Maclean. Went to school in Ulmarra, starting when I was 5, so, quick multiplication, 24, 25 anyway. The only certificate we got there was a QC [Qualifying Certificate] I think they called it. A six class Qualifying Certificate.
Then I was working part time in the – for the PMG [Postmaster General], department from when I was 15 to when I was – from 19, when I was about 15 till I was about 19, as light operator on the manual telephone exchange at Ulmarra.
They used to do what they call wharf lumping on the north coast boats. two boats a week come from Sydney to the Clarence River and entered Yamba of course. Come up to Grafton unloading all the cargo, food and whatever. Then on the way downriver they reloaded up with potatoes, maize,
cured bacon and butter. Butter was one of the main ones. The Ulmarra factory, they loaded tons of butter. All first class butter, which all went to England. The only butter we could buy at the butter factory was second grade butter. The Poms got all the first grade, God bless them. That was two of the things I’d done and I’d worked with
Dad. He was a carrier. We’d go out round the farms bringing live pigs into the factory where they would be slaughtered. Most of it was turned into cured sides. They’d cure the sides as far as what you’d call corn. You know corned pork?
That would be taken away to Sydney on the boats and would be turned into bacon. The next process, which was a pretty complicated process. They’d done some of it at Ulmarra. The other thing they done was I worked with him. We built the concrete road from Grafton to
Ulmarra first up, then from Ulmarra to below Brushgrove. People hear me talking know. All the cement in those paper bags, bloody shits of things, bloody awful things to handle. We would be stacking it from the boats. The wharf labourers
would bring it over on the big trolleys and we would pick it up and stack it, I think 6, 12 high. That meant pretty hard work, which was good. Cement dust got up your nose and in your ears and in your hair. Very uncivilised stuff to handle. That was mostly what I done. Up till
the outbreak of war, not much happening. I was a good cricketer, fair tennis player, I player junior rugby league. When I became too old to play junior rugby league they had one or two games in the grade comp. But I found I wasn’t robust enough. I was pretty lightly built and I got knocked about too much, so I said “Well,
anyone with any common sense would give this away quick.” So I gave up. First grade as they called it, rugby league. I played cricket even after the war, when I came home. I was still quite a handy cricketer. Medium base bowler and a wild and woolly left hand batsman. Even played in the district side,
which amazed me a bit. Then I suppose I got too ancient to play cricket. I took up lawn bowls. This was just after the war, you wanted up to the war, didn’t you? Yeah. Well, of course after the war I became a hot shot lawn bowler.
My wife got all my medals, championship medals and put them all on a big, what was it? Spoon display. Put all these medals up. Still hanging up out the back. I think 23 club championships and several district
championships. Won a few masters and all that caper. Then I got a bit ancient, my left leg got a bit wonky so I gave all sport away in my 40s, I suppose. It wasn’t a terrible really outstanding boyhood, youth, young man, in
Ulmarra as you can imagine. Not very exciting. That was one of the main reasons about 16 of us joined the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] to get the hell out of Ulmarra. See, what else happened. There’s one photograph there, which has appeared in publications, of my childhood friend, we grew up together, neighbours,
Bill Sullivan. The first of the weekend leave we got I said, “Have you ever been to the zoo?” He said, “No. Let’s bloody go to the zoo.” So we went to the zoo. That photo was taken by a street photographer the one that done the rounds. It’s quite a good one. That was Ulmarra.
two general stores. The butter factory was the centre of activity so anyone who wanted regular wages worked at the butter factory. We employed, it was the major employer of the Ulmarra people. They manufactured
butter and bacon. My Dad, they imported a big four wheel meat wagon for moving meat around. It had railings in it and the pig carcasses came off the rail in the slaughter house and
they had rigged this rail in this big four wheel wagon, covered in lag and met and stick a bolt through it. My father was about 16 stone, pretty brawny, he was a powerful man. He could get hold of this thing and go, and put the bolt in. When he went on holidays I had to do it when I was about 16. So I had a
heap of chocks. So instead of just going like that like he used to, one hand on the wagon and one on the rail and then puling them together, I had to get out and manoeuvre this big wagon till I got them fairly close and then put the bolt in. You could run the pig around and straight into the wagon on the gambles, as they called them. That’s a wheel with a bar with two hooks.
You hooked them into the tendons of the pigs’ ankles. They hung upside down. That’s how they took them from there up to the race where they were cleaned and cured and cut in two. All that happened in slaughter houses. That was that. Also, the boats used to bring all the flour for the bakers in
almost 100 pound bags, 110 pounds. So many to the ton was how they went. We used to cart them from the wharf to the baker shops. That was pretty hard work too. He done all the humping. I’d be up in the cart, the truck at the finish, I’d scull drag the bags to the back of the truck and he’d back up and I’d
dump them on his shoulders and he’d throttle over them and stack them in the bakehouse. That was part of the work I done there. He was a good bloke, my father. Well liked character everywhere. I had three brothers and one sister, that’s the one that's here now. The eldest brother was 18 months older than me. He went to the war
with me. We were both in the same unit. My number ended with 62 and his ended in 63. His name was Bill and I was Albert. I was in front of him. He lived, he only died just lately. He got wounded in the Western Desert. He got, like me he was still carrying his bit of shrapnel. It hit him there somewhere. It went in under his collarbone so they left it there.
I got hit in the back and mine is coming out of me because it hit me, what do you call that? Sternum. Yeah, the sternum stopped it coming out. That’s still about there I’d say. About as big as a ten cent piece. That should have killed me, but it didn’t. That’s part of the war. We’re jumping ahead of things. That was it.
Sitting over there in the photo is my great grandparents who came from Germany. The name Ulrick, of course, is German. Yeah, in the dark thing there. He was, my uncle used to call him a bloody ho-hum. I don’t know why. He must have had a row with him. He went to the First World War.
These two were Germans. I don’t think he ever mastered the English language anyway, the old fellow. But I know nothing about him of course, never ever seen him. My father had, there was Jim and Sam and Jack. He had three brothers and
one sister. Him, himself, he wasn’t in the First World War. He told me once he went to join up and he had a hernia. They said, “Get the hernia fixed and come back and we’ll take you.” He exploded. He said, “You can go to buggery. Why don’t I join and then you fix my hernia?” They said, “No,
it doesn’t work.” “Well,” he said, “you’ve just lost a good bloody man.” And he stomped out. He told him to go to hell, he wasn’t joining the bloody army. I thought that was fair enough. They wouldn’t have him because he had a hernia, told him to go and get it repaired and come back and they’d take him. He said, “You do it.” “No.” So he said, “Right hooray.” My mother, she was
Scotch, I suppose. Her mother and father both come from Scotland. My grandfather and grandmother. What was her flaming name? He was Cameron, the old bloke. Angus Cameron. Couldn’t get much more Scotch than that. She’s name was
McKay I think. Her mother and father were called McKay. That may not be quite so. They were all very solid citizens. My grandfather worked in the Asbury dock. They were in Maclean and straight across the river they built a dock for putting riverboats in, up to the side,
riverboats. He worked there. He was a carpenter type shipwright. He was a nice old bloke. He used to go to work in a little old motorboat. Little flat bottom motorboat he built himself. His family was Albert and Jack and I’m Albert John.
They were Albert and Jack. Two eldest boys and two or three girls, aunties. None of them were famous for anything, but good, solid citizens of course. That’s about the family.
It’s like bad backs these days. Bad habits. I can remember how the department, the PMG department [UNCLEAR] sent a special crew around, two first aid blokes, to teach us how to lift properly. It was too late, we’d already done our bloody bad lifting and all had crook backs. It was a funny thing, just as a point of
interest, they said to us, the worst weighed article that you handled was a five gallon drum of oil with a little tiny handle on the top. You never pick it up by that. That’s a real no-no. They showed us how you put the drum on the ground, tip it away from you, put your hand on the back and grab the bottom. That’s how you lifted a five gallon drum of oil. I don’t know
what it weighed. It was pretty heavy. This little finger lifter thing. He said, “That’s only to lift it when it’s empty.” He said, “That’s one way of getting a wrenched back bad.” Dad, he managed it quite all right. He was middle aged when I remember him getting it done. Bad things in those days. Everybody had hernias.
couple of old girls in his town, but he never thought of getting remarried because then he discovered, I don’t think he ever had a holiday in his life, until very late in life. He drank a fair bit of beer in his time. I think everybody did then. So then he saved up and went for a trip down to his birthplace on the south coast.
He liked it that much he kept at it. That’s when I used to do his business for him. When I was a young bloke. He wasn’t a bad old scout. I don’t think he ever entertained the fact. I think a few of these old birds he used to go with wouldn’t have minded. We were living in the old homestead in Ulmarra, which was built by
his mother and father. My grandfather, he owned a commercial hotel outright, freehold. They sold it and built a couple of houses and then they moved to Coffs Harbour for a while, my grandparents.
I’d only just went. I think about in the 1920s they sold the hotel and he retired then, my old Granddad. He was a pretty rough old bugger too. Everybody stepped aside, stepped around him because he was a big man, too. He had hands like a bunch of bananas.
Very powerful old man. We all steered clear of him a bit because he was quick off the mark.
The house you grew up in, can you describe it?
It was, I’ll get a picture of it in my mind. Weatherboard, that was a bit of a unique feature of it. The weatherboards were vertical, up and down. Each join was covered by a strip of hard wood, about that wide and a quarter of and inch thick. That was the method
it was built, which was probably a hangover from earlier days, but most weatherboards were build horizontal. One overlapped the one underneath it so the water runs straight down. That’s a weatherboard house. I think in these days they use plastic to build weatherboard. That’s it.
The roof was iron and fairly high pitched. We had a big backyard. The fences weren’t parallel. The fence on that side of the house ran at an angle away a bit, this one ran parallel and that meant that the back was about three times as wide as the front. The
bottle end sort of thing. So we had a good backyard. We used to play cricket in it. All the kids from around. Also, there was a blacksmith in town who wanted a smithy built. They were built to a pattern too, a blacksmith shop. It had a dirt floor
and a big, wide front door so that the carts and things could go into it. The dirt floor was because they shoe horses and they could walk in without skidding on concrete or whatever. It was there and I think it was there for a long time after I left before it decayed and they had to pull it down. That was another place that
featured in our upbringing, the big shed as it was called. We put our pushbikes and all that in it. Quite handy.
peas, beans. The peas and beans and tomatoes we grew ourselves in the vegetable patch. Lettuce of course. Meat you got from the butchers. We got a lot of pork because Dad worked for the butter factory in the pig department
carting the carcasses around. So one of the things that were quite unique in Ulmarra, you can still buy them, was what they called pork bones. I don’t know if you know much about slaughtering a pig. In the whole body, so then they’ve got to get rid of the backbone. So they get a sharp knife and cut down each side of it,
then saw the carcass in two and then saw off the backbone. That’s how they make bacon sides. That was sold as pork bones and they were a very sheep commodity. You could get a sugarbag full for a couple of bob. Get two full bones for the – as you can imagine, we weren’t a very affluent
society. The pork bones were a very nutritious and a very cheap meal. Being a little bit messy. You had to break them up and get the meat out of the bones. They had very good pork fodder, pork chops, leg of pork and all that. Very, very good. First class as a matter of fact. So that was the main.
All families were quite good at cooking bread puddings and bread and butter custards and stewed fruit. You grew a lot of peaches. Everybody had a peach tree in their backyard. That’d be the main sweets, stewed fruit and custard or cream if you could sneak it from somebody.
How long did the block of ice last?
It’d last for two or three days. What you do, you leave the last little bit of that block and put the other block, or take it out, put the other block in and break this what’s left around the other block. So you never ever threw any ice out. You kept doing that. I remember when I was a small boy we had what they called a billy cart. A billy cart was
sort of an old pram wheels built on a box that held two tins of petrol. In the good old days petrol and kerosene came in cases. A kerosene tin was the cow cocky’s bucket. They had to cut the top out and put a heavy wire handle so they had buckets. They were used,
very common on dairy farms, the old kerosene tin. This case held two of these, made it an ideal size for a billy cart. So you put two handles on it to get in between and drag it and pram axel and pram wheels, which weren’t terribly hard to get, because you’d get them at the local dump.
People would hurl their old prams away, which were no good, and we all had a billy cart. So we’d go down to the factory and get a block of ice in the billy cart, which we didn’t like doing of course. It wasn’t as good as going swimming in the river. We were all expert swimmers. I can’t ever remember learning to swim. I must have learned when I was three years old or something.
Just as well we could or we would all bloody drown because we lived in the river.
full length mantle piece I think they called it. It was about that wide and about 6 foot long or so. I took that and converted it into two down hillers. One of the old strollers, two little wheels, two big wheels on the stroller and we went over there with those two fellows there. Those two boys,
when they were kids. That’s Adam and Sean. They’re Robert’s two kids. Over to the riverbank was the closest hill we could find. Used to be an old punt approach there, they filled it in to make the flood wall. What we didn’t realise, it was a lot steeper than it looked. So the first ride, Adam was it
it went ‘whoosh’. When it got to the bottom he got a speed wobble and finished up him and the cart arse over head down and nearly into the river. We thought we’ll start half way up the hill the next try, which was Sean. They mastered it in the finish. I’ll always remember it going downhill and it nearly killed poor bloody Howard. He had skin off his forehead and elbows.
