I can’t remember very much during the first few years because when I was five years old we shifted from the farm to a place below Renmark called Paringa and my father was a woodcutter there and had his own team of horses to cart the wood down to the pumping stations. Unfortunately,
within a year or so he took sick and was not able to work any more and was sent away to hospital and I was with, I think I was just over eight when he died and from there we lived at Paringa and I went to school there for the duration of my schooling
days. My mother had to go out working because we had no support. Those days times were hard, people were on what they called rations. It’s not like it is today, you just got coupons for food, you didn’t get money and when I was 13, or during this time we had shifted to the town of Renmark from Paringa which is only a little way, about 2.5
mile and when I was 13 I was due to leave school. I’d had passed my QC [Qualifying Certificate] twice by then and that was what they called it in those days, and school leaving age was 14 but I was not 14 until May and this was December so I went out on the farm just working for my
living to save my mother keeping me. Because work was so very hard to get in those days. From there I done various jobs until the war broke out and I had just turned 19 and I enlisted then. That was in, actually sworn into the army on July
2nd was the date that I was actually in the army. I’d joined up two, three weeks before that but you don’t get sworn in until the day. And then from there with my army training we were at Wayville and on November 17th of that year 1940 we sailed from Outer Harbour in Adelaide on a boat called the Stratheden
and went overseas to Egypt, and from there we done training and went up to the Western Desert as they call it where the divisions before us had taken the positions that were occupied by the Italians. And we got up to a place called Benghazi in Italy
and that’s when the Germans under Rommel, or whatever he was the head of the Germans and they forced us back to Tobruk, where you’re heard of the Siege of Tobruk. Well we were there for eight months in Tobruk and finally
we got relieved. They took us out on boats because there was no other way out. There was not other way of getting out by land or air or anything like that. From there went to Syria for relief and more training and that would be in 1942 by then. It was 1941 when we were in Tobruk
and we were taken by transport from Syria down to El Alamein. This is when the Germans had forced their way right down to there and while at El Alamein I was driver of a Bren gun [Bren machine gun] carrier and we had, there was a driver and a sergeant
and one gunner. We, on one attack one morning we run over a land mine out in no man’s land and blew the track off the carrier and finally we couldn’t get away from where we got out of the carrier
and went to ground in a hole where the sergeant said we could just lay still and not move. We did see many German tanks and things getting around from a distance and finally later that afternoon, we had been there all day, we crawled up to where we thought our men had taken their position and to our amazement they were Germans. So this was how
we got taken POW [Prisoner Of War], because we had no guns or no nothing and the Germans handed us over to the Italians and we were taken from there back through the desert again through Tobruk and Benghazi and all those places and finally got transported by boat
to Italy. While in Italy we were in a big camp called some name like ‘Groupnown’ or something like that. And they sent out working parties after quite some time and I was in one working party of about 50 in the rice fields near a place called Vercelli
in Italy. During that time we were there in 1943 Italy was trying to sign an Armistice and get out of the war which the, fortunately for us the guards we had were Italian Army that did not want the war and they said, “Well, we’re not stopping here because the Germans are going to round us up and make us
fight for them. We are going to the hills and join up with the partisans.” So we decided we would do the same before the Germans had a chance to come around and collect us and take us to Germany. So that was in September 1943 and we were still in Italy with the partisans until the war finished in 1945.
The latter part of that time the last six weeks we managed to get down, there were five of us in our bunch. We didn’t stay in this 50-odd. We just split up into parties, where some of the other parties finished we really don’t know, and we finally met up with some American tank crews so the five of us were with them until the war
finished and then we got, they knew by this time who we were and what we were and our army numbers and made contact so we were sent back to Naples in Italy where there was hundreds and hundreds of people like we were that was got back there. And we were sent from there to England to, you know,
recuperated and all that type of thing. That was in 1945. Finally from there we were sent back to Australia by boat and from there I got my discharge on September 15th 1945. So that’s about my main army things without you wanting to know any specific things in
the army, I don’t know. Then it was back to civvy [civilian] life again after over five, about five years and four months I think it was and they were at Renmark in those days they had what they called the Soldier’s Settlement, fruit blocks going. So I put my name down for one of those and they were at Loxton by the way, I don’t know if you know these towns. It’s not far from Renmark and they were all
towns. It’s not far from Renmark and all these river towns are all fruit growing areas and it was that long waiting for a block. I worked on a fruit block for about 12 months and I got sort of sick of waiting and I was very truck minded and that being a driver in the carriers in the army so I decided I’d buy a truck and go carrying.
