Raymond Middleton
Archive number: 1422
Preferred name: Ray
Date interviewed: 04 March, 2004

Served with:

11/16th Battalion Militia
2/28th Battalion

Other images:

Raymond Middleton 1422


Any access that you make of this website is undertaken at your own risk

You are listening to the interview audio


Tape 01


Can you tell me where you were born please Ray?
I was born in Perth, Victoria Park to be literal. That was 1917. So I’m 5th generation Western Australian. Ancestry dates back to Swan River pioneers and there aren’t very many of those.
What can you tell me about your


I found out and did some tracing a few years ago, and I found out that some of them came out with the settlers on about the third ship in 1830 and a few others of another branch came out about 1838. But obviously we’ve got many strands. Another branch came from New South Wales after having migrated from Scotland.


Another branch came from Wales. One group came from Northern Ireland to go the goldfields of Victoria and I subsequently found where a great-great-grandfather married my great-great-grandmother in a tent in Ballarat in 1856. In her tent, when she’d been newly widowed. So I’ve been able to go back further in some cases.


I’ve traced one branch to the 17th century, another one to the 18th. But the Irish one is lost because they were illiterates and signed with an X and you can’t find any further records prior to 1856. There were no adequate records in Victoria or New South Wales for that matter.
What about family in the Swan River community?
Well the


family have been active. I’ve now got only about 500 connected relatives in Western Australia, another 400 in South Australia and about 200 in every other state. Except I think there’s only a handful in Tassie [Tasmania]. But that’s because of the connections which I’ve found. Most of them I obviously don’t connect with because that’s what was traced


and they’re 15th cousins or whatever.
So what memories do you have of your grandfather and father?
Yes I knew those very well. I met my paternal grandfather just once. He had come over from the eastern states for the gold mine Kalgoorlie and I only met him the once after he’d retired down to Perth. My paternal grandfather I met only twice, just before he died in


1920-odd when I was a schoolboy, and he had been a farmer. First, he had been one of the pioneers who were maintaining the telegraph line in WA [Western Australia] and used to use a covered wagon taking his family from Eucla to Perth. And many of my mother’s family were born in the covered wagon back in the 1870s and 1880s. Then he settled down and he bought… He


told me the Hyde Park was one of his properties. That I’m not sure he was right because it became a rest place for people going to the goldfields, so I’m not sure that it was ever in private ownership. He only told me. This is his own words to me, “Best railway station swamp.” He always bought swamps because there was water. And his farm was Wattle Grove and the district is named after his farm.


And again, because it was a swamp, he could grow fruit trees. And my mother, I think, was born out there or from Perth, taken out by horse and cart to the family farm at Wattle Grove. And those days there was still Aborigines with dozens of dogs living on the property who used to use a muzzle-loading shotgun in order to shoot a breakfast of kangaroo. So some of the family


memories go back a little.
What can you tell me about your mother and father growing up?
My father came over from the eastern states with his mother somewhere about the turn of the century, and I knew a little of them although we were not close with my grandmother. And my mother, as I say, had grown up in Perth and Wattle Grove and thereabouts,


so the family were together until their death about 30-years ago. So I knew them quite well. We were a close family. I was the third of five boys, two of whom are buried in Egypt and were in the air force. I was the army one, and then one of the other ones who’d been interviewed, the fourth, was navy,


and the fifth one for him, luckily for him, too young for World War Two. Which is why I’m here as the eldest survivor.
What can you tell me about growing up in a family of 5 boys in…?
Well I was the middle one, which meant that there I was the tail-end Charlie for the first three. Then there were bigger gaps to the fourth and the fifth, and I think I was the sacrifice literally for World War One. My father was desperately trying to


enlist. My mother was desperately stopping him enlisting and so I think that was why I was born in 1917 when my next brother was only 2 years older. I think I was to make sure, or reinforce the point – don’t go off with three young kids. And despite his best wishes he didn’t enlist in World War 1. So of course he did in World War 11 to make up.
What was your home life like?