That was the down hiller. There was no hills in Grafton. That’s the only place we could get a slope.
away. They had the bloke called the night cart. He’d come round in the early hours of the morning, or night, take your full one away, all your toilets, the dunny, was built in the backyard just away from the house far enough. Not too far that you couldn’t walk to it on a rainy night, but far enough so you couldn’t smell it. You had to have that
delicate balance of distance. I remember one bloke, his name was an Irish name, Mulligan I think. Paddy Mulligan was the night carter for most of my life in Ulmarra. That’s what they’d do. Open the door at the back of the dunny, pull out the full one, put the lid on it and screw it down with this
lever thing and put the empty one in. I always remember a girl at school. When she was sitting on the toilet one day and the backdoor opened and a bloke grabbed the tin and pulled it out. I said, “Christ, what did you do?” She said, “I jumped up in the air and let out a frightful cooee and frightened the Christ out of him.” She was a hard case. You can imagine, you’re sitting on the toilet
and suddenly the tin disappears from under you out the back. I had to laugh when she told me that. Still remember it. I won’t say her name because she’s probably a granny somewhere now.
council depot they used to take this out and with an ordinary horse and plough, you know the old mouldboard plough, have you seen a mouldboard? A single furrow mouldboard plough would go along, it had a single knife at the front and the mouldboard turned the soil over one. So if you run along in grass, it’d turn
the soil upside down. What he had to do was take this soil out, run a long furrow with the old mouldboard plough and then tip it in. That’d be a good job. You can imagine emptying these smelly night cart cans into a trench. Then run the mouldboard plough back along the opposite way and throw the soil back onto the night soil,
they called it. Boy, would that be a good job not to have. The night carter. That’s what would happen to night soil in the good old days. That was even good, because we had night cart. But out on the farms, what they used to do was dig a big pit and build the dunny over the pit, and
I think when it got full they’d shift the dunny and dig another pit. That was even worse because you can imagine a pit about eight foot deep. That’s about as far as a bloke with a shovel could dig a hole. Fill it up with nightsoil, that’s a nice name for it, and then God knows how long that would take. I’ve been in them. Boy,
do they honk. What most people done, in close to the town they went to the sawmill and got a load of what they called shavings of sawdust. They put a big heap or box of it in the toilet and when you used the toilet you were supposed to tip a little bit of disinfectant in, throw some sawdust on it,
tip a little bit more disinfectant or kerosene, that was to stop it from getting blown by the blowflies. That used to make it good [UNCLEAR]. So toilets in those days were pretty bloody crude. I think they were. So that’s why in the army the old toilet on active service of course, you go behind the
nearest rock, or bush, or tree, and we would kangaroo it. Kangarooing was what we called it, was cotton down on your hunkers, making sure. I remember the old joke about the bloke couldn’t stand up when he went to the toilet in the bush. “I can’t get up. I can’t get up.” What he was doing was, he had one heel on the end of his cock and he couldn’t stand up.
“Cut it out.” “No, sir, that’s a fact.” “I believe you.” Kangarooing was in the army all your life until you get into the sewer system. Toilet facilities are pretty crude. You become a bit crude with them.
What happened if you were in town and you needed to use the loo? Were there public loos?
Only in the pubs. They were down the back. The pubs didn’t have sewerage of course, in those days. So their toilets, you always had to go out of the pub and down the backyard of the pub. There’d be ladies’ that side and men’s that side. They’d be a mixture of urinals in the troughs. You’d pee in the trough and it’d run down into the doover.
Or generally a three hole toilet, that sort of thing. All pretty crude, but we were crude I guess too. We were used to it. That’s how you were brought up. Reared with nice, smelly toilets. That’s the only public toilet in the town of Ulmarra I ever knew. It was behind the pubs.
They didn’t like you either, people using them because people are dirty cows, they foul the toilets on purpose. I’ll say this, you can cut it out later, he said, “The bastards shit at it, not in it.” That was a fact of life. Always
the pioneer platoon looked after the toilets. Big Jack, I think Hawkins was his name, that was his job and his sole job, go around all the toilets in the battalion, no, in our company area I think, they used to have squares of paper about that square. He’d put them on a wire hook,
he’d sit and put them all on by hand. Then he’d cart that bundle around the toilets and take the half used one down and put the new one back. That was toilet paper in the army toilets. In Ingleburn, in Sydney, and again in the Middle East. We carried that with us. The toilet paper problem. Mostly it was newspaper.
Later on they said that the slight, I remember this, why I don’t know, there was a word come out that using newspaper was not good because of a slight trace of antemin that was in the lead that made the newsprint. You might get traces of antemin into your
system through using newspaper for toilet paper. I thought that’s bloody weird, but I suppose it was true. Antemin. That’s a pretty noxious substance.
one woman in Ulmarra used to teach kids to swim. The way she done it was she put a rope around under their armpits and leading a stringer away come up between the shoulder blades and she’d walk up and down the wharf holding them up until eventually they were swimming and didn’t know it, she’d slacken the rope and they’d be
dog, you learned to dog paddle mainly. Then she taught all the kids to swim. She was a great scout. Done it for no reward, just for the good of it. She was a married woman with kids of her own. We used to watch her. I learned to swim, up behind my mate’s place there was an old wharf had been there.
Going back just one more step, when the old sailing ships used to come up into the river, the ballast would be stone, you know, what they call spools. Rocks about that big. Just big enough that they were comfortable to handle and throw. Any bigger that were too heavy, any smaller they were too many of them. They used to unload this ballast on the riverbank.
If you go down to Ulmarra now, the whole of the riverbank is lines with spools at water level. This was to stop the water undermining the bank. The bank would then fall in. This place, they had tamped a big heap off and it used to be an old wharf and they used to just unload the spools. That formed a sandbank in behind it. That’s where we learned to swim because of the high tide
you’d have about that much water over this. So you put your hands on the bottom and kick. It’d be like having your hands on a flotation more or less, like they do today. My grand daughter, that one, she not only is a swim instructor, she is an instructor-instructor, She teaches instructors. That’s when she was a kid, but she’s
24 now. She’s a swimming instructor. They didn’t exist in those days. You learned to swim or you’d bloody well drown. I can remember once, they had dredges would be in the river too, quite common. There was a dredge operating doing the ferry crossing between Ulmarra and the other side of the river. On the far side it used to silt up.
So this dredge used to come up and clean it out. One day they were all swimming, all the people, and it was summertime and I suppose about half past 5 in the afternoon, there was still one heap of clothes in the old shed we used to change in. It was a young bloke, I think he was in his 20s. Worked on the railway. He drowned.
We don’t know how. We’re all swimming in the river and he just didn’t come out. So they raked and, with kelts and fishing lines and hooks and all sorts. They found him about midnight that night, his body come up. He was in his swimmers and the grappling hook was hooked in the strap of his swimmers there. So they were lucky to get the poor bugger out. I can
remember being there, you know. We were all there trying to help, throwing out lines with fishing hooks on them and all sorts of things, right along. I can’t remember his name. It was a well known incident, poor bugger. We don’t know how or why he drowned. He just did.
Were there any other incidences like that?
I’ll tell you this. I don’t boast about it much. On the river boats that used to run each way each day. One would start at Grafton and go to Yamba and back, the other started at Yamba and would go to Grafton and back. That was a run. My wife’s grandfather owned those boats, so I’ve got a book
there with photos of every riverboat in it. This particular one was the newest boat they had. All steamboats except this one was a diesel. Had a big diesel engine in it. It was the fastest. It would leave Yamba every Friday on a special run to Shelton in Grafton. One shilling from Yamba to Grafton and back. Even if you went
to a big department store owned by the Abrahams family, they were Jews of course, but quite good people, if you come into their store and told them you came up on the boat, they’d give you your shilling back if you shopped there. Just a gimmick to get people in the shop. That was a funny fact.
What I was just going to tell you, this boat was coming, Dad being a carrier, I’d go and meet the boat sometimes for him just to see if there was anything to pick up when he would be doing something else. It was very rarely anything came from downriver. It always came from Grafton to Ulmarra, if there was any goods at all. This
day all these people were on the wharf at Ulmarra going for the shilling trip to Grafton to do their week’s shopping. This little girl, I suppose she’d be 14, 15, she was going, what was she going to do? She was trying to get off the boat, that’s right. This bloody mob of chooks charged on
and the captain of course, always in a bloody hurry, before she could get on, he started to back out. They’d back out and then go, back away from the wharf and then go. I suppose it was from here to you the boat had got out. She realised it was going, the silly little girl, tried to jump and she didn’t make it and went into the river.
The old deckhand on the boat, he jumped in and I jumped in. I was about 16, I suppose. I could swim like an otter. We both jumped in together. I got the girl and he got a port the old deckhand. He was a middle-aged grey haired man. Headlines in the paper were ‘Men Dived to Rescue’. I thought “Jesus,
how did they find that out? I never said anything.” Only thing I was going crook about, I had a new packet of tobacco in my pocket. I’d started to smoke. That was one incident on being a good swimmer. She would have drowned. She couldn’t swim. If somebody hadn’t got her out. I only had to go from here to the kitchen till I was on the bank.
Just went under the wharf. I took her under the wharf. That was just one thing that being a good swimmer was good. She was that embarrassed. Sopping wet. Clothes clinging to her. This 16 year old grabbing her around the waist. Probably grabbed around the chest without knowing it. She was
terribly, terribly embarrassed, poor bugger. The family lived up on the riverbank. We took her up there and they took us in and gave us dry clothes until her mother came and got us. Her mother was a widower. Her name was Watkins, but married name was
Stradley, some name like that. That was the famous rescue. ‘Men Dive to Rescue’. I can still see it in the paper. I thought I had the clipping, but I don’t suppose you collect them like you do now.
Gerard’s, G-E-R-A-R-D-S, Gerard’s Department Store. The Abrahams brothers, they were the first supermarket in Grafton. They made the old grocery store where they wrapped up the goods and gave them to you and you went, they went and got them out of the
shop and brought them to the counter and you had your list and you’d give them. They invented, were the first ones to have the modern department where you walk in, select your own. That was a big innovation in town. The Abrahams introduced that. Nowadays with Woollies and Coles and Myer and what have you. They were good. As a matter of fact, my grandfather,
my wife’s grandfather worked, wife’s father, kids’ grandfather worked for them. He used to work in the produce department. He’d get a bag of spuds. They had this special gadget built on a slope and it was like a triangular shaped thing. They put a board across the bottom, tipped all the spuds into it and you lifted
the board out and he picked the bad ones out and threw them over his shoulder. Most bags of spuds there were a few that had gone off. That was his job. And clean up the place. He was rouseabout in other words, but he enjoyed it because everybody knew him. Charlie Fulham, young Charlie he was. He was about bloody 70. Old Charlie was his father ran the boats.
Old Charlie. That tickled me, young Charlie. He was my kids’ bloody grandfather. He was a nice old bloke. There’s a photo of him here somewhere. He was a First War digger. He got gassed in France. He wasn’t too bad. He said it used to affect him a bit. He got gas in his lungs.
He didn’t get a big dosage like a lot of them. The Germans first used the gas.
proceedings in the memorial park in Ulmarra and it was built on the riverbank. Best bloody spot in town. My Dad would do it for nothing, get the stools and chairs from the Masonic Hall and take them to the memorial park for the people to sit on for Anzac service. He’d do that for nothing so every
Anzac Day we’d go to the Anzac service. As I said, I can remember in my boyhood, all war blokes being there. And then the Second War diggers of course. We got to know them all. As a matter of fact, when I became foreman of the line depot here I was
on what they call external plant. That’s aerial lines and cable. Internal plants, phone and exchange. But I had two or three of these old first war diggers working for me as linemen. One old bloke finished up cleaner in the store, he was too old to be a lineman. So we kept him on as the cleaner. I knew them all personally. Most
the Ulmarra diggers, the First War diggers. The bloke on the north coast wharf, he used to give us casual work, unloading and loading the boats. He was a first war digger. He only had one eye, he had a glass eye. He’d lost it in the war. Lost his one eye. He always used to look a bit weird because this glass eye was always
always more wide open than his real eye. I knew them all pretty well.
of us I think, from Ulmarra. Quite a few. We called ourselves Ulmarra Platoon as a matter of fact. Would have been 36 I suppose. Yeah that’d be right. I’m not sure what part of 36. 37, 38, yeah, it must have been early because I went to three militia camps. The first
one was in Lismore, the second one was in Grafton and the third one was in Greta down the Hunter. Yeah, that’d be right. As a matter of fact the photos on that in militia uniform. When we joined the AIF, they told us to wear our militia uniforms. We always said, “They’re lousy.