So I started off doing that and finally built up to a couple of trucks and then we went to a place on the west coast of South Australia at a place called Cleve between Wyong and Port Lincoln and started an earth moving business and that went fairly successful.
It wasn’t easy work of anything but finished up with all my own earthmoving equipment including bulldozers, front-end loaders, trucks and all that type of thing and finally I think it was around about ’78, ’79 I started selling out gradually
and in the later part ’79, ’80 we decided to retire altogether and go to Adelaide to ‘see how the other half lived’ as the saying is, in the city, because we’ve always been country people. And while we were in Adelaide I did try and get a couple of
jobs here and there but the old saying ‘you’re too old’. I was 59 and I was too old. So I thought, “Well I’ve got to live until I’m 60 anyhow,” because I didn’t want to use my own money up before I could get pension so I finally had that much of a garden [tantrum] that they finally give me my war service
pension before I was 60. There were several of us I heard afterwards done this because they couldn’t find work and we didn’t want to be on the dole so I got my war pension and that was it. I haven’t had to work since because between that and my own little bit of capital we’ve managed reasonably well and we were in Adelaide for
21 years. We’ve virtually given ourselves five years in the city and would be that sick of it we would want to go back to the country. But finally you make friends with everybody and we’re very keen on bowling, both of us, and we made that many new friends in the bowling situation that we were quite happy to stay there and of course, with the family, we only have two boys and
one was up here and the other one at this stage was in Broome. He was previously in Perth. We used to travel through the winter to get away from the cold to come up here and over there and finally we made the plunge in shift up to Gordonvale and here we are today. Anything else that you, that’s about all. That was a brief…
They wouldn’t take anyone that had any ailments whatsoever and when I told her then I was going to join the army. Renmark there if you wanted to enlist they had an officer that used to be open of an evening, at night-time where you used to go and enlist and it was in the where the surgery is. He had a room there
and so told her that I was going to join and she said, “You can’t join. I would have to sign your papers and I’m not going to sign them.” So anyhow, I can remember this one night when we decided this mate and myself were going to enlist she was going out to a card evening so up we went and the chap
whose the officer there knew us, knew the family. It was only a country town, he probably knew most people and he said, “Here you are Ray, take this home and get your mother to sign it. Authorisation to do this because you’re under age.” Basically to you had to be 20 in those days.
You could not enlist under 20 in those days because that meant me putting my age up one year because I’d just turned 19. And I just took the papers and I estimated and just walked around the street. He knew where we lived and everything and I estimated what he thought I’d been home and back again and in the meantime, I signed my mother’s name
and brought it back. And he said, “You’ve got Mum to sign,” and I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “Okay.” So that was all right and when I went home and told her, well, she went, took herself to court and said, “I’m going to stop it.” And I said, “If you do I’ll go over the border to Mildura. I’ll do it in Victoria.” I really
bluffed her out of doing anything and then my younger brother, he was working out on a farm and I went out and told him and he said, “I want to go to if you’re going.” And I said, “No, you can’t, you’re not even 17.” I’ve had to put my name up to 20 so when he came into town on a Saturday he told her he wanted to join and there was a big blue on of course. And finally
she said, “Well, if that’s what you want to do then you do it but I can’t sign it. Ray signed his own name so he’ll have to sign yours too.” So I signed for my brother and that was it. So we both went away in the army together and in the same battalion. That’s just about the end of that story, isn’t it.
I had, I enlisted just before him so I had to be back around about a certain date and I enlisted, I got sworn as I say on the 2nd of July, he came down on the 4th of July, two days later, but we were fortunate that we were close enough together. Incidentally my number was 7626 and his 7995
so it was only a matter of a few numbers and that’s how we got into the same battalion together and we were both together in the same trench and everything in Tobruk. At that stage I was a Bren gunner, like I wasn’t in the carriers at that stage, and he was what was called a No. 2 to the Bren gunner. He had to have the magazines and like the ammunition if I wanted him to hand it to me
type of thing. We were in the same trench in Tobruk and he was alongside of me whenever we went into battle and that. I can remember one stage, we often laugh about it now, in Tobruk there was, if you see a bush that high that would be a, you wouldn’t get any other shelter above that and he would have been a few feet away from me.
