of this Light Horse troop. Being about eighty horses on the station we had your pick of your remount, I selected a horse that hadn’t been used for a long time and they all assured me that he wasn’t suitable for the job, that he wouldn’t acccept the gear, having not been used for a lot of years that I would have trouble. I insisted that I had him and I brought him from the station unlike the other fellows
where they were on loan. When we were being issued with our gear and this was all done at the school at Deepwater in a big yard and a crowd turned out but mainly to see the performance my horse would put on. Like me I think he was keen to be a soldier, or be in the army so I put the gear on him and a little pig buggy, which is only a light buggy, he flinched and didn’t like it but he accepted the gear.
From that day on he and I got on famously in the unit. Together with the Emmaville we joined and I think we had greater numbers than the Emmaville, we joined the troop of the 12th Regiment. We did training and bivouacs and all sorts of things about every fortnight and we try and come together in training.
I have a legacy that having a big horse I was riding number one in sections, one, two three, four who jumped over hurdles single in pairs and fours. The other big horses and being fixed hurdles on huge posts I put out my hand out of course to brace myself and I’ve got a crooked old knuckle ever since. Our first camp
of a couple of weeks was at Inverell and there we went through the normal training and after that we went back and resumed our normal duties and probably once a month we come together as a troop
or part of a troop. The next year we had a camp at Armidale and there again went through the same thing, we were on the Armidale Showground. I recall that we were to have an inspection then by the then governor general. I remember
being on a tall horse and by the end he came by with our troop leader Tom Mills and said, “Mr Mills.” he said, “a splendid troop of horses.” He said, “Well turned out, diggers.” So we ran second to our horses as far as the GG [Governor-General] was concerned. From that we had a three-month camp in 1939 when war was looming
and that was at Gostwick Station, which is east of the town of Uralla. That brought together a whole brigade, there was the 12th, 16th & 24th and headquarters of the Light Horse regiment which made up a brigade and that lasted for three months.
Whilst we were there war broke out and enlistments happened from there. From then I was preparing to get into the AIF [Australian Imperial Force], which I did. I made an application to join the AIF from that camp, whilst others were called up my friend the late Ted McCarthy he and I weren’t called up.
He worked on his father’s small property and I work on the station, so we went and joined again for a second time the AIF, and nothing happened. He sent a telegram down to headquarters down in Tamworth “Do you want us now or never, Moule and McCarthy?” we got a reply almost immediately and we were taken into Tamworth and enlisted
in June 1940. We did some basic training at Tamworth. Because those of us that were in the Light Horse and good friends from the 24th, which was the northwest, we bonded immediately and we remained firm friends right through and even through
our prisoner or war times, even recently. Just recently Billy my wife and I went to Wagga [Wagga Wagga] to farewell Ted McCarthy and just the other week we went to Moree to farewell Ron Fitzgerald. The part that worries me is the McCarthy’s birthday is October 18, Ron Fritz his birthday November 29
and mine is December 24, so we were all of the same age so I’m hanging onto my perch very firmly and hoping.
elite unit, the likes of which they didn’t have in World War I and he said, “You guys would be good for that.” From there we went to Holsworthy, from Holsworthy to Warwick Farm where the regiment was formed. Other Light Horse fellows from the southwest and again a artillery unit from which the colonel was asked to form the anti-tank regiment,
and brought a lot of his fellows over and of course they became a lot of the officers and NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] for the time being. We sailed overseas on the Orantes I think October 1940 and arrived at the Middle East and went into camp. We went on to Haifa,
we were only escorted through the Mediterranean and they did a high dash to get up to Haifa and we went into camp, which was then Palestine camp Julis, there we trained. When Rommel looked like coming into the western desert the forces were very light on, the 6th Division had gone to Greece.
They had only sufficient guns to equipped two batteries, that half the regiment, the 10th Battery, and our battery the 11th picked guns at Alexandria and headed up into the desert. We finally ended at a place called Fort El Mechili, we attempted to stop the might of the German Afrikan
corps, which we did successfully for a short while. Our action at El Mechili held them up long enough for the main body of troops to get back to Tobruk and as Chester Wilmot said in his book of that part of the war ‘had not the defence of El Mechili happened there would have never been Tobruk’,
we did feel that we did achieve even though we had great losses there.
and some English units and we were suppose to get the assist of the 2nd Armoured Brigade commanded by Perry, when he limped into El Mechili he had only had two tanks left and some soft bodied units which are trucks. Our defence at El Mechili
was fairly grim at times and we lost men there. Whilst we could resist the attack initially, when the main force of the Afrika Korps came with particularly their Mark Three and Mark Four tanks and the Mark Fours they had fifty millimetre guns as against our thirty millimetre, and they also had the
heavier tanks with the seventy-five millimetre gun. Finally when the crunch came they could take us, they had asked for a surrender on two occasions. On the first occasion they brought a German officer in, we were defending El Agheila and it was an old fort used by the Italians no doubt in earlier days. We had prisoners in there because they came in with soft
vehicles, they were shot up and we took quite a few Italian prisoners and a few German officers, so we had them as prisoners in the fort. When they came in and asked for a surrender they didn’t blindfold the officer came in and he had a good peep around to where the defenses were. They repeated that a second time and then blindfolded him.
In addition to that Rommel use to use a little light plane called the Stork. We resisted there and we were captured in April and taken to Derna and then from Derna
we believed we’d be released because they’d counter attack but we had no troops there to counter attack. We were put in big Italian trucks, there were quite a lot of men captured there and there were sixteen men to a truck with about four or five guards and we were transported up to Benghazi, if you look at a map that’s about eight hundred to one thousand kilometres and from Benghazi we were put in
an old bombed out place. There we were bombed by our own planes, them not knowing we were there. From Benghazi we went up to a cage out of Tripoli, it was just a desert cage and we were held there for about six weeks. Finally we were put on the Junkers,
the big German transport that brought German troops out and marched us out to the air field and we boarded. Finally they took us down to the port and put us on an Italian ship that they had brought troops over from Italy and they took us over to Naples and from Naples over to Capua,
the birth place of Enrico Caruso. There we had an abundance of water, beautiful green vegetables that came in from the surrounding farms and we thought we were in paradise. But we were all lousy, very lousy I think we picked them up on the ship when we were down in the hold and despite all the washing I never got rid of the bits at night. Until finally I found two big well fed lice
in the frayed part of my dead meal ticket which was a cord that had frayed. That was quite good at Capua it sort of brought us back into normal life again. From Capua we were sent to Sulmona, I’m sure it was a civil prison in the early days with the high brick walls, which is west of Rome. We built a tunnel there that was
a failure. From Sulmona they sent us up to Prata Isarco, which is a meadow out from…? Bolsena and the camp was near the Brenner Pass and you would see and hear them and they were the fiercest storms I’ve every heard, that was up in that part of the world. At Prata Isarco things were still pretty good as you could expect being prisoners of war.
From Prata Isarco they sent us to Campo Concentio Chiquanto Sette, which was a concentration camp number 57, at Gruppignano, which is locality just south of Udine, and we were under the control of the terrible old fascist Colonel Calcaterra.
That was impossible to get out of with escapes, which were attempted but were all failures. Finally they wanted ‘contodene’, which is farmers, so I said to my good friend Ted McCarthy who he and I learnt all we could about the language, we spoke with the guards and anybody else and they wanted men for the work camps
to release some of the people for the army. I said to Ted, “This is our chance!” and he said, “I won’t work for them.” However, both of us put up our hands and we went out to a work camp and it was from there that we made out escape.
from there with the help of a very beautiful and brave young Italian girl, the wife of the pugdionie of the village, Margarette Palazzo made contact with the partisani and the escape from the cage wasn’t very dramatic because they were in turmoil at the time and the German troops were coming
down and you could see them on the road and the rail. That false armistice and it was just a matter of deciding to go and we went, so that was our escape, nothing dramatic. Then that’s when our war started. Rita took us to a little village and there we met two partisani officers who took us in a
half circle back to a camp on the fork of two rivers just north of Vercelli where Rommel was, and he was back from the desert after being ill and I suppose he was still recuperating, he had a lot of these young trigger happy Germans at Vercelli. We were just north of them, a good wooded camp it was, and a good secure place. Until we were
going to be raided because we got a tip off. I and others boarded a bus with an Italian and we were then in civilian clothes and had been for quite a while we went north and then made a rapid exit from the bus, still being lead by the guide and we went to a safe house in a village.