We want the uniforms back.” Which they, they kept them too. Not their AIF uniform, which was different of course. We had to hand the militia ones in.
got paid, what we used to do, one of the blokes in the militia was the brother-in-law of a bloke who had a cream run. The cream run was a truck that went out around the cockies picking up their cream cans. Most of, I think our nights was Wednesday nights, so we’d come to Grafton and get to
the drill hall at 7 o'clock and probably have a three hour parade, what they called it. We’d learn how to slope arms and all that. They’d pay us, not very much, a fair extra, then we got paid for attending parade, so a combination of that
was something different. The fact that we were issued with 303 rifles, which we took home, went down to the second hand shop and bought First World War blunt live ammo for munition. I think the reason this area got a bit of a caning when all the old over militia rifles and purchased ammunition.
I remember sometimes, once we done an Easter bivouac. Went up to Byron Bay and what they done there, they had live ammo exercise down at the beach. What they done, they went out and put great big sheets of cardboard painted white, or white
cardboard on the mangrove trees along the coast. We got up on the escarpment, I suppose 4 or 500 yards away, and fired live ammo at them. They also gave us a demonstration of mortar firing and Vickers machinegun. The machineguns they gave us live fire with was the old Lewis gun.
Have you ever heard of the Lewis gun? He was a great old machine, air cooled. Well, air cooled if you didn’t fire it too much. They always got hot, of course. Old Lewis gun, that was the first machinegun I ever fired.
I was sitting in the kitchen at home in Ulmarra, listening to the broadcast on the radio. I think it was Dad, and myself, my brother, and two friends. Their names were Goodyear. Both of them, one of them finished in the AIF, no both of them. They both joined the AIF.
They never saw any action. They were in different things. We were sitting round the kitchen table. I think we’d been playing Euchre. Buggering around, talking. We knew this broadcast was coming on, we’d been forewarned about it. We listened to, who would have been in England? What was that old fellow’s name,
went to England [Germany] and came back with a bit of paper? He was Prime Minister. Poor old fellow, he made a crap of it all. He claimed that Hitler promised him no more land grab. What was his name? Doesn’t matter much. Then we had Menzies come on, “It is my forlorn duty to inform you
that we are now at war with Germany.” The bit about Poland, they invaded Poland and we give them until that day to withdraw. When that day came they said the fact that Germany had not complied with the demand to withdraw from Poland. “It is my melancholy duty,” that's what Robert Menzies said,
“to inform you we are now in a state of war with Germany.” So we all looked at one another and said, “Well, I wonder what that’s going to mean.” We didn’t realise.
was? Quite a few German names because there was a whole swag of German stonemasons brought from Germany to built Yulgilbar Castle, which is 30 mile up river, by the Ogilvy family. Ogilvys own the big cattle run at the top end of the Clarence. They own not acres, but square miles
of the best cattle country in Australia. They were millionaires, the Ogilvys. They built the castle. I’ll tell you who bought it in the finish. The people who, Myers, the Myers family. Melbourne business world. They own probably Woolworth’s I think, Myers. They finished up buying it.
I think they owned it when it was sort of – what they done, they knocked the top off it and ruined it as a castle. Just like a big stone house now. They weren’t real popular with the local folk, ruin their historic castle. But, no, I can’t ever remember anyone. Even my father. Only my grandfather
got called up in the First World War because of the German name. Even when I was in Germany, if you want to go that far ahead. They used to say to me, “Ulrick, that’s Deutsch?” I’d say, “Ja, ja.” “Wo hein?” That meant “Where from?” “Oh,” I said, “Lord, Berlin.” I didn’t have a bloody clue where it come from. But I found out later
it was from, not Bavaria, but one of the well known German counties. I’ll think of it.
we were together till we got to the Middle East, in the same company, same platoon. In the Middle East we were in Palestine and the British Army went from 4s to 3s. What you did when we first joined up, you fell in in two ranks when you fell in. You had to number off
and then the odd numbers took one pace back and one pace sideways to form 4s. From the command of ‘Form 4s’, see? You had to remember what bloody number you were, whether you were odd or even. Even stood still and the odds went. That was good till everybody forgot what bloody number they were and here they were shoving and pushing.
“Form two ranks, we’ll go through it again.” I always remember, “Form 4s, on the march.” And the other one was “Form platoon.” “Form platoon,” meant you marched in a line, four deep, this was real tricky bit of manoeuvring. You’d be walking along in 4s,
one behind the other. They’d say, “Form platoon,” and you had to do a fancy jig and find all facing in line. That was good. We mastered that. The one that really cracked was “Right, wheel as a platoon.” Holy God. Both ends, instead of the left hand column, instead of going like that in a big like
a gate opening, both ends met in the bloody middle. That was the first time we tried it. We had to start all over. Company commander and the company sergeant major and all the sergeants bellowing at us, “Back in bloody numbers, fellows. Form 4s.”
then. We had to start all over again. You had to be able to dismantle it, put it back together and the return spring, you had to be able to set it. When you fired a Bren gun, the recoil, there was a little bit of muzzle blast, but most the time nothing, the recoil reloaded it by,
it pushed the gun back and this spring was wound up. When the spring was re-wound, it shot it forward again. When it went forward, it picked up another round and put it in the spout. That was the mechanism. We had to learn all that to be able to do it, take it to bits and put it back together. Even went further than that. You had to be able to take it to pieces in the dark by
feel and put it back together because that was going to happen later on. It was a good weapon.
got off the train we were sort of the train, we were on the wharf. We got off the train there and the wharf and the ship was there. So it must have been a good ship loading. They had the gangplank down up into the ship. We didn’t go up the top or anything. I think we got into the ship at wharf level.
There was all guides on the ship. As you came in, we were in our platoons, companies, as we got on. They said, “Headquarters company,” which I was in. I was in what was to become the Bren gun carrier platoon. I think we were Vickers
gunners then. No, Bren gun carrier platoon, we didn’t have any Bren gun carriers. We had the guns. We got on the ship, found out what deck we were on. We were the first deck above the waterline. E deck I think it was. E deck was above the waterline and F deck was below the waterline.
We were very lucky we were the first. But it didn’t make much difference. They were shut all the time, the portholes, because the waves break against the ship went up over our porthole. So we had to have them shut. We were getting on the boat. You can just imagine, it’s about 100 degrees and no shade, sweating and hot in
woolly uniforms. They had issued us with tin hats, which we were told to put in the top of our kitbag. So you had a kitbag, full webbing equipment with backpack with your overcoat in it and a spare pair of boots. That was regulation. Spare pair of boots and your overcoat in your backpack. Your haversack
that side. Your haversack with your eating gear, two plates. We hadn't been issued with the army kit yet. On this side the water bottle. And the Lord Mayor’s Fund, or somebody, gave us what they called a C kit. That was great. It was like a pillowslip with a drawstring in it, made out
of calico. In it was a suit of pyjamas, tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush and various goodies like lollies and towels, two towels. We liked that. The C kit was a beauty. I think it was probably paid for by the government but given on behalf of the Lord Mayor’s Fund I think they called it.
So we had a kit bag, a C kit bag, your rifle, all your webbing equipment and onto this ship sweating. Every time somebody bumped it your hat came down over your eyes. Swearing and cursing and going bloody crook. The old bloke, he still lives out here at Junction Hill, five miles out, he’d
got in, he went down the bay. Have you been in the bowels of a ship? Down the main alleyway, or whatever they call them, and they all branched off to the side of the ship and you went into the other side and they all branched to that side of the ship. I’m going along swearing, we had to find the cabin, somewhere to live. This joker said, “Hey, Jack, here. Come down
here.” Jack Young’s his name. He had a two berth cabin right on the outside of the ship with a porthole open. He said, I said, “What are you doing here?” We used to call him Old Jack because his name was Jack Young. “What the hell are you doing here, Old Jack?” He said, “Are you looking for a cabin mate.”
He said, “I’ve got this beaut two berth cabin and I didn’t want to have to share it with a bloody drunk all the way to wherever.” We didn’t know where we were going then, “All the way to wherever we’re heading. I’m picking out somebody that was a bit decent, a bit clean and not a booze artist.” I said, “Well, you’ve got him.” So he said, “I’m taking the bottom bunk.” I said, “You were here first.” What I found in the
top bunk was the best anyway, because that’s where the air condition valve was, a little thing like that you moved around. It was on a ball with a spout sticking out of it. The whole ship was air conditioned because it was an Orient liner we were on, the SS Otranto. They all started with O, the Orsova, the Otranto, the Orontes, they were all Orient
liners. It amazed me. I went “Oh, this is a big bloody ship.” 22,000 tons. I see that one the other day come in, it was about ten times that size. That big Queen Mary cruise ship. 22,000, what a whopper. We still used to get lost in it even when we were on it awhile. Away again.
That night we anchored in the harbour. We went out from the wharf and anchored in the harbour. There was people came round on boats. We were talking to them out the porthole and so we all ducked away and wrote a note home. Give them a shilling or whatever. I think it was twopence halfpenny for a postage stamp then. They said they’d post them. They did too.
People in their little motor launch.
torpedo. I couldn’t see us getting off if we got torpedoed. There would have been awful loss of life. We were down on F Deck, F, G, H, I, J, K, you know. A Deck was the boat deck. How we got from F Deck to A Deck to get in a lifeboat was pretty forlorn. So we reckoned that. We were all issued with
lifejackets. It wasn’t jackets, they were belts. Round under your arm and you had one sitting just below the back of your neck and the other on your chest. That was a nasty joke. You’d come and pull the back one down and the front one would hit the bloke on the shin. They were hard, packed with kapok. That was a real no-no in the finish. A lot of
fights broke out over that. We had boat drill. Very regular boat drill. You had to get from wherever you were to your boat station. When the boat drill came on, all the watertight doors down below were shut and you had to know where your way up
was. Ours was up through the main kitchen. We got strict instructions, “Anybody caught pilfering food through the main kitchen will be taken on deck and shot.” Or words to that effect. We remember going up through this kitchen. Here was great trays of roast chuck. We thought, “We can’t take a roast chuck, we’ll be robbing the officers, poor buggers, couldn’t do
that.” We never got any roast chuck I can tell you. Mainly stew. I remember too, the first night we were onboard they used the ship’s cutlery and the ship’s crockery. All the cutlery disappeared and half the crockery so that was it. We had one meal. “You can use your own mess kit from here on.” We thieved all the
cutlery. I don’t know what they done with the crockery. I certainly didn’t take it. Probably just dumped it out of the porthole.
They had two bamboo poles for the main thing and between the bamboo poles was a cross piece and up on top of the poles was another cross piece. The sides of the tent, which were about that high, was laces in. You took the side right out of the tent from
about that high up. They were beautiful tents. They were made out of Indian cotton. The ropes were all white cotton ropes. When Italy came into the war we had to scatter. There was the usual run of useless bloody officers, “You go there, you go there, you go there.”
So we got this tent on these poles on our shoulders, about six or eight to a pole, they were pretty heavy things. “Number 7 platoon, right, you’re here.” So you put it down. We had to dig them in that far on account there could be air raids. So we dug this square hole
and your tent just fitted outside it. If you put it inside it, when it rained, the water come into the hole. The blokes next to us were stiffed because a mole, there was moles in Palestine, he’d come up like they do, you’ve seen mole hills. When it rained, the water ran down this mole and into their tent.
Then they said, “You, you, you and you come up here.” We had to dig the officers’ tents in then. We thought that was great. That was lovely. We loved doing that. Swearing and cursing. “Why don’t they dig their own bloody tents?” Couldn’t get out of it.
it was mainly toughening exercises. Plus arms, use of arms and, but mainly making us tough. You had to march, run, jump, shoot, all day long and lay down where you finished that night, sleep all night. If you were lucky you slept all night. If you weren't you done guard duty. Again on the cooks and
bottle washers and guards. The infantry itself, they never got any rest. You always had to guard somebody else. I can remember in the Western Desert they said, “We want six blokes.” Of course you never volunteered for anything. We got selected because we were closest to battalion headquarters. In that there
was a hole going into the, not much bibber than a rabbit’s burrow. They said, “There’s an Italian in there.” We said, “Is there?” “You’ve got to watch he don’t escape.” We said, “What’s he there for?” He was witnessed, some bloke drunk Aussie bloke, you know, how Italian, threw a grenade into the prison compound at Bardia.
It didn’t kill anyone luckily, but it wounded a couple. This bloke was a witness. So there were six of us spent all night guarding one bloke in turns. Two hours on. Everybody said the same thing, “Oh God, come out, you dago [Italian].” They were going to, they wouldn’t have to guard him anymore. But he knew. He didn’t show. That, terrible night that was.
We were dead, ragged, tired. This was after the battle. The old dago in the hole. Oh God.
It went from there, right to the back of the carrier. So when you went like that, it turned the shaft and you brought it up, put it forward and pulled the shaft forward or back or turn. You had to what you called double the clutch. You put the clutch in, pulled it into neutral, let the clutch out, which spun the gear box,
put the clutch in again, then shift it into gear. What they call double clutching. You had to be able to do that to be a Bren gun carrier, because if you didn’t they were square grated gears and they’d just ground. You couldn’t get it into gear. Another smart bit you had to learn was, to turn the wheel, you drove by wheel, the Bren gun carrier. If you turned it a little, that put a
bow in the tracks. Both tracks went like that, that would turn it enough to drive on a road. But to sharp turn you had to use the brakes. So you put the wheel hard over, that put the break on that side and this side kept going free. That’s how you turned it in the field or in the mud or sand. So that took a bit of mastering. We all had to be able to drive.