You don’t be alongside of each other, you leave a bit of space so I mean, you’re not going to let the army shoot at stone brick wall sort of thing. And I can remember saying to him, “I’m getting low in mags [magazines], ammunition Murray.” So he crawled over and when he got back he said, “Me bush is gone.” And I said, “How lucky were you?’ We often laugh about this and little incidences like that.
hard, pretty hard going in those times because hours, you see with horses you had to get up very early in the morning, it would be dark. You had to take them, you didn’t have water there, you had to take them down to a dam, like you know where you built an area to catch the water. Feed and water the horses. You used to have groom
them all down, you know, comb, you know, what you know, grooming. I don’t know if you’ve heard about these things and then you’d go in and have your breakfast while the horses were eating and afterwards you’d get your team ready and go out and then you had to do the same thing at lunchtime. When you come home of a night, you used to work to nearly dark, until you couldn’t see anything
more and then by the time you looked after the horses and got up and looked after yourself and had your tea and then you always had to feed your horses again before you went to bed. So I tell you, you didn’t get much sleep mate. You were, you know it was nearly a round the clock job. It was long hours and well, virtually seven days a week. You didn’t do,
perhaps weekends you wouldn’t work much out in the paddock unless it was busy time in the harvesting and things like that. You still had your cows to milk and your horses to feed and all those types of things and go out around the sheep and check on them. Just little jobs like that. You wouldn’t be perhaps working a full day normally on the weekend.
school until I was 14 and I was just keeping my keep and I used to go into Renmark. This was roughly 20 mile out of Renmark. They used to go in every Saturday to do their shopping and well, they used to perhaps give me 2 shillings or something just to buy a cool drink with and that’s all the money I would ever see
and then I was only out there a little while and when school started again, because I was not being 14 my mother got a word from education wanting to know why I wasn’t at school so she said, you know, said to these people, “Well, he supposed to go back to school.” And I said, “I don’t want to go back to school. Nothing for me to go back to the same grade again.
I’d already done two years of it, grade 7.” And we were too poor to go to high school for any further education and these people, their parents had another farm up in a place called Mintaro near Claire in South Australia which was many miles, you know a couple of days journey from where they were, so they said, “Well, why not send him up there? And tell them
you don’t know where he is until he turns 14.” So I was up there until I was 14, and it was okay then. I could come back and do as I liked. So that’s how I got away when I was only 13 and a half from school. Getting back to the money part of it, I was finally then, after a while the neighbour said to me,
he said, “You’re not really getting any money there are you?’ and I said, “No.” Well he said, “I can afford to give you 5 shillings a week if you come over here.” And I said, “Right, that’ll do me mate.” So I worked for him for 5 shillings a week for quite some time and then another one must have got to hear of it and he give me 7 and 6 [sixpence] and I was like, they were bartering me. I was going from one farm to another. I finished up getting 10 shillings
which was big money for me in those days and of course, from then I was I suppose I was 16 or more by then and I got more or less go and get jobs where I thought it was better. I used to go into Renmark during the fruit picking time and pick grapes and then go back on the farms for the rest of the year,
well virtually that’s what I used to do until I joined up.
what can I say? Well, every morning for instance well you’d get your role, your call you’d have a role call. You used to have to do a little session of physical training, PT [physical training] we used to call it. Then you’d go to breakfast and then after there was a call out, you know, a certain time. I don’t know what it was now,
whether it was 9 o’clock or whatever. Some days you’d have to go on a route march or something. We used to do a lot of training out on the parklands in Adelaide, of course Wayville is near the city you see, and do a lot of training in the way of, well, with your rifle. Things like
what they used to, unarmed combat. Then you’d have bayonet training, used to have bags of straw and all that where you make out like they were dummies you know. There’d be other times when with machine guns. You’d have to learn how to strip them down and put them back together again to keep them
clean them and all those types of things. Of course you would have your times to do your washing and things like that. That all used to come into certain times. You also had your church parades there on a Sunday also so that was another thing. A lot of people perhaps think that once you join the army
that they always had their church services. They only ever had two different groups that I can remember that was RC for Roman Catholic and the others were Presbyterian or Methodist but they were all one. The RCs went to another, different priest like, minister.
we were ready to make a move to retreat and after, I don’t know whether it was that particular night now or the next day but there were a few shots fired. I heard fire from a distance and it gradually got a little bit closer and closer until it
got to the stage where we were told to get on the trucks and out. So we virtually were only there and then gone again within a day or so or something like that and then some of the Germans must have got around the outside and they were coming around through the desert. You see there was only one main road up there.
There was no several roads. There was only one main highway up there and then that was near the coast and then out through the desert well you had to have pretty good vehicles to get through there anyway and at one point on the Tobruk side of Benghazi where there was a joint in the road. Like a different road went one way and another went another and there was an
officer there directing the troops out a certain way. Well only just a few and some pretty, whether he was intel [intelligence] or some high up sort of chap realised that this was a German dressed up doing the directing of the traffic sending them out towards German,
like where the Germans were waiting so they shot him on the spot and some of those chaps got taken prisoner then who were sent the wrong way. That was very fortunate that whoever it was, I can’t remember now, knew that it was a German. How I wouldn’t know. This is only what I’ve been told so we could have
all just followed this first lot and got caught. We wouldn’t know.