Good, excepting we were poverty stricken in the Depression like most others. My father lost his job in ’29 and he had sort of casual jobs through till I think about ’36. He managed to get one which was better. And then in ’30 or about that time they brought in the first accounting machines. And the moment he brought that in they knew they could employ a girl for 10 shillings a week, so they sacked a man


at 2 pounds a week and put a machine to do the book work for the carrier firm that he was working for. Then he had casual jobs until he enlisted in the (UNCLEAR) corps in ’40 and served throughout the war. Tried to go overseas, but he was considered too old for that. However, four of us were overseas at the time and they made sure that the youngest one


wasn’t allowed to volunteer too young. He tried to, but was obviously held back.
What kind of a relationship did you have with your brothers as small boys?
Very good. Had no bother. We fought like small boys do, but we fought for each other as well as with, and so we had no bother. We got on well.
What kind of things did you enjoy doing together?
In those days there was no organised sports that you could do because in Depression


years, and for a while, for about 3 years I think, our family had to be on the dole, and then there was obviously very little that you could do as organised sport. So I joined the cadets the moment I turned sixteen 1933, and I had 2 years in the cadets and then moved into the militia, and that was my hobby and I went to camps. I was able to…


I went training once a week, I think it was, and any other weekend activities. Weekend warrior. Well and truly and enjoyed it with a hobby.
Before we go on and discuss that hobby, if you like, what kind of activities did you do with your brothers after school or with your other friends from school?
We then were living in Inglewood and we had bush around us so we played games. Cowboys and Indians


and the like. And with the next brother I was in Boy Scouts. By that time the elder one had already been sent to a country bank. So we were active in the Boy Scouts until such time as I found that it clashed with my cadets and one had to go, so I logically dropped the Boy Scouts in favour of cadetship. And there were no organised games, and mostly we were playing war


games well and truly by the time we were 10.
What about chores, household chores?
Well we did our stated chores. Mostly under protest. Such things – you will lay the table at 5-o’clock and things like that.
Well what were the rules of the house?
When you come in, don’t disturb anyone. You will not go out late – cause we had no money – until you are old enough to be able


to afford to go out. I had to buy my own bike and it took me a year of saving. On 7-and-6 a week it’s rather hard to save a fortune. And it cost, I think, 5 pound to get a bike built which I wanted. So I did a bit of country road racing. Not competitively, but because I enjoyed it.
Was that saving you did when you’d finished school or did you have a part-time job at school?
No there was no jobs


while at school. That was not practicable at that time. The competition was too much. When I was at 15 I was looking, thinking of going to a job, and they said, “No, finish your schooling.” And three of us went to Modern School. We all had scholarships or entrances to Modern School. So, but my father was very education-minded and they were making sacrifices to see that we could


stay and get a secondary education. And Junior [certificate] in those days was like getting a top matriculation nowadays. So we were able to do that. And the instruction was, “Finish your Junior. If you get good enough Junior you’ll get a better job. And we’ll see that you don’t have to have something to stop you getting it.” So I was then able to stop doing any jobs, which in any case were


difficult. First job I went for, there were a queue of 120 for – ‘A boy. Must have own bike. 10-shillings a week’. And when I saw the queue of 100 ahead of me I thought, “Well, what am I doing standing here?” So I went home. I was lucky enough to get a job within 3 weeks of trying after I had left school, and after 2 weeks in that it was, as I say, 7-and-6 a week. I was able to


leave and go to a job for 11 shillings a week. And my father then was working for a firm in Perth and he put in a word for me and that involved the 48-hour week. Plus use your own bike. Plus pick up mail on the way to work. Plus deliver mail on the way home from work. Plus deliver all letters around town during the work week every day. Carry everything out of the strongroom every morning.


Put it back every night. Fill all the ink wells. And then be dogs-body and presumably you were learning to do something. Anyway, 3 weeks later I managed to get accepted for a job in the public service, which was greatest ambition of anybody in the Depression years. It meant some well stability. So it also meant 2 bob extra a week. So I left, and as a consequence


they sacked my father for having dared to put me in a job that I didn’t stay. And that was his sacrifice for me was to lose his job and spend 6 months getting one in order to see that I had one.
That’s pretty harsh.
Normal for the time. There were 30% of workforce were out of work and the workforce was 99% male. All women were


out of work excepting home work. That’s what it amounted to other than a handful who were nurses and whatever. Teachers.
If we can just go over the material that you’ve told me so far. I’d like to go into a bit more detail about your primary schooling.
Yes, I think I started while we were renting a house in Victoria Park, and then we moved to Inglewood. The reason was we could manage during the years of the ’20s,


managed to make enough apparently for a deposit on a house in Inglewood, and that was of course a big step up, and that was closer to Highgate. The reason was Highgate was one of the two schools that prepared people for Perth Modern School, and the ambition was see we all went to Modern School. My eldest brother managed to get a scholarship to there, and the second one got an entrance, and


then I did the same because we were able to take a tram, a penny a tram trip, to Highgate, and it had a reputation for good schooling, which it carried out. They aimed in other words for scholarships.
So I imagine it was quite a disciplined school?
Yes, all schools were disciplined in those days. But it was very good, yes.
What kind of discipline was there at school?