You had to be able to fix a broken track. A track came off you’d be able to put it back on. So it was all pretty intensive training.
on the frame that you used for ack-ack [anti aircraft] Bren work. Just clipped in and you pull the lever round. It was up and down as well. You could move it. So you could aim and fire it. Very rarely was it every fired out of the Bren gun carrier. See, the drill for a Bren gun carrier was the word ‘carrier’. That’s how went. You carried the gun and the crew. It
wasn’t a tank. You didn’t use it to fire out of. The correct way to use a Bren gun carrier, you come up to your fighting position, the gunner, who was in the back, and the carrier commander, who was a corporal or a sergeant, or in my case, the officer, jumped out and took the gun and all the
ammo strapped around them and took up the firing position. The driver took the Bren gun carrier to a safer position from the front back behind a hill or whatever. That was drill. That was one we practised quite a lot. We’d come up to this small rise or whatever, the carrier would stop, the gunner and the offsider would jump out, run forward,
mount the gun wherever, and the carrier would back off to a safe possie. That’s how I got wounded. I was a driver in Greece. It was at the Pinios Gorge. We’ll talk about that.
When I went to the war, everybody was made an allotment. I think it was seven bob a day we were given. You could make an allotment up to 6 bob a day and you existed on a shilling a day. My brother made an allotment to his then girlfriend who he was engaged to be married to. Everybody had these
papers we had to fill in. They said, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m bloody arsed, I’m not making a bloody allotment. What if you get your head blown off? Who’s going to get the money then. I’m going to spend mine. Bloody hell, I’m going to play up bad and live till I get killed.” We expected somebody’s going to get killed. Could be me, but nobody ever thought they would. Otherwise you would
have went off your bloody head. Everybody thought, “The bloke next door will get killed, not me.” So I said, “No, I’m spending mine.” So my brother, he was getting a shilling a day and half the other fellows were getting a shilling a day and this bloke I’m talking about, Old Jack, Jack Young was his name, lovely mate, we decided, “No, we’re not going to make an allotment.”
Therefore we were purse men. We were the money lenders of the platoon. We both made the same rule. “If it’s not paid back next payday, you don't get any more.” And it worked. They were good. No interest charged. They hired the Hotel Fast, we’re talking about leave. It was just
outside the old city of Jerusalem opposite David’s Gate where David, whoever he was, he was a Biblical character, Christ’s uncle or some other bloody thing, anyway, it was his gate, David’s Gate. The Hotel Fast was a tourist hotel. Of course, no tourists. So the Australian Army took it over for leave for
us. Word come out, routine order, “Everybody who had ten pound in their pay book could apply to go on four days leave at the Hotel Fast.”
Well known character. They done a short arm of the Arabs. He was duty officer. He laughed. He said, “Talk about dongers on them.” They all put a pony stallion to shame the lot of them. He was laughing. He said he was trying to explain to them what to do, the old short arm where, he said,
“They didn’t get the message.” He laughed. It was quite a regular thing, short arm. One of them, the only bloke that ever got hauled out, God, wasn’t he embarrassed. I don’t think he was even a naughty boy. He had some other urasiplia [urethritis] or something. When he done the old usual short arm parade procedure,
he squeezed out a drop, a tear in his eye as they called it, and he got hauled off to the hospital for checking up. When he got back, didn’t he cop some. “Get away you poxy shit. Don’t come near us.” God, he was embarrassed. Killer was his nickname.
had open leave to Cairo until midnight or what they used to say was 2311. That was ten to midnight you had to be back in camp. That was good. One funny story, we all used to go to Cairo. That was civilisation. First place we’d go to was this place that we used to get a hot
shower. This day there was four of us. I’ll always remember it. I’ve got an idea Jack was with us. Four from my platoon, anyway, said, “Let’s go and have a flash feed.” We had plenty of money. We go into this place. The waiters had long white gowns down to their ankles and red fezzes.
They were Arabs. So we asked, could we go in and have a meal. So after much conferring and nodding and shaking, the boss cocky of the waiters and said, “Yeah.” So in we went to the, sat at the table the four of us. Give us a menu, all printed in French I think. The only thing I could understand was
steak and kidney. It was in English because there were no French words for steak and kidney pie, I don’t know. So I said, “I’ll have that.” Awara Fendi. We all decided to have steak and kidney pie. So they put a plate in front of us and cutlery and brought one steak and kidney pie about that big and put it in
the middle of the table. Someone said, “Jesus Christ, hey. Back here George.” George, they always called them. He got this pie and he put it in front of one bloke and said, “One man, one man.” So we wanted four of these, which he reckoned was only good enough for one. We could see him nudging one another. Us four blokes eating a whole steak and kidney pie each
instead of one between 4. I bet they’re still talking about it. They were amazed at that. They were good mates and we laughed.
decided that we were told the attack was coming. Actually, I think it was on the 3rd January. Am I right there? Yeah. 3rd January 1941. Close anyway. That was pretty hairy day. The blokes marched
up, one behind the other, you might have seen it on TV newscast. You didn’t march in a bunch, you marched one behind the other. The theory was that if a bullet hit the first bloke it might kill him and the second bloke. If a shell landed and hit them. Which was pretty rare anyway, they reckoned it was a defensive measure. Here
we are in the Bren gun carriers, we couldn’t hear anything over the roar of the motor. We couldn’t hear shells coming, but if you see these blokes hit the deck you think Christ. So we knew there was something coming. When we got to the breach in the wire, everything speeded up. We went through, the tank rips pretty fast.
That fast, I think when we came out the other side we left the ground and then through the wire and we turned right went round the perimeter inside. They had all fortified posts all the way. We took them one post at a time. The A company would do
one post. We then had a nice job, C company was on the inside, these companies are taking the posts inside the perimeter. C company’s travelling level with them, watching out into the interior of the Bardia town. We were up on the escarpment. Then
we got a message that B company was not advancing to where they should be, but they were dragging the chain a bit. Our job was to send three carriers out to find out why, where they were, why they were stopped. So very fortunately, or unfortunately, I was in one of the three that
was picked to go out. When we went left we were out in front of them. We become the frontline on the advance. We didn’t know it at that time. We soon did. Next thing we’re shelled, artillery shells and small arms fire, mortar bombs, everything clanging around us. So we went back towards where
C company was and found them. They’d been held up, that was all. Some of the fortifications were a bit harder to claim than some others. They were just stopped. They came along and we got out of that one luckily. We come under some bloody intense fire both from the artillery and infantry, Italian infantry.
That was just an incident during the battle. When we got to our objective for that night, which was a road, they called it the Sollum Road. It comes from Egypt to Bardia and it went through the wire where we finished our day’s take.
That’s your day’s object to get to that road, which we did. I remember just after dark that day we were in a little I’ll call it a wadi, but it was a creek bed, dry creek bed or rainwater wash. Infantry was on the other side of the culvert. This culvert was in this creek bed
across it and all sandbags and crap on top. A shell came and lobbed in the sandbag. And hit a letterbox away from where we were. The next one was on the other side and there was a section of infantry blokes there. One fellow got killed. Blew his leg off. Hit. I don’t know what his name was. That was a bit sad. A bit
unnecessary for him. That’s where we stopped the first night in Bardia. Lots of incidents during the battle all day, coming and going. Shellfire and prisoners. I think we captured 60,000 Italians there in Bardia. They all came to
Australia. Done it easy on the fruit farms in the bloody fruit growing area down Mildura, Echuca and all along the Murray and irrigation there. That’s where they sent them. I think there were some big camps, but they made them work on the fruit farms.
What was the procedure for taking prisoners of war?
We searched them and robbed them of course. Took all their weapons and we said, “What about papers?” They said, “Well, if you think they’re important, take them.” We thought pay books and that sort of thing. “Take them anyway.” We took all their money and all their papers and
watches. I think they knocked all their watches off. I remember one bloke had a gold watch and two of my blokes with me went up and, he went, “Mama, mama, mama, mama! Mama gave me this!” They took it off his arm and took his hat off, put it in his hat and jammed it back on his head and said, “Leave it there, you won’t lose it.”
I don’t know if he ever did. I remember one big well built Italian officer coming along. Two of our blokes hopped out in front of him. He said, “I have already been robbed.” In perfect English. They said, “Well, piss off.” What we done then, we had to keep sending them back to the compound.
I can remember we were that night, late, we were on patrol. I said, “Go over there and have a look if there’s anything there, there.” We were mobile. These blokes were all dead beat, the infantry. We come across this line of prisoners. There must have been 5,000 of them. There was one Aussie and the front and one Aussie at the back. They said,
“Oh, thank Christ. Take these off us.” We said, “No, we don’t want them. They’re yours. You look after them.” These poor bloody Italians they were dying of thirst and hungry and frightened, didn’t know what was going to happen to them. These two Aussies with about 5,000 prisoners taking them back to the compound.
the headquarters company to be range takers. Have you ever got associated with a range taker? It’s a thing about that long and about that round and it’s on a little stand about that high and you lay down with it across. It’s got a lens there and a lens there. Do you know anything about trigonometry? Me either.
What this thing done. You knew the length of that, that was the base of the triangle. This side was a right angle, this measured that. By doing that, the little dial you moved to focus this thing, it measured the mileage as you went. So you took ten readings. Say that telephone pole you can see and measure it ten times, add them up,
divide it by ten. That would give you the mean distance, how far away it was from you. These Italians had what looked like a big power pole sticking up in the air with a seat on top of it and steps all the way up. Every day an Italian observer would it up in it and
look out. The whole place was as flat as a flipper, as flat as a pancake for miles. So they decided they’d take him out. When he wasn’t up there they used to put a dummy up to sit in it. So there was two of us were official range takers and George Smith was the other one, and
we tossed to see who would go on this killer expedition to kill this bloke in the lookout tower. So he said, “I don’t know whether I lost or won.” So when we tossed he said, “Winner goes, loser stays here.” George won, so he went. He was telling me about it after, later. He said they went out. What they had to do was sneak out and get within small arms range,
take the exact distance in yards so they could set the sights, I think they had three Bren guns, platoons rifles. So it was just coming daylight as they said, “All get in position, all take aim, all ready, fire.” three Bren guns and all the rifles. This bloke went out of the
lookout and into the deck. They said what happened then, all hell broke lose. Every gun and every rifle in bloody Bardia opened up. They said they all got home, all got back. That was a weird day that.
What happened, there was a big escarpment in Libya. I suppose it’d be 5 or 600 feet high. Then you went down to the beach. This escarpment they called it, it ran parallel to the coast. We had a bit of a show there. When going over, and we got halfway down
you went down a road like that, down this pretty steep cliff. Half way down we come under shellfire in the three carriers. Our platoon commander, Lieutenant Baird, he was in my carrier. His batman should have been his gunner,
but being a batman he also wasn’t much of a gunner, so the boss said well. Our carrier broke down at Sidi Barrani. On those V8 engines, the generator was on top of the motor where the fanbelt and the fan was on the end of the generator. The coupling broke and the fan went through the radiator. So we left the carrier
behind and split up amongst the mob then. That’s why I was in the boss’ carrier. The batman wasn’t, well, not a warrior I guess, put it that way. So the boss took me with him. Half way down the hill we tipped over. In a truck vehicle you must never turn downhill. If you turn
with a truck downhill, the momentum will tip it over. That what, when the shells hit round us, the driver panicked and swung it. In stead of swinging it uphill he swung her downhill. All I remember, I was in the back of a high part that went over. It threw me onto my hands and knees. I lobbed in the gravel on my hands and
knees. Skinned both hands and all the skin off my knees. But I kept on going on my hands and knees because I could see it still up above me. It landed on its side, one track in the air and the other on the ground and shot us out like spuds out of a bucket. We sort of scuttled behind a little rise. It was good. We were in dead ground.
Dead ground is, if the shell was too low it hit the hill in front of us, if it was too high it went bush. That was good. That was the best possie you could be in. I was looking. I had a pair of small binoculars. I think the boss owned them. I could see the gun that was firing at us. The fort. It was way down over near the coast, I suppose about a mile
away. A mile and a half. They were firing directly at us. This Bren gun carrier standing on its end. Every time it fired, I’d yell, “Shot coming!” or whatever and everybody’d duck till that shell went off. We were trying to right the bloody thing, put it back on its tracks. Then
quietened down and the lieutenant had been away at headquarters and he came back. He said, “I’ve just been told that the I [infantry] tanks,” that’s the big old Matildas we had with us, they were English tanks, “have knocked out that fort.” We said, “They must have been bloody quick and invisible, because I’ve been watching, nobody’s touched it.” “Oh, yeah, you can. The I tanks, they’ve told me at battalion headquarters.” This thing
“boom.” “Yeah there it is. They’ve knocked it out all right.” He said, “Christ I’d better get on the blower.” So he went over type of thing, the RT, the radio truck, and rang back, told them at battalion headquarters that that fort was still operating. Then we had a great grandstand view of three, have you ever heard of the I tank? I stands for infantry. They’re the big, heavy
I don’t know what name of tanks they were, but they could take a direct hit from a shell, they were that thick the armour on them and they were armed with about a five or six pounder cannon and twin machineguns. So they were a good article. They were Pommy tanks. So we watched these three tanks. Two would go and the other would fire. That one would stop and he’d fire
and the other two would go. They went right up to this fort and stopped it from firing. Now we can talk. So we got out and another one of our carriers came. We righted our carrier and took off. It was funny, I was at a battalion reunion. The bloke driving this carrier that tipped it over was telling this story.