We virtually hardly ever seen one of our planes over Tobruk. Bad as that whereas they used to come over and bomb us every other night nearly. Regular. Regular air raids there all the time. There was that many ships sunk in the harbour there they had a job getting in, weaving their way in with the food and stuff because that was their only way they could bring any
thing in was by sea. You couldn’t get in by road anywhere. You had to come in by sea. It’s marvellous. When you think back its marvellous how we held it for so long with the little bit we had and getting back to what we had. We didn’t have hardly any guns or things. We had a bit of artillery, we had a few of these Bren guns and a few rifles.
That’s all. It was very, very, very poor equipment. I think if Germany actually knew what we had he would have just busted us up. We knocked him back two to three times, even his tanks. We stopped them and blew them up with these grenades we had, these sticky grenades, we call them. Things like that. It just amazes me know that we
stopped there and held that so long. Whether we had him bluffed I don’t know. There was something about it. I can’t believe really. Because it wasn’t such a long time after when we got relieved that the South Africans I think and the English I think took after, well it wasn’t such a long time after where they took it so whether they found out we were gone.
I don’t know. So somewhere along the line they were scared of the Australians. Must have been. And the Indians were very good. They were there and also Polish. These Indians they were, they call them the Indian Ghurkhas. They were ruthless. They used to be scared of them. They used to sneak out of a night and just they
wouldn’t, they were that quiet, they used to just sneak up and grab a guard without him even seeing or knowing you know. They were more or less like a cat. They used to come back with, slice an ear, like to prove that they got somebody they used to cut an ear off and string it on their belts and show the officers. Fair dinkum. They were ruthless, these Ghurkhas, I can tell you. I was glad they were on our side.
shots. The first was really back at Tobruk. We’d done a patrol one morning just part of the Battalion, C Company actually I was in then so it was only one company of about 100 men or so something like that went out to take this position
and because fortunately then they were all Italians and we, captain, I don’t know, can’t remember how many prisoners. That was the same morning with my brother with the bush episode. Yeah. We lost only, there was only I don’t know
about two or three chaps that got killed if I remember right. The rest, there was an odd one that got wounded but prisoners, there was hundreds that we bagged up. We just got into them with a few shots and stirred them up and they soon came out with their hands in the air. White flags, white bits of rag flying around everywhere. They quickly surrendered. They didn’t like it at all
so that was the first main stunt that I was in. Yeah. The other ones were mainly more or less night patrols when the Germans did break through with some tanks once then we did some firing them but apart from that it was only individual firing at different times.
We used to have machine guns on six lines at night-time where we used to get the information about what was going on out there and we’d fix a machine gun on a certain line and every, periodically you’d just let a burst go hoping that’s when they would be crossing this line or something like that. You wouldn’t know if you hit anything because it’s night-time you see.
we would go out is by boat and they used to come in at a night in between air raids and things and the first night that we, that our battalion was ready to go we didn’t go that night because the Germans were making big raids and the boats couldn’t get in. The following night
was okay and we were put onto, I think they used to call them mine-laying cruisers. They were very fast, something like a destroyer but not quite the same. A very fast boat, 45 knots, which is fairly fast, and we were lucky, we all got aboard that and as soon as we got out the sirens were going and the planes were coming over. We had already left
and once they got out of the harbour of course, they’ve got submarines to worry about too so they keep zigzagging. We were told just to stay down and not be anywhere near the decks or anything because you just get water just, waves coming washing overboard because they’re only a, they’re not like a big high ship or anything. They are more or less built for speed and things like that and finally, by next morning we were at Alexandria which
is in Egypt, that’s it, in Egypt. And then from there we got put on trucks and taken down to through Palestine and into Syria.
