Archive number: 1330
Date interviewed: 10 December, 2003Return to Search results
You are listening to the interview audio
So Bob, can you tell me what it was like growing up in Perth?
Growing up in Perth.
I know that you lived all around the place.
When do you want to go back to?
As early as you can remember.
About a seven-year-old, I suppose. I was living in
East Perth. The only thing I can remember is that Mum and Dad went to a party one night and they had a bit of a barney [fight] and never ever saw my Dad since then. Mother and other two brothers lived in a lot of places around Perth. Had pretty hard times.
Must have been dreadfully
hard on your mother, being a single mother. Was this in the Depression?
Well, it would have been in the Depression, yes. 1925, seven makes me ’32, 1929 I mean, I forgot how old I was then.
So how did your parents breaking up affect you and your siblings?
I wouldn’t have a clue, I didn’t even
know they had broken up. Something I was a bit too young to realise what it was as far as a marriage was concerned. Looking back there is no two ways, it was a pretty hard deal. My mother used to go and work in the offices in Perth and I was left to look after the
two younger brothers. Used to leave directions about cooking and I picked up a bit about cooking and one thing and another.
What sort of things did you cook?
Whatever was left for me to put on, add to and take away sort of business, we all had a meal somewhere around the line.
Sorry, what sort of things did your mother do in offices?
Offices, cleaning, cleaning offices. We still
go into night-time and early morning.
How was the wages on that for her?
I wouldn’t have a clue.
Was it enough to support the three of you?
No, no, apparently not because I had to finish up going into a Salvation Army Boys’ Home for a couple of years. The last year me
next brother came in with me and spent 12 months. It was a Salvation Army Boys’ Home in Hollywood. I don’t know whether it still exists, the home does but I don’t think it is used as a boys’ home any more.
How old were you when you were taken to the home?
I can’t say directly, but it was somewhere between eight and ten I suppose.
So you were pretty young?
So it was just you?
Only me for one year and me next brother came in for the second year.
That must have been a really sad thing for you?
We had a bit of luck about life. The boys used to play alleys, you know, marbles. And I used to watch them and I thought, “Gee, I would love to play that game.”
Because I never had any marbles. I used to watch every day and I saw one boy walk across and pinch a marble in his toe, I watched it pretty closely and I tried it meself one day and I finished up playing alleys with the rest of the boys. I finished up pretty good, I only started with one and I finished up with a great big tin full of
What was the routine like in the boys’ home?
Oh, from what I can remember it was pretty well routine. I remember of a Saturday morning we used to have to line up and we used to get a dessertspoonful of kerosene, every Saturday morning. I think it was for coughs and colds I think. I never knew what it was for but I think that’s what it was
What were you supposed to do with it?
Swallow it. Swallow it every Saturday morning. One dessert spoonful of kerosene. I am not sure with it was a dessert spoonful or a tablespoon full. But it was a big spoon. Everyone lined up and just went, and that was it.
That’s quite strange, I have not heard that before.
Well you’ve heard it now.
I mean I…
It tastes all right, after a while.
I have heard cod liver oil, but kerosene! What was the food like there?
Pretty scarce, apparently. I can remember we had gardens that we used to go and work in during the day and one night we all, not all but
quite a few of us got out of the dormitory and finished up sitting in the place eating raw potatoes. They tasted pretty good. We were apparently pretty hungry. I read quite a few letters I used to write to me mother, she used to come and visit us once every week or fortnight, might have been three weeks, but when I read some of the letters we must have been hungry, because I was always asking for some of the nice cakes
or some of the things she brought along. Other than I don’t remember very much about it really.
Did they make sure you went to school?
We had school apparently, in the existing turn out in the complex.
Were you – all your beds next to each other in a big room?
That I can’t tell you.
Okay. That’s all right. We have
to ask for these details, just in case you can remember. Can you remember how the Salvation Army people treated you boys?
Oh, as far as I know, it was quite all right. There was no bashings or anything like that as far as I recall. Never happened to me if it did, I must have been a good boy.
Did you make any friends during that time?
Probably, but I don’t recall any of them.
That’s okay. Did you eventually get to another school, apart from the Salvation Army School?
A lot of schools, East Perth, Inglewood, Leederville, Perth Boys’ School.
Why did you move around so much?
I don’t know. Where Mum went I went, and that’s all about it really. She had friends out at Wembley, that’s one of the first ones I can remember. That’s when I went to Leederville School. The only thing I can remember at Lederville School, I must have been pretty good at long division, I used to always get out early. They always to give us two or three long divisions, and
when you finished you could go home. I always used to always be first out the door. I don’t know whether it was because I wanted to go home or what. We used to get on – the old trams used to go out Wembley, we used to jump on the trams when the conductor wasn’t looking, and when the inspectors got on we used to get off at the other end very quickly. Sometimes I was on and off the trams over, ah,
about three miles I suppose. You know, boys’ stuff.
It’s a good plan. What was Perth Boys School like?
I was pretty well grown up by then. That was – I used to ride me bike to Inglewood, straight down Beaufort Street, down the first boys’ school, and do (UNCLEAR).
Made the grade to 8th and then applied if anyone wanted a job so I grabbed it. I finished up going to James A. Dymock in Murray Street as a messenger boy.
Before we get into that, I just want to ask you were you playing any sports as a kid?
Yeah, football, cricket. I played cricket at Inglewood School, the only thing I remember about that was
the teacher used to come out and have a hit with the ball and he used to give anyone who could catch the ball a halfpenny or a penny for two. He always used to end up looking for me in the finish because I used to get a penny every day at least. I started off fielding in one place and then I would jump over to somewhere else, because that’s where I thought he would play it, and quite often got a penny, and he always used to look around to find out where I was.
That’s about all I can remember in cricket.
How much did you enjoy sport?
Very much. When I went to Perth Boys School I was made captain of the team that was going over to the eastern states to play with the schoolboys. I finished up I broke a bone in me hands, so I missed out playing sport.
Did the situation with your mother actually improve as far as her income was concerned?
No. She had a few boyfriends later in life that I knew of. But, nothing improved very much really. We lived with the grandparents for a lot of years.
What was that like?
It was quite an education, really,
my grandfather had a horse in the back yard in a stable. Because he mounted up a great big heap of manure in the back and he would buy himself a pipe and he would always get me to go out and bury this bloody pipe under this manure. That was part of the treatment of a new pipe apparently. He also, he used to go out every
weekend and drive around the bush and pick up cow manure and whatever manure we could. I can always remember one day, there was a pig running round and the little piglets, and he yelled out to me to grab one. I grabbed one all right, chucked it on the back of the horse and cart we had. The next thing the old girl starting racing towards me and I had trouble getting out of it.
Used to always feed his horse on a bunch of grapes, we had a grapevine growing in the back yard. Every time we went out, he always used to feed the horse a bunch of grapes. It used to blow its head off every time it went runnin’ down the road. Something that always stuck in me mind.
Blow its head off as in the sugar?
I don’t know what it was, but it used to blow off quite a lot.
Did you manage to grow some vegetables and fruit at all?
No. Not in my – there wasn’t anything that I loved about gardening.
Did you have any chores?
Oh, always had chores, always had something to do. I always had a paper round when I was a young fellow. There was no shortage of
work. I started at 4 o’clock and do an hour with a baker, and do the next hour with milkman and I used to go down at 6 o’clock to the butcher and work until 7 o’clock. And then, get on me bike and ride to school.
Oh, in the afternoon I used to go down to the Daily News and when the Daily News was in existence,
I had a special round doing that, never sold them on the streets, but I used to go to all the offices, bank managers, and deliver their papers to them. One of the best jobs I ever had, specially when it came to Christmas time. Someone would leave me a ₤1 or 10 shilling note, that was a lot of money in them days. We used to get fourpence a dozen for delivering papers.
Come Christmas time it was a really good time. I had more money over Christmas time than I had in the rest of me life.
And what would you do when you finally got home?
Oh, I suppose general things as a boy, chop a bit of wood, help Mum clean up round the place. She was a bit of a fanatic on
making bread rolls and things, and I used to give her a hand, and on the weekends I used to spend all Saturday mornings going round all different people selling them these bread rolls. Used to get a few bob [shillings]. You’ll have me working again shortly.
Sounds like you didn’t have a spare moment really.
No. No, I had a pretty full life.
Nothing to spend.
Did your brothers work as hard as you?
I don’t know, I was too busy lookin’ after meself to be worrying about them. We used to have a fight every now and again, that was only brotherly love I think.
So when you left Perth Boys’, can you tell me a little bit about the job that you took on after that?
James A. Dymock? Yeah, well I just went as a messenger boy.
I used to go all over the different areas in Perth, delivering motor parts to garages and one thing and another. It was, always sticks in me mind, because on me way home, I used to live in Inglewood, I had to deliver a parcel out to Subiaco on me way home so
went out to Vic [Victoria] Park on me way home out to Inglewood, there was always a job around about quarter to five, we always knocked off at 5 o’clock. That always stuck in me mind, deliver this parcel. And another great thing I remember was the wages of eight [shillings] and fourpence halfpenny a week. Big money.
Would have been pretty physical work if you were travelling those sorts of distances?
No. I was in pretty good condition. I used to – when I first started work I had to go to Equity Stores and get some clothes to wear, and I used to go down from work, two [shillings] and six [pence] into Equity Stores and then down to Murray Street and into Warrington Street, and pay off me 2 shillings off me bike, and straight out Beaufort Street to
Inglewood. The job I was doing for quite a few years.
Did you spend your money on anything that was not to do with paying off something or food or?
Well, two shillings and two and six was four and six and Mum used to get the rest. There was no such thing as keeping any money, she always had to manage. I got to go to the pictures once every month if I was
lucky. Threepence to go in and one penny to spend. Another thing that used to remind me of the pictures was that with one penny you could buy about 16 spearmint, little things for a halfpenny and for another halfpenny you could buy another eight or a number of things. It always used to catch me mind how the hell I used to juggle, or work it out I wouldn’t have a clue.
You buy so many things for a halfpenny and so many other things for a halfpenny.
Did you continue with any sport when you were working?
No, not really. Not to any event that I can recall.
At what point did you get in to the army cadets?
Oh didn’t like (UNCLEAR) fourpence halfpenny and then I found about the
cadets. So I did a fair bit of training with them for about six months.
This is before war has broken out, am I right?
Before the war.
Can you tell me the kind of things you were learning about being in the cadets?
I learnt all about rifles and how to take them apart, Lewis guns [machine guns] and all things like that. I was very efficient at the Lewis gun, I could strip it down
in record time and put it all back together. And then I had the opportunity of going into the 28th Battalion, not the 2/28th, but the 28th Battalion. And I spent about 12 months in a training cadre, teaching how to keep fit and how to learn all types of
machine guns and rifles and grenades and I eventually got meself a lance corporal, a corporal and then a sergeant.
Just going backwards a little bit with the cadets, you said they were based in Mt Lawley, where is that?
The one in Lord Street, Mt Lawley, I used to cycle over there, oh about
2 nights a week I think it was.
And how long would you do the training on those two days a week?
Maybe an hour, or two hours or something like that.
Why did you choose to do that in the first place?
I don’t know, just something to do or that just attracted me I don’t know what it was.
Did you have some other mates that joined up the same time as you in the cadets?
Not that I recall.
And how long were you actually in the cadets before you went into the battalion?
Oh, I would say about 18 months, two years probably.
Can you step me through the process of how you went from the cadets into the battalion, what was the process in order to…?
No, I couldn’t tell you. It was just something that
occurred and I just got into the army and I was getting five shillings a day, that was a lot of money in them days.
So how did it change for you when you got into the battalion, was there a wider range of things that you were going?
Oh I was still learning a lot about army life and weekend leave type of things, there was always something to
So you were actually living in a barracks by that stage?
Well I lived in Melville Camp in a tent. For quite a few years I suppose.
Can you tell me what Melville Camp was like?
Northam, in the early days of the 2/4th, they’d only just been formed. It was all taken up in training
as far as I know. We used to get leave mostly on a weekend. For a day or two days, Saturdays and Sundays, other than that it was basically training.
What sort of things would you do as part of training?
What sort of training?
Yeah, were you doing a lot of square bashing [drill] or…?
We started to learn about machine guns
and the transport we didn’t have, but they used to draw in a paddock, they used to draw a square that represented the back of a truck and you used to have to mount and dismount, it was quite comical really, and unload your machine guns and pick them off and just to take them to the side, erect them and dismantle them and put them back on the truck. It was quite comical when you look back on it.
Sounds like you have dome some
crazy things as part of training.
Most of the time it was all taken up with marching more than anything. We had wooden rifles for a while, until they started to issue out the old .303s [Lee-Enfield rifles]. All like a bit of a funny game really.
What was the funniest thing about that whole time?
Oh, looking back on it, it was the mounting and dismounting
out the back of this drawn square on the ground to get in and out of the truck, because that was really comical. Other than that it was routine training, marching out there, doing routine gun drills and one thing and another. When we got to the real stuff it was interesting. We spent a lot of hours with the machine guns.
When you say the real stuff what does that mean?
When we finished up with real guns and real rifles. They were all make-believe early in the piece.
It sounds like you quite liked the real guns?
If you didn’t look after them, they wouldn’t look after you. The stupid part about it when we got issued with the
machine guns, with all the years we carried them from 1940 through to 1942, when we were taken POW [Prisoner of War] we never fired a shot out of the goddamned things.
How can that happen?
One of the best trained units never left Australia and three parts of the battalion never fired a machine gun, there was only one company that had their machine guns in the right place at the right time.
And, they did a lot of damage apparently, but we were given a brigade of Indians to look after or to support, and when the war started they disappeared very quickly, and of course we were left with lumping our machine guns around and we never fired a shot out of them. We had to break them all up.
Crazy. Carted them all round Australia from Adelaide to Darwin, took them over to Singapore and never fired a shot out of them.
Must have been very frustrating?
Bloody hard work I know.
How heavy are these things?
The Vickers machine guns?
You don’t want to be a weakling to pick them, I couldn’t tell you the weight of them, but they are pretty
Does it take a couple of blokes?
Oh yeah. I just don’t recall how many in the section, but the time you had your ammunition and your tripods it was quite a lot of hard work lugging them around.
And why was it that you actually had to carry them around?
We had no transport. The only time we got in transport was
when we were in Darwin, we had a fair bit of transport there. They were supposed to ship over with us, but we didn’t have much of it shipped over, but we did finish up with a bit of transport in Singapore took us out to the different places we had to go.
It sounds like you were doing it pretty rough?
That’s what life is like in the army, it’s pretty rough.
How did you find the discipline when you were still in your training phase?
adapted to pretty quickly. I didn’t realise it, because when I look back on it I must have done pretty well because I was promoted pretty quick, and I was only a boy actually.
Were you about 17?
I was 17 when I was doing the training with the cadres and I wanted to go to the AIF [Australian Imperial Force], I had to get permission off me
mother to go into the AIF. So I actually joined up at 17 instead of 18.
What did she think about you doing a bit of a lie?
I had to talk to her pretty sincerely, and told her that’s where I wanted to go and she let me go.
Why were you so drawn to that?
I don’t know, something I learnt and something I was quite happy with.
And I don’t know of any reason why was attracted to it, probably that I was promoted pretty quick, and there was a bit more money in it, that’s mainly I think what the attraction was. Not much in these days when you think about it but it was in those days.
Basically dangled a bit of money in front of you and you got promoted pretty quick?
Whatever money I ever got I never saw, it always went to me
mother, so if I had two shillings in me pocket I was a rich man, or boy I should say.
So how did you go with some of the other boys being older than you and being a sergeant?
I never had any trouble, they realised that I was pretty young, I explained to them there was discipline that had to be done, and they sort of looked at me and said, “Well, okay.”
I had quite a few after the war that came up and saw me, that had been in them training days and congratulated me, on the fact they learnt quite a lot even though they used to play up on it, they did learn quite a lot. It made ma feel pretty good because I thought, “Well, I did something round the place anyhow.”
And what sort of things would you teach them as part of your duties?
There was a program drawn out each day and you became adapted to part of it. At the end of the day you would get orders from the officers that, “Tomorrow you will do so and so.” And we all fell and joined in and did what was on the program.
Would there be physical aspect to what you were doing?
Oh well, they had, McCissock and McLean was another man, they were experts on physical training. They were pretty hard too. I learnt quite a lot from them, it sort of grew from them and grew to the training, they sort of adapted to it.
When you say it was
physically hard training, what were you doing, were you doing route marches or anything?
Oh, route marches was just a common thing in the army. But there was rifle drills and bayonet charging and all sorts of things like that. Plenty of things to keep you moving and you had to be accurate.
What time of the day would you – your day start?
I think reveille used to go at 6 o’clock in the morning. Up and about and have a roll call. Knock off for breakfast and have another roll call. There was always roll calls and straight into training cadres, it was a full day.
Were there any extra duties that
you had as part of being in a barracks?
Not that I recall.
I was just wondering if you had mess duties there or…? What were your superiors like, what did you think of them?
I don’t recall much about them, must have been all right or I would have been a fight on the place I suppose, I always got on all right with most people. No worries.
So can you tell me what happened when the war broke out, how did you get to know about that?
You ask me some silly questions don’t you?
I don’t recall really just how it happened, the only thing I recall was asking me mother I wanted to go in to the AIF. How it all happened or
why it happened I don’t actually know really. Just followed on.
Did you talk to any of your mates when it was building up in Europe? Did you chat about what you blokes were going to do, whether or not you blokes were going to join up?
I don’t recall having that many mates, other than the fellas that used to train. No doubt there was quite a lot of other NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers]. Something I don’t recall really.
So, what happened as far as you joining up was concerned, what happened next, after you had been trained. Did you go to Adelaide?
After I was in the 2/4th. I got transferred straight from the training camp and I took me sergeant’s stripes straight into the AIF. Which probably made me one of the youngest sergeants
in the AIF if I ever got around to trying to find out about it.
I was a sergeant at 17 and I went into the AIF at 17. And when I stop and think about it, there were very few sergeants that came in, as I say can’t recall, they usually worked up through the
ranks, lance corporal to corporal and then sergeant.
You had to be happy about that?
I don’t know. I don’t know really how it happened, jut the fact that I spent all this time in the training cadres and I came straight from that into the AIF. I think that the CO [Commanding Officer] that we had in the 28th was the same CO that went into the 2/4th and he was probably the instigator of me going straight in to the 2/4th.
So is this when you go to Adelaide?
Ah, we had three months in Adelaide.
How did you get to Adelaide?
We were lucky, we went over by, name of the boat now,
it was the last state ship, it was a passenger liner and we all boarded the boat at Fremantle, and it took us three or four days to get to Adelaide. Had quite a good time on that. It was still rigged out like a passenger boat and of course when we had meals we all sat down on the great big tables,
and they just brought the tucker out as a passenger more or less, and that’s something you wouldn’t expect in the army, but it was great. And as soon as we had tea, they used to bring out the dice and they used to use the tables for throwing the dice. We were on board with bugger all. And I borrowed a few bob off different guys to have a go at the dice, I didn’t do any good, but
a couple of the crew there they said, “Well, come down to our quarters we have got a dice game down there,” and I had to go to a couple of me mates and borrow some more money. I went down there and I did 13 pair, heads, and I went back and paid all me mates off, and it was the first time I had some money in me pocket. 13 heads I threw in the first throw. I have been trying ever since
to do the same, but have never been good enough. But I went on with nothing and came off with quite a bit of money. Paid all me mates back and I owed nobody nothing and I had a bit of money in me pocket.
Well, it was about time you got a bit of a break really isn’t it?
Yes it was, probably one of the first breaks I ever had.
Did you have different living quarters on board the ship because you were a sergeant?
I can’t recall.
No, there was no special treatment, we were still in together. Mainly because it was still a passenger boat they hadn’t transferred it over to a transport ship, rather than try and sort things out to different ranks, they just threw it all in together. As far as I can recall. Officers probably had a cabin or something like that. I couldn’t even tell you where I slept on the boat, I wouldn’t have a clue.
That’s all right.
Couldn’t have been in bed long, because I used to play dice until
all hours of the morning. Only three or four day trip anyhow.
Started with marbles and it’s working its way up to dice.
Marbles and the dice yeah. Started to become a gambler.
So where are you staying when you arrive in Adelaide?
At Woodside. We were transferred straight to Woodside Camp. One of the coldest places on this earth, I think. We spent
a winter there and by gee it’s cold.
Is this just outside of Adelaide in the Hills?
The hills can be bloomin’ cold.
Yeah, that’s right yeah.
What sort of equipment had they given you, had they given you extra blankets or anything like that?
No. We just – we slept in the same hut as the other ranks, and we had a palliasse same as anyone else to sleep on.
That’s all part of army life, you know, the old palliasse. Full of straw, quite comfortable really when you get into it. Especially when it was cold.
I don’t believe you for a moment.
Oh, you can do all sorts of things if you got to.
Straw just does not sound comfortable to me. What can you tell me about the sorts of things you managed
to do at Woodside Camp?
The only things that I recall is that on pay day, because I used to allocate most of me money to me mother and I used to have enough just to buy me toothpaste and hair oil and whatever little thing I might want for general hygiene. I formed up with a mate, Mick Lambie, he
only just died a few months. We finished up wherever we went, one was with the other, and whenever we went down to the canteen together and buy whatever we had to buy, took it back to our camp and we decided if we had any money we would go to the two-up. So he would have a spin, if he had a few pair,
with the winnings we used to set off together and straight off to Adelaide. Never missed a weekend in Adelaide, either he would go and do four or five pair, and my turn I would four or five pair, and we wouldn’t bet or anything inside, whatever we won we just – if we didn’t win we didn’t go. I can’t recall we didn’t have a weekend in Adelaide.
What sort of things did you get up to when you had your weekends off in Adelaide?
Now you are asking me some funny questions.
I know. Did you go to the movies, you know…?
Movies, who would want to go to the movies when you are in the army?
Did you go to the pub, what are you doing’?
We used to have a few beers, but that would be on ration then, and we always used to make the last session. We gulped a few down.
End of tape
Interviewee: Robert Whitfield Archive ID 1330 Tape 02
I was just wondering, Bob, any sort of tales from your time in the Salvation Army Home?
Other than the
alleys, eating spuds and writing letters to Mum for something to eat, is all I can really recall. I go down to the pub every Friday night with me son, and have a couple of beers. The Salvo joker always comes round and we finish up we have a bit of a chiack with him every Friday night. And I said to him, “Do they keep records?” and he said, “As far as I know they do.” So I rang up
the Salvation Army, and they said only back 50 years. Well mine goes back, to 70 odd years, and they only keep records back 50 years, so mine wouldn’t have anything on me. I really wanted to get a hold of it just to satisfy meself. You know. Just wanted to read something about it.
What information were you hoping to read?
Something I didn’t
know, you see, they would have had a record of everything and there would have been something in there to say that Robert Whitfield and Mervyn Whitfield spent such and such a time here or something like that. I just wanted to read what years it was more than anything. Actually, all I ever wanted was to find out, or confirm that I was in that place. Not for
any reason I can’t recall for any reason, just for curiosity.
Do you reckon they would have said that Robert was a good boy?
I don’t think so.
Was it pretty rough in there among some of those boys?
I can’t recall, I am here today, so it must have been all right, and I don’t recall anyone that I have met since,
that was ever in the same place. When I look back on it, it is hard to realise that the Salvation Army boys did have a home there like that, and I just wanted to see if they had a record of it, that it was right, you know. Not for any particular reason.
I was just curious if there were any bullies that might have taught you to stand up for yourself?
Oh, you learn after a while that you can always stand up for yourself.
of marble game did you play?