the cane was used if required. I never enjoyed it but I took my quota. Mostly for talking.
Well that’s probably going to be an asset today?
Well yes. I’ve always been able to have a word or two and I obviously didn’t shut my mouth a few times in school.
What was discipline like in the classroom?
Well they were following routine, and as late as


1925 they were still using English text books. The Story of Britain and that sort of thing for history. We had no Australian text books until 1928 in Highgate, and by then they were actually bringing out a few Australian texts. But we had no Australian History. I was never taught Australian History until I did History 1 at UWA [University of Western Australia] many years later. So there was no Australian History taught prior to 1928. It


didn’t exist. I remember them telling me in ’29 the story of the Mundaring Weir and how they built the walls at Fremantle, and graphic descriptions of the cheers that went up when the dumping railway loads of rock brought out to groynes as they built the wharf in 1899. My teacher obviously watched it. That was the only history


we’d really got to know of Western Australia.
Did you have a lot of curiosity about Western Australian history at that age?
No, we took that for granted. We were part of the British Empire. We were tail-end Charlies and we were lucky to be there. That was the attitude. We still had a holiday in – what is it? 14th of May. Queen Victoria’s birthday was still one of the things around the schoolyard. Queen Victoria had not been forgotten


in 1928. Believe it or not.
Around the schoolyard, what was life like?
It was kick to kick football. And woe betide anybody who did anything but kick to kick, and mostly barefooted because very few could afford shoes in the ’20s. It wasn’t required of one and seemed to suited me fine. I managed to avoid using shoes


until I had to start using a tram, which annoyed me no end.
Why did you need shoes to catch a tram?
My father felt we were a coolie [peasant] if you’re in bare feet. And thongs hadn’t been thought of. They didn’t come out till 1946 thanks to the Japanese. There were no such things as thongs until then. So therefore you had to have a full shoe. So in Depression years I wore my brothers hand-me-down


shoes, two sizes too small for me, which was rather painful. And that was the way it went since we couldn’t afford a pair of shoes per person per year. Logically you had to make your feet fit whatever your first brother had. There wasn’t much option. The same with clothes. We weren’t that good with needle apparently. My mother was not a good sewer


so patches in pants were normal, but not too meticulous. I think it was 1934 before I was able to get some non-patched shorts.
What kind of clothing did you wear to school?
One shirt. Pair of shorts and the shoes and socks at Highgate as required.
What length shorts did you wear?
No idea. I think they would be above knee and that would be about


Did you have any warmer clothing for the colder months?
I do not recall any and I never felt cold in those days, anyway.
Did the difficulties in living through the Depression affect you as a small child?
We didn’t know there was a Depression. It was normal. Everybody had it. Everybody was poor. We were normal. The first time I even realised there was a financial gap was that a few of the people at Modern School were luckier


and they were able to pay their pound a year levy towards sports fees. Sports was a joke because there was the school cricket team and there was the school swimming team I think, and that was about it, even at Perth Modern School, which is the most advanced government school in WA, the only one of any consequence. And I couldn’t even afford to pay the pound a year.


I remember them sending a bill after I went to work and my father said, “No, don’t pay it. You’ve left.”
I’ve ask you about home life earlier, but what kind of food did your mother and father put on the table?
It was always things like stews, curry, things that could be made cooked at home. Obviously there was no such things as take away. They hadn’t invented them and the question never arose.


In families a wife and mother was a housewife, literally, in those days, where she prepared the food. And 3 penny worth of bones, it was enough to make soup for a family added to rice, barley or whatever, and vegetables. That would be the normal. And sweets were obviously the type of thing like custard.