From there we met the advance guard from the camp that we had north of Vercelli and there we were armed. We then went to a camp up in the hills and ours was a very secure place because there was also a camp at Biella that was raided and at Aosta [Valle d’Aosta]
but we were in a very secure place. Most of the Italian men that were there were Alpini troops, the majority of them were officers they were a very good group of fellows. We were not harassed by tanks or vehicles because the terrain and the woods didn’t allow that and the railway terminated at Biella not far away. We spent time with them and
expecting to have air drops by the British but the only planes that came over were the Germans. Our air drops of ammunition and food didn’t occur but we used to go down from the foothills and there we’d beg borrow or steal and we fed ourselves that way for sometime. Until finally things were quite
desperate and they were saying, “When will the troops who had landed in the south, when were they coming? When would Italy make an armistice?” Nobody knew. The partisani, they could go back to their villages, and as I said we were running short of food I was equipped with an Alpini, a white outfit, trouser, jacket and hood, which was really good and it, keep out the wet and the cold.
Without maps or compass we knew that that was the Alps, they gave us some direction. We left the camps with their blessing, seven of us, and we headed towards the hills, briefly to know that if we walked for six hours
and we walk out of the woods and there were clear mountains. We walked in a northeasterly direction and we would see in the distance a huge cross and we made towards that, and they said that we’d reach it in about six hours, which we did. The experience that happened there is almost unbelievable and anybody
who experienced what I did personally should never be a disbeliever. We were under the cross in a grotto and in summertime mountain climbers were go. We had been told to go to the right of, destar, and there
we were strike the partisani again and they’d feed us and give us rest and send us on our way again. There was a boy at this cross and he would have been about ten years old and I can still see his face to this day. He was a typical Italian kid, good looking with a sour complexion and dark curly hair and he said,
“Where are you going?” in Italian, and I said, “Pida Calardo” I think was the place and he said, “Don’t go there.” and I said, “Why?” and he said, “Many Germans there.” I was telling the other guys what he said and because there were manifestoes out there for the reward
for the return of these dangerous criminals that they referred to us on their manifesto, the Germans had put these out in Italian. They said this is a trap, we have been lead into a trap and I said, “No I believe him.” The child began to cry when I said, “No, we are going to the right.” I said
“That’s proof enough for me that this kid is telling the truth.” They said, “You will be stuck with him because this is a setup, he will lead us into a trap.” and I said, “I will go with him on the left track, you can keep back at a safe distance and if somebody grabs me, you will know what to do, make a run for it.”
We went in about one and a half to two kilometres and they were following and they decided that it was safe
so they caught up. We walked then for some time until getting near sundown and we came out of the woods into a clearing. The boy said, “Wait until the sun is down and walk up to the proto and you’ll find a farm house there, go there and you’ll get help.” As we were taught you never stood when
you could sit, you never sat when you could lay, and probably dozed off and finally it came sundown. The fellows always referred to me as Molley, they said, “Molley it’s sundown time to go, where’s the kid?” He was nowhere to be found. Again we became aware that it still could be a trap, because the boy wasn’t there and nobody had seen him go.
We went to the farmhouse and there there was a dear old lady and we frightened the life out of her and she wanted to know whom we were and we told her in Italian that we were Australian. We were prisoners of war from Australia and it also happened that her son was a prisoner of war in Australia and was being treated well, thankfully,
she made us a meal. We stayed there and the other son came in and he was alarmed and he went and got three other neighbours and they were all concerned about this boy because nobody knew him. However the next morning they came before daylight to get us on the go and we had a guide until daylight. What had happened in that village we were heading for the Germans had raided it because they
got a tip off there a party of arms was there, and they killed men, women and children. Was that an angel that kid, how can you explain that event that happened, I didn’t dream it? We had a guide until
daylight and we were told to head to Monte Rosa that was the highest point on the Alps. Monte Rosa with majestic mountains beautiful sunlight, sunshine and as we got closer clouds started to come down and the weather changed completely when we got closer to Monte Rosa.
All we knew was there was a gap that the smugglers used in peace time and eventually as it would happen we were in deep snow trying to find our way down, we found the gap and we proceeded down that and had quite an experience getting down further. Finally at the end of a very, very, very long day the night had fallen and two of us ran ahead and found
a light and it was a Swiss outpost. When they popped their heads over after our calling they put the lights on and I thought we were in Germany and I said, “Sorry mate, I think I’ve walked you into Austria.” when they came down we saw the red background and the white crosses. I tried to talk to them in Italian and they didn’t understand,
neither of us understood French and at that time I didn’t understand much German but later I learnt it in Switzerland, and that was the beginning of the time so we had made it into Switzerland.
From there the Swiss took us down to Visp which was the nearest little village, and from Visp to Brig where we were placed in quarantine to find out who we actually were.
We were placed in quarantine and we were there for about a week and from there we went to a place called Elg, pretty close to the German border and we were under the direct control of the Swiss military authorities and we had to get a leave pass to get out of the village. Then later on
I volunteered together with eleven others for a work party up on the German border and we were sent to a place called Roschach. Then the Allies were coming up through France they had landed in southern France. We went out to the border to get a train down and the place was swarming with German troops. We went back to
Roschach again for a short while and we went by train down to Marseilles and they’re for a while and some was occupied territory. There was still sporadic firing going on in Marseilles. From Marseilles we got on a tank landing craft and across down to Naples. We were out near Mount Vesuvius
and all sorts of funny things happened there. From Naples we got on an American Liberty ship and went across to India and we were there for a short while in India and the regular British Army looked after us for a while. From there we went back to Egypt,
each place we went back to we were equipped with more clothes and more of everything, nobody washed, everything was new. From Egypt we came to Melbourne and we arrived the day after Melbourne Cup so we missed that 1944, so the war in Europe was still going on when I arrived back in Australia.
in my troop, they escaped by jumping off a train that was taking them to Germany and made it to Switzerland. The three of us plus two others wanted to go back and rejoin our unit, and at that time they were up in the islands at Balikpapan or Borneo not too sure, and they said that would be okay. When they did the medical exams on us they made us B1, which means you are not fit for front line service
but you can be reclassified in six months after, then if you are ok you can go back to front line service, so we were all B1. Learning that we wanted to go back to our unit there was another medical; they made us A1 fit for service. Our RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] said what is our next movement, and they said, “You are going Wagga Wagga.” The RSM said,
“That’s to do a refresher course on modern weapons?” He said, “No, to do your basic training.” And old Frank said, “Do you mean you are going to have us go down there to do left turn, right turn?” He said, “Yes Sir, that’s it.” Frank got a promotion whilst a prisoner from RSM to lieutenant. Old Frank hit the table so hard it nearly bounced him off the seat on the other side and he said, “How soon can we get out of this silly bloody army?”
that’s what they were waiting for and he said, “You are all eligible Sir, to get out now on long service.” so that was the end of our army career. Instead of getting back to our unit as we wanted to do that was terminated then. We went back into civilian life after five and a half years I know I was out just a few weeks before when they dropped the atomic bomb on Japan, so I had seen most of the war whilst
still in the army. Then of course it was more leave and then back to civilian life.
That age as a teenager what did you do for fun?
Military always seemed to be my thing. When we were still young at school we played football, rugby league, hunted that was a great thing trapping and hunting rabbits. Then hunting kangaroos and my uncle use to arrange a drive, which was driving kangaroos in the backcountry into corners in a fence.