Oh we used to play the big ring, big ring and there was a couple of other games, I just can’t recall them.
What did you have to do in the big ring?
Oh, the idea was that you put in so many alleys in the middle and you might have 5 or 6 players, well you might have 25 allies
in there, and the more could stand when it was your turn, every time you hit one out you go another shot. And I got pretty good at it.
You played for keeps?
Well whatever came out of that ring was yours. You know. I finished up with a big tin full. I must have got pretty good at it.
What about training up in Northam, what about any stories from those days you haven’t told us yet.
What was it like going out to the bush?
What was it like going out to the bush, had you been in the bush before?
Oh yes, me old grandfather used to take me out to the bush and the bush is no worry to me.
Where did he take you?
He used to drive on tracks, or make his own tracks and used to follow cows, or whatever was out there and pick up manure, only thing
he went out in the bush for was a bit of manure and fire wood, that’s all.
Would he sell it or put on his own garden?
Oh yes, we used to bag it up and sell the manure and for 1/- a bag, a big bag full, it might have been 6 pence a bag, I don’t know.
Did you sell or trade anything else when you were young?
I used to collect beer bottles and get halfpenny a dozen. Beer
Where would you collect them from?
Round all different houses. Knock on the door and say, “Have you got any bottles?” And they’d say, “They are all down the back.” I made meself a little cart and used to cart the bottles round in that.
What did you make the cart out of?
Oh, don’t ask me. Out of boxes and bloody…box, and you always find some wheels of some sort. If I had to make one now I wouldn’t have a clue, but I made one as a
Where did you take the bottles to get the refund?
You got me beat, I wouldn’t have a clue.
Must have take them to a store or someone must have come round and pick them up. I think I can remember a joker used to come round and pick them up. He used to call out, “Bottle-oh, bottle-oh,” and we used to take the bottles out.
Any other young blokes collecting bottles like yourself?
Oh, I wouldn’t have been the only young bloke
collecting bottles. I don’t recall anyone else, I didn’t interfere with anyone.
I thought you might have a bit of competition?
Too busy collecting bottles for me to be worried about competition.
You sound like you were the competition. So getting back to Northam, what kind of mischief did you get up to?
I was a good boy. I was a sergeant, I wasn’t allowed to get in to
mischief. No, it’s – I just can’t recall anything other than the bloody training we were first on, we were drawing the bloody things on the ground for motor cars and trucks.
What do you mean?
What do you mean you were drawing on the ground?
Oh, when you went out you had machine guns in your truck and of course you had to dismount and take all your guns out, and we used to have to draw a truck on the
ground. About 6’ wide and 10’ long, and that’s where your guns went and you had to pick them up and put them on the ground. And when you finished training with the dummy machine guns and one thing another until we got the real ones, you had to sort of pick them up and put them the truck, ammunition boxes, put them in, all by numbers you know, that was the name of the army, everything
was done by numbers.
You must have got a bit of chiacking [teasing] when you showed the boys those exercises?
Oh no, come on, there would be chiacking, we were real good boys, no, real fun for sure. That was training and that was the only thing we had to train with, imagination. It worked.
Did you used to come down to Perth on leave?
Yes, I used to come down every weekend on leave. I had a funny experience there once, we
had a, a mate and I we finished up we had a couple of girls, and we had to get back that night, and the train left about 9 o’clock I think, and we got invited, or they were going for a feed so we thought, “Well, we’ll go with them.” We had a meal, but we had no money to pay for it, so we
had to finish up putting half an hour in the kitchen washing dishes. That was the first time we were taking girls out and we didn’t have enough money to pay for their meal. We had to go out the back and do some cleaning up. Did hurt us.
What happened to the girls?
They went home, I presume.
Did you call them sheilas in those days?
We called them sheilas, yeah.
So where would you go to meet a couple of
Just wander around the streets and pick them round there, they were always out walking round the same as we were.
Was it easy to meet a girl then?
I don’t know, I never had many girls. I was too busy lookin’ after meself.
You and me likewise?
That’s your story and you stick to it.
How did you get to Perth when you came down here on
There was always a train went down, and we had a chap that had his car there, and we went down with him most of the time.
What kind of car did he have?
He had a big Chev [Chevrolet] really, and he was a bit of a speed maniac, he could Northam in Perth in such and such a time, well you can’t remember the times now. He would say, “Well, come on let’s
Go,” and he would have a look at his watch and then he’d get in the middle and say, “Well, that’s the time we used to do it in.” I know we used to be hanging on pretty tight in lots of places.
His name wasn’t John was it?
We spoke to a bloke yesterday, his name was John and he sounds like he had a bit in common with your mate. I think he drove a Ford.
Hepple, Hepple was his name, he came from the southwest somewhere, he was a cocky. He had a bit of dough and he had a car, he brought that to camp with him and we used, nearly all our trips to Perth we went down with him.
How many of you blokes would squeeze in the Chev?
Ohh I think we used to get six in a car. Including him, six in a car.
A couple of bottles of beer?
No, we never had any bottles of beer to go down with, we used to have some to come back with, but none to go down with.
Did you spend any time in Northam outside of the camp?
Oh, on odd occasions we went into Northam, mainly to get a few drinks. There wasn’t much in Northam, it was a beehive of a place because it was all army camp there, but there was nothing for anyone to
see or do really, other than drink in the pubs.
Let’s face it, it wasn’t Perth,
Oh, Perth we had plenty of pubs and plenty of places to go to. Picture shows if you had the money, stacks of girls round the place if you wanted to pick them up, no worries.
What were some of the older NCOs like at Northam?
I never got involved with NCOs,
I was just on me own more or less, and a few guys I got mixed up with in the sergeant’s mess and a few of the officers I got to know, mainly through guards and one thing like that. I never mixed socially them at all, I would be out with the boys more than anyone.
What about training, though? During your training?
I don’t recall much about training,
we had our duties to perform every day which is more or less a routine thing done every day, and every week was sort of day in day out, week in week out. You had your times for training, marches.
Exercises and bayonet training.
Which exercises did you enjoy the most?
Oh, I don’t know, I think it was just the fact that we were altogether and we were still happy to be altogether sort of business and sleep in the same hut. Every day, every night, and had your own little thing in the hut, and you go down to the canteen, it was just the same old building, we would get one corner, it’s just the same you do today, you go down the pub you have usually got a couple of mates and you drink
together, as far as I was concerned it was no different to ordinary life.
Did any of those older blokes ever drag you out to the pub?
I never drank much in them days, hard to believe but. The first times I had been into a pub, one of the first times I had been out with the boys on the end of the
camp, 21 year olds, and they said, “You are coming out with us tonight,” and I said, “Well, not tonight,” it was the end of the week. I finished up getting a bad cold or something and I said, “Well, I won’t be going with you, I have got a bloody cold,” and they said, “You are still coming with us whether you like it or not.” And they took me in the pub and they gave me something to drink, I don’t know what it was, but I drank quite a few of them. I was blind, one hour, two hours, I was blind as a bat.
Eventually they realised that I was pretty crook. We went to a dance, in a taxi, they pulled the taxi up outside the dance and they went in and I was too crook. They realised that I had had enough so they took me home. They pulled up at the guards, at the entrance to the camp,
and they said, “We have got the sergeant, now you have got to take him in to his bed,” so let the taxi drive me up, roll me up and put me into me bed on the ground, inside the tent. I was crook as a dog for a couple of days. That was the first time I have ever been in a pub. So I never really got attached to drinking, only in the latter years. Cost me a lot of money too.
It’s an expensive habit.
What happened when you completed your training in Northam?
Well, we thought we were on our way when they sent us to Adelaide, we made a lot of friends there, and carried on with our training and marching, then we went up to Darwin.
So who were you with, what outfit?
The 2nd 4th Machine Gun Battalion. Still the same
unit I joined up with. They take us up to Darwin.
How did they take you up there?
Oh, went up to Alice Springs by train I think, and then we got on trucks from there up to Darwin, I think we had one night or two nights we pulled in, we had makeshift showers
we didn’t have much to do other than the fact that we were travelling all day and these trucks, all the dust used to come in, and we used to look like boongs [Aborigines], with clay all over you know. Rigged up showers and had so much water in the shower, and you would get yourself clean. I think we had two nights like that. We finished up at a
place just out Darwin that had the railway lines connected. I think we spent a couple of nights there, and then they put us on the train, in cattle trucks, I think about 30 of us to a cattle trucks, and we got to Winnellie, and we just sort of rolled out of the trucks and took our gear and built the camp. Made our
tents and we used to go out and cut mangrove, little saplings to make beds, cross pieces bearers, and you made your own bed and we used to use those inside the tent. Until we had to go out on the beach defences and we had to cut roads through jungles and swamps to get to the beaches.
Sounds like hard yakka [work]?
More hard yakka, plenty of it. No worries. We spent, probably two months doing that.
How far from the beach was the camp?
Oh, Winnellie, oh we would have been six miles probably. Yeah.
On the outskirts?
Oh, the camp was on the outskirts of Darwin and from Winnellie we used to get on the trucks and go as far as we could
and we then started to make corduroy roads through the swamps so as to get the rest of the transport in to the beaches.
What kind of roads were they?
Called it the corduroy road. You would cut all the bushes and saplings and trees and lay them down so the trucks ran over them, and they consolidated as they kept on running over them,
kept on building on them, supposed to be all laced with saplings and things like that, bushes and saplings and things like that.
So what kind of equipment did you have to build the road, how was that…?
A few axes, picks and axes and shovels, that’s all we ever had. No bulldozers, all done by hand.
How was work scheduled each day?
Up to the time you went to bed. I always recall when we got out to the beach, or one of the beaches there, there was an old chap who had been there for years, apparently and he was a crocodile catcher. He told us a bit about crocodiles, which we all listened to very intently, and he went into his
camp and rolled a skin out, 21 feet long. Crocodile. Measured with a tape, 21 feet long. I wouldn’t like to have caught him in the water there.
Were you in crocodile infested country?
In Darwin, yeah. All crocodiles up there mate, no shortage of them.
Did you encounter any when you were building the road?
get any when we were building the road, but when we got on the beach, we had machine guns lined up and at night-time, or early in the morning, we would see what looked like a log, and bet you a dollar it was a crocodile, and I had a few shots at it, and yep, it was a croc all right. No, we saw quite a few in the water.
The old croc hunter must have been an interesting old bloke?
If we had have spent more time with him it would have been more interesting yeah. I would like to know how many more skins he had in there, but he was very proud of this 21 foot one he rolled out.
What kind of place was he living in?
Oh, just a bit of a shanty, timber on hessian and bags on the wall and everything. I think he had a few sheets of iron on the roof, but God knows where he got those from.
So what kind of defences did you build on the beach?
Well, actually we didn’t build any machine gun nests, we had the places you could be when the highest tide was up. This is what we were mainly out there for was to test the tides. When the highest come up, the king tide would come up and we had all that marked out so that was where all your gunning placements would go. We never had anything to
do with the building of the placements themselves, we just marked them. So that’s where they would go.
How did you mark them?
Oh, only by survey sticks and things like that. Just gave them an idea of where the position was, there was no point building them out where the tide would go out and go right over the top of them. That was all, we had to find out where the highest land was available so they could put a gun in placement.
So were you camping out there or were you returning each night?
Oh no, we
were out there all the time. No shortage of mosquitoes, millions of them.
What kind of shelter did you have?
Tents. Tents, that’s all we had to live in. I remember when we got shifted out of there, I set the militia guys up there, and asked them if they had any mosquito nets, because we had to
take all our gear back and hook it into where we got it. And when these guys got there, they were in shorts, they had no long trousers, they had no long shirts, they didn’t have a mosquito net between. We finished up and gave them all the gear that we had, otherwise they would have died on the spot.
What kind of gear did you have?
Well, we had mosquito nets, and we had long trousers, long shirts. We didn’t have
no mosquitoes we had – I am not talking mosquitoes, you could have bloody a hundred on your hand.
Did anyone come down with any wogs [germs]?
We had a couple of guys that went down early before we learned about mosquitoes and you had to keep yourself covered. When they sent these militia guys out, they didn’t have a bloody thing and they didn’t have a clue. We left all our gear with them and our nets and whatever long sleeved stuff we could spare we
gave to them. They’d have been gone in a bloody week or two if we hadn’t.
Bob, apart from the tents, did you have any other shelter?
No, that’s all, the tents. That was living out on the defensive see.
Did you get back into Winnellie at all?
We got – we had our main camp there, we used to go – we’d spend all day out on the road
defences, when we were building the road, and then we’d go back to the camp at night. When we were out doing these gun emplacements, we’d be out all night probably, all depends what time the king tide was due up, and you would have to be out there all night to peg all the emplacements. Once that was done you would go back into camp. But then on the best defences we had tents so if we had to we would sleep out there, and we had
all mosquito nets and could do what we wanted. But these poor buggers come up and they didn’t have a bloody thing. Who the hell sent them out Christ only knows. Didn’t have a clue what was going on.
Bob, how long did it take you to reach the beach from Winnellie, building the road?
Oh, the building was out to the beach.
How long did it take you to build the road?
Oh, I just don’t recall but I say you would have to allow at least an hour, one and a half hours to two hours.
There was different camps all along the coast. And our company, we had one particular place and we looked after that place, you see. The other companies were further round, on one side and the other side, doing the same thing.
How long did it take you to build the road there before you…?
Oh, it took us bloody weeks. Weeks to get the road down. We’d be out there first thing in the
morning until late at night, and out every day until we got the road through.
How long did it take to put Winnellie up?
I just don’t recall now, we were only there for 3 months. We had three months in Adelaide and three months in Darwin, and they shifted us out on Christmas Eve, I think we got on board the boat, and had Christmas Eve in Darwin.
Marella I think it was, I am not too sure whether it was a Dutch boat or what it was. But they took us from there up to Port Moresby, New Guinea, and we were there for 2 days I think. And all of a sudden there was a big panic on, the big liner Aquitania was
there and they took us off the smaller boat and put us on the Aquitania. There was a big panic on, apparently they had heard there was Jap [Japanese] planes coming down. The Aquitania took off and we were all on board and they took off round the top of Australia and went back to Sydney.
Can I just back up a minute Bob, had Darwin been bombed at this point?
No, we left there
on Christmas Eve and I believe next day they bombed it. We didn’t actually see a bomber, but I believe the day after we left the bombed the place.
Did you spend much time in Darwin when you were at Winnellie?
Three months we were in Darwin.
Sorry. Did you spend much time in leave there?
In Darwin itself? I think I went there once. I wasn’t impressed with Darwin.
A lot of guys used to go in quite regular at night-time and you know as we got back to camp they would go into Darwin, and come back again, I went in once, I wasn’t impressed with Darwin so I never worried about going in there.
Nothing to interest me so I didn’t bother going in there.
So what would you do?
The only thing there was drinking and gambling and I wasn’t interested in either of them.
No. No doubt there was plenty of women
there but I wasn’t interested in them.
How did you spend your time in Winnellie?
In the camp itself. They used to put on picture shows and different artists used to come along, different times, we were only there 3 months, so by the time you built the camp and the time you got out on the jungle roads and that we didn’t have much time
to, time we came back at night-time to bomb anyway, so there wasn’t much time for life. Wasn’t much time for life anyway.
Was the tucker good there?
We always had good tucker. We built some fish traps in some of the creeks, and of course when the tide come in all your fish coming in and tide going out they get caught in the trap. We were keeping the battalion
going in fish because we had these traps out and we went out twice a week and pick up the fish out of the traps. We knew when the tides were in and the tides were out.
What kind of fish were you hauling in?
All sorts. You name it. In the ocean they were in our nets.
Not many blokes could boast being fed fresh fish in the army.
Have you ever seen a tide in Darwin?
No I haven’t. They are a sight to be seen, they are really fantastic. We used to – at different times we used to drive out there’s a bit of a landing there. A place called Micket Creek and we walked up we walked up about a mile, mile and a half and get to the ocean, and on the edge of the ocean was all these reefs with oysters on it, and we used to walk out there and have a feed of
oysters. But you had to keep your watch, you had to be in front of that tide because when that tide come in, if you happen to be on the creek when the tide come in it would just wash you straight over like that. You couldn’t stand, it would just wash you away like that. So by all means you had to be out of the creek by the time the tide was due. We got caught once and we had to dive straight in to the side of the mangroves,
the mangrove trees, and we walked from one mangrove tree to the next mangrove tree. Took us a long time to get back to where we had the trucks, because we missed the time that – we knew the tide was coming in, but we stopped too long, and we paid for it. We had to bloody dive into the side and climb on the trees, if you didn’t climb on the trees you’re liable to be in big crabs, and crocs and anything. So you couldn’t afford to be,
you had to walk from one tree to another tree. Not a Tarzan job swinging like that, but they were that close you could get from one tree to – they sort of had big roots spread out and you could walk on the roots and get to the next one. Took us about two hours to do about a hundred yards once but we had to do it.
Sounds like you had a belly full of oysters?
We had a feed of oysters, yeah. We were lucky one day, we just walked
past, must have been half a dozen natives, they must have been right in the middle of the creek. We just walked past them, we wouldn’t have been 100 yards up, we were on the landing where we normally go to get in the creek and out of the creek. It was on the dry bed. And all of a sudden there were screams and yells, and this native got caught with a crocodile. We must have been that close to walking over it it didn’t make any difference. But
he was buried in the sand and he had this native, he grabbed him by the leg. He lost his leg too. It was a horrible noise when he got caught with it. I don’t know how the hell we walked – we walked within three or four yards of a native, there were half a dozen of them there. How the hell we missed the bloody croc I wouldn’t have a clue.
How did everybody around him react when he was
Well, they were about 100 yards or 150 yards from where we were, there wasn’t much we could do because the water was starting to come anyway. He got out, they got him to hospital, but he lost his leg, yeah. Pretty dangerous things, them crocs.
Were you able to help rescue him?
I went up back to Darwin, my son was in the air force place, and he took out
fishing one day, and 6 o’clock in the morning, we got in this boat, only a little boat with an outboard motor on it, and we just toddled along in the middle of this bloody creek and I was looking, crocodiles, bloody hundreds just laying on the sand there. I said, “Jesus, never get out of the boat, you would never stand a chance in hell.” I never seen so many crocodiles in me life.
They will have to do something about culling them again shortly. There was literally hundreds of them, and the more you looked the more you could see, because they are just laying on the sand, and when you look hard you could see crocodile after crocodile after crocodile. From six feet up to 12 feet and 14 feet long. I would have hated to fall out that boat.
Did you stick around?
Ah no, we just went up there and did a bit of fishing and come straight back
again. We come around a bend one time, land jutting out like that, and a great big croc lying with his mouth open, just facing toward the river. If you put your hand up like that you, or it could have grabbed it. Too many crocs for mine. Only did that one trip, I would never go back again.
Sounds like some dicey fishing. Getting back to Sydney
where you arrived on board the Aquitania, what did you do during those couple of days?
They gave us leave the first day and as all soldiers do we got drunk, went back on board and got leave again the next day, and we supposed to be back I think at 5
o’clock, (UNCLEAR) the party I was with. And we went to where we were staying on the boat and he called for me and I had to go back down again and they said, “Well, scout around the (UNCLEAR) area vacant blocks and what have you, and round up anyone you see and get them back on the boat because supposed to have left at 5 o’clock or something or 6,” whatever.
We ended up a few guys walking round them vacant blocks. Had a couple under a newspaper, I said, “Come on mate, you are on board.” He got a sheila under him, he said, “I won’t be long.” We eventually got him on board anyway.
Yes, they all sorts. We lost a guy there too. He was that drunk we got him on
board and put him in his cabin, the next minute there was a scream and a yell, and we raced back, and he had thrown himself overboard or he had slipped overboard, whatever he did. Never saw him again. He had been drinking gin all day. They tell me it makes you very morbid. I never ever touched gin to this day. We lost him, he just climbed over the side and we never
In the harbour there?
In the harbour, Sydney harbour, yeah.
Where were you docked exactly?
Oh, I couldn’t tell you exactly. Big enough to get the Aquitania in so it was a pretty big place.
Was there a search for this man?
They threw life jackets over and one thing and another, and eventually they had a diver too, but they never found him. They might have found him afterwards. We pulled
out on time, but whether they picked him up after I don’t know. But he was a missing number as far as we were concerned.
What was your next destination on board the Aquitania?
What was the next what?
Your next destination?
We went to Fremantle, home, home port and we never got leave. (UNCLEAR) supplies for the boat and as they were going back, jokers
jumped overboard and through portholes and I don’t know the number, but I think there was 90 or 100 or more got on these riders and spent the day in Perth. Then when it came for the guys to be back on board I think they left 90 behind. Why they didn’t give us leave I don’t know, crazy thing, they give us two days in Sydney. Our home port and they wouldn’t give us
leave. I had no interest to go ashore, because I had no one in Perth anyway. I never had any relations or any reason to go ashore. A lot of them never came back. They came over as reinforcements later on anyway. But we never saw them.
So how did you spend that leave on board?
Just general routine on board the boat, nothing different.
What was routine on board?
Oh, bit of exercise, always had a bit of exercise in the morning and afternoon. And your meals, you never had any time for anything else. They had a bar on board, anyone who wanted a drink at certain times.
So life was pretty good on board?
Wasn’t there long enough
to understand it mate.
What did you think of being at sea?
I enjoyed it. Quite a good life. I should have been a sailor instead of an army man I think. I have always been attracted to the sea, and I enjoyed it.
How did you sleep on board and what did you eat?
I wouldn’t have a clue mate. Must have enjoyed I am still alive.
So where were you going when you left Freo [Fremantle]?
We headed back up to Singapore, and when we got further up we transferred into smaller boats, Dutch boats…
Did you sail up there alone or in convoy?
We went up in convoy up to a certain point and then from the convoy we got dispersed into these smaller
boats. Which took us up to Singapore.
Did you go up to the Sunda Straits?
The Straits, yeah.
Who were you in convoy with?
I couldn’t tell you mate, that’s something I never took any notice of, I know we were on board, and we got to a certain spot, and we disembarked off that to smaller boats, and from smaller boats took us into Singapore.
How was the disembarking organised with the
smaller boats? Was it at sea or was it was it at a dock?
At sea, yeah, we were at sea and we disembarked on to smaller boats. From one boat to the other one, I just don’t recall. There was no worries anyway.
What were the smaller boats like?
They were all right, we were on deck. We just spent the night on deck. Only a night, might have been a night and half a day, or
End of tape
Interviewee: Robert Whitfield Archive ID 1330 Tape 03
What were you hearing about what was going in Malaya at that time, because you were heading in that general direction in the boat?
Some of the funniest things you have ever heard.
They took us in to a lecture of Pommy officers, they told us all about the Japs ,
when it comes dark they don’t fight, they close up for the night. They throw crackers, and aeroplanes. The funniest things you have ever seen. They have got plenty of planes. Only one plane ever got a bomb sight. So when the leading plane bombs, they, the rest of them, they drop their
bombs. This is after about two hours of listening to all this bulldust.
Are you identifying it as bulldust?
It was shocking. We had finished this lecture, two hours of crap. Anyway we just walked out of this hut and an air raid siren went. There were trenches
dug all round the place.
Where are you at this point?
We are at a naval base, Woodlands, in Singapore. And, we just walked out of this hut, and a siren went, an air raid siren, there are trenches dug all round the place, so we jumped in them real quick. There was this Pommy alongside me, by geez that joker with his bomb sight, he was pretty good. They rained all round us.
How many planes do you reckon were up there?