Bread custard and so on were very popular.
Did you help your mother with the shopping?
Never. No.
Did you ever help her around the home with?
Well with what? I mean we made our own beds. That would be one of the routines, but apart from that and keeping one’s own cupboard dry. We had one room per … There were then 3 boys. Later of course the number increased and we had a kerosene case and we were allowed to put a little bit of


lap-lap or cloth above it suspended, and that meant my books, my total treasures within, and that remained my wardrobe if you like until I was quite an adult.
Can you describe the rest of the layout of your home and any comforts that you had?
The rest?
The remaining layout of your home and the comforts?
I see. Well it was a standard home built in about 1910, timber, iron roof. Front


veranda, bull-nose. The back veranda added, and we added it, and were five males slept on the back veranda, beds all in a row. And during a reasonably affluent period we managed to build first a dado and later on a bit more to protect you from the weather, but otherwise you slept out summer or winter on the back veranda. And still there until 1939.


What kind of activities did you do as a family?
Well at one stage, paternal grandmother was able to supplement some from the working eldest brother about 1932-33. No, it had to be after that, about ’35. And so we were able to go out as a family and


trips with a car. An all-day expedition to Mandurah to catch crabs, for example. A few of these, and then about 1937 they managed to scrape together 50 pound and with that we able to buy a block and build a house at Scarborough. It’s self-built largely, and we’re two blocks back from the beach, and in those days there was nothing between us, but sand


hills. So we used to take all their Christmas holidays at Scarborough and we were all surface from there on. I was very disappointed when I came back from the war to find that they’d sold the house. Cause that had been what I was counting on. That’s where we spent our holidays. And I was allowed to have my last holiday before going


to work at the end of ’32. My father said, “Well, you’ll get no more leave for the next 50 years. Take your 5 weeks before we look for work.” He’d never had long service leave. He’d never had a paid leave, therefore, “Take your 5 weeks and enjoy your beach. You won’t get another.” That was how we’d take it for granted that life would be.


really you had fairly, well in terms of today’s perspectives, fairly grim expectations of what you could look forward to?
Well we didn’t see it as grim. That was normal. There’s nothing grim if everybody else is the same. It’s only if you’re comparing it with somebody else that you find that you are advantaged or disadvantaged. We were quite happy and a pretty close bunch.
I asked you before what kind of family activities you


enjoyed together. What about at home? Was there anything you’d do to occupy yourselves at evening time or…?
We were all readers. Anyone that couldn’t read was a clot. And I s’pose I’ve read, I can only hazard a guess, 20,000 books in my lifetime. I’m now reading only 10 a week. I’ve slowed down in because I’m an editor of our unit journal. I’ve got to do a lot of work collecting material from others, so


my reading time is cut down. But I’m still active at the local library of course and I think you’ll find, if you look around, we’ve got at least 30 books at the moment. I’ve got a shelf of 200 books. I’ve given away 500 and I mostly borrow.
It’s probably a wise thing. Do you remember much about how your mother and father related together at home?


they were a reasonably contented group. My mother was the driving force, I think. My father was always quiet and my mother was a go-getter. She was the one who pushed the finance and pushed to get this and pushed to get that, and although she was a home body, she was a driver. And my father was the more easygoing soul, but never hurt a fly.
Who was the disciplinarian at home?


My eldest brother was the disciplinarian. Believe me if I was 5 minutes late laying the table he was chasing me with a stick and I copped it.
Why do you think he took on that role?
I think he took it for granted. The eldest brother had to do something to keep the others in order. He did.
Sounds like he was quite effective?
He was.
Do you remember


the effect that your father’s unemployment had upon him and the family?
Well, we knew that this was fairly common, of course, and it meant that the food was not as good as we’d had the week before or the week before that. So too bad. The Depression requirements were if you were drawing the dole you were also required to spend it in certain ways. In other


words, like the voucher system that I believe they applied in the USA [United States of America]. You had to buy West Australian products and the shops were required to see that you bought them in order to try and see that local industry got a boost. And obviously there’s a lot of, shall we say, low-grade meat. You were glad of cuts that you’d never dream of otherwise. A lot of stew, therefore.