That was my sort of weekend get away from it get out and do these sorts of things. I made my first five pound out of rabbit skins and picking up dead wool, so I thought I was Lord Nuffield when I made that money. There was a fellow and his animal husbandry wasn’t very good and he had two lazy sons and a lot of dead sheep on his property. I asked him if I could
pickup the dead wool on his property and he said, “Yes of course as long as you give me half.” there was no thought or knowledge of tetanus, picking up this wool and putting it in bags and finally coming to selling it. A skin buyer use to come out once a week and I had wool to sell, which I got five pound eighteen and six pence I think for the wool. Old TT Kelly, the owner of the place, also had a shop in town and sit out
on an old butcher’s block and he didn’t miss much. I went home and said to my Mum, “Look what I got for the wool.” and she said, “You know you have to give Mr Kelly half.” This was a good education. I went back to old TT Kelly this tough man and I said, “I’ve sold the wool Mr Kelly and I got five pound eighteen and six.” and he said, “I know you did.” He said, “You are an honest boy, you are a good boy you may keep the lot.”
That was my great lesson in that honesty is the best policy. From that old TT Kelly, the tough old man, it was a good lesson for me. The other recreation was swimming with all the kids, I was a good swimmer and I always like exploring that was my thing, if I was born a hundred years earlier I’m sure
I would have been with the explorers. I use to go to mountains and climb up the mountains and go to places and all places that were knew to me, I’ve been lost a couple of times. That was the very early days and this uncle of mine would organise the kangaroo drives and I use to go out which was a great thing, I couldn’t shoot kangaroos now but there was no problem
up to Haifa and then arriving in Palestine. I suppose we were moved by trucks out to Julis which was the camp which they had prepared by the guys that were at Hill 69. This is what you did, you were fostered in and everything was prepared for you.
Then your part was to prepare for another lot who were coming in. We moved into Julis which was a new camp and right along side of us was a huge orange grove, Jaffa oranges, and probably some of the best oranges grown in Palestine, so we pretty quickly raided that. Then of course the owner I suppose complained, then it became out of bounds.
They placed a guard there but what had happened the guards on duty would say, “If you are going in for oranges then you have to bring some out for us.” It still went on, but to a lesser extent. We had to have PAD trenches, Passive Air Defence trenches alongside our tent, and we had two poles, Indian blackout
tents. These tents had two poles and they were quite huge with about eight to a tent and they were thick and blacked out so you could have a light on inside. The fellows started putting oranges in the folds of their tents and they pretty quickly woke up to that when the officers did their rounds. These trenches were built in black crumbly soil
and we still had our oranges and I don’t know whether I had a devious mind but I said, “They are always telling us to clean our trenches out, get the fallen stuff out of them, let’s say we put our oranges down there and cover them up.” So that’s what we did we had our oranges down there and just stand on the side of the trench and let the earth fall down, so it was right. That was a good camp at Julis and we did lots of route marches, went to historic places, places with biblical interest
You mentioned before a rush to challenge the Germans in North Africa?
With 6th Division who preceded us they had taken so many Italian prisoners when they stormed up the desert and they were successful campaigns at Bardia, Kaputso, Tobruk, and they went up as far as El Agheila. I think the 13th Battalion was the only one that remained there. The 13th who later became the
9th Division, but the 6th Division moved out with the exception of their re-enforcements, the 18th Brigade who originally came from England, the reinforcement for the 6th Division to the Middle East. The 6th Division that was ill fated campaign too, in Greece, in Crete. We were untried troops and mostly
under equipped and when [Field Marshall] Rommel came in at Tripoli the hierarchy said, “They will have to acclimatise, they will be no problem until later in the year.” But Rommel, when he had sufficient material he went probing and he struck his first troops at El Agheila
and as I said that was the 13th Battalion and some other units and some English units. We were pretty makeshift at that time because they started to retreat before him because he had the armour and that started and they started to move back. Rommel I think, contrary to what was planned for him, found it so easy and easy going that he continued beyond
what they had expected. So therefore it was a rush to get some troops up there to stop him and that’s where they pushed us together ill equipped in a lot of cases. It started and they were moving back the forward troops and Fort El Mechili was one place where Rommel, instead of coming down the
coast road, the desert road was the only object that he had to come to El Agheila and attack Tobruk from there, so we were pushed into El Agheila with the 3rd Indian Motorised Brigade and ‘odds and sods’ and some British anti-tank guns and two
batteries of our own, the 10th and 11th Battery.
and a lot of Italian troops with the Germans. They need fort El Agheila for two reasons there was water there, we had a lot of stores there too unfortunately, they probed and shelled us, it was a daily shelling and in the most inopportune times and every time the tucker wagon came. I was doing a defence with four guns, on troop G Troop
of the 11th Battery, four guns were doing the forward defence for fort El Agheila. The rest of our battery and 10th Battery who was in reserve plus the 3rd Indian Motorised Brigade they were back behind but we were out on the perimeter. Every time the tucker truck looked like coming out
to us with any food the Germans must have had a pretty good observation post where they were so they’d open up and shell. We got that sort of soft shelling for a while and then it got more intense, every morning and every afternoon you’d cop a shelling, and sometimes in between. The most frightening thing of all was the creeping barrage; a creeping barrage is a shell to the front of you,
they’d lift their sights and they shelled at the back of you and you never knew what was going to come in between. I recalled a very good friend of mine and the youngest fellow in our gun crew, Jim Tasker, Jimmy was a big fellow but he was the youngest in the crew and he had a great sense of humour and he had an old head on young shoulders. I use to jump into the pit with him because
he had the machine-gun and it was the widest pit near our gun and we had sandbags around the front of us and one day a tremendous shelling and there was a bump onto the sandbags. Both of us frightened of course, and me more so than him and he recovered quicker than I and said, “There’s a big shell out there and the sparks are flying off it?” and he said, “I’d like to got over and pat it and say, “Nice shell, you won’t go off.” If it had been a shell we wouldn’t have known much about it.
That broke the tension and we had a look and it was a big piece of shell casing that had hit there with this tremendous thud. Jimmy was a wonderful fellow and the things that he’d come up with, and as I said, he had an old head on young shoulders. They gave us quite a lot of pounding there, it wasn’t a long campaign that
one, it started and finished pretty quickly. We held the Germans at bay for five or six days and with that time it allowed the rest of the troops coming down with some exceptions some of them got picked up or lost and they had to get back to Tobruk. As Chester Wilmot [war correspondent] said in his book called ‘Tobruk’ and Chester Wilmot was a war correspondent, ‘had it not been for the action at Fort El Agheila
there would have been no Tobruk’. I had a very short war there; the finish was very close to the start. They did allow troops to get out, the 10th Battery got out just about complete, our headquarters got out but unfortunately through stupidity of a senior British officer they got out and came back in again and that allowed the Germans
to encircle us, there was a passage out and most of the troops got back to Tobruk. The Indian Brigade and most of them got back. They use to do a little action of an afternoon mainly where guns from the 10th Battery would go out and with two Indian support vehicles with Vickers guns on and go out and harass the Germans, the terrain there undulating, wadis as we called them.
This one gun in particular had the Jerries [Germans], they had been out and had pumped a few shells into them and they knew that they had a storage and they were trying to get that. About the third time they went out and they had been out twice successfully, the third time they went out they were waiting for them and they got a hit right directly onto the gun and decapitated the
gun layer and wounded another mate of mine, and two others. Fortunately the driver got them back in and that was the end of those four that went out. But you’d hear the old Vickers guns with the Indians on you’d hear ‘bump, bump, bump, bump’ and then the Germans would start to retaliate and they’d get quicker in the rapid fire bang bang bang bang
and then you’d hear the anti-tank gun bang, bang and put a couple of shots and back they’d come.
you felt sad, you felt angry, and all these mixed emotions were taking over of ‘what’s happening’. Suddenly you have an enemy with no means of attacking or defending and then you feel completely hopeless, it’s a terrible feeling to find that you are a prisoner of war.