Must have been half a dozen I suppose. That one joker supposed to have the one sight, he did a pretty good job. Because things, I wished that bloody Pommy joker had have been alongside, I would have pulled him up and said, “Look at these guys.” Bloody terrible, Japs going to bed at night-time, bloody rubbish. They must have thought we were bloody schoolboys or something, of all the stupid things they could come out with.
makes you wonder what their motivation was to tell you?
Well I have often looked back on it, and I often discussed it, “What a lot of bulldust, why not tell us some facts,” instead of telling us they didn’t know what to do, fightin’ was all about, at night-time, they knock off, they throw crackers around and aeroplanes have only got one bomb with a bomb sight. From that day
on nothing else but Jap planes, bombing the joint. When we got into fighting, we didn’t see much fighting in our actual section, but there is no doubt that did meet them, had some hard times. Certainly wasn’t done in day time, why they spread this sort of thing around is crazy.
Can you tell me a little bit about what the camp looked like
Not really, didn’t spend that much time there, only a few days and then we got, each company got sent to different parts of the island. Luckily we got put into a place where there was no fighting, or it turned out there was no fighting. We had this brigade of Indians spread out around where we were. Because when we had to shift out.
Because we were right on the coast at the time, and we got word we had to shift out.
This is when you were at Woodlands and you got word…?
No, no, this is when we were posted at the different areas on the coast, we were out way past the Duong River. But apparently when the Japs hit, they weren’t there at all, they were causeway end, that’s where the most of our, Don Company, they were the only ones that
really got into the real hard fighting. But when we got word that the Japs had landed, we had to get out of where we were.
How did you get word?
Probably by Pommy officer, send over word by monkey, I don’t know. But there must have been communications somewhere along the line but we just got word we had to pull out of there,
so we had two or three launches, which about a week we might have been out there, might have been more than a week, and we got these launches going, and we used to patrol up and down the coast and we got to one place, we knew that people had just vacated this place, we had no mosquito nets where we were and
so we thought we’ll go into this house and look for mosquito nets.
How many blokes are you with?
Oh we had, altogether we had a platoon. We had all our platoon, and we got on this boat and went around to this house, a millionaire’s house apparently. And there was everything in there. Food, grog, and we were mainly interested in the mosquito nets, so we grabbed
all the mosquito nets we could. Of course we took them around to where we were camped and we rigged them all up.
So the millionaire wasn’t home?
Oh, we had huts where we were. But the people in this house, they vacated the house, they were told to get out, so they just left everything. We weren’t short of supplies, so we just took the best tucker we wanted and some of them took a bit of grog. We were mainly interested in the mosquito nets,
which we rigged up in our camps where we were, because we were in pretty dire straits, we had spent about two or three weeks there. They were only bush camps, we were out in the jungle more or less, and there were two or three little kampongs [Malay houses], and we took those over, when the natives had gone out, we took them over. That’s why we wanted to get the mosquito nets so we could have some protection
sleeping at night.
What does a kampong look like?
Just out on the coast, I couldn’t tell you where it was.
No, what does it look like?
Bush shed, bush shed about 12 feet probably, might have been 14 feet. And we had about 10 or 20 jokers in there with no mosquito net. But when we got to this house we had all the mosquito nets, no worries, and we took them. We did quite a few trips over to that place,
and bit of luxury and tucker and one thing and another. But when we had to get out of the place, we got on to these launches we had, we had two of them, carried a full platoon, with all our machine guns and ammunition. And we went right up this Duong
River and we got to a place where there was a big net or something across, it was all dark, it was night, I wouldn’t have a clue what it was, I know that we got out of the boat. To get on to it we had to dive off the boat and take the rope around and hook it on to this place, so we could get off and take our gear off. But about 100 feet, I suppose,
we had a fair bit of a struggle to get all our machine guns and stuff off.
Why did you decide to go up the river?
Well, we had to get out of the place we were in.
Why was that?
Because some word had come along that we had to vacate the place, I don’t know who issued the order, but we had to abandon the place, and the best way out was up the river, otherwise we would have to go back by road and we would have run straight into the Japs. Going down the river we could have got behind where the Japs were.
Or supposedly. But we got all these machine guns and all our equipment off, and we marched for about two hours or something. We finished up sleeping in a swamp that night. We just had to, we were buggered.
In a swamp?
Yeah, we all lay down in bloody water. Woke up in the morning and away we bloody went. We caught up with some of these Indians
again and found out where they were, supposed to have been a big line of them across a section of the island. So we set our machine guns up, hopefully to protect the Indians, which supposedly were on our right and our left. And in front of us. The next thing we knew there was a hell of a big scramble, and Indians going everywhere, they were all running back against
where we had our machine guns and there was bloody hundreds of them. Just a team of them, over about 500 yards where we could see, there was just one wall of Indians, it was the brigade that we were supposed to be looking after. They asked, the platoon commander said, “Look, you better take (UNCLEAR),” and
I don’t know where this bloke got his motorbike from, I wouldn’t have a clue, but he finished up he had a motorbike, and he said, “You get on the back with him and see if you can find someone and find out what’s going on and come back and let us know.” Because we still had our machine guns all lined up.
The Indians, did they speak English?
Did the Indians speak English at all?
Oh, quite a lot of them yeah. Most of them speak English, the ones we met anyway, and we met quite a few of them. They weren’t stopping to talk
they were just runnin’, Christ knows what for. Apparently there was a bit of gunfire up the front there and we heard that, but for what reason they all took off, God knows. Eventually I got on this motor bike and went about three or four miles back, and there was bloody troops on the road, there was bloody hundreds of them, all along the road, anyway we kept on going along until we found a guy that looked like a colonel or
something, I got the guy to pull up a hundred yards in front and I wended me way back through these fellas, and I saw that he was a colonel, and I told him who I was and what our position was, and the platoon was out there with the machine guns. And he said, “Retreat, man, retreat.” I said, “Well, where do we go, what do we do?” He said, “Retreat, man, retreat.”
That’s all he could say. I said, “That’s the lot, is it?” so I just got back on the motor bike and went back, picked up our platoon commander, and I said, “All you have got to do is retreat,” and he said, “Where to?” I said, “You go and ask him up there, he couldn’t tell me.” I said he was mixed up with I would say 2,000, 3,000 guys following him and all he could say to me was, “Retreat.” So just
lined all the guns up and bashed the locking pieces on our guns, we had lumped them all the way around Australia, and never fired a shot out of them.
Do you reckon the Indians got word that the Japs were coming?
Well, it was quite obvious that the Japs or someone was out there, I presume it was the Japs. Instead of stopping to do something about, they wouldn’t stop, they just took off. And apparently
the Pommy guys in charge must have got the same idea because we they couldn’t move fast enough. I am not talking about one or two, I am talking about thousands and thousands. We had trouble getting back to where we were, weaving in and out these guys on the road. It was the biggest shemozzle you have ever seen in your life. See we got back to a point which I couldn’t tell you where it was, it was a position with a 16 inch gun
that had been facing out to sea, and apparently they had, since the war started, they turned this gun around to point up the islands. For what reason I wouldn’t have a clue, because all the guys were back on the island or on the verge of getting back on the island. Anyway for some reason we parked in the area of this gun, and they started firing the thing
over night, firing it up in to Malaya, for what reason I don’t know, any troops we had they were all coming back anyway. They must have had some word to do something about it, but every time we fired this gun we were on this ground and we would go two feet off this ground and back again. With the percussion of the shells they were firing. They were 16 inch shells or something. But anyway, every time we fired this gun we were just up in the air like this and down again.
So we didn’t have a very peaceful night. Next day, we sort of assembled, and I had all my guys around me, 12th Platoon, and a few more guys around. The platoon commander, I don’t know where he got to, he disappeared. I don’t know where or how, I never caught up with him until after the war. Anyway I finished up with most of our
platoon, and quite a few other guys hanging on. And we marched up a road, can’t remember why we went up this road, someone must have given me some indication, so we took off up there.
So were you in charge at this point?
At this point, yeah. So anyway we eventually found someone we knew, and they said get on to this Hill 200, and just stop out there until you get further
word. We had no machine guns, but we had light machine guns, Lewis guns, and rifles. And Bren guns [light machine guns]. Anyway, we split the platoon up into about three different parties on one side, one in the middle and one on the other side. And we were shooting at Japs, about 800 yards away I suppose, I don’t think we had much idea of knocking them off really,
but we just kept firing when we saw them. We spent all night there, and the next day.
Did you have reasonable supplies of ammunition at this stage?
Well, we had what we were issued with and there was still a fair amount, we still had the – most of the .303 ammunition from the machine guns, we carried most of that. The machine guns were all gone. So we had a stack of
How were the men feeling at this time, were they excited at the situation or were they really fearful at the situation?
Oh, I think they were quite complacent, we were stationed on a hill overlooking a road and they could see Japs out there, so they were quite happy to keep their eye on them, and do a bit of snap shooting here and there.
There was an odd plane that went over, but it never interfered with us. We certainly didn’t attract it, because if we attracted them we had no defence anyway. So, the second afternoon we could see the Japs were all building up all across the road, up in the different huts, we could see quite a lot of them building up, we had an idea they were coming down this way.
How many Japs to you reckon there are at this stage?
Wouldn’t have had a clue, we just saw one, two, three, four, there could have been a dozen there, could have been two or three hundred, couldn’t have a clue. Anyway just before it got dark, we finished up with an officer from another company, came up with us, and he brought a few other guys and split them
up between the three groups we had. He said, “Look, you better go back and see Battalion HQ [Headquarters],” and he told me exactly where it was. And he said, “Take this lieutenant with you and ask what are we supposed to do, are we supposed to hold the place by all means, or just give us some indication what we are supposed to do.” So I took this lieutenant back and he did everything
else but to get back to where we were supposed to be going, and he stopped for a piddle, and he wanted to do something else, and he said, “I have got no water in the water bottle,” and there was a bit of a humpy or something over there, and he wanted to find some water to put in the water bottle, it got that way that I had to say, “Look, we have got a message to get back to HQ and we got
jokers out there that want to know what is going on.” And he eventually made a move, and got to the CO, and he stuttered and ummed and ahhed.
What was his problem?
He had the shits. There was no two ways about that, but he was a nervous bloody wreck. Anyway the Commander said, “Come on man, tell me,” and I finished up and I said, “Lieutenant Thompson
asked us to come back and ask are there any orders of what we have got to do? Do we hold this place for as long as we can, to the last man or what?” He said, “Go back straight and tell him to just leave things in abeyance at the moment and if there are any further word we’ll get in touch.”
How were they going to get in touch if they had no communication?
Send a man out the same as I walked, I suppose.
How long was that distance you had to travel to get back to HQ?
Oh, about 10 minutes away from where they were to the place on the hill. Might have been a quarter of an hour. I eventually – I don’t remember the lieutenant coming back, I think he disappeared altogether, and I just went back and gave the message to Thomson who was the lieutenant, he was part of our battalion, but he was in another company, but he took control of our section.
We started off having a bit of a scrap [ a battle] that night.
What happened with the scrap?
You could hear the Japs out in front of us screaming and yelling. You couldn’t see much but when there was a bit of gunfire, we let fire at the gun flashes, that was all you could do.
Why were they screaming and yelling?
I don’t know. That’s one thing they always did apparently, was scream and yell.
Didn’t sneak up quietly like most people do. On the move they kept on screaming and yelling – whether it was to frighten you or whether they were keeping themselves goin’ I don’t know. But all we heard was screaming and yelling and gun fire coming at us. Anyway, something went off just alongside me and I finished up with shrapnel in me arm. So, I was sent back to HQ
and the ambulance was just going in to the hospital with our CO of the battalion.
What were the facilities like in the hospital?
Never saw them. No, I went back, they said, “You had better get on the ambulance with the CO,” he had been shot through the leg, they’d blown half his leg away.
Were there many injuries from the scrap that night?
there was me and the colonel the only ones I knew of, but we just took off in the ambulance and went to hospital and they rushed him upstairs to the operating theatre, and I got put on to the verandah. Right on the corner of the verandah, with another 50 guys up there, and another 50 guys around the corner.
Is this the verandah of the hospital?
Verandah of the hospital. No room in the wards apparently, they were chock-a-block.
Is this because there were so many scraps that night?
Over the week I suppose, they had all come down from up north.
It wasn’t a very pleasant couple of days there.
Why was that?
Japs finished up coming through, and we were right on the corner, and there were steps going up to the next
level, and one of the orderlies was just about to make his way up the steps, and the Japs came round the corner and bayoneted him right through the middle a couple of times, only five feet away.
That must have come as a bit of a shock?
Didn’t put a nice taste in my mouth, they turned round and there was, luckily I was right on the bloody corner,
and they came round and we were just standing there with me hands in the air, and I had me watch on and he come over and the bayonet was about that bloody far from me, and I thought, “Well, this is it.” This is just after they bayoneted this fella on the stairs. And I think the watch saved me because the Jap stopped and took the watch off me wrist. And then by the time, there was more coming through and just kept on surging
round the place. They went up to a ward 30 or 40 yards up, it was a ward full of Indians, and they went in with their bayonets and killed the lot of them. You ought to have heard the screams and yells. Of course they couldn’t do nothing, they had no arms or legs. Killed the whole lot of them. I think someone said there was 30 or 40 in the ward.
It wasn’t a very nice noise coming for me I can tell you. All day and all night, this went on, bullets ricocheting off the walls, screaming and yelling going on. And about 8 o’clock that night, it was a Sunday night, everything was bloody quiet. You could hear birds chortling, it was completely dead.
We knew the war was over, I don’t know why, there was no gunshot of any sort, after all the bedlam with bullets flying round everywhere, ricocheting, you could hear shells going off, you could look over and you could see tankers burning, just about 8 o’clock that night and everything went dead still. We knew the war must have been over. But we knew the next day
the whole thing was over, and those that could walk had to line up outside and they marched to Changi. What they called the Changi Gaol, but it was the Selarang Barracks actually.
How long was that march?
It would have 10 or 12 miles I suppose.
Pretty heavy work?
It wasn’t the best, wasn’t the easiest.
How was your elbow?
How was your elbow?
Oh, still had the shrapnel in it no one had looked at it. Got it bandaged at the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] but I don’t know how it healed up, I finished up in the camp and forgot all about it. I knew all about it when we got into the jungle, when we got to Changi, they – we were in there for about eight or nine months I suppose,
then they drafted different parties out to different parts of the islands, to do different work.
Before we get into that different work, can you describe what Changi looked like?
What it looked like?
Well it was a big barracks, Selarang Barracks. A lot of people called it Changi because it was in the Changi area, but actually it was Selarang Barracks. That’s where all the Poms had been for years, in the
big barracks. And outlying in different places were 20 or 30 houses which is where the officers used to live, that’s where we finished getting put, we were about 30 to a room. And just head to toe, just enough room to walk in between, and there was 30 in a bedroom slept in there.
What were you sleeping on?
Floor. Nothing else.
No beds, they didn’t supply us with beds, no palliasses with straw in it either. No, we just slept on the floor. And, , this happened to every one of us in different houses round the place, they had been blown up most of them, the roof bloody blown off, or something plaster was off the wall and everything. This is where we got put into.
And, the big barracks, and different houses round the place and then we had to fall in every now and again, we would go to the barracks and fall in for what we had to do. And the Japs got us to sign a, or supposed to get us to sign a, or a commanding officer to sign a paper to say we wouldn’t escape. So we all had to stop at the bloody
barracks, we weren’t allowed out of the barracks to go back to our houses, we had to stop at the barracks, we were there for about seven days I suppose. They rigged up temporary toilets, we never got any washers or anything like that, until he was forced to sign it and he wrote on it, forced to sign it, so it was invalid really.
How was he forced?
How was he forced?
By having all the troops out on the open, not having any care or no tucker, we had no tucker for five days, there was no way of getting it because in our particular places, we had places where we could cook a little bit of rice they gave us.
You would have been ready to give in by that stage?
The war finished, we were POWs, but we certainly didn’t give in
ourselves. But we spent about nine months there.
Can you tell me about some of the other blokes that you were there with?
Well, not any individuals, we all acted together, if any tucker was found, or anything of any value was found, we were all in together. We all lived as a body, we had to live as a body, or we
How much food were you being given?
We were being given a little bit of rice per meal, nothing else with it. Occasionally we used to get a little spoonful of sugar, very little vegetables, mainly plain rice. We finished up growing our own vegetables outside the –
not outside the camp but outside the barracks area, there was quite a bit of land there. We dug out the chunkles and started growing our own vegetables. A few coconut trees which we got up and climbed up and got a few coconuts. In fact we had a bit of a fall there once, we decided we had quite a bit of milk out of the coconuts and
at the coconut itself, and we had a bit of a surplus of coconuts and someone suggested we take the top off the coconut and pour a bit of sugar in it and make a bit of spirits out of it. Good idea too. But I think we had about eight or ten coconuts, and one night we thought the bloody war had started again, the coconuts had exploded.
There was a bang, bang, we all up and took off out the bloody house because we thought the bloody war had started up again. eight coconuts, or we might have had more, but the whole lot blew up and we up off out of the house. Went off with a bang too. So that was the end of our distilled coconuts.
Was a good try.
I went down to another camp one night a joker said to me, we had been out in the garden and he said to me,
“Come over tonight after dark and I will give you something,” I said, “Yeah, what is it?” So I went down to his camp and he gave me a little container with some liquid in it, and he said eat it. Ohhh, something had never tasted so well before, it was bloody scrumptious it was. “Jesus Christ, have you got any more of that?” he said.
“No,” he said, “that’s all we got between the lot of yous, the cat wasn’t very big.” They caught a cat and they cooked it. I tell you what it was bloody beautiful, it was a stew. Never go hungry if there’s a cat around or a dog around, I tell you what it makes a good bloody stew.
I will keep that in mind for emergencies.
Don’t be frightened of it, it was good, monkeys, cats, dogs. Good tucker.
What’s a monkey taste like?
You wouldn’t know the difference between rabbit and bloody monkey.
How were you cooking’ these things?
We had little ways and means, we made little fireplaces and scrounge a pot here or there, it’s marvellous what you can find when you want to find something. Some things you could look at, say, you would never have any use for it, once you have got your eyes on something you can find a use it you grabbed it. So
we had all sorts of funny lookin’ things. We gathered here and everywhere.
What sort of things did you convert into useful objects?
I don’t know, it just happened, I never took that much notice – we had odd feeds, like cat, dog, those sort of things, and how it came about, we never asked where it come from or how it happened or who cooked it, it was just there.
A lot of guys come up with a lot of different things in life and, they share it all round, it’s marvellous what you can get. We even broke out of the wire one time.
To get a pig, there was a village just around, and we knew, guys used to go out on working parties and they knew there was some pigs just outside there and we got out
through the wire and at night-time and we got this bloody pig all right, trying to grab it and it squealed like hell, and that was the last thing we wanted was a squealing bloody pig, a hell of a lot of squealing went on before we got a knife into its throat. And anyway we got it and we brought it back into the camp, it made a feed for the battalion.
It must have been a triumphant moment?
Oh, that moment was good when it happened, but getting back into camp was a very tense one, I can tell you. Because we didn’t know if they had heard the pig squealing.
How many blokes did you go out to get the pig with?
Oh, six or seven of us. We had ideas of getting a couple, but by the time the squealing started we were lucky to get one and took off as quick as we could.
Because you would have been shot?
You would have been shot if you were caught?
Oh, no two ways about that. No big partings either. Have your head chopped off, they were pretty good on the sword. They lopped off quite a few heads at different times.
Was there much going on of that?
Only saw one or two, heard different stories from different fellas. There was quite a lot.
What sort of insubordination would
blokes have done in order to get executed in that way?
Oh, I don’t actually know, I know some guys who got into trouble mainly because they defied the Japs for some reason, may have even taken a swing at them, I seen a lot of jokers really harshly treated because the Japs told them to do something and they wouldn’t do it.
They got that way, he’s let fly, they just belted shit out of him. They might as well cut his head off, because he only suffered for days and days anyway. There were some terrible things at different times. We had been building some road, out of the golf links, this was in a
camp in Adam Park, we went out with this working party. We originally, walked over the weir, the main drinking weir, and they built a shrine for the Japs there, they had bloody 30 foot of steps up about 30 or 40 feet high. We had to clear all the land, all the chunkles, and make this all ready and send it in to
the different stonemasons and pick up the great big slabs, two men to a slab about five feet long, about this deep and this wide. One man each, you could hardly carry the bloody thing, two men had to carry these onto a truck and they would truck them out, and we had to carry them from where the truck had to cross the little bridge. And then up on to the bloody hill to lay these steps up to the bloody shrine. The best
part about the whole thing was the house there for one of the Japs, and we got all the walls on one side and we had to put walls on the other side. Where we were living, the place was lousy with bugs and we used to sleep in these bloody houses they put us in. We spent all night catching these bloody bugs and killing bugs all night.
What sort of bugs?
bugs were there? We finished up, we got boxes of them, and used to pick them up and put them in a box, and when we would go out with bloody four or five boxes every day with this working party, and as we were putting the walls we used to tip these bugs on the walls. We thought of sharing the bugs around the Japs too. I don’t know how that placed, never, walked away, I never had a clue. I never saw the completion of it, we did most of the walls
inside and every one of them had at least four or five boxes on each panel we put up. I don’t think any Jap that stopped there would have a very comfortable night. Bloody horrible bastards we were. I saw another good act there too. We used to have a spell every morning, and there was a new Jap major just come on to the working party,
and someone called, “Jugay!” and of course the Japs either side made these 4 gallon tins of water, tea, burnt rice was our tea, when you cooked the rice, you used to leave the burnt rice on that, and we used to use that and put it into boiling water, that was our tea. Anyhow, they had the working party and called, “Jugay!”
The jokers had boiled up these four gallon tins of boiling water, with a bit of rice in it, and we went over to get it and of course this new Jap didn’t know what this ‘Jugay’ was, that we were having a spell, and he went over and he had knee boots on, so he kicked this four gallon tin and it just went over the side and it come back and it all went down his boot, oh Jesus,
boiling water, he really was going some dancing, you should have seen him. Of course we all said we were sorry. I never heard a Jap scream as much in all me life. Just kicked the bucket as clean as you like, but it just went over on the balance and it come back and – it’s wonderful, we tried for a long time to see if we could perfect it but we just couldn’t get anyone to kick the bucket.
The one thing I really enjoyed.
Sounds like moments like that really boosted morale?
Everyone was laughing, it was a talking point for months. We had another incident, one of our guys, we were building a sort of a parapet over the road, I don’t know what for, but they wanted these things built. Had little
columns on the side built up with cement, and one of these guys
End of tape
Interviewee: Robert Whitfield Archive ID 1330 Tape 04
That guy who was on the bridge and had an argument with a Jap, and the Jap was carrying his sword, you know, with the scabbard and everything on it. And this argument broke out, and he was going to pull this bloody sword out and this fellow grabbed the bloody sword off him and he chucked it in the place where all the cement was getting
poured, and the Jap took off after him, and he never caught him. Anyway, when we had a roll call, we knew that the Jap was going to find out where this fella was, we had a hell of a trouble calling the numbers, that we started with so they let us go back to camp.
And anyway we eventually got over it, and we marched back to camp, and they looked for this joker right through the camp you know, and every working party, and they never found him. We kept him out of the working party, when we went out with 30 men, well, we had 30 men coming back. The day we went out with him we had 30 men, and officially we still had 30 coming back, we just made certain that the 30 was called and that the Japs were happy with the numbers,
although we were one short they didn’t count us that way, just happy with the numbers. They never ever found this guy, and just as well because he would have been gone for sure. That bloody sword was still in that cement pit, I would have liked after the war to go and have a look to see if it was still there. Although a lot of those things have been removed anyway apparently.
What was the argument that broke out?