What happened, while we were there waiting, crouched down, the boss had gone. He said, “I’ll go and report to headquarters.” This bloke called Smith, his name was, hope you are not called Smith, he was telling this story about this carrier tipping over and that the lieutenant had left a half bottle of scotch whiskey in his cubby-hole
where he sat. There was me. We ran out of tucker so I said, “I’m going over to that bloody carrier to get some bully [beef] and bickies,” we had some. “Right,” he said. I said, “Well, we’ve got to bloody well eat. While I’m there I’ll get the bottle of White Horse,” which I did. They must have seen me move because while I was over there they plonked a few
more shells over us, which didn’t hit, luckily, wouldn’t be here talking. I got the bottle of White Horse and bickies and bully and come back. I’m in this reunion at Ballina I think it was, here’s old Smithy telling the great story how he went out. Then he saw me. “Oh Jesus Christ, Jack,” he said, “that was you, wasn’t it?”
I said, “Yeah it was.” So he didn’t dine out on that story much longer. All the mob knew it was me all the time. Well, Perce, he was a big note in himself and how he braved shellfire to go and get some food and a bottle of whiskey. Perce. I suppose that went on a lot. Blokes claiming they did things they didn’t.
My son’s always said to me, “Why didn’t you write a book about what happened to you?” I said, “Because I’ve read too many bullshit books,” of stories I knew weren’t true.
One bloke talking about how he, we were sent to have a look. What do you call it? Reconnoitre I think is, the official word. Have a look what was over there because they weren’t too sure what was there. So three carriers, we went. Here we come up to a sign which we knew meant minefield. So we had to go round it.
Coming back we ran into another one, which we went round. But you hear them telling the stories of how they done this and how they done that. Anyway, they know bloody well they’re telling lies. I don’t have to tell them. We got out of that pretty well I reckon.
Then we captured the town of Bardia. It was a collection of wog huts and all the blokes had a lot of fun dressing up in naval uniform. As a matter of fact, my old khaki dress trousers, they split from there right up to near my bloody belt. So I was wearing a pair of legs. So we got into this naval store. So
I finished the battle of Bardia and Tobruk, wearing a pair of Italian naval dungarees. I was having trouble finding a pair that fit me, but I did. So I skived my dungarees.
used to annoy me, you’d be laying in your little hole in the ground. You’d pull a blanket right over your head otherwise the dust blowing in. In the morning you’d wake up, first thing you had to do was very carefully shake the blanket because if you just threw it up in the air you got all this dust and sand blowing in during the night. Then you stood up into this
cold, you’re only up to there deep, so you had to stand right up into this cold wind. Oh God, that was one of the worst things you had to do. Get out of the warm blanket and stand up into the cold wind. It was terrible weather in the desert, but I suppose the old Bedouins didn’t mind it. We seen a lot of them
wandering about in the desert. You know Bedouins? We’d come across their camps. They had, I think the boss told me they were made out of felt. They get camel hair and make it into felt. I don’t know how you make felt. They’d have their tents made out of this. They have little bantam chooks tied by one leg on the spring so they wouldn’t wander off or
foxes or coyotes would get them. There was a lot of coyotes in the desert. Noisy wretches. You hear them yelping all night. They had them in packs. That was Bardia.
been painted army colour at all. It was funny with that truck. We got word that all trucks to the waterfront. There were some 60 pound shells had arrived and there was a ship on fire in the harbour, which had hit a mine. We had to go down, get these shells and bring them up and plant them in the desert in heaps.
I wasn’t there with them, but this Pommy officer wanted to commandeer it. They said, “You can go to buggery, mate. You’re not getting this truck.” They reckoned he was stamping his foot. His mo was bristling and they still drove. They said, “If you don’t get out of the road we’ll drive over the top of you,” which he promptly did and they came back up out of the port area.
“You’re not getting our truck, go and get your own.” The Italians didn’t cripple any. The ones that, they had one, a Loncia I think the name of it, L-O-N-C-I-A, Loncia. It wasn’t a real big truck. Starting this, what you done, you threw this lever back
and there was a big flywheel in front of the engine with a handle on it. So two got on this and you got this flywheel and you got it till you had it as fast as you could go, then you pulled the lever and threw it into gear with the motor. Never started one that way once. I seen one bloke do it one day, God we laughed. We were watching him, two of them. Boom-boom-boom,
Reg gets his big .45 out and goes straight through the radiator, put three shots. Imagine him, we couldn’t hear him, but we can imagine him saying, “Stay there, you bloody dago car.” He shot it in frustration. We used to tow them. We had the Bren gun carriers and we’d tow them around in a circle until they started, in gear.
They were good vehicles once you… It was that good we let them run all the time. Let them run all night. Plenty of fuel. It was laying round in drums everywhere. The only catch with a lot of the things they done, they took the bungs off the 44 gallon drums and lit it. All it was, was just this tongue of flames coming out until
it burnt about half of the contents of the barrel, then that became vapour. That top half was vaporised and that would go off. The whole drum would go. They were going off all hours in night and day because you didn't know how long it would take. Nobody was going to go and screw the bung back on again and kill the flame. It was too dangerous.
No, I don’t think I ever seen a destroyed truck, only the ones we did ourselves. When we went from Bardia to Tobruk it was like an Italian convoy, we all had trucks. Then we got to Tobruk and the same procedure. We took over from whoever was there. Most of it, there was nobody there. We were first
there. I mean our own infantry were the first there. We relieved a lot of them because they’d had it pretty tough. Then we hung around for I don’t know how long. We done exactly the same.
the support troops were back a bit, out of sight and out of range. All our cooks was support troops. They’d cook a hot meal and these old 1,500 weight platoon trucks would bring it up after dark. So we got our hot meal after dark. They were pretty risky business,
bringing up a hot meal. They could hear the trucks and they’d open up on them. That’s what the brother was doing when he got wounded. Shell landed in front of his little old 15 weight truck. He had a platoon truck, one of these little trucks to every platoon. They done that, every night they brought up the hot meal and brought out any of the
sick and wounded. Took up ammo of course. The conditions were bloody primitive, I can tell you. Actually we were moving, mobile force. No permanent buildings, no permanent campsites, everybody was living in the desert, even the boss.
I remember when we were on battalion headquarters security. The Colonel Chilton was his name. I remember sitting him over a Bren gun set up. He’s there in the hole having a shave. He was a nice bloke too, old Chilton. I think he was a lawyer by trade in Civvy Street. He lived for years. He was in his late
80s when he died. Chilton, he was a nice fellow. Conditions were very rugged. We were living in a hole in the ground, very little water and a lot of it was salty water out of the local wells. You had these tablets you put in your water bottle, they killed the germs, that’s about all. It never
tasted like water. It was something else. I suppose we had to drink something.
and they stood on their heads and used their back legs to push it. They’d get this ball about that big, any sort of dung, even ours, and push it along across the desert. Then they’d lie their eggs in it and bury it. That’s how they got their young. They laid the eggs in this ball of dung underground. That’s the real scarab beetle.
You know the ones the Gypos have on their regalia, the ancient Arabs in the pyramids and all those places. The Egyptian scarab. I remember a bloke of ours, there was a camel pad along, there was no camels, they’d all gone. This, Bullit
was his name. His nickname was Rowdy Bullit. He went and done his bizzo [business] a bit away from where we were bivouacked. He said, he came back to the bivouac and he was laying there half asleep and he said he saw this beetle coming and he was bloody sure it was a ball of his crap he had wheeling. They stand on their front feet and push it with their back feet. They were funny.
Everybody seen them who was in that part of the world. Scarabs. That was their modus operandi of hatching their young. They’re quite a common beetle there, scarabs.
we, when we go in Tobruk we were cleaning up the battlefield. All the ammo and live shells and everything and taken back to a big dump in the centre of Tobruk. We were doing this and we discovered a dug out with seven dead Italians in it. They’d been killed in there. I don’t know how. We
couldn’t, they were a bit swollen up at the time. I reckon they did it since the battle, which was about seven or eight days after. I remember we got in touch with battalion headquarters via radio. They said, “Take them out and bury them, take their dead meat tickets.” We refused, we said, “No,
not doing that.” They had a special unit, the graves bizzo going round picking up dead bodies, burying them and taking their identification discs. So they sent them to do it because we saw the thing later on. Buried them in a common grave. Then kept all their identification discs, which were all
handed in eventually so the Italian authorities were notified these blokes were killed in Tobruk.
a bit. I was on patrol up and down this ridge, made sure nobody came from, see the wog village across the flat, come up into this. I had to go to the toilet. When I got back I come walking up the hill behind the tent and here’s two fellows sneaking up the hill. About from here to the front fence away from me. So I went
‘ka-boom!’ in the air. I didn't want to shoot them, they were only kids about fourteen. I don’t think I could have hit them anymore because they went like startled rabbits, headed for the wog village. That was the only time I personally saw it, but they were real sneak thieves the lot of them. They weren’t allowed in the camps at all. They were lousy anyway, body lice you know.
That was another good reason to keep them the hell out of there. No, I never had any personal problem with Arabs or Gypos. They were more comic characters to us than anything. The way they carried on. I remember
a man about, he’d be 18 or 19, it’s hard to tell with them, he was wandering about and wandered into the camp. I think he accidentally came over what was the boundary. When they told him, “Get,” up with the gun, and he took off like an Olympic bloody sprinter. What made us laugh,
he reached down and got his skirt, it was down to the ankles, and pulled it up round his waste and he took off. His long black skinny leg going. More funny than anything else. They had a great respect for us I think, mainly fear than anything else. They weren’t quite too sure what we’d do.
Probably well earned too. Blokes were pretty quick off the mark.
all went on a separate transport with a driver and a gunner went with each one. The rest of us went with the infantry. We got on a ship called the Bankura, B-A-N-K-U-R-A, which was at the wharf in Alexandria, ready, we found out afterwards, to take a load of mules
to Greece. So I said I didn’t miss out, they still took us. So we just went onto this boat, down the hold to a bare steel floor. Boat curving up there, down there, and a steel, in the hold we were, just down in the hold, and one ladder. If that ship had ever been struck, we were goners.
What we done, we took our boots off, ties them round our neck by the laces and we didn’t have any lifejackets so I don’t know what would have happened. No boat drill, nothing. So we did have an air raid going across the Med, we went in convoys with warship escorts, we got a raid from Italian
aircraft, which weren’t quite as smart as the Jerries. They did hit a small oil tanker. The Pommy navy blokes went on board and beached it on one of the Greek islands somewhere. So they didn’t even lose it. Or its cargo, fuel or oil or whatever was on it. That was the only incident crossing the Med.
Pretty scary too, just here we are on this old tub, down in the hold with one ladder out. We were goners if we ever got hit. It was funny too. We had a whole battalion of Bren guns. They mounted them everywhere. Tied the to the rigging, even one bloke had an old anti-tank rifle and useless anti-tank rifles they give us, he was blazing away with that
at these aircraft. The captain, when they first put the guns up, they tied them to the rigging, tied them to the rails, they mounted the bicycle frame mountings we had, he was going crook. He said, “Where are they putting all them guns here? They’d finish up shooting hole in the funnel.” But when we beat off this air attack, nothing come for us at all, everything that pointed in our direction got such a blast,
a whole battalion of Bren guns. He said, “Have you got any more of them things?” He was a Pommy. He said, “Have you got any more of them? Bring em up, they’re good,” after we beat off the planes. When we first put them up he was going crook. Blokes even got their rifles out and into it at these aircraft.
What were you doing at the time?
Watching. I was looking. They said, “I think I’ll pop out.” And anyway I said, “I’ll have to clean my bloody rifle if I fired it.” I’ll always remember that. This tremendous hail of small arms fire went up. You could almost see it, there was that much of it. The old captain was saying, “God, I wish you were travelling further with me.”
He never heard such a racket. Funny too, that was getting on to late afternoon. That quietened down and we were trying to get some rest and next morning at daylight, machinegun fire on the boat. We thought “Oh Jesus, not again.” What it was, was the blokes warming the guns up. They work
better if they’re hot, Bren guns. So they fired a burst through each one to get it ready in case there was any, but we didn’t get any more. We went crook on them said, “You might have told us you were gonna do that,” because we were scrambling to get organised.
The engagement against the Germans, how did it begin and how did it unfold?