You don’t know what the consequences are, it didn’t seem to occur to me at the time, just hopeless now that I’m a prisoner. However these tanks came back and that was it and I jumped up and wondered why they still fired machine-gun bursts at me, and some of the blokes said, “Your rifle Molley!” so I quickly threw my rifle down into the desert sand.
Air troops came quickly onto the scene pretty quickly and herded us up with their machine-guns and took us past the tanks and up to where the rest of the prisoners were from the time before we got there. They put us into a group and had a few patrolling soldiers, they had a Spandau gun where I was facing it and there were a couple of Germans on that some distance
away, about fifteen metres away. They walked away from it and two Italians, Bersaglieri. The Bersaglieri wasn’t a bad fighter it was what we called the ‘black orbington’, with the black feather in their hat and they had a box on and had a stash and whether they had lost their mates or had mates killed
there was something that got into them so they rushed to that machine-gun and they were going to give it to us. A German officer a few metres away rushed over and kicked them off the gun and he walked over. Most of the officers from the Afrika Corps spoke English and he said, “I apologise for the Allies,” he said, “They don’t understand the rules of war.” It was a near miss but they were going to give it to us. They might have had good reason, there were some that were killed, the Bersaglieri, and
trying to get in with the soft materials earlier and they were some of the prisoners that we had. So a fair few of the Italians were killed there as well as a few Germans, so maybe that was the reason they were going to do that. We were herded up and I had this terrible feeling of derogation, feeling of hopelessness and some of our fellows were saying, ‘They will probably counter attack and get us out of this.” We would have waited about two and a half years I think before they countered attack up in that part of the world.
We were then transported into Derna.
when we relate to what happen at the battle at El Agheila. I mentioned earlier about an Indian officer, a major, who took on tanks with a revolver and he came off worse for wear. I’ve got to digress and go back to Germany when I was over there in 1972. We were being entertained by the Germans who had
been out here and as I said twenty nine of us went back and we were mates in Germany and it was being held in a big international hotel and the Rhinegold was where the convention was held. You could walk out and have a beer on the side. I was walking out with Bill Noise, a bloke from the 15th Battalion from Queensland, and we were speaking English and a short, German man
jumped up and said, “Excuse me, you are English?” I said, “No, we are Australian.” He said, “Wonderful, wonderful, can I buy you a beer.” So that suited Bill and that suited me. He introduced us to his mate whose English was as about as good as my German but he spoke very well. He asked about battles and he asked if Bill was at El Alamein and he was and he said, “Were you?” and I said, “No, I was knocked off.” He didn’t understand so I had to explain I was taken prisoner. He said, “Oh, Fort El Agheila,
that was a wonderful battle.” and I said, “It was all right for you bastards.” That’s the way that I said it, “Not good for us.” He said, “I had a most unusual experience at Fort El Agheila.” He said, “Can I tell you about it?” and I said, “Sure.” I’m a very keen photographer which I learnt later and he said, “I saw the fiercest man that I’ve ever seen in my life there and I tried to take a photo of him and the photo never came out.” I said, “You have got to click it on.” and he said, “No-no
I understand.” He said, “Do you think he put a curse on me?” and the penny dropped about this Indian officer and I said, “Was he a turbanned Indian?” and he said, “Yes he was.” I said, “Was there an anti-tank gun there knocked out, blown out there?” He said, “Yes, and I did help two of your comrades.” the bigger one was Bombardier Vince Rayner and he said, “The little one was badly wounded.” He said, “He wanted water
so I gave him water from my bottle and then I took him over to the big one and left my water bottle.” And he said, “And I told the bigger one to give him water.” He said, “I came back later and the little one was gone.” That was my little mate Eddie. And he said, “I made arrangements for the other one to be taken to the field ambulance, the tent.” Vince eventually caught up to us.
We thought that he was dead but some time later in the prison camp at Sulmona in Italy I had some mortar taken out between bricks and I could see through to the main gate and I said to the fellows,, “Vince Rayner has just come in with five other prisoners.” and they said, “Vince is dead.” They thought I was going around the bend, I said, “It was Vince Rayner.” Finally I attracted somebody’s attention in the next compound and it was Vince Rayner, he came in and told us the story about how this German officer hopped out of his tank
and put his hand on his revolver for a while, saying that he was badly wounded and that Eddy was wanting water so he left his water bottle, what’s the chances of that, that Vince had told us that story and then thirty odd years later I met a German who did it and told me the very same thing, how he helped my comrades and his name was Hubert [UNCLEAR]. I corresponded with him for a number of years and he was a great photographer, he use to take self portraits and sent me
quite a lot of photos and good pictures that he had taken. That was one of the humane sides to war and he said, “Why didn’t that picture come out of that wounded Indian?” I said, “You’re the victor and he’s the vanquished.” He said, “Did he put a curse on me?” and I said, “I bet he did.” No wonder under circumstances like that. That was the meeting with Hubert and that was the friendship lasted for many years, it lasted from 1972 until
late in the 90s, twenty years of corresponding. The first letter I got after we were home it came just on Christmas time and he wrote, ‘to my new found friend’ ‘I hope’ in brackets, he went on good wishes for the festive season and finishing up with, ‘your ex enemy’
and that friendship lasted for twenty odd years. After all we are all human beings aren’t we? I don’t think God put us on earth to kill one another, but that is what happens in war.
and understand. I got into it pretty full on because my thoughts were escape, I never lost that motivation to escape regardless of what the conditions were, good or bad, I still wanted to escape from the day that I was taken prisoner. I did the best I could with the language and I found that with the various dialects you can get
away with a little bit of pidgin Italian, because the northerners and southerners, the uneducated people, they would allow for the variance in the dialects. I was always passed off as a partisani meaning ‘foot of the mountain people’, because I had a bit of colour in my cheeks in those days
they said, “Don’t worry about the colour of your skin because he looks like you.” the people from the higher altitudes and part of that use to be Austria prior to World War I. From Sulmona we were sent by train in carriages up near Bolsena and the
locality there was Prata Isarco in the middle, which I told you before was pretty close to the Brenner Pass. On the trip up there we pulled up at a station and there was a guy there he might as well have just walked out of Winton in Queensland “Do any of you blokes come from Winton up in Queensland?” I think he might have said Winton,
in this Aussie voice and we were in carriages and there were a lot of guards. He had been out there but he was Italian, he had been out here and he was almost Aussie. Another experience, we were in the first carriage near the steam engine and we had had Red Cross parcels which were pretty good at Sulmona and we made, out of the fruit tins we made little billies.
This was before I knew much Italian, someone said, “Ask the engine driver if he will make us some tea.” you know how you can make tea with the steam out of the engine like the old engine drivers used to do. We put the tea in the bottom and we said, “Aqua.” we knew the word for water, [Italian (UNCLEAR)] “Tell him we don’t want the coal, tell him Fredo.” so what did he do, he put the cold water on top
of the tea leaves and handed it back to us. So we quickly learnt the difference between hot and cold. Up to Prata Isarco which was an old brewery because it had been in Austrian territory it had been an old wooden brewery that was where they made use of that was it was very well enclosed with barbed wire
and we were deported into the old brewery, it made for good accommodation. They sent a bloke in there and they said, “Where did he come from?” someone said, “I think he must be South African.” but he was a German plant, they did this in every camp where they could. They’d put a plant in to see what was going on and to see if there were any tunnels, but we pretty quickly sorted him out.
Again we were being well fed and we had medical orderlies from our regiment, a fellow by the name of Albert Farrow and he was World War I and he had a magnificent voice. He said he used to sing with Dame Nellie Melba [opera singer] and we found out later that everything he told us was true and he had this magnificent voice. Of course he’d sing
and the Italians heard him singing and of course he knew everything in Italian, he could speak a little bit. The officers invited him down to their mess at this part in Prato Isarco to sing for them and he said, “It was all right and they applied him with wine.” he sang and he could go through it all, all of the good stuff. Then he said, “We can do better than that.” and I was with a little squad and there were fifteen of us,
and we did a six month course in six weeks of body building, we had necks like little balls. We started with fifteen and ended up with five, it got too tough for most of them. Bert Farrow decided on having a concert and he got some of the fellows that were handy to make with tins,
a sort of a light, and the stage there that lent itself to having a concert. He said, “We will do well out of this and we will invite the Italians into our concert.” He looked for a choir and said, “You’ll blokes will do, all you have got to do is sing ‘Faniculi Funicular’” we said, “We will try that Bert.” He gave us a few run-throughs and said, “I think you are better at physical stuff than you are at singing but you will do.”