Looked at the Jap the wrong way probably, I don’t know
what it was about. You didn’t have to think twice about having an argument with anyone. But you had to learn to control yourself. And some guys were a bit quick on the trigger and they just weren’t quick enough, this little Scotch fella, he didn’t give a bugger if it was a Jap or who it was, he answered him back, and the Jap was going to take the sword out but he grabbed it first and took off. Actually, it’s a bit
what happened now, because I know that sword finished up in that parapet where the concrete was poured, and I just don’t recall how the Jap, how we got rid of the Jap to get the sword in there, but it was with the argument with this little Scotch fella, and he was carrying his sword in it, and some words passed and I am not sure whether he had a crack at the Jap or the Jap had a crack at him, but he dropped the sword and
whether he chased this fella or what I don’t know, but I know this bloody sword finished up in this concrete. We had concrete waiting to pour down there, of course the sword finished up in it and we just tipped the bloody concrete over. But just how this Jap got on chasing this fella I don’t know, but I know at roll call we were all lined up and had the right numbers, so although there was one short, we had one yell out number 30 or whatever it was. He never went to work again for
another month, Jap bloody passed through.
Where did you keep him hidden?
In the camp in Adam Park where all these different buildings, all these shelled out buildings, he would have been kicking around in there somewhere.
What was your POW number, Bob?
What was your POW number?
Archive ID 10561.
Did you learn a bit of Japanese there?
I learned just enough to say that the – so many men I had were all present and correct. I remember when I first lined up and said, “I have ten men here, and they are all okay, all present and correct.” You …
ten men. So I had to take a few lessons before I learnt that, but I don’t know how I learnt it but whether they kept on repeating it to me every time I got a bashing I don’t know, but line these guys up and say so many men I had – all present and correct.
What kind of bashings?
Across the ears both sides a couple
of times. That was just a token. But, you know, they were the boss and I am the POW. That went on all the time, but if you looked at one of them the wrong way and he felt like it he would just come up to you and give you a bash over the ear, and then the other ear no worries. You got that way you just….
How did you
learn to avoid a bashing?
Do what was right, or do what was right as far as they were concerned. Probably wasn’t the way to do it, but what they wanted was the way you did it. And you didn’t answer them back, you just said, “Yes, you are a good fella.” Up your arse, but you still have to do it anyway.
Did you have a few laughs at the Japs’ expense?
Not in their face, no,
they can hit pretty hard you know, and they don’t give a bugger what they hit you with. Whether it’s a fist, or a hand, or a brick, anything they could lay their hand, they didn’t care. They are unmerciful bastards when they get going. They had to learn – this is why a lot of jokers died, they didn’t learn and they couldn’t take it. They stood up for what was their rights, which was their rights too, but
not in their language. And we lost a lot of men that way, they just bloody belt them to death. Because they wouldn’t do what they were told, or what they reckon they should be doing. You were doing things which you knew were quite right, but if it wasn’t right you had to do it this way, and they would belt Christ out of you until you did it that way. And if you didn’t adapt yourself to it, well, you suffered,
and there was no sense of more suffering than what we were already doing.
Was it hard to keep your hands to yourself?
This was one of the biggest downfalls of mostly the bigger guys. The bigger fellows, well, in life they have always been big and you know, and no one ever stood over them. Although some of the Japs – I am not very big, but some of the Japs, I could stand over them, but you couldn’t afford to raise your hands to them.
No ways. And you couldn’t afford to even open your mouth. Even if you were getting shit bashed out of you, they would hit you from one side of the face to the other side of the face until you could hardly stand up. The best thing to do when you had had enough was to just buckle at the knees and fall over, take a few kicks in the guts and hope to Christ it was right. Some very unmerciful beatings if you were…
How would you react if you saw one of your mates get a beating?
Put your hands in your pocket and say, “You deserved it, you silly bastard.” Whether he deserved it or not. That’s all you could do. You would just have to let him take it. You would only have to raise your hand or look at him or raise your voice or something, and you would have another half dozen Japs and you would all bloody suffer.
What about the blokes that wouldn’t learn, would you try and coach them to control themselves?
We had enough trouble trying to look after
ourselves without trying to coach them. They knew what the score was if they were big. They had to bloody learn the hard way, a lot of them didn’t learn the hard way, they got killed for it. A lot of guys got killed for – and they were big fellas, just because they couldn’t stand the little flea down there bloody belting Christ out of them.
Too much pride?
Well, you are
Did you ever have the misfortune of seeing a bloke beaten to his death?
I have seen plenty of guys knocked about, yeah. Anyway – they have stood us all up and if they didn’t belt him to death, they just brought the sword out and whacked their bloody heads off, saw plenty of that.
You would have to see it to believe some of the bloody things they come at. I am just always wondered if they knew how many people died in that railway, because we were working on a railway cutting, they called it Konyu Cutting, working with hammer and taps out there, do you know what a hammer and tap is? Drill, it’s got its
bit on the end of it, and you hit it with the hammer, and turn it, and hit it with the hammer and turn it, pour water down the hole every now and again to – so the bit keeps cool, hit, turn, hit, turn, until it gets down to a metre deep. Each man had to have – do three one-metre holes a day in this cutting with the hammer and tap.
One man holding the drill and turning and the other man belting with the hammer. Three one-metre holes a day, you had to bash it, you had to work like Christ to keep that bloody thing going. And then you would change over and he would have the drill and you would have the hammer. Pour a bit of water down the hole every now and again. A lot of hard work over one day, three one-metre holes in solid rock.
Sounds like a bloody long day?
Yeah, up to 14 hours a day sometimes.
What kept you going?
You tell me and we’ll both know. Just a fact that we had to live I think. Sometimes we thought it would be better if we had died, rather than go through it every day, but we just had to keep going. We look on the funny side of things.
When we were in this camp in Konyu, me, I was crook as a dog, I had dysentery, I had malaria, I still had to go out to work every day. The doctor said, “If I could put a bandage on you,” he said, “I have got an excuse to keep you in the camp if I have got a bandage on you.” It didn’t matter how crook you were with dysentery or fever,
if they had a bandage, “Yeah, he’s crook.” I said, “Look, I have got this bit of shrapnel in me arm,” I said, “Can you take that out?” He said, “I am game if you are.” And I said, “Well, I am bloody game.” No anaesthetic, no needles, no, nothing like that, I just sat down and put me arm up there and he got to it with a scalpel.
It was all right until he went to pull it off, it was wrapped around the bloody bone, wasn’t very nice, he had to sort of get pliers and unwrap it off the bone. Now he eventually got it off, and he said to the joker who was there, “You better go and get him a cup of tea,” cup of tea was that burnt rice water out of the tins, you know, the burnt rice. When you had a cup of hot water you put this burnt rice in it and that’s your cup of
tea. When he got that off, he said, “You better go and make him a cup of tea.” So I had a bandage on me and I had three or four days, instead of walking out to work every day. Then I got on to light duties, two men on light duties and they got four bamboo water bottles about four feet high,
and fill them up with water. This is, was, we had to use on the hammer and tap, four men, that’s sick men, just recovering from the bandage being off, had to walk about ten mile out to where they were making the cutting, full of bloody water, with the bamboo stuck between your shoulders, one side on my shoulder and the other on his shoulder, and we got these four bottles.
Pretty bloody weighty when they are full of water. They used to send elephants out from our camp or from the camp just alongside of us out through the cutting, and they put one on one side of the elephant and one on the other and used to carry two, and two men used to have to carry four. This is their mentality. I looked at them bloody elephants with one bottle on one side and one on the
other side. We could hardly lift things when they were full of water, and then we had to march out there with these bamboo on your shoulder. You had to hold them to stop them from swinging.
How many of those loads would you do each day?
Oh, you just walk out there and walk back again. You could do probably two or three in a day, and you are
sick too, you are on light duties.
Just the distance you had to walk was a long way.
I would say seven to ten miles.
Times that by three or four times there and back.
Do it in a morning’s walk, no worries. You got plenty of tucker and plenty of things to keep you going.
What about drinking water?
We had plenty of that, we were carrying out four bloody bamboos full and drinking the same water. No worries.
I imagine it would have been thirsty work?
I don’t remember having a drink, probably did but I don’t know. Little things like that don’t worry you. More things to worry about than being thirsty. You can’t just dive down to the pub and have a drink when you want one.
I bet you thought about it though?
I can’t recall we ever did, you are just too crook to worry about things like that mate.
You mentioned thinking about the lighter side of things, or the funny side of things. How important was humour?
Probably all depends who made it, and how it was made.
Probably one of the funniest things I saw was, we were marching out to the cutting, and the bloody little snake sat up, a little cobra, and about ten feet away, and we all stopped, and the Jap said, “You stop there, stop there.” He walked around the back of it and he got around the back of it,
he went, and he was dead before you knew it. That was the funny side of things. We had a good laugh about it. He did the right thing so we wouldn’t walk into this snake. I’ll fix it, he said, and boom, he was dead in two seconds flat. He just flipped over like that, and the time we got to him he was gone. That’s the funny side of life.
What about the jokes you blokes
would make amongst yourselves?
Can’t remember any. Too busy worrying about ourselves than making jokes mate.
Don’t remember one of your mates having a dry sense of humour that kept you going?
Someone always had something you know, sort of story,
you wouldn’t burst out laughing or anything you just sort of store it. Your life changed completely, you know. From when we got to the days when you could chiack [tease, joke] with a guy and you would have a bit of something funny would happen, that all died away. All you had to worry about was to keep yourself together and if anyone got crook or something you just helped each other,
there was no time for jokes and if there was jokes it just went in this ear and out that one. They might have got stored up there but you…
I don’t suppose you had the energy?
All the energy was on your hammer and taps and if you didn’t keep that going you were dead.
How did you help your mates that were sick?
A lot of ways you know, bloody little things that happen, where you normally walk past a
guy and see he was in trouble, you would give him a hand some way, help him to stand. There’s always something in life you can do for someone if you get to that position where you do it. And if you don’t do it for each other, well, would have gone right out of it. That’s why so many of us come home. But a lot of guys were lost, there were a lot more lost than what we brought home, but if we hadn’t stuck together
there would have been none of us come home.
You mentioned earlier that you would have a bit of a joke about the chaps when they weren’t listening, do you remember any particular chaps that you used to make fun of or laugh about?
You would have to make certain you were well on your own, no chance of him bloody hearing anything, you wouldn’t dare open your mouth with any Jap whether he was a good one or a bad one, or anything, you wouldn’t open your mouth with him.
Next thing he would let fly and next minute bang, bang, bang. Your biggest thing in life was to try and stop getting a bashing. There is a lot of ways you can stop getting a bashing. Not that I didn’t get one, but you had to be careful what you did, or you had one automatically.
Did you say there were some Japs better than others?
I would say the worst ones we had were the bloody Koreans, they were worse than the
Japs. They did nearly all the guard work in Singapore and up in Thailand, the Koreans, and they were bloody, they were mostly more cruel than the Japs themselves.
Why do you think so?
Mainly because of the way they treated us, they were a lot more like an animal than the
Japs were. The Japs were bad enough but the Koreans were a bloody sight worse. I think you will find that all POWs will tell you the same thing too.
What do you think made the Koreans worse than the Japs, why do you think they acted worse than the Japs?
I wouldn’t have a clue. But, probably goes back into history, the Japs invaded Korea, and you could stand a Jap up and a Korean up and you could
hardly tell the difference, whether this has got something to do with it or not I don’t know. Something I never – not even interested in really. But I know when we had Korean guards we had to be a bloody sight more careful with the Korean guards than the Japs.
Just on a different subject very quickly, you mentioned that the Japs came in and slaughtered a lot of Indians in the hospital you were in, why do you think they
targeted the Indians?
Wouldn’t have the slightest clue. Whether because they were big men and black, or wouldn’t have the slightest clue. At the time during the war, I don’t think there was any difference between black or white. If I had been in a ward full of white fellas I think they would have done the same thing. The fact that they just went into this ward and bang, bang, bang.
Bayoneting and bloody shooting and I think it was 30 or 40 or something, they went in there and killed the lot of them anyhow.
Was there much sickness on the railway?
You asked the wrong question. It was all sickness.
How was your health?
No, when you were on the railway?
Not very good. I had malaria, and dysentery they finished up they sent me down the river out of K2
long before the rest of the camp broke up I was that bloody crook. And they put me in one of the camps down the line, I had a great big hut, about 30 or 40 feet long. Row of beds down one side all cane, and a row of beds down the other side. And as you got crook, they had a single bed on that end and they had a
single bed on that one, and as you got crook you got on that bed, it was very seldom you got off it. You could, you usually say you go to bed that night and wake up the next morning and you are gone. I finished up halfway down the hut and I finished up getting round and I got within one bed of getting on this bed, and I finished up getting on one night, the doctor was treating me his name was
Churchill, and where he was getting the quinine from I don’t know. I was drinking about a bottle full of quinine a day, and I had a temperature of 108, 109 every day for about a month, and I finished up I got on this bed for one night, or actually I was only on there for about 4 hours, and they took me back off it. The only one I have seen get
off it, apparently I wasn’t meant to go.
What did you call that bed?
Death bed. Once you got on it that was it. I saw a little guy on the other bed over the other side, the bed would have been about six feet six inches long, he was a little fella, he wouldn’t have been much more than four foot nine, he would have weighed
about two stone if he was lucky, and they had him strapped down on this cane bed which was about three feet wide and about seven feet long. And I had seen him on this bed and he got into a sort of a fever, and he tipped the bed over. Just before he died, whether it was his inner strength or whatever it was, and they had him strapped down with his legs and arms, and he tipped this
whole bed over, you wouldn’t think it was possible, but he did it. It took about four jokers to lift him back on the bed. He died a couple of hours later. But there must be a horrible inner strength in there somewhere in some persons. If you can just imagine this bloody bed that high off the ground, seven feet long, and say about a five stone man
strapped down, how the hell would you turn it over. You got a lot of inner strength in there somewhere. Last throes.
What about the other diseases were on the railway?
The main things were ulcers in the legs, seen some horrible sights of that, seen legs with a bit of a
sore on it and finish up like a burnt sausage and burst out like that. And all full of pus and stuff come out of it. They made spoons out of bamboo, and I seen guys lay back with a coat and put a bit in their mouth and by the time they finished
scraping his leg they bloody near had the whole coat in his mouth. I have heard him saying, “I am coming home,” and in about four days he died. Bloody horrible. Just imagine a great big black sausage all human flesh, and just scraping all this bloody pus and stuff out of the leg, which they have to do to give them a chance. They even used to catch blow flies
so they get the maggots and put the maggots on the sores to clean them out. Some horrible bloody sights when you look at them.
You don’t see much of cholera, you get it you are dead. I had – I was in this tent in K2 and I think we had 14 guys in the tent,
it was a time when I was sick, and we had these 14 guys in the tent and we woke up one morning and there was only four of us left, the rest had been taken out to the cholera compound. And, they were all dead before midday that day. Not very many men came out of cholera. I had a mate of mine, a good mate of mine, he had it
and luckily he was with that doctor he got all the write ups from the eastern states. They made a memorial for him. My mate was in this camp, he’s a famous doctor Australia wide, he died lately. Dunlop, ‘Weary’
Dunlop, he was in this camp he was, he got cholera, luckily Dunlop knew something and he got rid of it. He was one of the few that got cholera and got over it. It is a very, very nasty thing. I remember when we were in this camp in (UNCLEAR) and we had a joker that lived in India for years, he was an interpreter for the Japs
and he lined us up one night and he said, “Well, the cholera season is just about due,” and he said, “The last thing we want in this camp is cholera,” and he said, “There’s only a few things we can do,” and he had a bit of Condy’s crystals, that’s a sort of a bath, so when you come into the camp, dip your feet in it. It wasn’t very big, so the number of the guys in the camp that used to do this, every night was practically
you could say. The only other thing was to make certain that if you had boiling water to dip your eating container before you put your rice in it to make sure you scalded it. Or hold it over fire to kill any wogs that could be there. The only way you had of treating it. Anyway, we did pretty well, and after about a fortnight, he said, “If we can beat this one
tonight, I reckon we have got the cholera beaten.” And across the road there was a lot of natives, I don’t know where they were from, but apparently cholera had broken out there. But he lined us up this night and he said, “If we can get through tonight, we got it beat.” And this was the night when we went to bed 14 in the camp and four of us woke up in the camp and the rest of them were out in the camp, never saw them again, it can hit pretty hard and quick.
And in the conditions we were in there was no chance of getting out of it. You would have to see these things to believe it.
What about the Japs, what was their health like?
Well, at least they were eating properly. They had rooms where they could sleep, or tents where they could sleep in comfort. I would say their health would be
1000% to what ours was. We were living on nothing, and working with our weight, well, some of them were only one third of what their normal weight was. So something had to give somewhere.
Not that I am really here to talk about the Japs’ welfare, but it surprises me that they weren’t coming down with these diseases, they wouldn’t have been immune to those diseases?
They provably had inoculations. When we first went up to Thailand we had an inoculation, yeah, we had it at Kuala Lumpur on the way up on the train. But just how good the inoculation was we don’t know. I think we had somewhere about 600 on the train I think, in trucks,
and they had one bloody Jap in this needle and if you were in the first 20, 30 or 40 guys, it wasn’t bad, but they were using the bloody hammer and tap to get the needle in some of these poor buggers. No, something else would have to see to believe, bloody shocking. But how effective they were Christ only knows, but they would have had full inoculations I would say. Otherwise they would have been going
down same as anybody else.
What was your greatest fear on the railway?
Stayin’ alive. Long as you woke up you were still alive for another day. No good feeling frightened about anything, wake up another day.
Did you ever consider, I don’t know whether you would have considered sabotaging the railway line, but did it irk you that you were working for the Japanese war effort?
All we were working for was to exist. There was no ifs, no buts, no whens, no hows, or we were looking was to find something
to eat and to drink, how to sleep and wake up. Main object in life.
Anyone consider escaping?
When we first hit this camp we had an escape plan. There was five or six of us in the camp, including the interpreter, this chap that came from India, he was English, a Pommy, but
he spent a lot of years in India, he more or less drew it out, and he said, “If we could get out of here and go straight across and hit the area somewhere through Rangoon we could get ourselves to India,” if we got to India, well we were safe. We had six of us lined up, and we even had a date,
and he knew we could get into the Japs and get rifles, he had that all teed up, there was only one thing really worrying us, was that if we got out of it, what would happen to the rest of the guys in the camp, we were a bit frightened of that. But we were still going to go,
thankfully, I got crook. And everyone else got crook and it was scrubbed. I say thankfully, because at least we are here, because if we had have gone, we would probably never made it. We had to cut through jungle, he reckons we would have made a maximum of ten kilometres a day. We had a maximum of
230 to go. We had a hard road in front of us. With no medicine and scanty supplies. A bit of a hairbrained thing when we looked back on it, but quite a feasible thing when we were there. But luckily, and I say luckily, we all got crook. We got over it.
Had it not been…
You could look at it whether it was
good or whether it was bad but at least we are home anyway.
So had it not been for your health you would have gone?
We’d have gone, yeah. We decided, we discussed it about the – what would happen to the guys left in the camp, and we thought, “Well, they can’t be much worse off than they, at least we have got a chance of getting out of this alive,” and we were convinced we were going to give it a go. But, we don’t know what would have happened, that way, I know what would have happened the other way.
No, we’ve often discussed it, thought about it, even sometimes only one or two of the guys left that I know of now. We still say, “We wonder what would have happened if we had gone.” It’s just a question in life that we’ll never know.
Where do you meet up with those couple of fellas now?
We get together every 12 months, we have a dinner
every year in one of the pubs in Perth in Langley, we are getting down to I think about 66 or 67 of us left I think. We don’t talk about every time, but just every now and again we often think what would have happened if we had have gone on that trip. We don’t spend much time on it, just sort of jog our memories.
You’ll have to give them our number, maybe
they’ll talk to us. How were you travelling between the camp and the railway each day, were you marched to work?
When we first went there?
Just during the time you were on the railway, did you have to march to work?
We marched to the camp where we were put off in Malaya, and we marched all the way from there to where we were camped.
In stages we did it, we marched from one camp to another camp to another camp.
What about to the actual cutting each day?
Well as I told you before that was about a seven mile trip every day out to the cutting and back to our camp.
You marched there each day?
We went out on a working party and that was it. When the Jap got caught with the snake on the way out on the working party. We had a day of sorrow.
You don’t believe me, do you?
No, I am just trying not to laugh myself. It’s a wonder you didn’t encounter a few snakes.
We made traps and we caught quite a lot of lizards, they were quite good eating too, lizards. How we made these traps off head, who the guy who was that devised them Christ only knows,
but when you get a mob of people together and, it’s marvellous what appears from nothing. You know, we are stuck in this camp, we didn’t have a saw, we had nothing, only what we stood up in. That was very little. But how some of these people through their ingenuity, and we would carry it out with us and when we marched out to work
and put it off to the side, and when we come back, if there was a bloody lizard in it, good. We found a way of cooking, couldn’t feed the whole lot but it fed a few.
Barbecue or stew?
With mint sauce and different types of sauces no worries.
End of tape
Interviewee: Robert Whitfield Archive ID 1330 Tape 05
Right, Bob, you were just saying there was an absolute big shambles and you were going to tell me about when they had some big head honcho [person in charge]?
Well, when he arrived, they lined up all the POWs, the Aussies, the Poms, the Dutch, the Americans, the whole lot of them. And they stretched four deep from where the part of the camp right towards the hospital,
I always visualised you could put all those jokers, hand in hand, 4 deep across the island. When you see them all, it makes you wonder how it happened. Crazy rubbish, to have so many men there, and the Japs in their small numbers and the way they were able to carry all their stuff down through Malaya, how the hell you can stand 4
deep, hands right across, I might be wrong when I say this, but I have seen that many POWs in one heap, this is what I visualised could have happened. It always sticks in my craw that what a useless waste of power we had.
Why didn’t you guys rise up, seeing there were so many of you and so few Japs?
No one was capable of doing anything to organise people, it was a complete rabble,
on the island, from what I saw, it was a complete rabble.
I also wanted to ask you what are the symptoms of cholera?
It’s like diarrhoea, only it goes through you twice as fast
and it just about takes everything out of your stomach. I couldn’t tell you what the treatment is for those that did get cured, but there was very, very few. But it is very drastic when it hits, that’s for sure. There are no beg your pardons, you can contract cholera and be dead in two hours.
I had no idea it’s that fast. With the Condy’s
crystals, how was that supposed to be a preventative?
Only a disinfectant to keep the supposed wogs out of the jungle track. It was a very, very remote thing of any consequence, that’s for sure. And after 20 or 30 people have put their muddy boots or shoes or feet into it, I couldn’t see where it was much good. But it was something you had in your mind that was something that might have
helped. And anything that might have helped was all right. I have seen fellas that – with their dixie or container to get their issue of rice, before they have got it I have seen him put it into raw flames, have a stick through the handle and hold it over raw flames to kill any wogs that are on it. And when he got it back he had to put something round his hands so he could hold the handle
so he could get his rice in it, and when he got his rice in it he would then be cooking the rice again because his plate was that red hot. But that’s the sort of thing people – well, no wog’s going to get me. So this is what they did. They used to smoke – they used anything for tobacco. I have seen a cigarette that long, and when he rolled the cigarette
he never put it to his mouth, he’d spit on it so he could push the paper over on to the cigarette. But some of the fantastic things you see people do to stop getting the cholera, it’s something you have to see to believe, that’s for sure.
Was there ever any opportunity to make a communication device like a wireless?