Our first actual contact with them was at that river crossing. They said, “The object is to stop them crossing the river.” This is the German advance. I said, “God, that’s a bloody tall order.” But we said, “Right.” So away we went and I was driving then. We done the classic carrier
manoeuvre, drove the carriers up to the firing positions then dropped back. There was three of us. Three drivers, three carriers. That was a section. We were together and another section was a bit that way, and the other that way. When we withdrew, dropped the gunners off, the three guns and the six blokes with them, and all the ammo they could carry, we
had to go back, not far, we went over a ridge and into a hollow. That’s where we had the three carriers. But they seen us. The Jerries knew where we were. So they started throwing three inch mortars. And they’re pretty good those Jerries, with mortars. I reckon they could lob it in a bloody bucket, they were that good. It wasn’t long before,
we left the carriers in that hollow, we went over and into the next hollow, because they were drawing the crabs these carriers. They seen us do that too I reckon. Next thing one landed in the hollow with us. It lobbed on the back face. This was like a basin and it lobbed on the back face, I suppose from here to the middle of next door’s house.
Not far enough, and it all come back, this mortar shell. Three of us got wounded. The three drivers that were there. The other two blokes, I remember them rolling around squealing, yelling, “It’s burning!” Because shrapnel is red hot. The one that hit me, hit me in the big muscle that runs down. It hit me there, went through the top of my left
lung and hit my sternum. I can remember it was said to the blokes afterwards while we were talking, when you shoot a rabbit it will jump in the air and fall. I said, “That’s what I done.” When it hit me I jumped up, took about four steps. Your sort of natural reaction and the ground came up and hit me. Everything went black
and went around. I thought I was dead. I thought that’s it, I’ve had the sword. But I woke up again, still lying there on the deck. But the blokes come and got me, the other blokes in the carrier. Scull dragged me down, put me in the carrier with the other three of us that were wounded. They were good.
I remember reading this in America, you always go back to your old unit where you’re known and respected. So if you’re out and you get whacked in no man’s land, someone will come and get you. But if nobody knows you you’ll stay there. Nobody can be bothered. They’re not going to risk their back for somebody they don’t know. So we were very close knit by this time, that carrier platoon. We had been together in Palestine, we went
to the Western Desert, captured Bardia and Tobruk together, came back, went to Greece, still together, and when anyone got into trouble they come looking for them.
back to Palestine when they got them out. They were evacuated. My brother went to Greece and he got evacuated from Greece, he was telling me later, on a warship, which dropped him off onto an old ship called the Costa Rica. All the 2nd Battalion blokes.
The Costa Rica got a near miss, just missed it, from air bomb, aerial. But it blew out the side of it and it started to sink. So he got off the warship, onto the Costa Rica, it got bombed and sunk, he got off it while it was sinking onto another warship and was landed on Crete.
He was pretty punchy by then. He then got onto another warship and went to Egypt before the Crete campaign started. He was very, very, well, a pretty game bugger too. In Piraeus Harbour, before he got out of Greece, they were on this old tub, the last ship in the harbour. He got held up looking for me. Nobody knew where
the hospital was. He knew I was in an army hospital, but he couldn’t meet anyone that knew where it was. So he was the only one in the world that was wondering where I was. Everybody else pissed off. Don’t blame them of course.
they come and got me and took me down to the railway station, in some wog bloody place, Greek, small railway station, where there was a Red Cross train. They loaded all the wounded they had on this train to go to Athens. Well, that was about 10 o'clock in the morning, and
the Greek crew shot through. So here we are on this train and all the railway blokes up in the hills, they’d gone. I laid there from 10 o'clock in the morning till 4 o'clock that afternoon. Awful thing. I was on the bottom bunk. They had two tiered bunks in the old box cars. Eight
horses, forty men. They had them in France. What was it? Eight cheveaux, forty hommes. The place was getting bombed the whole day. The window just there had got blown onto me. I got a few little nicks in my face from the flying glass. So I rolled out of the bottom bunk
onto the floor. That was it, I thought I was going to die there. I would have done only for two little Pommy fellows. I’d love to know who they were. They were out of an ambulance unit. If you can imagine these little Pommy fellows with big feet. They were only both about 5 foot high and they sort of rocked along like penguins. That's how they walked. They were terrific blokes. They were
having a look through the train. Actually looking for people like me, any that was left there. I hear them say, “Here’s one,” to one another in real broad Pommy. Said, “G’day mate, what are you doing here? How are you going?” I said, “I’m rooted. I’ve had it.” “No you haven’t. We’ll fix you.” So they got me off that train and they got a stretcher from somewhere
and one got each end of it and walked out in, I suppose 100 yards away from the railway line into the middle of one of those oat fields. You might have seen the red poppies that grow. It was growing in amongst this oat. They said, “We’ll come back and get you later.” I said, “By Christ, you’d better. If you don’t you come back later and bury me, because
I’ll die here. I can’t move I’ve had it.” I was absolutely helpless. “We’ll come and get you.” And by Christ they did. 4 o'clock in that afternoon they’re back. They said, “We’ve got an ambulance. We’ll carry you over to it.” All that day I lay in this field and I was chewing my handkerchief to get a bit of moisture. I was dry, dying of
thirst, watching aircraft. I watched them come over and they were Dorniers, long thin front. Bomber planes. They dropped their bombs and I could tell. I said, “If they drop them right there, that’ll hit me.” But they dropped them this far, they got over me. If they dropped them that far it dropped back. They dropped them
that way they missed me, or that way. They had one spot to let them go. To my good fortune they never did. I’d watch them come down. “Jesus, this one’s going to be close.” Boom and I’d get showered in clods. It was the worst day I think I ever put in, in my life. Lying there helpless on a stretcher. I don’t know whether they were aiming at me or the railway. All day.
you did come back.” “Did you think we would leave you?” I said, “I did.” “You’ve got no trust in us, eh?” So they picked me up, still on the same stretcher, which I’d almost stuck to it by this, with bleeding and I had a leak, just let it go. I couldn’t get up to do it. Couldn’t even roll over. So I was in a bit of a mess. They picked me up and away we went. Took me down to the
road which was near the railway, loaded me in an ambulance, which already had four blokes in it. So I think they put me on a bunk and put the less wounded bloke on the floor. The bloke in the bunk above me leaned over and spewed all over me. That improved me outlook too. I was past caring really. Somebody took my boots off
and I lost them. Why would you take a man’s bloody boots off? So here I am, blood all over me, I’d weed myself, this bloke had vomited on me, I was half dead and I thought it can’t get any bloody worse, and away we went. All the way to Athens we’re getting strafed by Messerschmitts.
Every time an aircraft came along the convoy, machine gunning and shooting this cannon at us, everybody evacuated bar me. I’d be laying in the ambulance. “Oh well, this is good fun.” Any minute now ka-boom, but I never got a scratch. They missed. And everybody’d come scrambling back out of the scrub, back into the old ambulance and away we’d go again. Till we got the next air raid.
So we got to Athens in the early hours of the next morning. This convoy wasn’t just us. There was artillery, there was ambulances, there was army service trucks, infantry trucks, New Zealand troops, nose to tail, all the way from there to Athens.
of the road. They were all bleeding and bandaged up, badly, all badly wounded. I was the worst. When we got to Athens I think it was in the wee hours of the next morning. 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning. They went to the Pommy hospital. I said, “Christ, this’ll be great
in a bloody Pommy hospital.” A bloke come around. We had wound tickets. Have you ever heard of them? What they do, they tie a ticket on you in a waterproof envelope. In the envelope was a card where it had how much morph you had been given, what treatment, so that somebody didn’t come along and jammed another one into you, which would probably kill you. They had a read of this thing and said, “This bloke’s an Australian. Take him
up to the 5th AGH.” I thought, “Good.” The amazing thing happened there. It was still in tents. The nurses were still there when I got there. One of the nurses said, “Ulrick.” She come running up to me because she’s reading the list. She said, “Jack Ulrick?” I said, “That’s right.” She said, “I worked with your grandfather at the Ashby Dock.” Her father
and my grandfather worked together. Amazing. She only died in Maclean a couple of years ago. She came from Maclean and I was born in Maclean. All my mother’s people lived in Maclean. She knew them all. Her name was Sister Bathgate. I remember her saying to the nurses and sisters, “This is a special.
Don’t you let anything happen to him.” Then I realised that in this pocket in my tunic was my pay book and wallet. What they done, they cut up my tunic up to there and down there so they could take it off. I said to Sister Bathgate, “Where’s the tunic I was wearing?” She said, “I sent it out to
the incinerator.” This young sister took off and she come back with it. So help me God. From the incinerator heap. They hadn't burnt it. She knew the colour patch and all the rest of it. There was my wallet and pay book still there. I’ve still got the wallet. I’ve got it there in my wardrobe.
a needle, was actually a slender tube cut on the slant so it was sharp on the point. They put that through my ribs at the back with local anaesthetic. By this time the nurses had gone, the sisters, and the doctors were teaching the male orderlies, they were the orderlies, not nursing staff, teaching them to be nurses.
I remember them talking behind me, I’d be sitting up. They’d say, “You’ve got to be very careful. First injection is to deaden the skin. The second one is to deaden in between the ribs. The most sensitive spot on a person is the nerves that run between your ribs.” You can imagine somebody
tickles you or sticks their thumb in between your ribs. I’d be sitting up listening to this and, “How are you going Jack?” I said, “Bloody great. Carry on.” He was a funny fellow that McNamara. “Right,” he said, “we’ll have you on your feet in no time.” So they put this needle in and hook it up to a hand pump and pump all this
crap out of my bottom of my rib into a jar. I’d finish up zonked. I’d go out of it, it was such a shock to the system. I used to have that done every day or week. Boy, was that something.
New Zealanders, I don’t want to speak against the New Zealanders, nice fellows. There was a mixture of us there, Aussies and New Zealanders were about equal. Not so much as on Crete. There was a hell of a lot of New Zealanders on Crete. I’m in the hospital, I don’t know what the time limit between Greece and Crete was, it was
only a matter of days. All of a sudden, in come these blokes on stretchers, covered in blood and bandages and I said to the bloke, “Where the hell are these fellows coming from?” They said, “Crete.” I said, “What’s bloody Crete?” I’d never heard of it. “It’s an island out in the middle of the Med. All these blokes went from here to there and were posted there. They couldn’t
get them off, they were losing too many valuable ships.” They had no ammo, no artillery, had bloody nothing. They organised them into some sort of a force. What ruined Crete, that’s where the famous parachute drop was. These Maoris, they come from Crete, I’ll show you in that photo in
a minute, when we’re finished. They come from Crete into the ward where I was. One fellow was in an aeroplane splint. He’d been hit in the shoulder, broke his bone in the shoulder and he had one of them on, this big Maori. I remember his name, Matthew Horoai, Matt Horoai, that’s a real Maori’s name. The other bloke’s name was Anzac
Allies Mulligan. His father was in the First World War and that’s what he called him. He was the same age as me. Anzac Allies Mulligan. Wasn’t he a great bloke. They were beauties. They befriended me because I used to [UNCLEAR] them a bit. They’d be yapping away in Maori in the prison camp where we were, we were
out working as a matter of fact, got out together into this pine forest work. They’d be yakking away. Only one word I picked up was tootoi or something sounded like ‘tootoi’. That was ‘excrete’, poo. I said to them, “Will you fellows stop talking about tootoi?” And they burst out laughing. They thought that was the funniest thing they ever heard. It was
the only word I heard. We become great friends, really good friends. I met one of them, old Matt Horoai, in London after we got out. Incredible. He was in, I’ll tell you where we were, up in, what was the hippies’ ville in London called? Where the Red Mill Theatre was anyway.
I’ll think of it. Here he is there in the pub half cut, old Matt. He’d been shot through the heel, Tommy gun bullet hit him in the heel and he was in terrible pain, could hardly walk. But he gradually got better.
The doctors were with our doctors and the Jerry doctors, he had to do the rounds to see if there was anyone hiding in there that wasn’t wounded. That’s understandable. I could hear them explaining, our doctor telling the interpreter what was wrong with me and he was telling the German doctor in German.
The German doctor didn’t believe it, that a wound like that and I was still alive. So they’re jabbering away and they finished up, you know an x-ray unit where you stand in front of it and they move it up and down? They had one of them. So he insisted, despite my doctor’s protesting that he wasn’t well enough to do it, they made me do a – he wanted to have a look. He didn’t
believe that I could be still alive with this wound. So they took me out and held me up in front of this thing and he signalled. He wanted them to get away from me to have a look. They were holding me up by the arms. He had a look with this thing up and down and it satisfied him. Then I went, the whole place went black and I went down.
He kept insisting on doing it about three or four times later. He’d bring in other doctors to have a look, they couldn’t believe I was still alive.
escapes from there. They didn’t bother making an escape proof fence. It was only about so high, made out of wire and a lot of barbed wire and that. I remember two big Kiwi blokes, we didn’t know it was going to happen, I nearly got caught in the bloody cross fire. They took a run and jumped over it and kept on going into the
Greek, we were surrounded by Greek buildings, mainly housing. A pretty poor part of Athens, this place. They jumped over the wire and took off. Well, the Jerries, we were told after, they thought it was a general break. So they opened
fire. Machineguns and rifles. They were good. They fired into the rooves, all that tiled roof. We were in an old army barracks, this place, full of bugs. But they just shot into the roof and they fired a few into the ground. I think the only casualty we had, a bloke took a flying dive to get out of the bullet spray and hit his chin on the concrete.
bloods down. He was the only wounded bloke in that episode.