He said, “This will give me a break because when I want a break between songs” he said, “I will just walk out and raise my head to look around and you will know to come on so I can have my break.” We ran through the song but we had other thoughts, so Bert came out and he rendered this beautifully all the Italian officers were up the front and we did our bit, we sang
across and that wind coming down there over this opened camp. There we were getting Red Cross parcels but when they came in you had to open them all, you couldn’t store. They then were using our tins that were in our parcels, the packing straw the cardboard.
We said that they were using it for their war effort because every now and again they’d store it in a big central building that was enclosed with wire and every now and again a truck would come and take it away. The late Alex Crocker from Narrabri said, “We have got to do something about it Molley.” and I said, “Yes, we will burn it down.” he said, “How will we burn it down?”
Have you read about how you can use mice and rats to your advantage if you had something like phosphorus. So we got some English lemon curd that sets very hard, we got some waxed matches which you could buy from the little canteen they had there. Ravel them and then I said, “We now have to get into the building.” The Red Cross parcels came they would have a working party
of about a dozen fellows to carry the things, we weren’t on the working party but we exchanged with two fellows. We were armed with this stuff and went into the building, there was all this massive stuff and it was full of rats and mice. We laid it all around and the guards didn’t count them going out, we got to work and the next lot came in and we went out with them. That night at about
two-thirty in the morning with this wind that blows down from the hills little Ronny Fritz who we farewelled last week said, “There’s your fire Molley, there’s your fire.” and I said, “Shut up, shut up.” and it was ablaze. It totally destroyed it and it nearly destroyed us because our prefabricated huts had milfoil on the top. A car base sort of a covering and the debris from the fire and with the heavy wind it was landing on top of our huts and setting them on fire.
Of course they came in with their fire fighting, little carts and funny little hoses all the officers running in and some were at all states of undress. We had one old fellow and we use to call him ‘Capitan’ Snozzle because of his huge nose, this old capitan and they blasted us with music around the camp, it was Lilly Marlene morning, noon
and night from these loudspeakers. There was always a wagon and I was a quick thinker and with all this commotion going on he started off and we quickly got a chorus
which was hopeless for them to do so. We won and we destroyed the thing and in it there was quite a lot of machinery. We heard after and hopefully it was correct but the officers had a lot of their food stuff stored up at one end of it but I don’t know if that is for sure or not but however we were successful. I met Alec Crocker some thirty years after the war when I was a superintendent up in Tamworth when I was working the north and northwest. He said,
“Molley, the biggest bloody fire bug in Italy and here you are selling insurance, there isn’t nothing you wouldn’t know about the tricks is there?” However that’s the funny side of it. That was what kept you going that humour, ‘there was always a way’. In this camp was this horrible old Calcaterra [colonel in charge of camp] and he ordered that we have our hair cut right off, and it was cold
and there was snow every where, so we refused. The senior non commissioned officer of the place was Sergeant Major Cottrell and he sent in the order together with hand clippers that we were to cut each other’s hair right off and Cottrell said he wouldn’t give the order. So in came Calcaterra puffed up like a big toad and very angry with what looked like
a whole battalion of soldiers armed and two machine-guns. They lined us all up and put two machine-guns one each end and these guards and of course a lot of the soldiers had been to the Russian front, some had lost fingers and lost toes, in other words they were rejects from their main army. Some of them were short and undersized, not A1, a first class fighting man. There again the situation got pretty grim,
he reddened up this fellow, he used to be the chief of their police so he ordered and the orders weren’t obeyed. They grabbed Sergeant Major Cottrell and handcuffed him and gave him a rough haircut and they did this to about six fellows until finally Cottrell said, “Fellows, you have to submit.” But before they did this and they were getting pretty trigger happy. One of our fellows said,
“What a fine lot of men, just have a look at them, not a bastard over five foot.” What you do is you burst out laughing, in the face of the enemy, you’re unarmed and they are armed to the teeth, and old Calcaterra, “Fancy laughing at us when we’ve got them in this situation!” Probably in one way it was a foolish thing to do because you never knew when he could have given the order to give us a burst of fire, but however thank God it didn’t happen. Do you see how the WAG [Wireless Air Gunner] came again, not a
b [bastard] over five foot caused the laugh and broke the tension. However we all ended up with no hair. They called it the ‘Gruppignano Hair Raid“so if you hear a bloke ask, “Were you a prisoner in Italy?” and you say, “Yes.” and they might say, “Were you in the hair raid?” That’s what we call the Gruppignano Hair Raid.
prisoners and in the centre there was a little pot belly stove where we got some heating. The bunks were in tiers of eight, wooden bunks. There were four tiers on the bottom and four on the top and they were crammed into this hut. We had a cookhouse with our own cook in and they’d bring in the basic
raw materials and they’d cook the meals. We had hot water of a morning for the coffee and if you had a bit of pani [bread] left, you had a bit of bread. You only got one meal a day and it might have been macaroni and/or rice, very rarely with meat in it but maybe a few ounces of meat twice a week.
But you basically got one meal that was solid or semi solid and then you got a pretty watery evening meal. Hence the times I held the record for going to the toilet, twenty two times in one night I think, because of the big fluid intake. The toilets were pit type and they were out from the huts and there were showers and of course in the wintertime you couldn’t use them, everything froze and you had to wait for the middle of the day because there was only cold water.
Heavily guarded with wire, and then they had trip wire and then they a thick wire in the middle and then two aprons of wire and then there were guard towers certainly on each corner and probably one in the middle as well as the guards patrolling on the outside. On the inside with guard dogs, and that’s why I hate
German Shepherds and also Dobermans, and they’d patrol of a night and even into the huts with these confounded dogs. I walked there, I walked morning and every day the whole compound and did a lot of walking, kept fit so doing.
There was also an empty hut where they also to had a church parade and an Italian padre, he wore a beard, he looked more like a Greek than Italian with his white beard. He was the source of information, he would listen to the British news and he’d pass a little bit off to a select few,
so we got a bit of information through Father Cotter there. His congregation grew; he had quite a congregation in the finish with blokes hoping to get a bit of news. There were attempted escapes from there, fellows hiding in trucks that came in, a good tunnel was built. It went down in a hut and went out towards the cornfield, under the wire and
it was to come up in the cornfield but they came and cut the corn down before the tunnel was opened on the other end and then rain set in. They had to hurry it along a bit and nineteen went out and some of the work there, changing blankets and stuff like that to look like suits. I did a little bit of work for them with the dummy passports; just dollied them up a bit and made them look like
a genuine passport. Nineteen went out in the tunnel but nineteen were eventually returned and a bit worse for wear too.