I believe in Changi
there was a guy that had a communication. Of course the Japs didn’t know anything about it, but we used to get some news from this guy, who would give it to this other guy which probably went down the line 100 mouths, so it would be far different from what the original message might have been, but you could get a smattering of an idea. We had another one, in Japan, who had a
contact, some sort of a radio, and he heard about the atomic bomb, but it was a very – he said it was something very vicious, but we certainly never knew the ins and outs of it, but the fact that it was an atomic bomb and we never heard of atomic, it was something new to us.
What sort of information would you get passed on from the
Only from the guy that received some sort of message and from the time he gave it to someone else, and someone else to someone else, you can imagine what it was like after 50 or 60 people had got that same message, it would be like chalk and cheese in the early days of training. We used to line eight people up over a hundred yards apart and say,
“I had bacon and eggs for breakfast with one slice of toast.” By the time it got to the other end, they were eating stew and curry. It wasn’t bacon and eggs, but that’s how quick things can get mixed up in communication from mouth to mouth.
Did you have much hope when you were in that situation, did you think it was going to be over and done with soon?
The first indication that we had there was something definitely on,
was that we were out on a working party and it was always law that whoever using shovels and whatever they were using, had to take them to a place where there was a tap and completely wash them down, and they would inspect them, and if there was the slightest speck on them you would get a clip over the ears because you never washed the shovel right. So on the occasion when we heard – felt there was something going on, we most of them collected
what they were doing and went to the tap, and, “No, no, no don’t touch that, just put them down.” Something wrong for sure because they would never let us do that. When they raced us back to camp, and the following day we never went to work and we said, “There’s something wrong for sure,” then this person said something about on this wireless, something about an atomic bomb. We never knew what an atomic bomb was, but we
knew something was definitely in the air, it was only after the second one went off that we knew it was all over.
Must have been a pretty amazing time, to know there was an end.
Yeah, it was too, it was a fantastic time. This is in Japan when we were there.
I know we are jumping ahead, but while we are on the subject …
While we were in Japan, we
had an inkling that the war was over then, and the Americans come over and dropped these pamphlets, to say that, “We will be dropping tomorrow at such and such a time, we will be dropping some food,” the pamphlets said, “Please don’t overeat and please don’t over medicate. And we’ll be dropping all these different types of foods to you, strictly, please don’t overeat and don’t over medicate.” So we made arrangements that we would split up into
different parties and say, “Well, you look after that party and you look after that party, and when these things come down you look after that section – and for God’s sake don’t touch anything, bring it all back so it can be divided equally,” which is always the rule of law. So when they come over and dropped them down and some of them dropped from 60 or 80 feet and double 44 gallon drums, and you can imagine how they finished up.
They hit the deck and burst open everywhere, of course there was tucker everywhere. And 90% of all the guys did the right thing, they – even if they were scooping stuff up off the ground, they kept it all into a heap and they wouldn’t touch it other than to lick their fingers. Some went over the fence, and they were just getting bogged into it and made themselves crook. But 90% of them did the right thing
and brought all the stuff back and divided it out and we thought, “Well, we’ll open up a tin of fruit and have a little piece of fruit each, that was all right for the first tin, bugger it, get into it.” So they all got into the tucker and of course they went straight down to the toilet, and as fast as they were bringing it up, they were eating, as fast as they were bringing it up, and they were out there bringing it up, but isn’t it wonderful feeling
crook. It was a fantastic sight.
Did you get sick? Did you get sick?
Did you overeat?
Yeah. I had my share. Some held it down all right and some – 90% were just – their stomachs had shrunk that much, once it got to the point that it was in, something had to go, so they were bringin’ it up or pooping it out. Oh,
it was lovely, don’t overeat and don’t over medicate.
What sort of medical supplies did they send? You said over medicate, what sort of…?
Well, they dropped a lot of medical supplies down, and they didn’t want us to overeat or over medicate. But I never saw any medicines at all, I wasn’t interested in medicines, I was only interested in food. Yeah. The odd doctor we had there, they would have known what it was and anything they had wrong they just passed it on.
Just going backwards a bit now, I did want to ask you how did you get informed that you were going to work on the railway, because you were in Singapore at the time, am I correct?
We didn’t know anything about the railway, all we knew was that we had to go to Thailand, it was only when we got there that we knew we were going to build a railway line.
Can you step me through the process of how you got out of the POW camp and on to the train and then arrive?
Well yeah, we left Singapore by train
and we got – in big cattle trucks, I think we had 50 or 80 guys in a cattle truck. They had to stop every now and again to open the doors or otherwise we would have all suffocated. And I think we had two stops from Singapore up to Thailand, that I recall, that they let us out of the train, mainly to stretch our
legs and get a drink. They must have had this pre-organised, because when we stopped we had a little bit to eat and something to drink, otherwise we had nothing. It was only twice we stopped on the way. And when we got into the last place, or the first place in Thailand, we marched all the way to where we finished up in our various camps all the way up the line.
Was there just one big camp that you started off at?
Well, the group we had in ours, we just made into one sort of camp stop over night, and we marched the next day until we got to the next point. And we did that all the way up until we got to our original camps. A lot of guys didn’t make it, they just – we carried one of our mates for the last day. We were frightened if we left him they would have just put a
bayonet in him and left him there, so we made a point of carrying him between us. That night he stopped at the camp, and we took off early in the morning, and he stopped at that camp and he was supposed to have stopped at our camp on the way through, but they took him up to a higher camp. This is the one that I told you about had cholera, and Dunlop happened to be in the camp and kept him alive. One of the few cases that survived it.
Can you describe the base camp that you were actually in when you were in Thailand?
I don’t know whether they were a base camp, on the way up there, there wasn’t very much about base about anything, it was a matter of – they just had a camp where you could stop overnight. And then moved on to another camp, I think they were more or less temporary places, until you got to the place where you were going to work on the
What were the temporary camps – what did they look like?
Well, I couldn’t tell you anything about them because they were more or less a few hours’ stop, we would probably march most of the day until 5 o’clock or 6 o’clock and then we would have some sort of a meal, sleep and away again first thing in the morning.
What sort of shape were you blokes in by this point?
Well, not too many of them were in good shape
before they left Singapore. By the time they got out of the train, one meal and one drink a day, or if you could call it a meal, it certainly didn’t improve them. And whatever camps we stopped in they were very, very makeshift and nothing you could call a meal of any sort. There was one interesting point that I noticed in one of the camps that we stopped at. Quite a
few Thais were running around and they had boiled eggs, and those that had a bit of currency were buying these eggs. Very cheap. But it finished up there was two fellas that ate so many of these eggs that they died in the same camp, that night, they ate that many eggs, they never made it to morning.
How can you die from eating eggs?
Getting bound up with them I think. All hard boiled eggs and
eating a dozen. Dozen or more boiled eggs, you can just imagine what it would do to your system inside. Two guys did die overnight the first camp we were in, from eating eggs. So that taught anybody in the future that if you have got any boiled eggs, just eat one or two, or whatever the least amount you could keep down over a period. Hard thing to visualise that
joker eating too many boiled eggs to kill them. It has happened for sure.
That’s why I asked you, it does seem strange.
Probably on a very limited stomach, by that time our stomachs have probably shrunk down to a quarter size what they should have been. Just imagine eating a dozen eggs what it would do to the small capacity inside you.
What are the nationalities of the
blokes you’re working on the railway who have come from Singapore with you, is it all Australians or…?
In our camp it was all Australians. Yeah. The only thing that we had in the camp we was on was an English interpreter. About the only Englishman we struck.
And he could speak Japanese?
Oh yeah. He had been a funny interpreter if he couldn’t, wouldn’t he.
What was he like?
He was quite a nice guy, he was one of the guys that organised our escape party which never occurred.
So you managed to get quite close to this bloke?
Oh yeah, yeah. We had to, we looked like we were going on a march and he looked like he was going to be the main man to guide us and you had to be on the right side of him or none of them would have been going anyway.
How did you plan to
find food on your escape journey/plan?
He said there was food we could get on the track, and we were taking stolen rifles with us. So we were going to live off the land, which would have been a darn sight better than what we were living on in the POW camp.
Brings me back to a question I thought of earlier, what does a lizard trap look like?
Something we accommodate to put his head in and can’t get it out. That’s basically all it is.
Made out of what?
Bamboo. You can make anything out of bamboo.
But how would you get the – what would you attract the lizard to the trap with?
You put it over a hole, and when the lizard come out, it would poke its head out and then couldn’t get it out. The
lizard’s head is mainly like that, and when they just make the hole small enough to get their head through, and they push it through and then can’t get it out. There was no other way we knew of, someone must have had a knife and rigged a hole up that size, there might have been quite a few lizards couldn’t put their head through but must have got one with the right sized head and put their head through.
So lizards live in holes?
Oh yeah, in the jungle everywhere. There would be countless thousands if you could get them together.
So you would have to weight the trap down from the top, this pushing from the lizard below?
Something I never took any notice of, the only thing I took notice of was the lizard and the lizard was there to eat and we bloody grabbed it.
Fair enough, but that’s bloomin’ ingenious.
Some guy worked it out and,
as I said before, there are some ingenious guys when you get into hard positions in life, marvellous what you can do, and marvellous in human nature what comes out in you what you can do. I mean, I could talk to you and ask you if you want a bit of monkey for tea, you would no more eat monkey than fly in the air, I would eat it tomorrow, if I had the chance, in the conditions we were in. We would have eaten you, if we’d had half a chance. But the ingenuity of some guys
when you get into a desperate position as we were lots and lots of times. It’s marvellous what comes out in mankind to adapt to what you have got to do to live, and it’s hard to visualise it, it’s only when you see it, and you don’t even realise it until you brought up, “How did you catch these lizards?” it’s something I didn’t take any
notice about before in life, but when you mentioned it, there’s got to be a lot of ingenious guys round the place that even thought about, “How do I catch that bloody lizard?” What made him think of it. First of all he was hungry, everyone was hungry, and when you see a lizard you think, “It’s edible,” and you put your brain to it and you make something to catch. And it’s something that we weren’t there to grab it and catch it when it come out of the hole. Something we just left on the ground and when
we went back if it was there good luck.
What about monkeys, how do you catch them?
Sometimes you – I have never actually caught a monkey meself, but I have eaten monkeys.
I am thinking they are pretty fast on their feet?
Oh, for sure. But how these guys would catch them – I have never seen a monkey get caught. But I know I have eaten monkey and somebody has caught it.
I remember watching a
TV series and there was a bit of ingenuity in that, you know the Changi series, did you watch it?
Yeah, the biggest load of crap there ever was.
Why is that, tell me why its crap?
They had guys smoking cigarettes as though they were walking around Hay Street, and Japs giving a bloody prisoner of war a cigarette. And a POW giving a Jap a cigarette, and then they go into their living
quarters, coming out of bed with a sheet on, I never seen a sheet. I never seen a bed. No, there was a lot of things, that when you have been there, and seen it as I said, it’s crap, and not only me, every one of me mates, still alive, they said they wouldn’t bother even lookin’ at it. It was only the fact that we did look at it that it is pure rubbish. The guys that made that, never
made any move to get someone who had actually been in the camp and give him a proper idea of what was goin’ on. The torture side of it was quite feasible, but the main living and little things that people wouldn’t take notice of, but it hit us straight away. Sheets, where the hell did they get sheets on a bed, where did they get a bed from.
Didn’t they have a piano as well?
That’s feasible, because there was a party of guys who were mainly in the army for – that was their part of life, to make entertainment for the troops. And they scrounged around and I don’t doubt that for one moment. Some of the places we went into in Adam Park, for instance, they were bombed
out places where all the English people and well to do people in Singapore used to live. I don’t doubt they picked up pianos and musical instruments of some sort. And they formed quite a big concert party, and they were fantastic. I remember sitting out in many of them just sitting out and listening to them, you could have listened to them anywhere in WA and you would have been very appreciative of it because they were
an entertainment mob, and with what they gathered from different people around, they had a very good set up. In fact they used to sing songs about the bloody Japs, “It won’t be long before we are on our way home,” and the Japs used to sit there, and this was early in the piece, because later in the piece a lot of them picked up some English, but 90% knew nothing about English, and they were more or less abusing the little buggers,
they had their concerts and saying what little arseholes they were and the Japs would get up and clap and say, “That’s great,” and of course we got about as much entertainment out of that as they thought they were getting from the orchestra. They put on some really good shows, particularly in Adam Park, they had quite good shows and they had some good shows in Changi. Out of nothing. They carted their piano around and whatever they could, and they were really fantastic, some of the shows they
Did they actually have other musical instruments as well?
Did they have what?
Other musical instruments beside the piano?
Oh yes, they finished up with flutes, some of the things they might have made in the flute line, I don’t know. But they picked up quite a lot of instruments around the place, where they come from God only knows.
Can you remember any of the songs?
No. I remembered one for a lot of years, about a spider.
No. I just can’t think of it now.
See if you can think of it a bit later. We love original songs. How often would these entertainment things happen?
I would say, I wouldn’t even hazard a guess how often, but it could have been once a month, or it could have been once a fortnight, I don’t know. But they weren’t just say, “I am going to the concert tonight, just pass the word around there’s going to the
concert and sort of all lined up for it.” You didn’t have any picture shows or anything like that and the pub wasn’t open.
How would that affect morale, the concerts?
Did the world of good. You could hear someone sing something in their own language, you would probably appreciate that inwardly a lot more
than what we showed outwardly, because I know I used to sit there and listen to it, and I wouldn’t have given you tuppence to go to a concert, not even today, I wouldn’t go anywhere, and I remember I would sit there for the full length of it and so it must have been good for everyone I would say.
You mentioned that the Japs kind of enjoyed it as well. What was their reaction to these sorts of concerts?
They enjoyed the
music, and they wouldn’t have enjoyed some of the words that were spoken to them, but these guys in the concert were pretty cluey and they knew who was there and what they could do, and of course it was all entertainment to us because we knew what they were saying and of course the Japs didn’t, and we did and we thought it was very comical. Call the Japs little arseholes and different things that didn’t stand out, but when you were listening to the concert, you could say, “Ah,
they are having a shot at the Japs, you know.” Cleverly put together.
So it was clever satire?
At some point the Japs got wind of…?
Well, the longer we were together, it was like ourselves, we got to know a few words of Japanese and no doubt they picked up the English. The longer you are together the longer you get to know each other’s language.
They are no different to us, only a different colour and a lot smaller in most cases. And yet I have got tied up with a Jap in one of the working parties, and he was six foot two. And he grabbed hold of me hand and told me me horoscope, told me I was going to live a long life, I was going to be very rich, but I haven’t found the rich part yet.
There are all sorts, shapes and sizes.
When we were talking about the TV show before, Changi, it’s interesting that you had this reaction, did that reaction make you angry or did it make you laugh?
Well, I just said it was a lot of crap. I wasn’t the slightest bit interested in it. I went to see me mate over the road, Mick Lambie, and I said,
“Did you watch that?” and the very first thing he said to me, “What crap.” When we started to talk about the sheets, and the sheets on the bed, and the bed, ah. It was – out of this world.
You mentioned that the torture methods may be applicable. Can you extrapolate on what sort of torture methods you saw being used?
Where did you mentioned torture methods?
You said that with Changi, the TV show, you know like how the guy gets stood on the box for days, and you said that would probably would be something that would be true, so I am just wondering what you saw in order for you to make that comment of something like that would be true?
Oh, that torture that was in that film, I got off the track here, the torture in the film, yeah. You could imagine that quite easy,
that particular point I never actually saw. But you could imagine that quite easily because they could – they would just grab a joker from anywhere and tie him up to a tree, and they would urinate on him all day and all night, and I could imagine them doing anything like this at all, no worries. To see what happened with the torture thing there, it was quite possible, feasible and probably
did happen. Not in those particular circumstances, but somewhere along the line probably.
Sure. When they are tying somebody up to a tree as you just described, what do you blokes do?
You just walk past him, you can’t do anything about it, you have got no chance of releasing him, because they have got a guard watching him all the time. We had one in Adam Park, he only lasted three days, he died.
They just cut him down and let him lay there for another three days, until he got that bloody stinky they had to do something about it.
Any other sort of things like that that you saw that was just, horrible way to treat human beings?
Oh we had some real good times – for a little times
at one time or another, when a Jap got killed or died on the working party or something, they made a big fanfare of it. Like the Chinese apparently, when a Chinese dies they have a dinner and a big feed, and it’s a day of rejoicing. A couple of Japs we knew that had been killed or died, and they have been alongside the road, and they put all the fruit alongside there, and when the Japs
weren’t lookin’ we’d get a feed out of the fruit and whatever was available, and we didn’t, one or two dyin’.
So when did you actually figure out that you were going to be making a railway, how did they introduce this new concept to you?
I don’t think we knew anything about the railway until we got to Thailand itself.
Can you describe what happened?
Other than going through various camps until we got to the camp we were going to be workin’ from other than the stages moving from A to B to C till you got to the place where you were going. There was no camp where we spent a
week or a fortnight, we were on the move all the time. Once we got off the train, we moved to a point along the road, while we were in the main areas of Thailand was where we could grab a little bit of fruit or a little bit of something, if the Japs saw us doing anything like that we would get a clout, but I mean you – to survive you take anything, you take the risk to get anything.
Going up to where we had to go it was a case of moving from point A to point B to point C and I don’t think I recall stopping any more than one night in any one place.
How did they introduce you to the work tools in order for you to build the railway? Did they teach you anything?
Well, we knew what a hammer and a
tap would do, but I mean that was going back in the Dark Ages, they just gave us these things and the hammers and the drills and say, “That’s what you do,” and so that’s what we did. They put a quota on of what you had to get per day, and they were just standing over you all the time until you got your quota. If we didn’t finish till 8 o’clock at night you didn’t go home until 8 o’clock at night. There was
no set time to blow the whistle and you start work and you knock off, you did your quota and everyone did their quota or you stayed there.
You say that you were working in pairs, did you always work with the same bloke?
Not necessarily, you might only see one guy three or four times, and might get crook, he might go into a different party on the way out, and, “First two, first two.”
There was no set routine of what you had to do. The only set routine was to put on two bamboos one each side of the elephant, that was the only set routine that I ever saw. Water carriers.
How long would it take you to make your quota, your three quota?
Depended a lot on the ground, some guys would get their quota pretty easy, pretty quick, and
others might strike harder ground and they might have a bit that was falling out or something, takes a lot longer with a blunt bit than a sharp one. Actually I never give it a thought about how long it took, I know that we used to go to work early in the morning and come home late at night. Everyone had to do their quota and if you didn’t do your quota you had to stop there until you did. And even in the latter period we were working well into the night.
Quota or no quota.
Did you feel like you making quick progress with the quota you were doing, because there would have been quite a few blokes on the job every day?
It come back to everyone had to help each other, you know. Someone would finish early, you would give another guy a spell, but you would have to be very careful that the Jap wasn’t watching you or something,
because you are supposed to do your job, you do your job. Any rate anyone who was a bit quicker than anybody else, he wasn’t in any condition to do double the work of anybody else.
What would you do for blokes who were clearly not well and could not work, how would you help them out with their quota?
Well, we used to – I think the main thing was to impress the Jap that he wasn’t capable of doing the
work, so they would put another person there. Not everyone was on the drills. Some of them were shifting timbers, they were using a lot of timbers which had to go up to make covers for the cuttings and different other things. So there was nobody ever idle, but if someone got crook on the drills, they would make certain those drills were in action
all the time. They would take someone else off (UNCLEAR). I know I left the camp once with another guy, we decided we would take a short cut, and we got very close to our camp, and in the general direction of it, all of a sudden we were walking over little hills. “What the hell is all this bloody thing?” until we saw an arm sticking out or a leg sticking
out. The natives had been up there prior to us apparently, and there was hundreds of them all the way down the jungle, one after the other and we couldn’t make out these bloody mounds and then we saw these arms and legs sticking up. And cholera was around, oh, we couldn’t get out of there quick enough, it put a nasty taste in our mouths I know. We were dead frightened we were going to get cholera out of it. As
I started to say earlier, whether they ever got to know how many people died on that railway, because this particular place where all these natives were dead, God knows who accounted for them, maybe somewhere along the line they would have been accounted for, but what we saw, there were hundreds of them. Could have been hundreds of them places right through the
jungle, I wouldn’t have a clue. So that’s why I am very sceptical about whether they knew how many lives were killed on the railway.
Do you think there is a possibility that the Japs killed off some of the natives?
I don’t know about killing them off, they probably killed them off by work. But I don’t think they would deliberately kill them for anything other than if they did something
wrong, they might have. They were pretty keen to get the railway going without killing them, they killed themselves on the bloody line themselves, starving them to death, worked them to death, but I have always thought I wonder how many people actually did die on the railway, we have a fair idea of our fellas because we’ve got army records about who was who and what was what. Just imagine the thousands and thousands of people they have taken out of Malaya
and Thailand and put them to work there, you wouldn’t have a clue where they come from.
How would you keep a record of blokes when they died?
Oh, I think every individual went to a camp knew their mates in the camp, and those that died it always sort of stuck in your mind, to ask me now I couldn’t tell you but in them days you knew every one and it was –
when you got to some place like when we went down to that big base camp after that and reported that you knew that so and so and so had died. Eventually I believe they picked up their bodies, or whether they just put crosses to indicate that this was so and so who died on the railway I don’t know. But had quite a lot of them in the camps, if they regained all the bodies most of them would only be by crosses not by bodies.
End of tape
Interviewee: Peter Whitfield Archive ID 1330 Tape 06
How long were you recovering in the POW hospital for?
That’s when we left the camp we were in and travelled down to Nagasaki. We were only there for a short time, but they didn’t do nothing else but shower us, and of course we didn’t realise until a long time after
that it was because of the bomb that they dropped at Nagasaki, the fallout of the bomb.
The atomic bomb. I think we might be coming out of the wrong hospital there.
Yeah, which hospital do you mean.
I meant the hospital you came out of with…?
Oh, during Singapore.
Yeah. Because we haven’t talked about how you got there yet.
Oh, you are still in Singapore are you?
Yeah. Because we haven’t talked about how you got to Japan, have
I thought you had run out of tapes. In Singapore. I was only there three days after the war finished I think. Although me record says the date, I forget where the record is. I think it was only three or four days after we marched out to Changi.
So they decided that you were fit?
I don’t know about they, it was just something that happened. They called – they called a roll or something, I don’t know how we got out of it exactly how we got out of it, we all just sort of fell out of it and finished up in Changi. I don’t remember any organised bloody names or anything.
And this is when they decided to send you to Japan on the (UNCLEAR)?
This is after when we left the hospital, we went out to what everyone calls Changi, it is Selarang Barracks actually. Changi was the gaol itself, which a hell of a lot of people that did wrong things badly, and they finished up in Changi Gaol. We were in what we called Changi Camp which is actually
So how many men were imprisoned in Changi Gaol?
I couldn’t tell you the number, but it was a gaol not only for prisoners of war, but a gaol for anyone in Singapore or their areas. But they classed them as real criminals, so if you did something drastic in a POW camp, you got put into Changi Gaol.
Were those types very
Were they what?
Where those undesirable types very common?
Undesirables to the Japs, not undesirables to us. There was only undesirables the Japs. They might have tried to escape, those that tried to escape, if they didn’t get shot as they got caught, they brought them back to camp and put them in Changi Prison because they were bad buggers, worse than those in the camp
What I need to understand is, when you came out of – when was it decided you would be sent to Japan, I thought it was when you came out of the POW hospital?