First of all, well, we were told like my brothers had to split up and all of us were sick of being footsloggers as we were called in the infantry and the first chance anybody had of getting out of it we did. I can remember we were called out on parade this day and they said, “We want volunteers
to join the Don Rs [dispatch riders].” That’s the motorbikes. Have you heard of Don Rs? They sort of carry messages and everything to different areas and of course, I had a motorbike before I joined the army so that was right up my alley, “I’ll be in that.” I went and a couple of my mates did do and anyway we started doing training like motorbikes and I also
liked the machine guns, the pull them down and put them together and all this type of thing. It was very interesting really. And different one said, “I heard you joined the Don Rs,” and I said, “Yeah,” and they said, “You’re bloody mad.” I think it started from the First World War where the Germans used to put a single strand of wire across the road about neck high and of course the old Don Rs would be flying along
and there goes their bloody heads, you know. Hell, nice and scary. So anyhow we didn’t take much notice and then the next thing this day, “We want volunteers for Bren gun drivers,” “Yeah,” I said. Not this bloody motorbike business. So when I finally got into that and when I told the others what I’d done
they said, “You’re madder than ever. You’ve jumped from the frying pan into the fire. That’s the worst then being a Don R,” “Don’t tell me,” you know. Anything to get out of the footsloggers business. So that’s how I finished up in as a Bren gun driver. Of course we had to training then in Italy, Syria with the carriers how to, what to do and different things.
We were called driver/mechanic then and I got a raise of 1 and 1 penny per day. That was 5 shillings plus when we went overseas we got a shilling or two shillings overseas rate. It was more than Australian rate. It was 6 or 7 shillings, I’m not too sure of that now of course this 1 and a penny, it doesn’t sound much but it’s
7 and 7 every day in the week. So that happened in Syria and obviously we did all our training and that there and finally when we got our move from there we all thought that we were, because we’d known then about the Jap [Japanese] war and all that business and we were told and thought, it might have been just rumours that we were going home.
Naturally we thought that would be right you know, come home and fight here. We had no idea we were going to El Alamein. No idea. Well not the individual soldiers. I suppose the officers and all the top hierarchy might have known.
taken POW. I’m sure I’m jumping the gun a bit here I suppose but they even said, “We, how many Australians out there. We were told that you all went home.” So we smartly trebled the number and you know, so many thousands of them and put the wind up them a bit more and they said, “Oh, that many,” “Yeah, you know.” So they were definitely, we definitely had the wind up there somewhere along the line. Why I don’t know.
So that’s how it happened and of course, when we first arrived down there we were, we were put in a backward, way back from the lines to get all set up with our units and everything. I remember the first day we got there, that night somebody came around
and said, “You can drive a truck can’t you Jonesy?” and I said, “Yeah,” and they said, “Right, we’ve got one that we know where to get and we also know where the beer is all stored at.” It was Canadian beer, whether there was Canadians there at that stage I still don’t know because I never seen them so they had it all organised and they knew the password evidently
to get into this where the beer was, this dump. I can remember this four dozen, in litre bottles, this Canadian beer. Four dozen in a crate. You can imagine how heavy they were. Wooden crate and here we are, “We are so-and-so. We’re here to pick up a stock of beer for so-and-so.”
We got away with it and loaded this truck with beer. Hell, didn’t we get stuck into it when we got back. We were giving it, because we got that much we couldn’t drink it all ourself. There was a hell of a lot of us who had a few days on the booze, I can tell you. So that was one little episode that was the best time of the war.
we got organised and got our positions in the line and everything. What month would that be? That’s a good question. Must have been in June because I turned 21 while I was in Syria on 27 May, I had my 21st birthday in Syria so it was very soon after that that we went down to El Alamein.
So I’d have only been in El Alamein for two months at the most I should reckon and we used to go out on night, just to hassle the enemy just after dusk, at night. We used to go out with the carriers and tear around near there, and get as close to their front lines and zigzag around and let a few bursts of Bren guns go
and tear back to our lines. We done that quite often really and finally they had this big attack on the 22 July and the day before our officer told us to take our carriers to go back to the ammunition dump that they were to load us up with various ammunition. All sorts of ammunition, SD grenades,
hand grenades, machine guns just stuff like that. Anything at all that the infantry would need once they got up and took their positions and all we were supposed to do was to follow the infantry behind with this, we weren’t supposed to do the attacking ourselves at all. Anyhow it was very, very dark when we left so we could hit the line just on
break of dawn and soon after daylight there was a lot of firing going on. Although we were behind the infantry but you know, you could hear everything and next thing our sergeant, like, in my carrier, “We’ve got the orders, there’s no English tanks have arrived.” The English tanks were supposed to be there to brunt the attack and they didn’t even turn up.