Then you had your own mess orderly to go over to your own cooks in the kitchen to bring back the water or the soup. I was honoured, Leo Stains from Narrabri, a great guy and he was selected for his abilities and generally a good bloke, a real knockabout fellow. He selected me as his assistant and
there were little perks, because when it was rice day you got your rice up the top early so you had your own dixie there and you filled his and mine, the rice was thick and when it got down to the bottom it got pretty watery. The other days when you had macaroni it would be sinking to the bottom so you filled your dixie up last so they were the little perks for carrying it to and from. I said
to the hut sergeant one day I think it was and he was standing right up close, first on the rank to be served with this hot water and we came in with our big opened dixie and we put it down and it splashed on him, he said, “You silly bastard!” and I said, “Don’t call me silly!” and of course it was on. I didn’t know he was a left hander, he hit me with that hand and I didn’t realise where they were coming from
so I finally worked it out. He was bigger than me and I got my head down and bored in and knocked him down in the slit trench that was there and the acting was all over. I said to Leo years after, “Leo, why did you pick me to be your assistant for carrying the dixies?” and he said, “I reckoned you could fight a bit.” I said, “You must have been disappointed
when you saw me have that fight with the sergeant.” He said, “No bloody fear.” He said, “You beat him didn’t you?” I said, “Well not in my way of thinking.” and I said, “When he knocked the skin off me I looked like a Dalmatian dog.” He said, “But he gave in, didn’t he?” and he did too when I knocked him down in the trench and he gave in. But Leo was right and he was loyal, wasn’t he?
by train out to the main area which was in the area of Vercelli which is a provincial city and that was on the Lombardy Plains and it was mainly cereal and rice growing in that area. We were broken up into segments and first of all and the Germans organised this and they sent in the forms to tell them what you were.
Having planned escape and I said to the blokes around me, “This is our chance, no matter what you’ve done, you have got to be a farmer.” Some of them said, “I won’t work for them!” so they went off and they were taken to Germany and fared much worse than what we did. They couldn’t work out what bank managers were, what banana benders were, some of the other occupations
and some were from their own imagination. I put my hand up like most of us did that thought they had a glimmer of hope that we might escape. So out we go and we were broken up into these different groups. The two main groups that I recall were my mates from the north and the northwest there were the Palazzo Brothers
and the other one. The farmer we were working on he was Padroni and he was also the mayor of the village a man with high standings. We were heavily guarded, more guards than prisons. We were locked up for the night in barbed wire, again locked up in a building that was secured.
Daytime we were out with as many guards as prisoners and it was doing nothing for their war effort. First of all they were harvesting their wheat when we first go there. We saw the last of that harvest and helped with the loading and threshing the wheat. The head inspectors came along
every now and again, government inspectors who would check the supply of wheat. I was working a thresher, the thing that you put the wheat down and I knew that they were keeping the best hard wheat, that’s a premium wheat and that was being put away and covered up under the bags of other wheat.
So when the inspectors came they would only look at that and they had this good wheat for themselves. One day I went to put a sheet of this stuff down through the thresher and it hadn’t been cut, I went to put it back and it made a noise zoom, and the bloke said, “Boomers Molley, give it another one.” this was a great stunt, this sounded like the bombers and that was he saying to the guards, “English bombers.”
Some bloke put a half of a brick in and you could image the commotion of that going through the drums, it broke the belt and there was hell to pay then. The poor old padroni came down and we had an old bloke who use to be in charge of us, old Carlo was always tell us a bit of news that he could threw his moustache and poor old Carlo was,
“Oh what have you done?” I was in the hot seat because I was in charge of that and the bloke along side of me so we were both in trouble. Then the old padroni called in the police, the carabinieri, and up they came in addition to our guards and I said to the bloke, “We are in trouble now.” and he said, “What do we do, do we jump and run?” I said,
“I think we will get away with it.” Down off the thing and the guard was standing around and the carabinieri and the old boss and old Carlo and I remember about the wheat and I went up to Carlo and I said, “What about the other wheat?” and I looked straight at it. That was the last thing that they wanted the police to know was about this hard wheat that was being hidden
from the government inspectors. Old Carlo goes up and says something to the padroni and after a while the padroni says, “We will handle this ourselves, go away police, we will handle this, we will see that they are punished.” so we got away with that I was pleased that they had the wheat stored there. Generally the work on the farm went pretty
good except that we had a strike, keeping up with the old Australian tradition. Having prepared the ground after the wheat was removed they gave me the job of tractor driver I use to do that when I was younger, it was an old iron wheel tractor. Where they had the drains in for the rice when it was planted they were about that deep and about that wide.
With some encouragement from the fellows they said, “Give it some.” and we got the hand throttle on, two guards and of course wherever you went on a tractor there were guards watching you and I pulled the hand throttle out and away she went and I didn’t know these drains were there. There were singing out and the guards and the blokes were cheering me on but I hit one of these drains and it nearly bounced me off the tractor. However to cut a long story short I didn’t
get the tractor driver’s job and they gave it to another bloke called Dusty Rhode. That was the sort of thing that we did. I didn’t get into much trouble about that only that they demoted me. The taking the wheat off early, you have two lovely horses and this bloke Joe we put so much on him and say, “Enough.” and we’d keep throwing
it on and it would have so much on that the horses could hardly pull it in the damp ground, all the things we did to disrupt. Then it came to when the fields were prepared for rice planting, they had the banks all around and they tapped into the canals and turn the water in and they are flooded to about that deep and they said that we had to go and plant the rice. Not us, we don’t get in the water,
so we objected, so anyway back to the camp and shut up and the next day out again and no, we still weren’t going to do it. They increased the number of guards around us but it didn’t intimate us, we refused to go into the water. So they brought out eighty girls out from the city, that was the best thing that ever happened ,our strike, they brought these lovely girls who used to sing and plant the rice and they’d have their head down and bum up
planting and singing, it was just lovely to hear them. We’d give them a cheer now and again and a wave and that sort of thing, but the girls did the rice planting. As the rice grew and matured and had a full head of rice on it, moving us from point A to point B they’d have a guard in front and probably one in the middle and about eighteen or twenty fellows and guards at the back.
As we go we’d say, “Off to work we go, hi ho hi ho” we would be stripping the heads off, pure destructive business. Stripping it as we went by and they couldn’t stop us unless they jumped in the water and ran around. Anything that we could do to be disruptive we did, so we weren’t helping
the war effort very much.
Getting out around the rice fields and following the tree lines and we stopped to have a break one time, not far away from the village and Mario was one of the guards and here comes Mario up with a rifle and we said, “Well he’s going to be at a loss wont he?” He was searching for us and we let Mario walk close to us and we thought, now we will jump him and take his rifle, but he wanted to come
with us and join us. He handed over his rifle very freely, we said, “No you can’t come with us.” I don’t know what happened to Mario but he was prepared to come too. We didn’t know what to do, we knew the people in the village were friendly towards us so we went back to the village and we hid up in the lofts made a hiding place with bales of
dried straw and we had a ladder to go up. We also had a bit cartwheel on the wall that goes out into the fields. The Germans were looking for us and they had come onto the scene and the little kids were good. When the Germans came into the village with probably a couple of motorbikes and a couple of truckloads of guards and the little kids would race up to us and tell us that
the Germans were coming so we’d go over the cartwheel and out the other side. One day I cut it a bit fine and I had been in civilian clothes and I think it was a lady’s blouse that I had that was part of my dress. They got so close to getting me that I hopped out and the women were out picking up where the wheat had been harvested and
there was grain on the ground and they were picking this all up to supplement their meagre food. So I went down with my head down and bum up with them and they thought I was one of the women, that was my closest shave there to getting captured. The people in the village were good and they used to cook up a bit of rice and stuff, but we had to catch the frogs and there were plenty of them in the water canals so we’d go
out and catch these frogs and then they’d cook that in our meal too. We supplemented our rations with frogs. That was a bit of a cat and mouse business with the Germans making regular visits until Rita Palazzo the daughter, the only child of the Padroni and I said she was a very beautiful, brave, young woman
and she made contact with the partisani.
Later on when I was in Italy, Switzerland and Germany in 1972 I went back to that area and stayed at a hotel in Vercelli and the lady was English speaking and I tried to make contact with Palazzo and she was on the phone and she got onto some Palazzo and she said that I was
a prisoner of war who had worked there. I remember her saying distinctly, ‘He’s like a gentleman.’
But unfortunately Rita had married and gone to Torino and we had come through Torino. I heard all sorts of stories, they said because they befriended us the Germans shot the mother and father and put her
in the brothels. I dispute that story and I don’t believe it, because I was there after the war and the lady said she was living in Torino and that she was married. Whether they shot the mum and dad I don’t know but I think Rita was still alive. She made the contact with us at a little railway sighting place called San Gimignano with two officers from the partisan.