No, no, no. What happened is we came out of the working camps in Thailand, which we was spread throughout all different areas. Then we went back to a main camp, which was off the
railways, the railway was just about finished. And they, the sickest ones came out first, there was two or three of them, non-competent, and another big camp in close vicinity, where we were all clustered together, and we weren’t going to work because mainly we were too sick to go to work. And there was no work, we had finished the railway, so they hadn’t given us any other work to do at the time. This is when they
drafted out that the fittest were sent back to Singapore, to go to Japan. There was quite a lot of them sent back to go to different areas. They were supposedly the fittest of the working parties. So we left the working camp that was on the railway, and we went back to two or three camps, down south, still in Thailand, and from there we were drafted to either go to
Japan or go to other working parties throughout Thailand, which I didn’t know anything about anyway. There’s no doubt a lot of POWs did a lot of work in Thailand but not on the railway.
What kind of work parties were they, do you know?
I couldn’t tell you, I have spoken to a lot of guys that stopped in Thailand, but I have never asked them what they did from the time they left till we met up again. Something I was never interesting in talking about, so
I couldn’t tell you whether they worked in rice fields or what they did. I wouldn’t have the slightest clue.
So you one of the ones chosen as one of the fittest?
Supposed to be one of the fittest, so went back to Singapore and then from Singapore onto the boat and over to Japan.
What happened when you arrived back in Singapore?
Well they – what did they do with us?
How did you get there?
come back on the railway truck same way we got up. I think it was exactly the same in trucks as the way we went up, but I couldn’t even tell you where we stopped in Singapore until we got on the boat.
Didn’t go back to Changi?
No, no, it was just some other camp. Close, close to the water we were because one day they said, “Come on, we are on board,” so we just
all marched on board.
How many of you were there?
On our boat, I couldn’t even tell you that. I know there was 300 in our hold. There was probably another 300 each in the other holds, they had three holds in the ship, I think. It wasn’t a very big boat, it was only 4000 ton boat.
Can you describe the dock where you boarded the Oki Maru and what she looked like?
Well, when we went on board, they – on the wharf or somewhere in the close vicinity, we had to pick up a bag of rubber, had a little handle on it, it was a compact bag so big, so deep, solid rubber, so everyone had to go on board with a bundle of rubber which they must have stored in the hold somewhere.
What was the rubber for?
They use it in Japan for all sorts of things. Stuff that they thieved out of Singapore or the rubber plantations, which is all Malaya and Singapore was all rubber plantations, so any ship that went back they shipped the things back to Japan. So our consignment was rubber. Probably the other ships that were taking foodstuffs that come from Singapore,
or they might have been sent over years before, I don’t know. Because we had fellas working in the different godowns in Singapore, and a lot of funny stories told about them. Some of the Japs were pretty smart fellas, they lined everyone up and said, “You think you are pretty smart, I show you what you do,” and he grabbed a slouch hat off one of the bloody Aussies,
and he had gone into one of the shelters before and just put a tin of condensed milk on the case or something, and he grabbed the hat and he just walked over and put the hat over it, and turned round and picked the hat up with the tin of milk. This is what he was supposed to have done. He put the milk down, and he put the hat over it and he walked up the end of the hut someone had picked the hat up and picked up the milk, and when he picked up the hat there was no bloody milk under it. Of course he blew his bloody
top, he bloody near killed a couple of guys. He was telling us how smart the Aussies were, tis is exactly how they do it. Of course when he turned round and picked the hat up there was no milk under it. You can imagine what happened. They are not as smart as the Aussies.
You were smarter than he even thought?
But I don’t know what numbers went in other boats or anything like that, I couldn’t even tell you the number that was on our boat, because we were separated into different holds. But we certainly couldn’t have had many because the boat was only a 4000 ton or some bloody things, you know it was a wreck, they pulled it out of the bottom of the harbour in Singapore and welded this big beam across
just to hold it together. Because when we went on board, it was rotten with bloody bugs, and lice, it was all rusted, the walls everywhere were all rusted, and all these lice and things got behind this, that was the worst bloody time we have ever had in our lives. Bloody trying to sleep on the bloody place, with these bloody things crawling over us all bloody night. It was bloody shocking. The other thing on that boat, which was never ever
mentioned, not even in that screed there, when we went on board there was bloody flies by the bloody thousands, you know, I don’t know who invented or finished up with a bloody swat, or put a bloody swat together, and jokers were there swatting these bloody flies as fast as they could. There was thousands of them. Anyway, the Japs said, this is before we left the harbour,
and he said, “Every man will catch ten flies,” so there was four holds, four sections of the hold we were in, 100 in that one, 100 in that one, and 100 in that one. Eight Japs as our guards in the other hold. If anyone wanted to turn over during the night, everyone had to turn over. But getting back to the flies, the Jap said, “Every man catch ten flies.”
Anyone didn’t catch ten flies they got a bashing. I don’t know who invented the first bloody swat, but everyone finished up with a bloody swat of some sort. So we got out to sea, and we were three days out to sea and we still had to catch these ten flies every day, they – most of it was to see what was going to happen, we were going to run out of
flies. We were already three days out to sea and catching ten flies, well in the hold was 300, ten flies, that’s 3,000 flies in a day, and the jokers were getting belted over the ear in the first day because they didn’t have ten flies. So you can imagine, every day there was another 3,000 flies, a day’s (UNCLEAR) away from the bloody mainland, and we still had to catch 3,000 flies.
So it came about after five or six days there were no flies on board, or there wouldn’t have been. A few of us woke up, we are going to get caught here, so I said to the fellas, “When you put the flies in they used to count them.” They go along and he counted them. “When you put them in the bin, you put your hand over, whatever falls out good luck, bring the rest back.” As the guys went out, we used to hand these flies over to them. So they had their ten flies.
Until it got pretty bad, the old flies were getting deteriorated and we used to get a bit, a half a cup of water a day, we used to get the water and sprinkle it on the flies to freshen the flies up. And we used to take them to the Japs and they counted them all right. Put their hands over all right. They got that bloody bad they started to stink. We all said, “No more flies,” and quite a few of us got a bashing.
How do you catch 3,000 every day even three days out in the ocean. Further you get away from land the less flies there are. The boat could only hold so many if they were packed in ten at a time. But that was their mentality, they would have kept on going on forever, if we hadn’t have taken a beating, for not producing ten flies.
Doesn’t make any sense at all.
Doesn’t make any sense at all.
No, it doesn’t. It doesn’t make any sense for getting bashed for not having them either, but still that’s what happened.
It’s a wonder they didn’t get sick of giving you a beating at some stage?
They were eating pretty well, we were eating nothing, but they were eating well.
So what other conditions can you describe from being on board the Oki Maru?
So what other conditions can you describe like
The ship’s state after it had been sunk and burnt out?
Well, no one in their right mind would ever have sailed the bloody thing, that’s for sure. The only thing that kept it together was this bloody girder they put on it to hold the thing together. I believe down the other hold they did the same thing but we never saw that, we were only just in the section where we were.
So there’s no way in the world we would have been safe, not even to take a bloody box of mice across in it, putting humans in it.
Doesn’t sound seaworthy at all?
No, should have left it down the bottom of the ocean in the first place.
What did you do on board, apart from catching flies?
Nothing actually, you couldn’t do anything other than – the only time we got out of our bunks was to go to the toilet and the toilet was a box strapped to the outside of the boat, which you climbed over the rail and got into the box, and had a gap in the middle and you were supposed to put one foot and the other foot and that was your toilet. And if you wanted to wipe your bum you had to use water, you couldn’t use paper because
paper would leave a trail for the submarines. So we just use water like the Dutch do, they just use water. That was the toilet facilities, and that was the only water we touched other than the mouthful we drank, the whole time we were on board.
And the food?
Very scarce rice, just plain rice, that’s all we had.
Were you protected from the sun or the
Were you protected from the sun or the elements?
Well, we were in the hold of the boat and once you got underneath where you sleep there was no sun there. It was only when we were in Manila, we were there for 3 weeks, they let us out a few at a time, or a half a dozen guys out in the centre, out for an hour or an hour and a half and let some other guys come out.
What were the weather conditions like
during that voyage?
Pretty hot and humid, which you can imagine being in Manila. Pretty humid place. From the day we stepped on board until the day we stepped of, we never had a wash, of any sort, other than a bit of sea water when we bloody near tipped over.
When we left Singapore when the torpedo hit
and sank the rest of the boats and didn’t sink ours. I told you about that didn’t I.
When we left Singapore, we were in there for three weeks, and they weren’t game to go out because the subs were apparently around, they had already sunk ships before, that’s why we were there for three weeks, waiting for a safe passage, or supposedly safe passage. We only just got out of Manila and
wouldn’t have been any more than four or five hours I suppose, and there was a bang, and geez we thought we had been sunk, you could feel a crack right in the – of course that’s when the fun started. All the Japs were on the side because we could see them from where we were all seated. They were pulling on clothes, you have never seen such a funny act in all your life. They were pulling clothes after clothes after
clothes on, trousers and trousers, where they were about this fat they finished up this fat. And jackets, I don’t know where they got all the clothes from, but they just kept on pulling them on and pulling them on. We realised there must have been a boat other than ours, but it just sounded as though it hit ours, and that was when the Japs started getting dressed, whether they thought they were going to float with more clothes on I don’t know.
We had a very sad story there too. A Jap came racing up the bloody gang plank, out of the last one just got up the last step and fell over backwards and bloody broke his neck the poor bastard. We all had a long bible session for him, the poor bugger. That was another good story.
Was his accident met by a cheer?
He just missed his foot on the top of the step and went straight over down, he went down about nine feet and hit his bloody neck the wrong way and snapped it and boom, he was dead. Very sorry sight. But anyway, after that there was another bang, of course another boat went. Then there was another bang and there was only four of us in
the convoy, and the third one went. Of course everyone thought it had hit ours because it vibrated through the water that bloody hard you reckoned it hit. It was only for the fact that the boat was still moving that there was no. But that, as history shows, they interviewed the captain of the sub and it’s reading there if you want to read it. He said he can remember the incident and he said there was
three boats sunk, he said and he said they were just lining up a torpedo for the other boat but he said, “Don’t waste your torpedo on that bloody junk, it will never reach where it’s going anyway.” Apparently it was our boat. From there we just kept on going and we hit a typhoon another three or four days out and we hit a typhoon.
Just before you tell us about the typhoon, what were you guys wearing at this stage?
Pair of pants, some of us might have had nothin’ on, just a pair of pants, but we might have even had the old cock rag on, we had bugger all on anyway, we just as we were POWs in Thailand, we just walked off – we had no pants, no long pants or anything, might have had a pair of shorts and a singlet on. So the water wasn’t going to worry us if we went down.
We would have done better than the Japs, we would have kept on swimming you know. No, it didn’t happen anyway.
What happened when you ran into the typhoon?
Well, it was every man for himself, including the Japs, they had their – went down and give them a hand to stoke the fire to keep the engines going. And, everyone was helping
everyone, we got out of the hold underneath and we were in the hatch underneath and she went right over on her side, and one of the waves picked it up and sent it right over. Some how it righted itself again and some of the gear that was strapped to the deck, we had to go up and bloody put more ropes round that and secure it, otherwise it might have rolled right over and
might have (UNCLEAR) the whole bloody boat, Christ only knows. But after it went over on its side, we should have all been dead but it righted itself again. We all maintained that it must have been a bloody miracle to get out of that. So after 70 odd days, we made the closest port in Japan.
Were you getting thrown about in the hold?
Imagine a typhoon chucking off 30, 40, 50 ft
waves, on this little 4000 ton boat, like a cork in a bloody great big storm.
You guys bracing yourselves against the ocean?
I just don’t know what happened with – whether we were just hanging on to each other or what we were hanging onto I wouldn’t have a clue, but all I know it went right over on its side and Christ knows how the hell any of us got out of that for a start. Somehow another wave or something must have picked us up and put us right
I can imagine your bodies being thrown about.
Ah, everyone must have been mixed up with everyone for certain. There was no Japs, oh yes, there were Japs because when we had the torpedoes in the boat, no, they were back in their boats again, they were in the same position we were, every man for himself. When we saw this big crater or whatever it was, starting to
move, we had to scramble up the bloody ladder, and everyone got into it and put ropes all round it, otherwise it and secured it, otherwise that would have got loose, we could have created anything. We turned over again, it could have bloody kept us down for sure. So after all that we eventually made port, very tired and weary guys, just about out on our feet, because
no one had had a wash all the time we were on the boat, bar when in the forward hold, after we got into calmer seas, the bloody hold caved in in the front, it had about a four inch hole in it. All the jokers in that hold thought it was the greatest thing on earth because it was the first time they had had a wash, and they were all underneath this bloody water, bathing themselves. We weren’t lucky enough to get anything like that but they
got it. It was only after a while that the Japs came down and they had a square peg and they had to bloody champ it all down and put it in the bloody hole. No more free showers.
She would have sunk though, wouldn’t she?
She wasn’t sunk when we got off her, Christ knows, she probably sunk after we left, I don’t know. I think we must have kept it afloat, how the hell we did it I don’t know. Had to have
been the most fantastic trip taken by anybody I reckon. That’s what that story is all about. If you read it, and digest it, and the joker said a lot thought it was a miracle, I think every man on board that board thought it was a bloody miracle. We got over that, I don’t think it was a thought, it was an actual fact that we got out of that. So that was another one of our tales as POWs, wasn’t a very good one. We lost quite a few
guys on the way over, buried at sea.
What sort of ceremonies did you hold for them?
Did you hold a ceremony or service for them?
Just lined up and tipped over the side and that was it. No Bibles or nothing, that was it. Goodbye, g’day sort of business.
Did you have a padre [chaplain] with you?
No. If there was I never saw him. Anyone could have acted as a padre anyway.
So what were the Chinese whispers when you got near the port or were about to arrive at the port in Japan?
Well, we didn’t know much about it, we just pulled up and after we hit the main port we had to
the boat, they transferred us on to ferries or something, and we went around to a place called Moji, and that’s where we got off the boat, and that’s where we started out on the, or most of us started out on the copper mine.
What was at Moji?
Moji was the port.
What was there?
Port where we second landed, the other one we called into but we left that and went round about another eight
hours to get to Moji, and that’s where we got off the boat.
Can you describe what Moji looked like?
Like a wharf, with water around it. We never saw anything other than just our general surroundings.
Were you glad to see land?
Well, how would you feel? Eh. We were thankful there was a land.
But it was Japanese land.
Oh, so what. I would have walked across water to get on land after being on that, for sure. It was something we never thought we were going to do anyway. When we got there it was a great place to see, even if it was Japan.
What can you tell me about it?
Oh, nothing much other than the fact that we finished up at this place called Yamoni.
They had built this camp for us. They put us into the copper mines, or a copper mine. The funny part about it was prior to going to the mine, they took us to, it was like an oval in Japan, and they had picks and shovels and they were teaching us how to use a pick and shovel.
The old pick was, “Raise, strike, rake,” they were doin’ this in Japanese, “Ichi, ni, san, shi [One, two, three, four].” Raise, strike, break and rake. All the years we had been over in Thailand and different places working with them, working with bloody picks and shovels in our hands, and they were teaching us how to use them. We all thought it was the most humorous thing we saw in our life.
When we first went in the army and you used a shovel, swing handle low, something and throw, that was an army way of how to use a shovel, and the same way with the pick. And after all these years we had been working with Japs, three years we had been
working with the Japs, and they put us out in this bloody paddock and teaching us how to use a pick and a shovel. It was a very humorous event. They sent us in to this mine in Japan, it was fantastic to look at it, went in about five miles in the hill. All electric trains.
When you got inside it was just like the interior of our own mines, with their head office and everything down there, and their working parties never went out of the mine. We used to see women three, carrying logs, about 13 feet long, 9-12 inch diameter, carrying these on their shoulders, this is underground. They were shifting them from one place to another place. Of course
when we first saw this you know, we opened our eyes and wondered what the bloody hell was goin’ on.
What women were they?
I don’t know whether they were Japanese women or whether they were Chinese women brought in from China or where they were, but they were Asian race anyway. It was nothing to see these women running around with these great big timbers on their shoulders. Walking round like you and I walk around. No worries. You wouldn’t credit it until you
seen it. We worked in different places in the mine, some of them worked down in the faces and they were drilling and firing. I had a section that worked on the levels, looking after the chutes, cleaning up the areas around the chutes where they pulled off from. I finished up with a pretty good old fella, that I got to know, he was a Japanese civilian and
he had worked in the mines for years, but apparently they had brought him back because of the POWs so he could look after a party of POWs. I got pretty friendly with him, and eventually we learned a bit of each other’s language. He used to sneak me in a rice bowl every now and again, and to see this transformation from him to me, for this little rice bowl, you would have thought you were
trying to get into the bank to rob the bloody bank or something, he used to watch every corner, make sure no one saw me, and take me right down a dark tunnel, no lights or anything and give me this as thought he was giving me $1 million. It was good of him, because he wasn’t eating much better than we were. But an old fella, and he had a lot of experience in his life. I thing they only brought him back to look
after the POWs instead of using the younger people. But I got pretty friendly with him, and one Christmas, or the Christmas we were there, he told me he was going to bring me in some sake, of course I had heard about sake but I had never tasted it. But he brought it in like a sewing machine bottle, he had the sake in this. He took me way down a
drive, must have been a mile, mile and half way down a drive, and then he turned off, I don’t think anyone had been there for years. Anyhow he gave me this sake and told me to drink it straight away see. And of course I was just sipping it, “Oh, no, no, no, drink it up.” I just threw it straight down, and all of a sudden in this very place where no one had been, there was bloody lights appeared, and oh geez, he was a quick thinker.
He had a shovel, there was a shovel there, and gave me the shovel and told me to start shovelling on the side. Of course these people come up and wanted to know what was going on, and couldn’t understand them. But I believe that he said I was a bad boy and I done something wrong and he brought me up there so I could shovel all this dirt, wherever the dirt was, this is what I believe that he said.
They had a long confab, and anyhow he took me out and took me to the other place where we normally work on the chutes. I think he must have got into trouble about that. If they had known that he had given me a glass of sake, they probably would have shot the both of us on the spot. It was an education anyway.
What was his name?
I knew it before, but I couldn’t tell you now.
What kind of things did you talk about?
Oh, he used to talk about his aeroplanes and how big Japan was, and their aeroplanes are squawkies [hikôki?], aeroplanes. We used it on America and Japan they’d shoot all these squawkies out and of course he’d tell me how many sqworkies Japan had knocked out of the sky, of course it was all supposition this talk, and it was supposition
of mine, he was having a go at me, and I was having a go back at him. Friendly, you know, it was good how we were able to have a talk at each other. I learned quite a few of the words, and he learned a lot of our words. But some of those people, you know, just the ordinary people, they have never seen a supermarket or anything like that, they get food rations every week and they just go to the front place to pick up their quota, and that’s it. They can’t go into a shop and buy something.
If we want something, we just go into a shop and buy it. They never seen shops. And they were just as worse off as we were, only they had their freedom, that’s all.
What was your daily routine when you were working there, Bob?
Where, in the mine?
We used to, there was quite a lot of chutes where they dragged all the ore from different levels, and they put it up the top, and they used these chutes to
fill up their trucks. Then they would take out their trucks, 30, 40 or 50 at a time. There was always spillage, so we had to go round all these chutes and clean up this spillage. That was our main work. Looking after the different areas to keep them clean. Some guys did a lot of mining, a lot of drill work and explosions and things like that. But I happen to have a party that did all this cleaning up work. I
finished up, I got bronchitis out of that. In the shaft, not the shaft, the tunnel-way itself, about five or six miles long, there’s a hell of a breeze coming through there, I did all me work in the tunnels, and I finished up with bronchitis. Bloody near died at one stage of the game, but I lived. I don’t know how many I have used up yet, still got a couple to go I think.
What were the conditions like working in the
copper mine compared to the labour you had done earlier in Thailand?
Well, I worked in the mines here in WA and probably the mine conditions are just as good, possibly if not better than our mines. But the fact that we were prisoners and had to do what we were told to do. But the underground conditions and
everything. I didn’t see any of the boring work or firing work, only just the cleaning up work, and the cleaning up work we did and the conditions of all the different areas we were in were just as good if not better than the conditions in our mines.
What was your treatment like compared to earlier treatment?
Well, we were still prisoners, but we never had anyone standing over us, we never had to do a special
amount of work or anything, we had to make certain everything was cleaned up, and kept the place nice and clean. Which was practically easy work.
Were there still beatings being carried out?
Were there still beatings?
Were beatings still being carried out?
Oh, beatings. If anyone stepped out of line, they got a bashing, yeah, no worries. But nothing like it was on the railway, you couldn’t compare the things.
You couldn’t put any comparison on the conditions. The only conditions were that we never had any clothes and the food didn’t improve. In fact if anything the quantity got bloody less. We were still getting rice, but getting very little of it. Japan was in a pretty bad way when the war finished, you know. Anyway they only kept us
there – oh, the only thing I remember about it we used to always walk home from the mine, it was about three miles away, we used to walk from the mine. The only real point I remember about anything, it was a Christmas Eve, one Christmas and we were walking home from the camp in shorts, that’s all we went up in. It was snowing,
on Christmas Eve, and we walked this three or four miles in shorts and snow was coming down all the time.
Must have been freezing?
It was cold, no doubt about that. Actually it is colder before it snows than when it snows, it’s a lot colder. It’s something like about 10 or 12 degrees before it snows than when it snows.
I didn’t find this out till someone told us about it. But we knew it was bloody cold when we got out, well, we were only in shorts anyway, but we had done it that many times we just acclimatised to it. But we did realise that when it did snow we did realise there was a different heat there. Whether it was the pleasure of seeing the snow that took our mind off being cold I don’t know. But by all theory when it does snow, it is a lot warmer.
What was the temperature?
Don’t ask me mate, we had no bloody, nothing to measure them with.
You weren’t given a temperature reading at all?
No. Lucky to get a little pot of rice every day.
Are we talking below zero?
They tell me it has got to be below zero before it snows.
And you are getting around in a pair of shorts?
Yeah. Shorts, and lucky to have a shirt on. It’s all right, you can live in it.
End of tape
Interviewee: Robert Whitfield Archive ID 1330 Tape 07
I was just going to ask you about the food you had in Yamoni, you said it was pretty scarce, but can you go into it in a bit more
Oh yeah, sweet potatoes. Yeah. Japs got a hold of sweet potatoes. They used all the good ones and give us the bad ones. And for months on end the only green we had was sweet potato, and rotten sweet potatoes, I can tell you they don’t taste very good. The most bloody sickly thing I have ever tasted.
It’s only what, how long has been war been finished, over 60 odd years, and there’s only about five or six months ago that I tasted a sweet potato. I refused to eat them because I could always smell these bloody things, and we had to push them down because we had nothing else. Rotten sweet potatoes.
That’s about the only variation we had in our diet except rice. The main thing was how much rice you could get.
Was there any way to nick some rice?
Now, you are getting to a different story. This is after we left the mine.
All right, okay. Well, before we leave the mine, I have to ask you now that you have eaten a sweet potato, 60 years later, what do you reckon of a good one?
it’s only the last six months that I ever tasted sweet potato again.
And what do you think?
Well, I always enjoyed them before, but I just couldn’t eat them when I came back. If you don’t believe me get some sweet potatoes, let them get rotten and then boil them up and eat them and see what they taste like.
Bob, I reckon I will take your word for it. Can you describe what the area looked like
where you were staying when you were doing the work on the copper mine?
Well, the copper mine itself, or where we lived?
Well, we lived in this camp where they had made for us and we had, just had ordinary flat bunks, no mattresses or sheets or anything, just sleep with the clothes you have got on, or
whatever the score is. I think we had an odd rug to keep us warm. We never had any more clothing to put on. Rain, hail or snow, we just had a pair of shorts. Some of them didn’t have that, they only had the old cock rag. That’s what we wore just about all the time we were a POW.