I’ve never found out why so they said, “Our infantry are just getting slaughtered so they’re wondering if we can go out and give them a bit of support with the carriers even.” Although they’re not a big tank or anything. They are only a small thing as you know and that’s when I run over a land mine and blew the track off and the old carrier just spun around on one track. They are on tracks they’re not on wheels, you know
what I’m talking about. The sergeant said, “Out as quick as we can, they’ll blow us up and with all this ammo [ammunition] in there, there will be nothing left of the carrier.” So we jumped out and went to ground and laid still in a bit of a hollow, just have to wait and see what happens. The next thing the carrier went up, they put an anti-tank bullet or something through that and she went up and burnt out. We
laid there for in the afternoon sometime, I can’t remember what time now. Things had quietened down. There was hardly a sound of any rifle fire or anything and our sergeant said, “I’ve been surveying the situation.” They’re told all the plans before you go into attack and he said, “That position over there,” which we could see like a hill, I suppose it’s
300 yards or something you know, just up a slight incline, he said, “I can see a lot just running around there. I can’t distinguish anything but that’s where the 20th,” one of our sister battalions in the brigade, 23rd or 24th Battalion it was, we were the 48th our battalion, he said, “It looks like they’ve got no problems. They’ve taken
their positions okay, they’re not caring what goes on. They’re running around just doing what they like. So we’ll just crawl up there steadily and see if it is them and see if it’s, when we get a bit closer.” Nobody seen us even, we just crawling up there and next thing, we were only, within 100
yards or less than that this bloke, “Okay, Aussies, come on for you the war is over.” It was a bloody German officer. We crawled into the German lines. Our blokes didn’t take the position and that’s how we got taken POW. Simple as that.
like we used to do in Tobruk, you know, and we were marched back with the ones that we were being relieved until we got, practically all night we were on and off, we were walking until daylight next morning and by that stage, they did give us something to eat along the line, some, a bit to eat. Tell you what, we had just about had it because we had been since
morning before, which is going a good 24 hours or more and finally they got us back to where the battalion, there was what they call a staging camp or something where they handed us over then to the Italians and we did have a feed, I can remember that. Then later on when they
loaded us up in trucks then and headed off back towards Tobruk, say, going up Benghazi way again. I don’t know how many days it took us, I can’t remember now, but it took us quite a long way.
there would be 20 or so of us altogether I would think in our little group. Yeah, some, there was another whole section of the 48th Battalion, there were some of the 28th Battalion. They were the main ones that I knew. The 28th Battalion was a West Australian battalion. There was about 20, I should say, and the,
there was well, there was more than one truck in the convoy. Some of them might have other prisoners on, too, or they might have been going back to pick up rations or goods or something from somewhere. I wouldn’t know. You just heard it in the truck and then the guards at the back end of it, at the tailboard. So you don’t see nothing. You can only see where you’ve been sort of thing, looking out the back which is
virtually covered in to but there is little windows there you can see a little bit out. You can’t actually see what’s going on at all. Yes, you sort of, sit there and think, “Hell, I’m a prisoner.” Can’t believe it really half the time, you know. Because then finally we got back as far as, I say somewhere around Benghazi there, there was a camp
where they had all fenced off and barbed wire and that around where all the prisoners come in. There was quite a few around the fence. I don’t know.
Privates or whatever, or if you were an officer or a sergeant they got a bit better treatment or whether they had to be interrogated or what I wouldn’t know. We heard explosions from down, we were right down in the hole of the ship and some guards must have give the message that we had been torpedoed,
or the other boat had been torpedoed or something. We didn’t get hit thank goodness, and when we did get to Italy, Sicily or somewhere around that area, we came in the bottom of Italy somewhere there and we were told then that it had been torpedoed that we didn’t know any results or anything. Anyhow,
while I was in this holding camp once we got into Italy, I don’t know how many days after, a couple of weeks after I forget, anyhow our sergeant came in. We knew he was all right and he told us then all about it. He said, “Oh, it was terrible. They were just swimming, I was just swimming around and all the water just poured in.” Because they put a whatsaname [something] straight through the hull, must have blown a big hole and it filled up with water
in seconds. It didn’t sink. They finished up they towed it into Crete was the nearest port I think to where they were when they got hit and they must have been brought from there over to Italy. So he was very, very lucky. I’ve got this idea that he was only one of 14, there was 14 got out of it or something but I don’t know whether he meant the whole lot or whether it was just
the hull that they were in because most of those ships have sections, I think you know, were there. I really don’t know but he said he was one of 14 that got out of that.
out and out you went. I think there was round about 50 in our compound. There were several of these parties called out and we were sent down on these rice fields sort of virtually in Italy and they were just like say a farmhouse somewhere here. There were several buildings and shed where they house machinery and different things like that. Tractors and whatnot. One particular
area they’d built a compound like a, put barbed wire out around. Say chain and a half long and about a chain long I suppose and it was a two-storey type of thing where at the back of it they might have come in and with implements or something, and then the top party, we used to go upstairs and that’s where out bunks were.