Doesn’t mean it wasn’t healthy. Merely means more work. And a lot of wood. I remember going out in the paddock next door in my school break and digging up a jarrah root that extended 40 feet and was that big in diameter. I dug it out as my school holiday pleasure and cut it all up and provided firewood for 3 months. That was my job which


I enjoyed. I liked digging. Just a well I was a digger later.
Do you remember your father having any personal difficulties overcoming the fact that he was unemployed? How did it affect him emotionally?
He never said anything. I’m sure he went out and looked for a lot of jobs and he never said boo to a goose about it, but I know he suffered.


Did it affect his relationship with your mother?
Never said anything. Obviously that was family loyalty – you don’t talk.
So you never witnessed any tensions?
Oh no, because it was normal and that was… If we had we been alone it would’ve been difficult. We weren’t. Had plenty of cousins in the same problem.


My mother was part of a large family, and all of her sisters – and there were a swag of them – there was obviously unemployment rife amongst all of them. They were scattered over the metropolitan area. And one of the few times when we did have family get-togethers then I would meet up to 20 mostly girl cousins. So I’ve kept contact with a few of them, but nearly all of them have died since. I’m one of the few survivors.


Was your family a supportive family? Cousins and relatives support one another where they could?
I think the sisters helped each other yes, but we were never aware of it.
So there wasn’t a lot of time spent together?
Not a great deal, no. There’d be an event. It’d be Aunty Maudie’s birthday sort of thing, “Let’s go and visit.” And once we had the car this became possible. You obviously wouldn’t pay for two trams in order


to go and visit somebody in another suburb for a whole family. I don’t remember families tramming it together, excepting perhaps the odd visit to the zoo.
What about friends and neighbours, was there…?
You formed connections with the local neighbours and the local group or the local church group or whatever there was a certain amount of that.
Did you visit church on a weekly basis?
Yes, we were…


My mother got active in the local church and so we were required to attend Sunday School and then church, and it was generally considered as a duty and rather a chore, which was a pity because it meant that you took the first opportunity to avoid it when it was no longer a chore. We had a fair few Sunday School picnics, which you enjoyed. I remember running barefooted in a race on


Point Walter and the place was covered with double-g’s [burrs]. So I didn’t win that race because I was picking out 20 double-g’s from my bare feet. But that type of thing, odd memories of it.
You mentioned earlier that you had quite high ambitions to study further on at school?
You completed your Junior at Highgate?
Yes. No, my Junior at Modern School.
So you completed what primary?
Highgate was a


And the aim was to get to Modern School and three of us in a row did that. And each got a Junior, and like the other brothers I got a good Junior. Nine subjects, which was considered unusual.
What were they?
English. French. Physics. Chemistry. Maths A. Maths B. History. Geography and can’t think of what the other one was. Art, I think. God knows how I passed Art,


but I must’ve.
So why was it unusual to have completed nine subjects?
Well because most schools said six was plenty. Like they say now, “If you want to go to uni [university], concentrate on four.” Well that thinking applied even then to go to anywhere else, and Modern School was one of the exceptions


who believed in breadth and insisted on you having a bigger range. And, strangely enough, later on when I was getting a promotional job in the State Treasury, I remember the accountant looking at it and saying, “Physics and chemistry. Does this mean you’re going to leave me to be a scientist?” That was the thinking of the time. As late as 1935-36.
So it was


during your Junior that you had taken up cadets?
Yes that’s right. Well at that time as soon as I turned 16, which would’ve been ’33. I would’ve left school and I was already working in the Public Works Department, I think, my first. That’s after I’d got out of these short-term jobs. I was with the public service for a few years before I enlisted.
Just after you’d completed


your Junior you obviously had ambitions to finish high school, and then you left?
Well that was high school, yes. Those days only 7% of the state were being groomed to go to university. That was the normal figures in the ’30s and there was only one university, UWA, and it was aiming to take the output from only four schools. That is the four country high schools


and two private high schools in Perth. Or I think there was three that were allowed plus Modern School, and they were only catering for that input. And that was all University of WA was planned to cover. And their expectation was a maximum of 7% of the population would be tertiary educated. That was considered the norm.
So I suspect when you graduated from your Junior, you weren’t in that 7%?