What they done when they put us in, there was a tin about as big as a big fruit tin we get here. No label on it, just a black tin. We reckoned that was tinned horse. Probably was too. It was black meat, no fat, shocking stuff. We got a tin of meat between two and a loaf of what we called black bread.
It was sort of an oval thing, flat on the bottom. If you had, bloody near wanted a good sharp tomahawk to cut it up. We broke it up. That was the initial food we got. We did get some food on the way. The main place was at one of the capitals, I’m not sure which. Budapest was the capital of what?
What’s that country? It’s Romania or some other country. Doesn’t matter. Maybe Romania. The local Red Cross gave us a hot meal of soup and a big army biscuit about that big and about that
thick. It was pretty hard. But good tucker. I thought that was quite good of them. The Jerries let them give it to us, which was even better. The toilet facilities were pretty grisly. We had one of these empty meat tins in the box car with us and we used to wee in that and pelt it out the window. A little square window about that big.
In that corner and that corner of this box car, with barbed wire over it so we couldn’t. I don’t know how they thought we were gonna get out of it. Then each end of, in between the box cars they must have been built, they would have been on the original, they were little man boxes for a man. That’s where the German guards were, one in each
one of these. That’s what they were complaining about, telling us to stop throwing the urine out the window because it was splashing on the – they had our sympathy, “Oh jeez, we’re sorry about that. We’ll see if we can do more next time.”
troop trains. It was a trench about that wide and run a full length of the railway station. There was two board each side along this. What you done, you put one foot on that board and one on that and you kangarooed it and done you bizzie [business] in the trench. This bloke’s name was Kelly. He was telling me this story. What you done
in polite circles, you straddled this trench facing the next bloke front on and the bloke behind you, he fronted the other way and the next bloke would front on. Kelly was telling me, “Everybody done it properly bar this bloody stupid Pommy in front of me. He cocks his ass up in my face,” these were his words.
“I nearly bloody – ” He’s telling me with a straight face real serious. “I’m looking at this big red behind and it quivered and then it came out and out and out and out and I thought ‘look at that’. Then it gave a little tremble and about three little pills about as big as rabbit poo fell off the end of it and then it slowly
went back in again.” I nearly killed myself laughing. He said, “The stupid big Pommy. Everybody else was face to face, and what does he do? Cocks his great arse up in my face.” That was the toilet stuff. What we’d generally do, they’d pull up and say, “Toilet stop.” So you jump out and get under
the carriage and grunt and groan because it cured all our dysentery I can tell you that. This eight days and nine nights in this box car with no tucker much. It cured it. We got there nice and clean and dry. That trip.
bloke here with no legs.” I thought Jesus Christ, wouldn’t you think they’d send the poor bugger home? “Christ no,” he said, “he has got, he had no legs. He was shot down.” When he got shot down one leg got caught in the plane as he was ejected, whatever they done in them, I think they just jumped out. So he razzled and pulled and shook and left the leg in the plane and got out.
What he was thinking, I read his story, what he was thinking going down, “Bloody hell. If I land on these, it’ll go up into my stomach, the jolt.” So when he hit the ground he rolled and got away with it. Here he is in Germany with one leg. They knew who he was. They knew all about him. It was Galland who
was the ace fighter pilot for the German Luftwaffe. Galland, G-A-L-L-A-N-D. He was a colonel and he had the Knight’s Cross and the Iron Cross and all that jazz. He sort of befriended Bader and went and got him and helped him.
We were all pretty, some of them were lousy and weren’t we a brilliant looking lot? All this, you know, bald heads, gaunt faces, all with a week’s growth on. We hadn't had a shave for ten days. Talk about a rag tag looking mob of blokes. Then we got the British Red Cross,
or probably the British Army had sent over new battledress and new great coats for issue to prisoners of war. We hit there with nothing. Rags we were. I think that great coat saved my life because I spent the next winter in it. The winter of
1941-42, that’s over Christmas of course, was very severe. They said it was one of the severest winters they had for ten or twelve years. They told us to divide ourselves up into groups of about 30. We did that and there was a bloke there, he was from South Australia,
he was a bombardier in the artillery. A bombardier is a corporal in the army. He was elected chief POW in our group, the bloke they went to talk to. He couldn’t speak German either, so we become a working party we were called. We were E350, E
stood for English, it was Australian, New Zealand, Poms, Scotsmen become English. We were all English. They sent us out to this place called Leipschutz was the name of the village. Small town it was. It wasn’t a bad sort of place. We were working in a pine forest. We cut down pine trees with saws
and axes in the winter, and in the summertime we planted pine trees. That wasn’t a bad place. We were well fed, warmly housed, which was a big thing in Europe. We survived that winter. I reckon it done me good. In that area they showed us a big building on a hill, six mile away
you could see it. They said that was a TB [tuberculosis] sanatorium. If you know your history at all, TB was very rife in Europe pre war, just before the war. It was a very common disease and killed a lot of people. They had come to these sanatoriums that were up in altitude a little and where the air was frozen. That was good for
crook lungs. I reckon that done me a lot of good, working in this frozen air. Frozen it was. I think the lowest temperature that winter was 28 degrees below 0. If you multiply 28 plus 32 is what, 50? 32 and 28, about
60. 60 degrees below freezing, because freezing is 32. Boy, that was cold I can tell you.
Prussia or Saxony. They’re parts of Germany. This was Silesia and it bordered on Poland. Most of the inhabitants of Silesia were bilingual. They could speak German and Polish. That’s part of the world we were in. That’s where I was for that winter.
Next summer they called us out and took a whole batch of us to a place called - said he not being able to remember it - Ratibir, R-A-T-I-B-I-R. That’s still on, I found it on an old atlas. There we worked at a sugar factory.
In Europe they made sugar from sugar beet. Much the same process as at Howard Mill, making sugar from cane. What they done, they ground the beet up into shavings and boiled it, cooked it, and got the juice out and pressed the juice out of this residue. That became
schnitzel and this became syrup that was turned into the sugar by various processes. Then they put it in centrifugals, spun out all the syrup and molasses and what have you, and left the sugar crystals.
A bloke called Lovett. He was there. He was a warrant officer. No officers were allowed in German prison camps with troops. They were sent to what they called oflag. That meant officers only. There’s Harry Lovett. He was a warrant officer. A bloke called Roberts was the regimental sergeant
major of the 1st Battalion, he was there. He was caught on Crete and a dozen other Aussies. When we went out to work in this pine forest there was a bloke from Western Australia with us, two from South Australia, Maoris. We were a real mixed bunch. It was funny, I done
an interview with Chris Masters on the Greece and Crete business. It came out on the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation]. One bloke rang me from Perth and one from Adelaide who had been with me in the prison camps. The first bloke said he was in the kitchen washing up and Mum was watching the TV in the lounge room and he said he recognised my voice.
I said, “You’re kidding.” “No,” he said, “Christ,” he said, “that’s Jack Ulrick,” and run in. He said there I was sitting in the middle of the TV. I said, “You’ve got to be kidding. You couldn’t pick my voice!” “Nah,” he said.
cards. That’s why I’m still allergic to playing cards. The kids laugh at me. “Can we have a game?” “No bloody fear.” We played Rickety Gate was a main game because you didn’t have to concentrate real hard. You know how to play Rickety Gate? I’ll teach you one day. It’s really a kid’s card game. You dealt the whole pack out and then
you got to play so you don’t get the Queen of Spades. That’s Rickety Gate. That’s ten against you. Every heart is one against you. There’s no winning, it’s all against you. You go out, play up to 100 and you’re out. It’s a funny game to play because you try and trap one another. If you get the Ace and King of Spades,
they’re bad because if they lead Rickety Gate you’ve got to put one of them on it so you take it. It’s a good card game. The other was, the blokes in the workshop at the sugar factory, they were in the machine factory. They made darts. What they done, they got a brass rod and put it on the lathe and run off a point. Then this
dart itself. Then they put a splint in it and we put cardboard or paper in the tail. They were quite good. We made a dartboard by cutting the end of a log in the pine forest. The blokes drew it with pencil and pen, the dart board. The Poms knew. They knew where all the numbers were. I didn’t have a clue. We used to play darts. Later on, I believe, they
got a few soccer balls from the Red Cross. In Lamsdorf there was a lot of Yanks come later on. After Europe started the Yank POWs came in. They were keen to play football? Grid Iron. What they done, they marked out a field and they got all
the picks and spades and shovels and dug it all up. It was tramped down like concrete and made a football field. They had a competition America, Australia, New Zealand and England I think, grid iron. The Australians won it easy. We beat the Yanks at their own game.
The only bloke I ever heard of, was two blokes I knew. Both come from Lismore. They’d been caught in Italy and they were captured by, I don’t know what the hell they were doing in Italy. I think there was a war went up Italy, wasn’t there? When the Italians packed it in, these blokes were heading for Switzerland for the prisoners of the Italians.
The Germans rounded them up, took them back. Gus was in that. Gus Gill was one and Frank something or other, I can’t think of his name, they got recaptured. They come to where we were in Uber Silesia. Going crook a treat. One bloke got away. We got a letter from him. He was working in a hotel in,
what’s the capital of Switzerland? Berne is it? No. But in a big hotel. He was working in the laundry. We said, “You rotten cow!” They were thinking of all the nice things you could do working in a big hotel in Switzerland.
you had or whether you were a tough. Then all the blokes that went there, we went to the coal mines. I went to a coal mine in a place called Schierscher Vodner [?], which in Polish means beautiful, at the front. Vodner meant ‘beautiful’ and Schierscher meant ‘river’. They always had them back to front. River Beautiful. That was the name of the town. The name of,
the name was Artur Grube, A-R-T-U-R G-R-U-B-E. Artur Grube. A mine went down like that. A grube went straight down in a pit. You got into a cage and went down the shaft. I remember the first time, luckily we had some Geordies from Northumberland
who were coal miners. They were little fellows like the two I had. They were good. Gees they were good blokes. We always called them Scotsmen with their brains kicked out. Scotland, then Northumberland, they were all Geordies. They were good blokes. They were ex coal miners. They knew all the danger signals.
If you were sitting here and that wall, which was mine, started to spit, a little bit of coal would spit off it that means it was fracturing. Especially the ceilings. They’d break like that. Start here and break up like that till they got right up and then the whole triangle would come, whomp, down. They knew all this and they used to tell us what to look for.
Then another 10. So in 1945 before I got out of them. Got out, we pretended we were sick. An old Aussie bloke, he come from Byron Bay. He’s dead now, poor old fellow. We found out by various trial and error that if you got something rough and rubbed under your
tongue, put the thermometer in, that roughened up, created a temperature. So we done this for weeks. We were in the coal mine barracks in the sick bay that pair of us. I said, “Christ they’ll find out about this directly and we’ll get shot.” But we kept it up. Finally they said, the orderly was a South African, young
fellow who'd been caught in Tobruk when they captured South Africa. Occupied it. He said, “The German doctor is sick of you pair. He said you’ve got some sort of queer complaint that results in a rising temperature which doesn’t get very high. So in case it spreads to all the rest of the place, they’re going to send you back to Lamsdorf.”
I said, “Jesus Christ, we won.” So we went back to Lamsdorf and I think not long after that we were sent out to another working party which was north of Czechoslovakia. North east of Czechoslovakia. That’s where the Russian advance caught up with us.
major pulls us, he was in charge of this bizzo. He said, “Come in. Fall in around me, sit down, stand up, I’ve got an announcement to make.” So he said he pointed to the east and said, “The Russians are coming there,” pointed type of thing, the west, and said, “The Americans are coming there. I live up that way, I’m going home.
Goodbye and good luck.” And left. Here we are, we’re turned lose. So we said, “That’s a bugger. No poor old Jerries to tell us where to go now, they’re gone.” So we laughed. We said, “What are we gonna do?” So some bright spark got up on the tree stump or whatever they were talking from. He said, “The best thing to do, gather together in nationalities,
get into groups of about 25, that’s big enough to have a bit of muscle and not too big that you can’t scrounge food. And go. Head west. Head for the Channel.” We were out in the middle of Czechoslovakia, bloody miles away. So we thought that’s not very smart. So we went to the Prague Railway Station. I think I’ve told this
story 100 times. Went to the station master who was now a Czech. He’d taken over from the Jerries who had all the good jobs. He said, “Yup, tomorrow night there’s a train going from Prague to Pilsen.” So we got on it. All night we were going. You imagine by this time we’ve really had it. We were
tired bodily and very tired mentally from all this hassling and bassling trying to keep alive and keep on the move. I don’t think I was done in. We got on this train and it was full of Frenchmen, Germans heading home, Czechs heading home, struth, Austrians heading home and
two or three Aussies heading home. Away we went. We got to Pilsen and got out and there was the Yankees sorting us out. “Canadians there, Allied prisoners there, Frenchmen there, Italians there.” And Americans of course. The Allied prisoners went
there and they gave us a medical. They had doctors lined up. He said, “Take everything off. Keep your boots. We’ve got no boots. Keep your toothbrush and your shaving gear and your boots. Throw the rest in that heap.” A lot of them were lousy, I was too. So he said, “Have a shower.” They got DDT [insecticide] and chucked it under our arms and up between our legs
with puffers. They gave us, they lines us all these stables. We walked through. You got two singlets there, two shirts there, a pair of trousers there, you know, one of them long jackets with a zipper right down that the Yanks wore, we got one of them each. We had the haversack with our shaving gear in it, or little bags, all sorts of things. So away we went.