They were up off the ground, I suppose it gave the guards a chance, we couldn’t just rush out the bottom of a night or anything, and we used to camp up there and like exercise, one would go for a walk. We had a little bit of area to walk around you know down the bottom. The guards, there was, they’d have a
couple of guards on at a time. It was only a small area you see. Usually two guards on at a time and they appeared to be quite decent chaps because at this stage we were starting to learn a little bit of German, we could understand a little bit and we used to have a chat to them. They seemed to be quite reasonable chaps and then the, there was a special time. I don’t know what time it was in the morning
they used to call the padroni, you know, the boss of the show used to come around and he’d be ready to take us out to the rice fields and the guard used to march us out there and get in and do your work you know. Hoeing out and making channels for the water for the rice fields. They’re all furrowed, I suppose you’d know.
Well from here say 200–300 yards would be small fields. I often used to be right over the other side you know and I’d look back and often used to think you know, “I wonder if I have time to get away.” I thought of it, you know. If I done it, they’d see the tractor stop. I’d think, I wonder if I
can jump off and let the tractor go and hope it would go straight. I used to think of all these different things, you know. Anyway, I must have whether I give the thought away or whether I wasn’t game enough, I don’t really know, and I thought hell I’d be on my own because all the other blokes are back there, so easiest thing to stay here. I, anyhow, in the finish I didn’t do it. I kept, I though, “Well, I’m
not doing too bad here driving a tractor, am I?” Anyway, as time went on so that’s, that would still be in 19, what would it be by then, still 1942.
said that they were Italy wanted to sign an armistice and they’d be out of there soon and all this and when it did get right to the closing stages where the Armistice was going to be signed they said the Germans will be around rounding up all the POW camps and taking them to Italy and all of us soldiers will be forced into the army.
So they weren’t stopping there. They were going to head for the Alps and meet up with, join the partisan gangs and that type of thing so they said, “It’s up to you chaps what you want.” We said, “We’re not stopping here mate.” So we done the same thing. We broke up into small groups, there was five of us in our group and of course we still had our army
clothing. We’d get that through the Red Cross and first thing, most of the area around there were the rice fields and people similar to what we’d been and negotiating with so we would go into one and ask them could they give us some civilian clothes. That was our first move which
they were quite happy to have our clothes because they were real good material and everything and they said, I suppose they would be taking a risk too if they were caught with them. But there was no problems there, so we all got into the civilian clothes and we just kept heading north. At that stage we knew that the partisans, like we had been told we up and through the Alps and that beyond there was Switzerland
and Switzerland was a neutral country during the war and it was pretty well known that if you could get into Switzerland you’d be just interned or something until the end of the war, perhaps might even sent home. We didn’t know, of course, that at least you would be in a neutral country. So we just headed north thinking Switzerland or partisans or whatever. Just, “Get up in the mountains, get off the roads
where there’s roadways,” so the Germans couldn’t then just come along and pick you up so we just travelled of night-time through the fields and kept off the main roads. And finally we got to the foothills of the mountains and first of all we met up with a chap who had woodcutters up in the foothills cutting wood and they used to
send it down through the valley to pumping stations you know for electricity business and all that so we done that for a while until we met up with some partisans and finally we went with them and no and again we used go off down to a village. You got to know you’re way around and that and the movements of what was going on. The people got to know
us pretty well and we sort of trusted most them then because they seemed to be okay and we sort of done this until late in 1945, not late in 1945 when the war was getting to a stage because by then the partisans were pretty well organised. They were even dropping English officers and guns
and all that type of stuff by air to certain areas and they were pretty well organised and we finally got the news that the Americans were at such and such a place and we knew it wasn’t such a long way from where we were and there was no, the Germans at that stage
were on the run so they weren’t up anywhere near where were because they would want to be getting out you see. So us five confiscated a car and we headed off down to meet the Americans. We were silly, really. I’ve thought of it since, silly, we got too anxious I suppose. We should have waited around until it was all cleaned up. Anyway we were going down this road this
day and we were all armed at this stage. We all had rifles, you see, and we came around this bend in the road and we seen a lot of tanks on the side of the road, just off the side of the road. We couldn’t turn back at this stage. We could of but it would have looked a bit suspicious. We might get a bullet up the behind so we just kept going along.
Pulled all the rifles in because we had them out the doors, like those big gangsters, you know. We seen these soldiers on the road.
they are different. The German ones they come right down over the ears and these helmets, bloody Germans that’s their helmets, so like the Americans. Anyhow they didn’t seem to be taking any notice and at this stage we were down to crawling pace because they were wandering all around and there’s tanks or on both sides of the road and we could hear them talking and I said, “That’s English talk.”