Oh yes, I was those that. You know they were disappointed if people left because they felt that if you were good enough to go to Modern School then you should try and complete your Leaving and go to Uni., but with your bottom out of your pants in effect this was not practicable in the Depression years. I remember a couple who started with me in 1933 at Modern School having to leave because parents couldn’t keep them there,


and the cost was not terrific. I was fortunate the eldest brother was able to get a scholarship. A scholarship meant that your books were bought for three years. Now that dictated the choice of subjects. At Modern School in those days, girls did a certain range of subjects. Boys did a certain range. And we had options. For example we did either Chemistry or German. You couldn’t do both. So


they bought books for Chemistry, therefore when my second brother and myself came we had to do Chemistry because we had the books. We used the same text books exactly. We had no option. The same subjects.
So was it disappointing for you to have to go and join the work force as opposed to completing your Leaving and go to university?
Oh no. I mean the Leaving [university entrance certificate] was out of sight at that point.


We didn’t worry about it and the handful of people that could afford it we saw as the blue tails or snobs. They were the few people that hadn’t been affected by the Depression. And they actually stayed on, and a couple of my mates of course did stay on. And I contacted them as recently as the diamond reunion of Old Modernians and a couple of them, or still one alive who


was recently featured in the press, but not very many, of course.
Why was your old friend featured in the press?
Well I think he’s connected to… His son is active in West Australian and he was an Old Modernian who had some story that they were interested in.
It sounds to me, though, Ray, that you obviously had the potential to continue if you hadn’t been economically unreliable?
Oh yes, well I did. I had to I merely had to wait until I could afford it.


I started university on my 40th birthday. That’s when I could afford to go. That’s a long way afterwards.
Sure. So if you could just cover again the employment that you had once you left your Junior?
Right. Well as I say I had a week and a half looking after a place…
We’ll just pause for the phone. Do you want to answer that? (interruption) So upon leaving your Junior, you went into which job?


had a job with an import-export agent. Essentially minded the shop and that was about it. That’s why they pay was 7-and-6 a week, of which 5 bob went to board for the family. 2-and-6-pence was mine to buy a bike with or whatever. And big deal, that was big pocket money. And then, as I say, after a couple of weeks I went to this firm of machinery merchants and


that was the job I told you my father got for me. And three weeks later left there to start with the Public Works Department. In those days you started at the bottom literally as a messenger boy. If you were good enough you were promoted to either junior clerk or something, and I was lucky enough then after a year to so to get a chance to go to the Treasury for me to use my Junior. I had a couple of years then with the Public Works and then on to the


State Treasury, and gave me the terrific office of junior clerk with the idea that 50 years later you’d be the boss cocky. That’s roughly the aim at the time. And my father couldn’t see anything wrong with that, well and truly. Neither could the family, because stability after the Depression was absolutely the be-all and end-all and promotion would depend on what you did. In those days, to become a senior clerk you


had to take an exam. That’s called the F-Exam – I don’t know why. And you had to have then pass a certain standard in either shorthand or typing. I took up typing, logically, because shorthand’s not on, and English. And then they had something – tabulating statistics and digesting returns into summaries. Quote. And I


took those in my stride without any problem and I actually passed typing at 30 words a minute nett. Nett of errors that is. You lost a word a minute for every error. And every clerk had to do it. The obvious reason, you might be next job registrar at Meekatharra, in which case you did your own typing of reports or whatever. So every clerk had to go through that if they wanted


promotion, just to be an adult clerk. And the rules dated back to 1870 and they were, shall we say, a little strict.
And it was at this time that you took interest in the cadets and then militia?
That’s right. That’s when I was obviously listening to stories of war World War 1, etc., and so I immediately went and showed myself at Swan Barracks


and said, “I want to be a cadet.” Said, “Good oh, come in.” So they provided a uniform and I was able to go to camps. And of course I was a natural and in no time I had a rifleman’s badge and a Lewis [machinegun] gunner’s badge and a range finders badge, etc., etc. And I learned signalling in the Boy Scouts.
I’ll just have to pause you there, Ray,


while we change tapes.
Interviewee: Raymond Middleton Archive ID 1422 Tape 02


You were just talking about cadets and that you managed to get your badges pretty quickly.
That’s right. Yes, well in cadets there was no great continuity. This was a constant problem because it was all volunteer in those days; they had removed any compulsion. It meant cadets and, for that


matter, militia were subject to a big turnover. And this meant that you tended to start some form of training. And 3 weeks or a month later there’d be a 50% or 20% turnover, so you’d have to start again. This became a major problem all the time until you had fairly stable forces in