As I said before they were Alpini troops and they took us on a wide detour to a concealed camp not very far from Vercelli with a big body of German soldiers. It was there we were being fed and looked after and they use to have a happy hour every now and again, some very
well dressed people would came out from Vercelli and there was always wine and food there so we were well fed. One day I was detailed to go and unearth some weapons which were concealed under dried corn, they have a road built up like that and these Italians they started to ferret around here were some beautifully kept light machine-guns, they were wrapped in canvas and well oiled, that’s how they came
out when you took them out of their wrapping. They were in a beautiful condition with a tripod to stand them on and I think we became the first soldiers to shoot them of the hip with these light machine-guns and that was a pretty good camp. I was the leader of our party because I spoke a bit of Italian, I was Luigi, that was my code name and there were thirteen of us there
in that camp. Including Ron Scott from the 15th Battalion Queensland, and old Jack ,something older than us from the 15th Battalion and he liked his grog and Scotty liked the women and they liked him, he was very presentable. He was a big fair-headed fellow and a handsome man. The Italians said to us, “We share our food we share our arms and the vino, but not the women.”
But of course Ron being handsome I think that the women were attracted to him. I was up there getting these arms out one day with these Italians and I heard, “Luigi, Luigi come here quick!” and I went down and you never saw such a sight, there was an Italian and he was bleeding and he was cut down the head and across here and down the shoulder.
When these women were making up to Ron Scott and we had been told not to fraternise, a jealous boyfriend or lover grabbed a big knife and raced at him to hit him and this other Italian stood between Ron Scott and the attacker and he got the full brunt of it. Which was a very brave thing for him to do
for his former enemy and they were going to shoot him, they were in the process of shooting him when I got there. It took a bit of time to pacify them and finally he said, “We are all fighting for the same cause, they will patch him up.” They said, “In case that we will spare him but he’s got to go.” But I wasn’t sorry to see old Bill go because I nearly had to shoot him myself. I had a little hut thing
right on the end and Vercelli not very far away filled with German soldiers and Bill got a bit of drink into him and he was going in to get more grog and I had a big carabinieri revolver and I had to shake it like that to get the firing pin in the right position. Bill was coming past me and I said, “Where are you going Bill?” and he said, “Into Vercelli.” And I said, “What are you going to Vercelli for?” He said, “To get some more grog.” And I said, “Why? There’s grog here, Bill?”
And he said, “No, not enough of it.” I said, “You can’t speak the language, you look as Aussie as a meat pie, they will pick you up.” So I said, “Where are you going to get it?” and he said, “One of the canteens.” I said, “No you can’t do that Bill.” I said, “They will pick you up and they will come back and pick us up and there’s too much at stake, you can’t go Bill.” And he said, “I’m going.” And I said, “I will shoot you.” I said, “I will have to shoot you in the back but I will shoot you. You can’t go because you will be putting too many lives at stake.”
He turned around and said, “You bastard! You would, wouldn’t you?” and I said, “I sure will, so make up your mind.” I uncocked the revolver and he went back but he didn’t like me and I didn’t like him. It was a blessing to see him get shifted off.
and it was given to us in hours. If you walk in a north-easterly direction and you will see eventually a huge cross on a hill there. We walked and six hours of walking up and down hills and it doesn’t take long for six hours to go and we did reach that about midday we reached the cross and that’s where I encountered this Italian boy.
He asked us where we were going and we said that we were going to the track to the right where the partisan said where you’d find two tracks there going through the forest again and he implored us not to go there before there were many Germans there and I opted to following him. When I said I was going that way he broke down and he cried, which indicated to me that the kid
was sincere, and the other fellows still didn’t trust because of the price on our head. They were feared that there was still a trap because the manifesto were offering money and rewards for those who could dob us in. I followed the boy and went down and I said to the others, “You keep far enough away.” and eventually we went through after walking some kilometres and we came to the edge of that forest. He said, “Wait here until near sundown
then walk and you will find a farmhouse out there when the sun is setting and you will be safe.” We rested and half asleep and when somebody said, “Molley it’s time to move.” there was no boy; we hadn’t seen him from that day to this. When we went to the farmhouse and it was where he had described it there was a dear old lady and she had a fright with
us seven fellows coming to her doorstep. When I told her who we were and she said that she also had a son in Australia and he was well treated, and she said to come into the house and she made us minestrone soup, and I think it was the nicest soup that I have ever tasted. She said that her other son would be coming later and he did and he also got a fright when he saw
us there because I suppose they wouldn’t know who was German too. I told him about the boy and he went away and got two more farmers and they came back but nobody knew the boy and that put people on tenterhooks because was he going to set us up, however we survived the night down in the stalls with the cattle and the chooks. The next morning early before daylight they gave us some black coffee
and the little panis and I still like salami and dry bread to this day, hard Italian pani bread and a lump of salami and that’s what we cross the Alps with. We head off in dark with a guide until it came daylight and then he wouldn’t have any more of it because the Germans were patrolling the border between Switzerland and Italy.
We were only going on verbal instructions we were told to head toward Monterosa which was the highest peak which was about four thousand odd metres, the highest peak on the Alps and they also told us there was a smugglers’ pass there, what the smugglers used in the summer time. We saw this huge mountain, awesome it was, frightening
and it was in fine sunlight but getting towards the mountain the weather changed and the clouds came down and the clouds then turned to thick fog like clouds and it became a real nightmare.
that little bit of bread and that bit of salami, that’s all we had. We came into more snow and we came to the point of no return, it was sort of an ice front and there was no way to the right or left and we had to go down over that. In summertime when the smugglers went I suppose there were rocks.
I was frightened, I feared to do that, to take it on. I felt it and I apparently didn’t show it, I looked around to the guys and they were depending on me as their leader and maybe they were as frightened as I was. We had to accept the challenge and if we didn’t we failed, the hurts and the dangers
and all the depuration and all that would be gone, we had to go on if we wanted to make freedom. Down we went and it wasn’t easy and no way back. Charlie Stanley was Western Australian hurt his back on the slide down so we had an injured man and it took two fellows to help him along. We noticed the snow was becoming thinner until it was about a metre
and then a little trickle, a brook sort of thing and it was getting dark at that stage. I said to a fellow, “Come with me and we will go ahead and see.” and it was down hill, we were buoyed by the fact that we were descending, the adrenaline started to pump we had a new lease of life as it were. He and I half ran all the way down by this little stream and in the distance we saw a light
and we made to it and that was the Swiss outpost. From the calling out the lights came on everywhere, off the side, and these voices and peak caps and we thought, ‘Oh no we are in bloody Austria!’ I said, “I’m sorry mate, we have bungled it.” But when they came down, the emblems had the red colour patches with the white cross. I only knew English and
Italian and they didn’t know Italian or English and we didn’t know French. Finally it worked out that they were Swiss and I said to them that there were five more to come in and one was injured and I did the jester. I said, “I will go back and get them.” and they said, “No.” All they allowed me to do was to go to the edge of the light where I was able to call out to them in case they saw these German like fellows and they’d make a run for it.
I kept calling out “We are here fellows, it’s right, it’s okay, we have made it.” and finally they came into hearing because they were helping the injured bloke along. There we were and the Swiss took us into their two-storey place. They made us tea, where the hell they got the tea from I don’t know and gave us cigarettes to those of us that smoked and gave us a bed of straw to sleep on.
I suppose some of them had never been on their knees before to have to look through a keyhole or something they said to me, “Molley say a prayer.” I said a prayer, a simple prayer of thanksgiving and the Lord’s Prayer and in unison and reverence they said, “Amen, we have made it, we have succeeded in crossing the Alps to freedom.” The names
of those fellows I can give you because I have them in there. Charlie Stanley, Bill Lowes, Wally Cook, I’ve got their names, numbers and the units they represented.
How did you make your plans to leave Switzerland?