We could understand it, you see. Finally we convinced ourselves that they were Americans. I think we saw the stars on the tank or something like that so we stopped and got out and they just sort of looked at us and never said nothing. And finally we said, “Are you Americans?” “Yeah, yeah.” You know, like Yanks talk,
and they’re looking at us as if, “Gee, these blokes can speak English.” They thought we were Italians. So we told them then who we were and they finally got their officer or something and finally reckoned we were fair dinkum enough and they couldn’t do enough. The cigarettes were pouring out and, “Do you want something to eat?” And all this. So we just
left the car where it was and went with them.
Was he suspicious of you?
No, not really because previous to that we had got in contact with someone further back who could speak English and he more or less told us of this chap and said if we wanted to stay in the mountains, he was looking for workmen to do this work and they, he assured us he was quite genuine
and that’s how we actually got onto him in the first place. So when we actually got to this little village, a place called Goduloi, we had never heard of it and that’s how we contacted him in the first place. Well he was genuine, quite okay. Nothing suspicious about him whatsoever.
I suppose we took chances, but I mean, you’ve got to do something when you’re like this. You’ve got to get by somehow and you take your chances and if it’s wrong and that’s it. We did work with him for a few, might have been weeks even. Quite a while and that’s when we met up with a couple of these partisan chaps
and they said, “Why don’t you come with us?” and said, “Yeah, that’ll do us.” So that’s what we done.
to them. Like Australians say, “Australianee.” A lot of words like that where you just add an ‘i’ or you just cut something off. Because there’s a lot of dialects over there. That was the biggest problem. You’d get a village here and another one a mile away and they’d speak a different language altogether. Different dialect and strange really.
Most of the dialects you can basically follow them from the Italian but a lot of the words are clipped short. Instead of saying the full word they cut a couple of the letters off. But you sort of get used to it after a while you can understand what they mean. Even there is some many Italians down here and down the bowling club
I often get talking and say, “Yeah, yep, yeah,” and they say, “You haven’t forgotten it all,” and I say, “No. When I hear you blokes talking I can understand what you basically, some of it that your talking about.” So you get the, you don’t lose it completely. For me to talk in Italian now, I’d probably have a hell of a job but I could if I listened, I can make out what he means.
Lots of times and I can answer him but I couldn’t just speak it in a fluent sentence.
Nobody would ever dare to try and stop it. Go and drink or help yourself to anything. We had a wow of a bloody time I tell you. She was great and then finally the Armistice was signed and we then had to, the officer of this group that we were with, “Well I’ve got to report
you chaps back to somewhere.” He said, “There’s several of you people around been reported.” He said, “They’re working out something, what to do.” And finally they got us and took us to a place where there was others brought in there
and we were transported back to Naples, which was a fair way from where we were, and they put us on a boat that took us to England from there. That was the end of the actual war. We got back to England and they had they had a camp there for all POWs and things that were
brought back there. And my, incidentally, my original captain of our company when we first joined the army was sent over the England as one to help sort all this out, and isn’t it marvellous, and he, as soon as, because we got all new uniforms issued to us, he was that proud of our battalion. Incidentally, I tell you afterwards
he, because he’s goes two or three uniforms, he took one of his colour patches off and said, “Here, sew this on.” You know, he was that proud of this 48th Battalion, they happened to finish up the best decorated battalion in the AIF [Australian Imperial Forces]. The 48th Battalion. If you remember the 48th and make some enquiries you will find out that that is true. They won more medals,
we won four VCs [Victoria Crosses] I think it was, at least four, and so many other things. It was most decorated battalion in the AIF, so he was that proud.
and also my pay went on all the time I was in Italy and plus and this is one, this remember when I said I joined the carriers, I think I told you this. And we were classed as a driver/mechanic. We were paid 1 and 1 penny extra per day to anybody else, and when I get my army, when I get paid out there is nothing for that. I’m a private and that’s it.
When I joined the carriers, it was only a couple of months or whatever, it might have been a bit longer, between that and when I got taken POW. Apparently it hadn’t gone through my pay book. Fortunately, my officer of the carriers was still alive and in Adelaide and he is in a big way down there, in shipping. Lamesera
was his name, big, big business down there and I got straight on to him and explained it to him and he said, “Leave it me Ray. I’ll see what I can do.” And he bloody well got it. Yep, he got that. Well, that in itself. I mean it doesn’t sound much today but 1 and 1 penny a day for three years plus, a good three years,
it’s all money, so they, you see with that and my pay I was, in the vicinity of 600–700 pound, which back in 1945 was a fair lump of money. It doesn’t sound much today, does it?