We got on, you know, them big ten ton trucks I reckon the Yanks had. Yankee boongs driving them. We formed up into groups of 25, number 1 on that truck, 2, 3, you know, right down to infinity the way to buggery. Got on the trucks and travelled from there,
from Pilsen, to Ragensburg in Austria. Ragensburg was this big Germans aerodrome. The Yanks had taken it over and got it working again. This Yankee officer, I don’t know what ranks he was, he got up and spoke to us. He said, “Today there will be DC
2s,” or DC3s or a mixture of both, “coming in. They will be loaded with munitions and food, whatever. You’ll line up along the side of the landing strip, whatever plane lands, stops near you, you unload the stuff out of it, put it on off the runway and get in the plane.”
We done that, they took off and we landed in Reims in France. Beaut. Very good.
You were evacuated by American planes to Reims in France. Tell us what happened from there.
I think we spent one night in Reims and the next day. We spent it in the Yankee compound. All I can remember about that, this big tented place, immense. I remember two American MPs with about six or eight or ten SS [Schutzstaffel] Germans,
making them goosestep up the middle of the parade ground. They’re yelling at them, barking at them threatening with a bloody revolver. Gees, they were giving them some. Next day they took us down to the aerodrome at Reims and they said, “You’ll be picked up here and taken to England.” They never said what in. We thought more Dougs.
More Yankee planes. Instead of that, in came the Lancaster bombers. I said, “Don’t tell us we’re going in them.” They said, “Yeah.” Big treat. These Lancaster bomber crew looked like high school boys, which probably they weren’t very long ago. Nice fresh faced young fellows. They were great. Jesus, they were great. They
gave us lollies and the day’s newspaper from London. What they done then they give us a little slip with a number on it from 1 to 25. They said, “All over the plane there’s yellow discs about that big, painted, with a number on it.” They gave us two sandbags each, said, “You put them on that, put your ass on it and sit down.”
I’m sorry, “Your backside on it. That’s where you sit.” The number I drew, I forget the number, it doesn’t matter. It was just below the bloke that pop turret gunner. He was, all I could see him was about where the ceiling is. Big planes. He was looking down. When we got over the Channel he said to me, “Wanna come up here?”
I said, “Yeah, that’d be great.” So he got my hand and I climbed up and sat on the seat and there’s that much of him he’s sticking out the top of the plane. I thought, “God’s truth! It’s a bit hairy.” It was really something. I looked down, there was the English Channel. We landed at a place called, doesn’t matter, near Eastbourne anyway. In southern England. Eastbourne was
where the Australian reception group were. We landed, we were given another medical, dental check. They took all the foreign clothes we had and gave us AIF uniform, give us a handful of shoulder patches and what have you and they said, “If you go up to the so and so building there,
the British Red Cross ladies are there and they’ll sew them on for you.” Which they did. It was great. That’s where I saw Sussex play Australia. Lindsay Hassett was captain. Keith Miller was vice captain, Cec Pepper was in the team. I can’t remember any of the other names, but they were playing
Sussex at the Sussex Oval. I think it was in Brighton. Is that a town? I think it was Brighton. That was the first pace to civilisation was the Australian English county cricket match. That was great. Then, after we’d been processed, and determined how much pay we were entitled to, which was another
good thing, I found that I’d had a shilling a day extra for the whole four years that I didn’t know about because just before we went to Greece I’d done a driving test and was graded driver grade whatever. That meant an extra shilling a day. I thought that’s wonderful. So I think they handed me the pay book
with over £600 in it. English pound too, not Australian. I thought that’s wonderful. Next thing they said to us, “You’re entitled to three weeks leave, this is immediate leave.” They called it ‘get home leave’ or something. They said, “You’re not compelled to take it.” We said, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
We said, “Where can we go?” “As far as you like in England, Scotland and Ireland and Wales of course. Go anywhere in the United Kingdom.” I said to this bloke, “What’s the furthest town in Scotland?” He said, “Inverness.” “Give me a ticket for Inverness.” So we got on the train at Eastbourne. This was a through ticket we got.
Get to London. You know what Pommy railways are like, if you don’t you’ll soon find out if you go there. You can’t go from Eastbourne to the northern side of London direct. You’ve gotta change trains and get on a different line. So I got off the train on the southern side of London and we said, “Famous last words,
we’ll have a bit of a look at London.” Three weeks later we’re still in London. I never used my ticket to Inverness.
He just ignored it. I think good on you nowadays. I was sour on him then of course. Then they put us in buses and took us to the Sydney Showgrounds. We were all gawking out the windows “we’re back in Australia.” When we got to the showground, a bloke I was in the army with in the early days come running up and grabbed me and
give me a hug. He said, “I’m your man.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “They found – ” They were gonna take us in the David Jones Hall or wherever, this big building where all our relatives were waiting. My Dad was there and a friend of ours. Dad was on his own, he wanted somebody to go to Sydney with him and he had tickets for two. So he took this bloke down.
This family friend. Lindsay Messingham was his name. Missy, we called him. He was my, he carried my rifle, oh no, we didn’t have rifles, that’s right. He carried my kit. So when you met your parents of your friends or your family, you could give them a hug without all this junk hanging off you. He done that. It was a great thing to do. So you come to this
gap in the door about that wide. One person could go through it. You come to the door and this bloke said, “Name. What’s your name? What do your friends call you?” I said, “Jack Ulrick.” “How do you pronounce that?” “All-rick.” So he put his hand, picks up a microphone and says, “Jack Ulrick.” I hear “Yoo-hoo,” that’s my father. Him and his mate came running
over. First thing he do was knock my bloody hat off. Luckily this fellow had all my, he burst out laughing “Good on you Jack, you’re home.” That was it. We stayed in Sydney that night, got on the train for Grafton the next day.
one of the tables, you went through tables, this bloke was medical, dental, optical and then employment. You come to the employment table. I said, “I intend joining the PMG department. I have an uncle that works for them.
Can I get an interview at the GPO [General Post Office] with somebody?” When they found out who I was and where I’d been and what I’d done they said, “Well, surely you can get a better job than this.” I said, “No, I don’t want a better job. That’ll do me. I know what I’m doing.” I knew where I was going. So they said, “Up to the 5th floor. Mr Davidson,”
or whatever his name was, “He’s 2IC [second in command] in New South Wales of the engineering branch of the PMG department.” I said, “Him the fellow?” He was a great bloke. Shit, he was a good bloke. Always reckoned that any organisation, the higher you go up the better the bloke is. He was terrific.
Of course I was a shoe in for a job. Then I always remember one of the written questions in the exam, which amazed me. It was, “How many cubic yards of dirt would you dig out of a trench that was 10 yards long, 3 foot deep and 18 inches wide?”
Just think of that for a minute. Actually it’s 10 by 1 by ½. I thought, I worked it out in my head. I said, “That’s 10 by – ” I wrote the answer down. I said, “I’d better work it out.” You ought to hear the answers some of the blokes got. You had to multiply 1, which was 1 yard deep, by
½, which is 18 inches wide, by 10. So the answer was 5. I wrote down, “5 cubic yards,” and I thought that was too bloody easy. Surely that’s not right, but it was. I said to the blokes after, “What did you get for the question about the cubic yards of dirt?” You ought to have heard them. Some got 140 and – I don’t know – I said, “You know what the answer is?”
They said, “No, what?” I said, “5.” “How do you make that out? How are you so bloody smart?” I said, “Let’s think here a minute. You can’t multiply oranges by apples. You’ve gotta have a common denominator.” “What’s that?” I said, “Let me explain it to you in small words, you can’t multiply feet by inches by yards. You’ve gotta have all inches, all feet or
time employment, no unemployment. You could have two jobs. A lot did. Work one day time and one at night. I said, “One’ll do me.” Then when I joined the engineers’ branch of the PMG department they said, “Your appointment’s in Sydney. Go to the GPO when you’re ready.” I come home and amongst all my old
friends. The more I thought of Sydney, the less I liked the thought. So I got on the phone and rang up this bloke, you know the high floating bloke, 2IC of the joint. He said, “Look. Don’t come back here. Go and see this fellow at the Grafton post office.” It was a bloke called Cruikshank. He was in Palestine in the light
horse in the First World War. He was a bloke I could talk to. He was the inspector here. He said, “Start Monday morning.” I said, “Bugger that.” He said, “What’s up?” I said, “I’ve got three weeks leave.” “Christ” he said, “take that, then come and see me.” So in three weeks time I reported to the post office and he said, “Right, here’s what you do.” I started as a line-
man, just plain ordinary lineman and I kept getting promotion. Then I went to learn how to joint cable and I finished up getting a job as a line foreman. Then I became, later on they kept changing the names. Foreman inspectors became lines officers and senior lines officers. They were given fancy names.
Each time they did that they give us more money, so I said, “Well, you can change my name as often as you like. I don’t care.” So I finished up a senior line supervisor or something. Then when I was 59, I went to my old doctor, over south he was, I had a crook back an I used to get headaches and
wasn’t a happy traveller at all. He said, “I think it’s time you retired.” I was 59, I thought that sounds a bloody good idea to me. I said “OK. Whatever you reckon.” So he wrote it out, ‘This certifies that Mr A.J. Ulrick is no longer fit to work in his present employment and I recommend
that he be retired medically unfit.’ That was a big win. If you retired medically unfit you went onto superannuation at 70% of your present salary. To make it even better, 50 of that 70 was tied to the cost of living so I retired on $300. I think at the moment I’m getting $980.
Then when I got my discharge, they gave me glasses. They said, “You’ve got congenital myopia.” No they didn’t, they said, “You’ve gotta wear glasses for the rest of your life.” In two years time I wrote them a note and said ‘These glasses want changing,’ which they do over time.
“I feel I should get another eye test.” So they sent me a form to fill in claiming a war pension with the thing as faulty eye sight. I never thought of that so down I go with the thing. I had to go to an eye specialist and he examined me and said, “Your eyes are not war caused. You have
congenital myopia.” I said, “What in the name of God is that?” So he explained, he explained, “Let me put it this way. When you’re born you’re born with the potential to have size seven feet, size seven shoes. But you’re not born with them. It’s the same eye sight. You were born with the potential to have myopia, which is an eye defect.
It doesn’t come till you’re in your 20s.” So that’s it.
I was in this pine forest. That was all males, timber workers. Then I was in the sugar factory. Perhaps there, but we were working shift work in the middle of bloody winter and besides they were all dare I say it, big assed women. Overweight, built like draft horses.
So it didn’t appeal to me. I wasn’t going to risk my neck chasing one of them. The other place was where I was down the mines. The only female contacts down the mines was in the cook house. I think I won a couple of hearts there because I used to eye cack them. They’d be giggling and laughing. But there was no contact.
No chance to get at them. We used to act the goat more for the hell of it. I asked the German bloke to tell me the German, no it’s Polish. They were Polish too. “Te ist moya cahana ” was “you are my sweetheart.” Te is ‘you’, ist is ‘is’, moya is ‘mine’, cahana is
‘darling’ or ‘sweetheart’. They used to think that was great. German is a terrible language. Ich liebe dich is “I love you.” Who’s gonna say ‘ich liebe dich’ to a bloody girl? Ich liebe dich, it sounds dirty. That was German for ‘I love you’, ich liebe dich.
Dich is ‘you’. That all tickled me.
cattle wander about? Hindus I think. Whatever. There was cattle and people and dogs and whatever, all doing their bizzy in the street. That was a beautiful smell. It’s one main thing I remember about Colombo was the smell. Plus the fact that we only had one day there. From breakfast till teatime. We had to be back on the
ship. To make matters even worse, there was an outbreak of tummy bug there. They think it came from either the water we took on at Colombo, it was in that, or it was what they call little bum boats used to come round the ship and they’d throw up a lime and you’d pull up a basket
and put your money in it and buy fruit. They think that may have been where they got this tummy bug. I didn’t get it. All my mates did. It was shocking. They had to give them amorphia in the finish. They vomited, they had diarrhoea, they had bad they went out to it. Then they give out an
order that all personnel, I think it’s the word they used for blokes and chaps, who are not ill with the stomach virus, report for duty to clean up the ship. You know what old Jack done? “Oh, Jesus I’m crook.” Lay down in amongst them. “I’m not going cleaning up the bloody ship, that's for sure.” So I spent the rest of the time in amongst this heap
of blokes dying with stomach cramps.