What’s that, like a handkerchief?
Like a napkin. Even a lot of the Japs for their dress on the boat coming over from Singapore, that’s all they wore, was a cock rag. Part of their dress I think. But that’s all we ever wore, apart from a pair of shorts. Nothing else on. So it does not take very long to describe our dress. Wasn’t there to dress.
Were there any cases of people freezing to death
Quite a few guys finished up with pneumonia. I think we lost one or two guys with pneumonia, but wasn’t that many considering the conditions.
Yeah. I can’t believe it, considering you are not eating anything, you had just finished the railway, stuck in…?
Oh, we were in condition.
I can’t see how.
I mean, I was fully six stone I think. That’s good condition. No, we lived on skin and bone I think. And it’s marvellous what the old body can put up with.
If there was I just can’t recall any. I know a couple of guys, they died of pneumonia.
But quite a lot of us had colds and coughs, they hung on or disappeared. I have still got the same cough I think.
Was there any opportunity to get medical supplies?
Well, I can’t recall of any, I think there was some medical supplies, but like meself, it was just a waste of time
going there anyway. So I don’t recall of any offhand at all. Jokers died they, I don’t know what they did with them, whether they buried them or burned them, I don’t know.
How big was the hut you were sleeping in?
This is in Yamoni?
There was 2 or 3 of them, I suppose they would hold a couple of hundred, I suppose. Must have been all off the boat anyway, and I think we started off with 600 or 800 or something, I am not too sure how many we had on the boat. But there was enough to go to the mine. But we didn’t stop there, we were only there for about
six months probably. We only spent 12 months in Japan, and six months was in the mine. They shifted us.
What did the mine actually look like?
Very hard to describe because it just ran into a mountain, went in for about five miles, straight in. It was all put in by American electrics. This is a lot of years ago, before the
war. And the Yanks put all the electric trains in there, this is what we are led to believe. They are very modern trains. They had coaches to take you in to work and come out on a coach, then come out on a coach, but then they were just dragging ore out all the time, in and out, trucks going in and filling up with ore. That’s where we did most of our work, cleaning up after they
up after the trucks, there was always spillage and we had to clean up all the time. I think we even filled up a few trucks at different times. But while they weren’t carrying people out, these were going in 24 hours a day. All electric, the whole lot of it, and quite a good system, nothing dilapidated about it. Every driveway was all electric connected
cables underneath to have their trucks bring the ore out. And they take the ore up to higher levels in lifts and then run them into chutes on the main levels so you just put the truck on the main level and kept on pulling it out. Quite, a very efficient mine.
When you say it was working 24 hours, does that mean people were working in 24 hour shifts?
Mmmm. We were going in every day. As soon as we were out - they never pulled the people underground out, I don’t know how long they were there. I never had a clue. Some of them might live under there, I don’t know. They are a long way in, five or six miles straight in. And when you get in there it’s a great big – you see that shopping area over there, it would be as big as that. The main line comes in, it’s a
terrific big place with offices all around the place. Something you would have to see to believe. Same thing you would find on the surface somewhere, but this is all underground, just goes in five or six miles, and then you just run into this great big open space. Different tunnels going different ways, mining up and down, and bring the ore in and transferring it up to the top level
and bringing it down with the chutes. And they must be eight or ten or twelve runoffs going in different directions, and that’s up and down in both lots. Big.
What sort of equipment were they mining with?
Well, from what I have seen for working underground, very efficient stuff.
Quite modern trucks, and in fact I seen a lot underground which I haven’t seen in mines here and I worked in mines for five or six years here. So, I believe what they said, the bloody Yanks organised the whole lot of it and put the electric system in. The trains and everything. So I believe they were responsible for it. I would say
just as efficient as any we have got anyway, if not better.
Did you ever get a day of rest?
If we did I can’t remember. Don’t have rest days when you were working.
Just wondering if every couple of weeks they just took you off to…?
They don’t take you for a picnic or nothing, they just keep
on working, that’s all they gotta do.
How many blokes were you generally working with?
I had a section, there was 12 in a section I think. Of all sorts, shapes and sizes. All Aussies.
I couldn’t tell you who half of them were now. Most of them from the eastern states, and a few of our guys from our unit. But all those that went underground I necessarily had anything to do with. Other than the fact that we would go into the mine together and they split up to different sections, a lot of them on boring and firing and I was on the ore side of it. Getting the
ore out of the place on trucks. Some of them were on maintenance on lines and maintenance around the place, I never ever saw them at all. I only saw the results coming out through the ore.
How would the Japs watch everything that was going on?
Well, they only brought back these old fellas like the old fella I made friends with,
I think they brought them back to get more production out of the mine to keep us working, otherwise they would never have brought them back I don’t think. They were old men, they were in their 50s and 60s. They brought them back out of retirement. They brought them back to look after the numbers we had split up in the different areas of the mine.
Were you being
watched all the time?
Only by the chap that was in charge of (UNCLEAR). I got that way I could take jokers and drop them there and drop there to look after the chutes or clean up that area and I could go away and leave them and go somewhere else. He knew what I was doing and he was usually sitting there havin’ a bit of a rest and I just go back, or he would go over, to say everything was okay.
Where would you go off to?
He used to sit in a little place all of his own. As I said he used to sneak me little rice bowls or something somewhere along the line. As long as no one saw him, if he got seen he would have been shot on the spot the same day. They would only have to see the transfer of food from him to me to believe what had happened. I got quite a bit off him, I used to give some of it back to the jokers in camp.
Funny, they used to search us up hill and down dale. Bloody near take your trousers off to have a look at you, but some things they never touched and never looked at. I will tell you more about that one when you get a bit further along.
What happened after the copper mine, were you transferred somewhere else?
They transferred us into another camp.
Niihama. We went into a similar sort of a camp. They must have built these all round Japan, apparently to accommodate POWs. A lot of guys went into shifting merchandise, shifting iron, and shifting all sorts of different things in different parties. They finished up putting me with about a dozen jokers
to work on the wharf. And we had some funny times.
Mainly we were cleaning up all round the place all the time, and it was sort of routine work.
So conditions here were a bit better than what?
Oh, far better than in the mine. We were in the open air for a start. And they used to – we would have our breakfast before we come
out and we used to take our dixie out with our rice out to the camp where we were, in a hut, they accommodated all of us, and some other people I think might have been using it. Far different conditions altogether. The fact that we were in the open air and doing practically light work, and those on the pick and shovel just cleaning up round different areas and things.
And on one occasion we could put on a barge to unload onions. They had a barge full of onions. Of course we snuck a few onions, and the old guy who was watching us, he knew we got a few onions and he didn’t say nothing. Had a couple of snarlers there, one of them was a real snarler, he copped us a couple of times, we got a bloody good bashing off him.
Yeah, real snarler. Just because we had pinched a bloody onion, and he saw us and he took us out and belted bloody shit out of us. Backwards and forwards and could hardly stand up. Just for pinching one lousy little bloody onion. The old fella who was there, he knew we were getting a few onions, so he didn’t worry us. We weren’t robbing anyone or anything, we were just helping ourselves to a bit.
But we only got one or two boats that we got anything off, nothing of any consequence. You know. But we discovered why we were working there, there was a big warehouse. Our hut was connected to the road that run past on this side, this side and also that way. And this warehouse was over about, about the width of the road I guess,
before it started. And I don’t know how we found out, but eventually we found out that it was chock-a-block full of rice and flour, and all sorts of things. We thought, “We have got to get into this place somehow.” We were there for a long time before we worked something out. We had our shed, where we used to stop, or where we put our clothes and changed. And then
just outside the door about 30 feet away, they had a sort of a big glass place where the Jap guards used to sit. And just at the – about 30 yards from there was this road, and then this warehouse I was talkin’ about. So somehow we had to – before this happened we dug a lot of trenches underneath the outside of the building, about three feet deep,
and we got rid of the dirt by shovels full at a time, buckets full at a time, just walked out and threw it without any raising any concern. So we had about a 30 foot hut down that side, and we had a trench about 30 inches wide, 3 feet deep, took a long time but we did it. That rice, flour and stuff was over there, we had to get some of
it. We spent a lot of time, and the only way we are going to get these Japs’ attention is – as we went out the door we went straight into the glass place that the Japs were in, so we decided we would send a couple of jokers around in front of them, start a fight. Because once they have started a fight, because the Japs were all crowded around to see what was going on. So we snuck
out through the holes and out through the sides and over the bloody road and into the warehouse. And when we come out we take three guys over and two of us picked up a bag of rice and threw it on his shoulders, or bag of flour or anything, whatever we found, we couldn’t go along to the delicatessen and pick out this and pick out that, the first thing we saw we carried it in, we knew it was rice of some sort and then when we got to the outside edge we looked over and the
fight was still goin’ on and the Japs were still there, so we straight over, dumped the rice on the side of the house, and down she come, leave it there, filled up all the soil around there. So we had our bag of rice. We finished up getting about 12 or 14 bags of rice. So when we left camp in the morning,
we wouldn’t eat our breakfast, we give our breakfast to our mates. And our dixie full of rice that we used to take our for dinner, we used to give that to all our mates, and we used to take our empty dixies of rice, and every day we had been there and come home, marched home, they searched us up hill and down dale, everywhere.
Look at everything bar the dixies, never once touched the dixies. Never looked at them. So we got pretty game and we took them, and we had a joker in a room and he was cooking, the stuff we missed inside we were cooking from the stuff we pinched. And as soon as we got in there we would have a feed, which would be more than what we had in camp. And of course when dinner time came we used to always go back to eat out of our dixie full of
rice. Because the boys were already havin’ that. So we had already filled the dixie up, and we had that for dinner and then he cooked up again and filled up again to take back with us. And I would say, that without a shadow of a doubt, that if this hadn’t have happened, there wouldn’t have been half of us come back. That’s how scarce the food was. But when the war finished we had about 12 or 14 of this bloody rice in this bloody –
the Japs were getting tired of seeing these jokers fight. They still attracted to it all the time, they used to get a bit dinkum, and roll on the ground and bloody punch each other and not that hard, but enough to impress the Japs. And with what we ate, and what we had left over, we had a minimum of 12 bags of this. So after the war finished, and we never got out of the camp for a few
weeks afterwards. We walked out to this place where we used to work. And I saw the old fella there and he said, I said, he wanted a kagi [key] for the shed down there. He said, “Nothing in the shed, there’s nothin’ there.” I said, “Yeah, plenty of food.” He said, “No, no, no.” I said, “Kagi.” And I took a lot of convincing to get the key off him.
So anyway, I took him down there, opened up the shed and I said, (UNCLEAR). Bloody mad, nothing in there. So I went over and pulled some dirt away, they had boards there, took the boards away and he had a look and he saw the bag, and I said, “Food, one, two, three, four, five” –
you ought to have seen his eyes, they, I reckon they were out this far by the time I showed him all the food. He was just dumbfounded. I reckon his eyes were out six inches, he didn’t know where it come from. I reckon he was going to finish up the richest man in Japan that guy. I just – if that hadn’t have occurred, I don’t think everyone would have come back from that camp for sure.
Because even what I was getting, and that was equal if not a bit more to everyone else because we were feedin’ round there, plenty of rice mind you. I was five stone four when the war finished. The other two mates were round about the same size, and they were round about the same weight. And we made a bet then and there, two quid [pounds], who made seven stone first. And it was
on – it never happened in there, but someone kept the date of when he weighed himself and he went seven stone such and such a date, and he beat all of us by about two or three days. He reached seven stone the first and he got the two quid. We paid the two quid when we got back to Perth. We all got together again and said, “Well, there’s our two quid.” This is where we found out, who and why,
where he weighed himself and what date and this is where he went to the seven stone, and he was about two days in front of either one of us. So, another way of putting on weight.
With the whole rice escapade, was the entire camp of POWs a part of this entire operation in some way?
Oh, just the particular camp. Yeah, this camp,
they didn’t all go to the wharf, we were the only ones working on the wharf. The other ones went into factories and making factory parts or packing factory stuff up. Which we never saw one of them at work, we only saw them when they come back to camp. But I had these 12 guys, I think it was 12 we had, we had all cleaning up work to do, unload boats if it was necessary of course. We only had the opportunity a couple of times to get on a boat.
Mainly cleaning up work all round the wharf. So this is where we discovered the place with all the rice.
How many blokes benefited from that rice…?
From what we used to leave behind? Oh as many as 50 or 60 guys, may be more. There was 12 of us, there was 12 breakfasts. That would go between a minimum of 12, that probably half each, that be
at least 24 there. Our lunch was the same thing in a dixie, and a dixie was probably a bit more in that than what we used to get in our little plates. So multiply that by another three times probably, probably benefited another 50 or 60 guys over all.
Do those 50 or 60 guys know that there was this rice escapade going on?
no one. They wanted to know where it come from, we said, “We are not telling you.” When I think back, how the hell we ever got away with it, because when you come back to camp they bloody search you up hill and down dale, take your hat off if you had a hat on. Never ever looked at them bloody dixies. If they had looked at those dixies we were dead for sure. What was the difference, we scrounged a bit of tucker,
made quite a difference to quite a few of us.
Well, about 60 blokes really.
Well, I couldn’t say really, but quite a few blokes benefited from it. I mean, we all got the same tucker issued in the camp, and then they got our issue, which was 12 men’s issue or 13 men’s issue, again to split up between them. Not everyone would have got some. Somewhere along the line someone would have got something,
because one day they would give it to some crowd and they would give it to someone else. That had to all be done on the quiet, we couldn’t afford to let the Japs in camp see what was going on. So they had to be very careful how they distributed it. I don’t know how they did it in the camp, we just left it there for them and said, “That’s it.” We did finish up rigging an extra dixie out of the kitchen, so when we,
they used to put the dixies in the camp to take out, so when the jokers picked up these dixies, they would be taking one with a full amount of rice, and they would be distributed, or what they did with it I never found out. How they did it, but that’s the only way they would have done, it would have gone back to the kitchen they probably distributed each one as (UNCLEAR).
It was a well organised and democratic operation.
As I said, there’s a lot of things you can do if you got to. An ingenuity comes out again, who the hell started it I – I said the only way we can get any rice is to dig a hole to put it in. So we dug that, we didn’t even know if we were going to get any but, if we dug the holes. We got the rice. We found out how we could get the rice and curiosity killed the cat and that’s what the Japs were doing, watching these
jokers fight. Entertainment they reckon.
Was it the same blokes fighting all the time?
Oh, no, we split them up we didn’t want the same ones to get hit all the time, you split them up. I mean you only had 12 in the workin’ party, but a couple of them got pretty antagonistic about different things, but they knew what it was all about, so…
So you would actually take it in turns between the 12 of you to have the biffo?
No one got hurt in the fight, a few punches thrown around. But they wouldn’t give any one a blood nose or anything, but
they would wrestle, a few body punches thrown around, which couldn’t hurt because there was nothing there to hurt. Marvellous what the old body can stand up to, I can tell you.
I guarantee it can lose you weight if you want to try it.
I think I’ll pass on that.
How did you find out that, of course you found out that the war ended when you were in that…?
Well, we were out on the same working party and we – this is when they said, “Knock off,” and we thought that something was wrong, because we had about three hours early. We went straight to the taps to wash our bloody shovels or picks, whatever we had, and they said, “No, leave them there, leave them there.” If you
didn’t wash them before you got a thump over the bloody ear, both sides. We had learnt that we got to wash them. We said, “We have got to wash them.” They had to more or less push us away from the bloody things. To leave them on the ground. So something bloody cookin’ here, “What’s goin’ on?” So they raced us back to camp to where we normally marched back, we were bloody near runnin’ back. We’d had the bomb, we were struggling to walk, never mind bloody
run. When we got back in the camp, everyone wanted to know what was going on. We said, “We haven’t got a clue but something’s going on.” And the next morning we heard from this, guy that had the contact with the radio, something about a bomb that had been dropped, and then we found out it was an atomic bomb. Atomic was no different to us to an ordinary bomb as far as we knew. But, that’s when
we guessed something was going on pretty quick, and they never sent us out to work. So something’s happening, and then we got word, I think, from the same guy on the wireless. And he said, “The war’s all over.” We couldn’t believe this so we just – we took it in, we just couldn’t let ourselves go, we thought something’ fishy. But after a
couple of days, it was sinking in, of course none of the Japs ever said anything. We had to get up every morning, we had to salute the bloody colonel or whatever he was when he come in to the (UNCLEAR) and we had to salute him, that was still on. And had to salute him and had to bow. But a lot of guys wouldn’t bow, and there was a hullabaloo, brought all the guards in…
They wouldn’t bow because they knew the war was over?
We had an idea the war was over, pretty
certain something was wrong. And when they refused to bow the old Jap did his nana and called in the bloody guards, and when he called in the guards, and he said, “Bow,” no one bowed. And then it came out and he told us, he said the war is over. It bloody hurt him to tell us. He still wanted us to bow even though the war was over. And when we
wouldn’t bow, and he called the guards in, and then he called out to us to bow again, and none of us would move, and so then he come out and said the war is over. Of course he made his way out of there very smartly, because we would have grabbed him and he would have gone for sure. We were more or less that stunned that he just walked out with the Japs. Never saw him again. We went lookin’ for him as a matter of fact. We were there for about three weeks after the war.
You went lookin’ for him?
We would have knocked him off if we had’ve found him.
Where do you think he might be?
We made a lot of enquiries and they said he lived about four or five miles away, and we asked what place and how to find it, and some guys even went to this place but they never found him. But he would have got knocked off if we had’ve found him. He was a bloody arrogant pig, he bloody,
that close to killing a couple of guys, it didn’t make that much bloody difference. Belted and belted and belted Christ out of them, just for no bloody reason either. Where are we?
We were just talking that if any of you would have found the guy, the Jap in charge you would have knocked him off. You would have knocked off the guy.
Oh, this is – if they had have found him, yeah.
No they never found him, so no deed was done. But, I told you about we went out of the camp and fixed that up with the rice. But from there they shifted us to this Nagasaki, or in the area of Nagasaki, I don’t know whether it was Nagasaki itself. Of course we – when we first got there they told us to strip off, and of course we
realised this, although we had showers and things at the camp we were in,
So, you were pretty close to Nagasaki, yeah?
Well, we went right into this camp in Nagasaki, of this camp where the Yanks were.
I am just wondering if you managed to see anything of the bomb going off?
Well, where – what we woke up to afterwards of why they were showering us so often, that when we travelled by train into this place, I don’t know whether it was right into Nagasaki or very close to Nagasaki anyway, but that’s where we got on to a boat
after – we got into the Yanks’ camp there, not into the camp, into the building and we were in and out this bloody building all day, bloody showering and showering and showering. We said, “For Christ’s sake,” we knew we hadn’t had a shower for a long time for sure, but we weren’t that bloody dirty. They said, “You got to,” I think we had about six in a row for a start. Just in the shower, out of the shower, in the shower.
After this was all over, we realised this was something to do with the bomb they dropped on Nagasaki. And they kept on showering us to get the stuff that we might have contracted. Never realised for years after, but that was the reason why we were getting all the showers. So after all that they finished up putting us on to a brand new hospital ship. Just come out from America, never had a patient on it before.
And they put us on this hospital ship. The whole bang lot of us.
Sounds a bit slick.
And sailed us to Manila. We got after like lords. Laying back, clean sheets and bed, you know, something we hadn’t had for bloody years. Clean shaving, lovely and fresh, lovely nurses running round and giving us whatever we wanted. Ice cream, you could have ice cream by the million
yards if you wanted it. They just kept on giving you ice cream.
Were they American nurses?
Yeah. American nurses. A brand new ship, never been, had anyone on it before.
How did they medically treat you all?
I think all they did was kept us clean and put us into bed, you know. And, I am laying back there and listening to the Andrews Sisters, and Bing
Crosby, singing ‘I’ll be Home for Christmas’. That’s the first time in me life ever, I have had a tear in me eyes. I did, I had tears in me eyes, and I said, “I will be home for Christmas.” You wouldn’t believe it but I did have a tear in me eye, that was the greatest moment in me life. Yeah. Clean beds, lovely people walking around. As much to eat as you want and listening to someone sayin’, “I’ll be home for Christmas.” Bloody
oath. I’ll never forget that moment, so we eventually got to Manila, and they took us out to a big camp that had been rigged up by the Yanks, we all had clean clothes, we had everything we wanted, they had a canteen open all the time, you could go and eat what you wanted, every day they gave us
five cigars or a carton of cigarettes, oh whatever you thought of they gave us, you know. We are on the top of the world, we are bloody kings. Just imagine all this after three and a half years, it was really great.
Anybody manage to comment on your weight and your appearance?
We were heavyweights by then. I was already 4 stone 5 when we
finished the war in the first camp we were in, and after bloody eating all the Yanks’ stuff, which was supposed to be eaten in moderation, and God knows what we, didn’t overmedicate and we didn’t overeat, we just made ourselves sick spewin’ with eating. With all that tucker our weight was goin’ up every day.
So you looked like you had a normal body weight by the time you
got off the ship?
Certainly not normal but when we got into hospital I was only 9 stone, when I got into Hollywood Hospital I was only 9 stone. But it didn’t take us long to put it on. See, we left Japan and went on the hospital ship, and we had 2 or 3 weeks in Manila.
What did you do in Manila?
Oh, messed around
smokin’ cigarettes, eating and smokin’ cigars, doing whatever you shouldn’t do. And they said not to go into Manila, but if you did go into Manila make certain that you didn’t drink.
Why was that?
There was quite a few guys that had been drinking some different stuff than what they should have been drinking and they got poisoned, and there was quite a few deaths. So they warned us about this, so when we went in whatever we drank we made certain it was the right
stuff. Anyway, we spent quite a few hours in there, and anyway we had quite a good bit of entertainment here, there and everywhere. We caught a truck in there, and the only way to get in there was on the back of a truck. We was going backwards and forwards on trucks. Mate of mine, Mick Lambie, we wanted to go home, and we got half way home, and they pulled in to some place and they said, “You can get a cup of tea or coffee or whatever you want,” so we jumped off.
End of tape
Interviewee: Robert Whitfield Archive ID 1330 Tape 08
Pulled up and we’d had a cuppa, and I said, “I am on me way,” and he said, “Yeah, I’ll be…” Anyway, something happened he got talking to someone else, and of course I just crawled on to the back of the truck and of course the truck took off. I had no worries, I said, “Mick will be behind anyway, no worries,” so just going back to camp for another day, and when I got there they announced
they wanted a parade to inform everyone of what was going on. So I went out on the parade, and they said so many people, and they named them all, and just about the whole lot of us, we were getting transshipped the day after, and in different ways, and we would know exactly what was going on later on, they just wanted to get us altogether so that arrangements have been made to get us out of Manila.