We didn’t actually; I think the British legation down in Geneva said it was time if you want to get out of the country you can go down. Leaving Roschach the place that we last worked there and there was dear old momma and poppa and the lovely daughters and the friends, like the butcher there became a friend, the different people in that little village, they said it was time to go.
It was organised by either the Swiss or our own people and that we were to entrain on a certain day and to head towards French border which we did and there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth when we left. We got to the border and that was ceasing with the Germans on that side, they were everywhere. So we had to do an about face and back to the village and everybody was happy again. Then we were there
I think for about another month, I think we left there in October, which would have made it nearly then twelve months in Switzerland. Whilst France was still occupied by the enemy in many places we entrained and went through Lyons, I remember that quite clearly because
it was there we were travelling in carriages and the Americans were going up in freight cars as they call them. I made the silly mistake by singing out “Where are you fellows going?” and wearing a black beret and English Pommy battle dress they said, “We are going up to finish the war you Limey bastards started and couldn’t go on with.” so the fellows said, “Keep quite Lloyd, let them get away with it.”
Then we went down to Marseilles and we had pretty meagre living quarters there and I think we were living in an old bombed out hotel and eating something from across the road for a while. We met up with some Americans in a bar one night we decided to walk around the dimly lit city and walked into a little bar and there were two big Yanks there. The barmaid was serving drinks and the Yanks wanted to fight us they thought we were Limeys [English].
I said, “No, we are Aussies.” so they brought us drinks and they thought it was cognac but it was hair oil mixed with something else, they gave us cigarettes and they couldn’t do enough for us. They were talking about the ducks that they used to pick up the goods from the ships that came in because the port was destroyed. We hadn’t heard of these ducks and they invited us out to have a look, which was good.
We went out to them and unloading the ships with the sling of goods, not much free board coming back. That was in Marseilles. Then we were boarded onto a tank landing craft and we went across to Naples
in that. There was a big swell and the tank landing craft has a flat bottom and of course we would ride up on the big wave and drop down like that. I spent a lot of time up on the little tiny deck that was there only because of the smell of the diesel fumes and I preferred to have the fresh air. A Yank came up and said, “Are you frightened of torpedoes buddy?” and I said, “I’m not real brave about torpedoes but that doesn’t bring me up here.” I said, “I have came up for
a bit of fresh air.” and he said, “Don’t be frightened of torpedoes buddy.” He said, “This goddamn thing won’t be in the water long enough to get hit by one.” and he’s probably right too because they skim along the water and then ride up like that. However we arrived at Naples and spent some time there and at Mount Vesuvius. I did something there that I shouldn’t be proud of. Everywhere we went they gave us new gear and that included underwear,
socks and everything else. Having spoken a little bit of Italian I was standing out in front of the place where they had us quartered, army quarters and some Italians came along and said, “Do you have anything?” and I said, “Yes we have.” Everybody that was being issued with this new material threw their socks away their underclothing
and singlets, all this gear that they discarded they never washed it because they were issued with new stuff. We filled up a couple of kitbags full of this stuff and we made arrangements with these guys that we could meet them across the park and that was their residence over there and told them the money we wanted. We went over that evening and took the two kitbags back and they said, “Come up there is a party going on.” forgetting all this material and we said,
“No we can’t go, because they will miss us from up there so we must go back.” We said to them, “Those kitbags, we must have them back.” as soon as they took them upstairs we took off. I think we had half of the population chasing us before we got across the park. A fellow called Jack Redden from Orange and Jack was a bloke who was always a big pouncy and he wore glasses and running across this park and he said,
“Molley I’m buggered.” And I said, “You can’t stop, you have to keep running.” They chased us right back.When it came to changing our money, from our pay books we could draw a certain amount of money. Then going back cashing it in again this Pommy English officer said, “My word you’re putting more money in, much more money than you got out.” I said, “Haven’t you heard of the Aussie game of two-up Sir.”
He said, “My goodness you’ve been lucky haven’t you?” so that covered that. We didn’t go out again and we stayed without the confines of the walls while we were there.
we were like old World War I veterans living in trenches and lived so close to each other, in a prisoner of war camp that was it, there was no leave, no going anywhere, from Sunday to Sunday you were there, from month to month you were there, and year to year you were there. You lived so closely and you got to know each other so well, about your families at home that you hadn’t even seen and you were a part of that.
Then coming back and all of a sudden it seemed empty and I couldn’t cope with it for a while, I found it very difficult. I know that that distressed my dear old Mum, I couldn’t, I was just so unsettled. That’s one of the problems I think of being continually, if you were in the army and you had leave and that sort of thing
it broke it up but in the circumstances we were in as prisoners of war. You were living more or less a family. I got into work pretty quickly when I came back and I thought ‘this is the solution’ and I tried various things, I was inclined to drink a bit when I came back which I had never done before.
I took a job as a builder’s labourer and I thought that is about one of the hardest things that you could do so that is going to snap me out of it and it did too. I remember I went on a job and they were building a nurses’ quarters extension at Armidale, pouring concrete and I didn’t know it at the time but they were having me on because I always did things very quickly and I suppose it was like what the old Italians said, “Don’t work so quick.”
The blokes said, “Have him on.” I had a big shovel, they were exchanging one after the other and they kept me going. They were trying me out and trying to slow me down. At the end of the day they said that I had passed the test and they took me over to the pub and they filled me up with beer because I had passed the test, but that was good for me that helped me to sort of get back. The old fellow who owned the business the contractor he said, “You better come with me tomorrow, I’m building a cottage.”
so that got me out of that situation. I needed something to just come back to earth. I went down to Taree to relatives and worked in a factory for a short while and then I went in life insurance and that’s where I found my niche. I like people and I made a success of it and that was good. I worked on that until I retired and I retired when I was fifty-eight and a bit.
pretty quickly and settled down to work. What changed me, I became a member of an ex-prisoner of war association when we came here which was only thirteen or fourteen years ago. There was a fellow from up in my district, he was the president of the Central Coast association. He was asking about joining the association
which I did. Every year they’d send you a book of tickets to sell and I used to take the lot. I went to Sydney one time and I said, “Take these down to the association estate branch in Sussex Street.” I went in with these tickets and the fellow said, “What time is your appointment?” I said, “I don’t have an appointment I’m here with the ten dollars worth of tickets and to give you the butts and give you the money.” He said, “Are you a prisoner of war?” and I said, “Yes.”
And he said, “Do you get a pension?” and I said, “Yes, thirty per cent.” He said, “You would be the lowest percentage in Australia.” He said, “Would you like to go and see one of our doctors? There are two there now and they don’t have any appointments. Do you want to go at half past ten?” I said, “No, I didn’t come for that.” He said to this lady, “Mary, make him a cup of tea.” And he went in and said, “There is a doctor in there who will see you.” I went in and who should be there but the fellow I had met before was Jimmy Greenwood who was the Deputy Commissioner
of the Department of Repatriation but he had retired and he himself had been a prisoner up at Changi. He said, “G’day Lloyd.” and I said, “G’day Jim.” I said, “The doctor still hasn’t looked at me.” And he said, “You’re not getting much pension?” and I said, “No, thirty per cent.” He said, “What’s it for?” I couldn’t tell him and he rang up somebody and he was able to tell me he said, “Go and see a psychiatrist.” I said, “Do you think that I am over the hill?” He said,
“No, but he’s a good man and he’s at Macquarie Street and he understands prisoners of war.” When I eventually did go to see him he asked me questions and it got down to the nitty gritty and all this sort of thing and he said, “Is that your wife out there? Can I talk to her?” It was Billy who knew right about me from the beginning, my other wife Margaret wouldn’t have known because I never talked about it she only knew I was in the 13th Anti Tank Regiment. Billy was able to tell him how I was before I went and how I was
when I came back and I had that bad period when I came back. As a result of that and I’m not ashamed to say but I’ve got one hundred per cent war pension. It was just as things so happened that Billy was the only person the only living person at that time who would have known about pre and post war because she met me when I came back.