“So go and pack all your gear up.” So I went in and packed all me gear up and Michael hadn’t turned up so I thought I better pack his gear up for him too. And then we found out that about five or six of us were going on to a plane down at the wharf,
and we’d find out from there what was going on. So they said there would be a roll call later on, we’d all get divided up to our different parties. Anyway, 4 o’clock in the morning and Mick still wasn’t home. And I thought, “Jesus, he’s gotta be here shortly.” So I took all his gear out with mine, oh, actually I took mine out and I went back and picked his up. And anyway they had a
roll call and Mick was still not available. I said, “I feel certain he will be here shortly.” They said, “Well, there’s only one more chance,” they called the roll again about quarter of an hour later, and next minute there was a truck pulled up and sure enough it was Mick on the truck. He raced over and he was going straight to the camp and I said, “Mick come over here,” so I told him what was happening in a hurry, “and there’s your
gear, I have packed it up, we’re just about on the way.” “Oh yeah, what’s going on?” I said, “All I know is we are going down onto a plane at the wharf and you know as much as me, and all your gear’s there, and when they call it out away we go.” There’s five or six of us called and away we went down to the wharf and found this Catalina there, and they put us on board, and the joker said, “Well, just one word, there’s a lot of instruments and things around the place,
don’t touch anything. We’ve already taken a load back to where we are going, and someone messed around and he went straight through the bloody trap door. So,” he said, “if you want to play with something that’s where you want to go.” “Don’t worry, mate, we’ve been through enough now, we ain’t going to touch nothin’. We’ll sit there till you tell us to get out.” Away we went and we finished up at Morotai. And we arrived there and they took us ashore
and we had a big concert that night with all the Yanks and Yank stars, there was a lot of top stars operating around all the Yank camps and everything. We had a real top night. Yeah. About 8 o’clock the next morning they put us on the plane again and flew us down to Darwin.
Do you think they flew you in for the concert?
They didn’t fly us in there for the concert, they only flew us to Morotai and the concert happened to be on that night, that’s all.
Well why did they select just a few of you to
Why had they chosen just the five of you to fly?
I don’t know, just the draw of the hat I guess, the five or six of us that was on the plane, it only carried five or six, and we were picked and we went on the plane, the others went on to a boat, they took them somewhere else and put them on a boat and sent them back by boat. Some of them went to Manila, some went straight home. The ones who were on the plane that we were on there was probably the planeload before, we must have
just came out of the hat. We got put on to the same plane. We finished up at Morotai for the night, and that was the first day’s flight from Manila and they happened to have a concert on that night, and we thoroughly enjoyed the concert and was on the way next morning.
Yeah, so we flew all the way down to Darwin and we finished up in the same camp we built years before we left Australia.
Of course, modified a lot from when we saw it, we only just walked off a train out of a cattle truck and on to a just about jungle and we made our way into the place and made our camp in there. There was a couple of buildings being put up and we made our camp for the tents and things like that, and we finished up back in the same modified camp.
How much had Winnellie changed?
Oh, there were buildings everywhere, not tents, we were in tents when we were there, and all buildings,
and medical centres, you name it they had it. So we spent three days there.
How did you spend those three days?
We went out and visited one of the places, we used to go out to when we used to do our fishing and used to walk out this river at high tides and feed off oysters and things and we went back to the same spot, we never went back for oysters but we just went back to the
spot. Had a look in the air force base, had different things to look and go and see round Darwin, and then they flew us from Darwin down to Adelaide on the Liberator.
Had you gained much weight by this stage?
Well, when I got home, or got in to Hollywood Hospital, after we left Adelaide, we spent a few days in
Adelaide, we spent three months in Adelaide, so we had quite a few people to go and see. Spent some time with them.
What kind of people?
What kind of people?
People we made friends when we had three months there prior to the three and a half years we were POWs. A lot of people weren’t there, they had gone, shifted, still a couple of old friends we managed to go and see, so we visited them, and
had quite a few beers with different people round the place. And then they made arrangements to fly us from Adelaide back to Perth.
Aboard a Liberator?
No, we only came down by Liberator from Darwin.
What was the flight like on board the Liberator?
Well it was the first time I had been on a Liberator, so it was much the same as any other plane as far as I was concerned. Noisy, all
bundled in, and I think we were sitting on the floor and sitting on our packs most of the time. There were no seats at all, real army style, the most luxurious plane I had ever been in, I thought it was great.
What was it like taking off and landing on the Catalina?
It’s quite good, you wouldn’t know the difference if you didn’t know you are on water. When you know you are on water, I don’t know, I don’t know I
can explain what it was like. As far as we were concerned we were going home and they could have taken me home in an elevator, I couldn’t have cared less. And I can’t recall what it was like going across the water or anything.
We have spoken to a few pilots and crews off the Catalina, we are kind of fascinated in what it must be like to fly in one.
I thoroughly enjoyed the ride anyway, and it was heading in the right direction, that was the main thing.
And where did you land in Perth?
We left Adelaide, we had a taxi to pick us up early in the morning, I think we had to be at the plane at 8 o’clock.
Where were you staying?
Oh, we were stopping, bloody names, just out of Adelaide, just over the causeway.
Was it barracks?
Was it barracks?
we stopped at a couple of friends’ place we had met when we went over, and he had a brother that went over with us, into Adelaide, this fella who was our mate came from Adelaide, he used to play with the Sturt Football Club, and he came over to WA and he played for East Perth, and then he joined the 2nd 4th. And when we went to Adelaide we went out to his brother’s place quite often
when we had leave, because other than that we would have to stop at a hostel or something, and they were quite prepared to put us up and we had quite a good time there with them. So we went out to see the same people when we got back. And we rang up for a taxi to be there at, the taxi had to be there at 8 o’clock, we had to be on the plane at nine. And 8 o’clock came and no taxi, so we got into a bit of a panic we rang the taxi and they said,
“He’s on his way,” and about another quarter hour and there’s still no taxi. We rang up again, “For Christ’s sake, we are supposed to meet a bloody plane at 9 o’clock,” they said, “It should be there any second,” so eventually it did turn up. So we got into the taxi, and away we went to this bloody airport, and we could see a plane on the runway, and he blew a tyre,
outside the main road, so we just jumped out of the taxi, grabbed our gear, jumped the fence, and ran over to the bloody plane and they held the plane up for us. But by the time we ran over this bloody paddock there was nothing of our kit bag, we’d had the gong. Anyway the plane took off and everybody’s drinking. I said to Mick, “Look at this, everybody’s drinking out of flasks, they must have been pretty thirsty bringing their
flasks on board, to drink out of you know.” And anyway, then we see jokers drinking out of cans. Anyway, by the time we woke up we were about a quarter hour out of Perth. The stewardess came up and she said, “Would you boys like a drink,” we said, “Gees, we have been busting for a drink, we didn’t know they sold drinks on the plane.” The first time we had been on a plane (UNCLEAR) anyway. How the hell did
we know there were drinks available. This accounted for everybody sucking out of cans and drinking. I said, “Gees we were busting for a drink,” I said “We run about 400 yards across the paddock and we were blown out, we would have given ₤1,000 for a drink, you could have had anything you wanted if you had asked.” I said, “How did we know, we didn’t know the bloody plane had bloody drinks on planes.” She said, “We can’t give you one now,” she said, “we are too close to Perth.” That capped it all off, we were only about a quarter hour out of Perth
so they cut it all off. We were only a quarter of an hour out of Perth so they cut it all off. So we made Perth all right. Took us out to Hollywood Hospital and we spent 3 weeks in there.
When were you greeted by your family or friends?
Me mother came down to Perth and met us at the plane, and of course they flew us, they didn’t fly us, they put us in a taxi and took us out to Hollywood. We had to go there for check ups and one thing and another. I didn’t see her for another three
What happened when you saw your mother?
Oh, just like meeting someone you hadn’t met before sort of business. Tell us all about the family, and how they all were and everything. We never had any communication from the time we were taken POW.
Was she emotional?
Pretty well, yeah. We all were too, no doubt about that.
Bit of a shock to the system being back in the human race. Didn’t have to go out to work then. No, lots of good things about being away for a long time, under the condition we were in.
Must have been hardly believable?
Well, it was too, no doubt about that. I appreciated it more after we got home and I looked back on it all and I said,
“Gees, we had a good time in Adelaide, meeting old friends, talkin’, talkin’ and talkin’.” Drinkin’ more than talkin’ I think, anyway, eventually we caught up with a lot of people. And it was a fair while after I got home I realised just what sort of a good time we had.
What was it like that time you spent in Hollywood?
Quite good, quite educational lot of funny things happened.
So what were those few weeks like there?
We went through a lot of tests, and a lot of people had different things with
them, and a lot of people had worms and lot of people had something else, and something else, and something else, they separated us into different wards, depending on what your condition was. Who your company was. For the main week there they sort of diagnosed everyone, you got a leave pass for the day as long as you come back that night.
What condition were you in?
I must have been all right, they gave me a leave pass to go out so I must have been all right, those that didn’t get a leave pass, they had to spend more time in hospital. So as soon as everyone got reasonably right, they got to go home. I spent – most of us spent about three weeks there.
What was the staff like there?
Fantastic. A lot of,
young nurses, lot of old nurses, really fantastic, looked after us like the little babies that had lost their mothers and had come to roost sort of business. They were really fantastic, no doubt about that. It was a lovely feeling to lay back and talk to people and enjoy things. It was a really a lovely time we had in there.
What kind of care did you receive from the nurses?
What kind of care did they give you?
What sort of a scan?
No, care, what kind of care did the girls give you?
Mainly a check up of everything, blood tests, and eye tests, and ear tests, you name any test I didn’t have, I would like to know what it was. They took us through the whole box and dice. Just as well, a
lot of people were assessed for pensions. Like them other guys, I was a silly guy and I couldn’t get out quick enough. The jokers in Perth, they hung around the hospital and got further treatment, lot of them claimed pensions,
from POW days, I went to Norseman and worked in the mines, broke out and worked in me own business. Everyone was getting pensions and pension rises, I think it was about 1985, I put in for a pension and it was for,
now what the hell was it for, some sort of skin disease, and they knocked it back, four or five times, I said, “Bugger it, I am not worrying about it.” But in latter years, I said, “Bugger it, I will put in for this pension again.” So I put in for the same thing, and they said, well,
the commissioner wrote me a letter, that’s right, from the Repat [Repatriation Department]. He said, “You have applied for this pension on previous occasions, and this application will be the last time it is ever brought forward, so if you get knocked back you can’t apply for it any more.” OK, fair enough. I got a letter back, not from him, from the
board that sits on pensions and give me a 10% pension. I thought, “You bloody beauty, I got something, no worries.” Because most of the guys I had been with before on TPI [Totally and Permanently Incapacitated Pension], 80%, 100% nearly everyone I knew, and I eventually got 10% and I thought, “Gees, got something out of them.” The next thing I get a letter from the commissioner, he said,
“I see from correspondence you have been granted a 10% on the claim you put in before, in my opinion, it is not worth anything.” All right, I still had his first letter, because he said to me them, he can’t stop me from putting in for a pension, but I have got nothing to do with the pension, it is all up to the board who runs the pensions. I just read his
letter and I thought, “I got you boy, no worries.” Anyway, I wrote back to him in very large letters and very hastily and I said, “Re your first letter to me dated so and so and so, you agreed that I didn’t think I deserved a pension, but also on the bottom it says, that you have nothing to do with the granting of a pension, that it is up to the board], I said, “Your last correspondence, you disagreeing with the
Pension, and it has got nothing to do with you, go ahead.” I would take him to bloody court, I would have made a bloody court case out of it. I never heard anything more from him, so I just lived on this 10%.
Had him over a barrel?
Had him over a barrel?
Oh, I had him in black and white in his writing, his own letter, his own signature. And he said I have got nothing to do with the commission, whatever they grant is in their rights.
Cheek of him.
Well, he got a letter and
I never heard any more from him, so. It must have sunk in that I had him over the short and curlies for sure. So I eventually come down and had other examinations, and I got put to 50%, then I eventually got put on 100% and then the biggest shock of me life, they,
most of the boys got a letter and they said, “Did you get a letter from the Disabled? Totally disabled?” I said, “No, why?” they said, “Oh, everyone’s getting a letter. And just tell them you are totally disabled, you get a pension,” I said, “Oh yeah. Mind you can see how much I am disabled. I am pretty sick.” Anyway, I put for this disabled pension, and they just gave me the pension and never asked for check up or
anything. Just gave me the pension. So I am one of the most highly paid bloody pensioners outside of TPI, bloody crazy. I was on 10% and then I went up to TPI. And I get about $1,030 a fortnight. You wouldn’t credit it, would you.
I am a bloody disabled poor old bastard, I can’t walk round the place. After all them years I put up with nothing, I finished up getting more than I wanted. And, what’s more, I am going to keep it until the day I die.
Even though I am disabled.
When you got back was there an opportunity for you to
meet your mate’s families, did you meet Mick’s family?
Yes, actually Mick and his – Mick came to my wedding. When May and I got married, he came up from Perth, rode a Harley Davidson bike up from Perth, into Norseman.
A long ride.
We had the wedding fixed, and Mick was one of me best men, and Ron Gibbons, another
good mate of mine, I took him back to Norseman. My mother lived in a home up there, that was bush timber and Hessian lined. Dirt floors, and just galvanised roof over it, it was pretty rough. I said to Ron, “Well, where are you going,” because he came from Quairading, he had no family, he was a –
not a Fairbridge farm, there is another farm just out of Perth,
That’s Fairbridge isn’t it?
No, Fairbridge is just out of here. There was another boy‘s place just out of Perth, up in the hills somewhere. He came from the Quairading area, but he was brought up in this place. He said, “I have got nowhere to go to,” so I said, “Would you like to come back to Norseman with me?” He said, “Are you dinkum?” I said, “Yeah, it’s nothing flash, it’s only
just a hessian house,” and he said, “I don’t give a bugger, so long as I have got somewhere to go.” I said, “Yeah, come back with me.” So he came back with me. But when I got married, he was still living with us, and Mick had been up there a few times, and that’s where he met his wife, in Norseman, and he come up for the wedding, and he finished up marrying a local girl, and she is living just over in Mandurah now, and Mick died
only a few months ago, and his wife’s not going very well. She’s had quite a lot of operations, and she is not carrying on very well. And me other mate is still in Norseman, he – I got into the building game and I built his house in conjunction with the firm I was with. He is living in that and has ever since, he lived in Norseman. So that’s just about the history of me life.
When did you meet May?
In Norseman. After I had been there five or six months. And that picture of us there, a fella in Norseman took that, he come up doing some photography and when I was in embarkation leave, he was in Norseman and he took that photo. He also used the film, or the photo to advertise on the screen to join the army!
In Norseman. And my wife was an usherette, at the pictures and that’s where she saw it and she reckoned she fell in love with me then. So when I came back I met up with her and we finished up getting married.
That’s a very romantic story. Eventually got you in the flesh?
Oh no, we’ve had a very good life, we are still having a good life, only she’s incapacitated.
She’s in a wheelchair, the only way she can get around is in the wheelchair. She’s got rheumatoid arthritis absolutely shocking in the bloody arms, and her legs, her fingers are even turning right angles. The only finger that’s all right is the one that has got the wedding ring on, it’s as straight as a die. And all the others are bent at right angles and left angles. Never seen a hand like it, bloody terrible.
What causes that?
What causes that?
Is there a cause for rheumatism?
What is it?
She got blood trouble and her legs are all blown up something shocking. She’s always got sores on her feet. She’s in a mess, but she’s still quite bright.
How many years have you been married now?
Just turned 56,
57 years. Going on for 58, going on for 58, I don’t know whether we’ll see the 60, I don’t think she’ll make the grade. You never, she might outsee me. Might just fold up and go like that.
I can’t see that happening.
They got no chance of getting me in a home, I can tell you.
Where were you discharged from the army, Bob?
In Karrakatta, where everyone else was at that time.
What happened when you were discharged, how does that work?
No, I wasn’t discharged from Karrakatta, I was in Karrakatta and I went out to Melville and I was discharged in Melville. And they just had a room there and, they must have had all your details there, because they made out all these certificates and everything, handed them to us, and as from today you are out of the army.
Just like that. So we had two or three mates there and I said, “I’ll meet you in the Savoy at 12 o’clock.” So we were down there about 11 o’clock and we were goin’ well, and of course it come 1 o’clock and 2 o’clock, and half these jokers hadn’t turned up. We were getting’ a bit worried, because we had to meet to do something, I don’t know what it was, but anyway they never turned up. Anyway, late in the
day, in they rolled. I said, “What’s going on, you got discharged same as us didn’t you?” “Oh yes,” he said, “but we had a fair bit of trouble.” He said, “They wouldn’t give us a discharge.” I said, “Why?” he said, “Because we couldn’t pass a pub.” They’d stopped at every pub from the time they had left Melville, and that’s why they were late. The only reason they couldn’t get a discharge was because they couldn’t pass a pub.
Pulling your leg. What was your mum doing while you were away?
She had a guy with her and they were selling Watkins’ products, you know, the different herbs and medicines, and she was travelling all around the country, and she used to go north to Kalgoorlie and the (UNCLEAR) Basin, Norseman, did all Norseman
and went up through Kalgoorlie and did Kalgoorlie and Leonora and Lavin and did all them places and used to go up there periodically and come back and based at Norseman, and this is where they built their humpy that they had. Was only a humpy, that’s for sure. When I come home, she said, “We’ll soon fatten you up,” and I said, “Why’s that?” She had a couple of goats, she used to milk the goats every morning, and
fed me up on goats’ milk.
So your mum had been looked after while you were away?
She had been on her own a lot of years, they parted company early when I was a boy. She always lived with someone, she had about four or five different guys that I know of. She went to 85, she died at 85.
So, that ended that period of me
life. I still got two brothers going.
Had they served?
Had your brothers served, did they serve at all during the war?
Um, yes, the brother to me went on the Parkes in the navy, and the other went in the navy but he was only on cadetship, and he never got mixed up in the war. But he joined the navy too. But Merve got mixed up in the war, not that he got into any part of the war,
but they were up in the island countries and never got mixed up with anyone or battles or anything he was always in the battle area.
Did you share a few of your experiences with them when you were all together?
Ah, we meet up once every four or five years I think.
Did you share your experiences
with your brothers, tell them what you had been through?
Not much. You’ve heard more of my experiences than what anyone else has heard. Including all me sons.
Why is that, Bob?
It’s something we adapted when we come home and every POW was likewise, why I don’t know, it was just something, we never got caught up in wanting to discuss these things. I
think that we thought that if we tell them all the truth that went on they wouldn’t believe it anyway, so whether that was the reason or whether it was something else I don’t know. You’ll find that every POW that came back with us very seldom talks about it.
Did family and friends ask you about what you had experienced?
Yes, and it’s only the last couple of years that I have ever discussed any of the little parts, sometimes I would think of something and say, “Oh well, here’s a funny story,” and tell them about the flies we had to catch on the boat
sort of business. No. This is what the son just rang up John about and I told him that they are going to get me life history, and he said, “Boy, am I waiting for that.” He got an office, he got half a dozen girls that work in there with him. He said, “You know all the girls, why don’t you sit down with them for an hour and or an hour and two and just write it all out.” I said, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll do it one day.” But never got around to doing it.
much easier than writing it?
You are going to make it all out for me so I can – is that the only way I can get it on tape, is it?
The only way I can get it on tape?
Is it the only way I can have it, on tape?
I think it will be written up as a transcript as well. So you should be able to watch it and read it.
I don’t want to read about it, someone else can.
Yeah, family, friends.
As long as you don’t make it like that bloody Changi business. Those Changi tapes
they were bloody shocking, those things. You ask any POW if you get a chance, what they thought of those bloody Changi tapes, I think they’ll tell you the same. Bloody crap.
Was the RSL [Returned and Services League] important to you?
No, not really, I got involved with the RSL in Norseman, by leading the march for a few years,
being the (UNCLEAR) of the march type of business. Go and have a few drinks on Anzac Day, apart from that I never used to go to any meetings or anything. And I joined the RSL here, but I have never been to a meeting.
Why is that?
Not for any particular reason, just the fact that it’s not my cup of tea. Probably some of the guys there would want to know
what you did do and what you didn’t do. It’s not my – I can sit down and talk to you people, but I couldn’t sit down and talk to anyone else about it.
What happens at an RSL meeting?
I have been to so few I couldn’t tell you.
What about Anzac Day?
Haven’t been to an Anzac Day since Northam.
What year? Are you talking a few years ago?
Long time ago, mate. Probably 20 years ago, might be more.
Is there a reason for that?
Not really. That’s something I am not – I don’t mind sitting down and lookin’ at it, but I feel they can do without my company. I have got me medals in there,
and I couldn’t care less about them. A lot of people are not happy unless they have got them on Anzac and want to wear them, I couldn’t care less. I have only had them on I think once or twice.
What medals were you decorated with, Bob?
Don’t ask me mate, they are in the drawer if you want to see them.
No, I won’t make you get them out.
I can go and put me hands on them straight away if you know what they are, I don’t even know what they are,
mate, I am not remotely interested. I am out of the army and I enjoy the company of some of the guys that are left, and I have enjoyed talkin’ to you. The things I remembered. A lot of things I haven’t remembered, but still. I will probably think after, “Gee, why didn’t I tell them about that?” but that’s, as far as I am concerned, that’s past history.
We all do that.
positive things did you take with you, or get out of the time you spent serving in World War II or being a POW?
I think it taught me a lot about life. It taught me very much how to assess a man in life. I could go and meet someone and it wouldn’t take me very long to know
just how dinkum he is. There’s not too many people who could put one over on me. That’s something I learnt and I learnt the hard way. So, I have had a lot of bad things, and a lot of good things have come out of it. I like to keep to meself, just because I meet someone who doesn’t approve of – a lot of people, I don’t drag him down in front of anyone, that’s in my mind and I treat that guy that way. So if he happens to
turn up I am not going to make meself bosom friends with him or anything like that. He can talk to whoever he likes, I can find someone else to talk to. But I can sum him up and say, “Look, he’s all bulldust, talking a lot of rubbish, and a bit of an ‘I am’ joker.” I can’t stand that. I sum him up pretty quick, and if he turns up in my company, he’s not talking to me, he’s talkin’ to someone else.
Oh yeah. So
I’ll sum you up in time, don’t worry.
Well, we’re still talking.
I am sure you are worried.
Um, I was just going to say something then……
You have been too
involved asking me things which relates to something which you are talking about and all of a sudden you think about something you want to ask me privately and it’s gone. Quite easy. I have a fair bit of trouble listening. I think you might have noticed. Most of the time I was with you, and lately it – I have been asking you to repeat something. I have taught meself a bad habit.
When I was in business down in Norseman. Bloody phone kept on ringing. Every five seconds I am on the phone, you know. I taught meself to bloody ignore it. The phone would go and someone would say, “Hey, the phone’s ringing.” “Oh, is it?” So I would answer it. A lot of times it would ring itself out, I wouldn’t even hear it. But I developed a bad habit, and this has affected
me hearing inasmuch if I am talking to you or anyone, and I like the company and I know what you are talkin’ about, I can hear quite well, but as soon as I take me mind off it, notice that quite a few times I had to ask you something else again. Early in the piece I was quite with you, no worries, but quite a bit in the latter and for Denise [interviewer], I had to ask you a couple of times what she said. Only in the latter part because me mind went away from it.
I thought you were deaf, it was just selective hearing.
Yes, it is, I mean I have been to a hearing aid, I have got a hearing aid. And I couldn’t wear the bloody things, booming in me ear, and I even went back to the joker and said, “Do I really need this?” He said, “According to the standards, yes, you could do with it.” I said, “As far as I am concerned, you get out in the wind, and the bloody wind’s howling” and I said, he said, “Just turn it down then,
you got to get used to it.” I said, “Yeah, all right,” so I put it back in for three or four weeks, and that’s a pretty long time for me. It’s still over there if you want it, it’s a good hearing aid. So, it’s only about, it is a habit. I get down at the pub with John, and we just talk to each other normally. I never have to ask him anything again. It’s just a habit that I have got meself in, I turn meself off
and me hearing goes.
I have been wasting your time all afternoon have I?
No, if you ever got to a point where you were on something and I wasn’t interested, I – you know – I just cut off, and I would be asking you, “What did you say, what did you say?” But as you got to the end of this I knew it was on the way out, and it’s come in automatically, not that I meant it to, but bloody bad habit too.
You might live and learn from it, I don’t know.
End of tape