So what you’re saying is it’s just repetitive because…?
A lot of it. They hadn’t updated the training from World War 1. They hadn’t learnt a damn thing. They were still using World War 1 equipment. We were still using World War 1 material. My issue clothes were stamped 1917-1918. My rifle was 1917. My ammunition was 1917


and so when we went down to the rifle range at Swanbourne then we were still using the same World War 1 items in all respects and the training was the same. We still formed fours. We still did the drill, and the drill was done to the nth, which annoyed me a little. But the shooting was worthwhile. I enjoyed that, and I was a good shot, too. I was never good at…


I’d never win a prize much on application because I wasn’t physically steady enough from 900 yards to hit a bulls-eye. But in rapid fire I was better than most because that way you are obviously firing as fast as you can fire and load. And I was outstanding in that. Won a... I used to enter for the competitions and did win a minor prize. Nothing serious.


What sort of exercises would you do as part of cadets, you know, like maybe weekenders?
Well they’d do drill. We did do various ones. I remember Lowton Park, it was then called East Perth Oval, was the scene for retrieving the colour. Some were about 1934 and the whole unit then had trooped the colour, go through the intricate ceremonial, which is rarely performed


outside the UK [United Kingdom]. And the colonel obviously had a bee in his bonnet [obsession] about it, and we hit about what would be an inch of rain at the time, which meant that everything got thoroughly wet, and of course you can’t stop anything in the army because of rain. So we carried on just as if it hadn’t happened, and the poor old drummer was trying to make a sound hitting the drum as hard as he could with a saturated drum that went bap-pah;


that was all he could do. I remember then being saturated totally, going through the drill motions. That was one event. I preferred the camps where we went to Northam and I actually got leave from the army. That’s one of the few things the state government did, they gave leave to go camp. And I think until I was militia I had to take my annual leave. In that case I went to York before they even started


Northam camp, on one occasion as a cadet. And we used some farmers’ paddocks and did training on Lewis guns or whatever, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It was probably hot, but that never worried me. It was prickly again; it didn’t worry me. We slept on palliasses stuffed with straw. The only thing annoying was screw grass went through into your clothes and into you.


So what was the food like when you were training in the militia?
The army food was much the same as I had at home. Stews and whatever.
Was there a lot of encouragement to join up in the militia?
No, and I think they paid nothing for the cadets whatsoever other than the fact that they gave you a rail warrant to travel down to Swanbourne to go down to the rifle range or to go to a camp there. I remember one occasion


they actually gave us a weekend at the army barracks Fremantle. That which is now the museum controversial. And we spent then a day and a half sleeping on the floor. There were no... There was nothing but the floor to sleep on while we went through some form of training down there. And that was a big deal. I remember it was about 104 in the shade. We were wearing serge with heavy puttees, and because


we’d never had the opportunity we had no underwear in those days. We never used it. And I finished up being chaffed raw at the end and so much so that I spent my next week’s pay buying underwear.
Did you make many mates when you were in the militia?
A few, yes. And a lot of them enlisted with me in World War 11, and there’s still one or two still alive. Very few.


How old were you when you were actually in the militia?
As soon as I turned 18 I was eligible for the militia and so I was transferred. And that was the 11th Battalion. It started off the 11th 16th as a cadet and they formed the 16th as Highlanders, and of course we became the 11th Battalion. And I stayed with them until I enlisted with the


AIF [Australian Imperial Force]. And meantime I’d gone through promotion to corporal and sergeant in the Intelligence Section of the Headquarter Company 11th Battalion.
What did you have to do in order to receive a promotion such as that?
We had an examination, by usually a major in charge of the company, and he’d give you orders, “Corporal, take this group”,


or, “Acting corporal…,” whatever, “take this group and give them instruction on how to carry…” One of them was, “the lying load for loading rifles and then return to the attention.” Another one was from marching drill, “Give instruction to take this group around and take a rather intricate manoeuvre of a group.” That was for my sergeant’s stripes.


Did you enjoy that sort of thing?
Yes. I dunno whether I was good at it, but I enjoyed it.
So what was happening around the time that you were 18? Was that the build up of the war in Europe?
We knew there was a war coming. It’s just taken for granted that every generation had a war and every generation therefore had to be ready. And we knew that World War 1 was unfinished, but we didn’t know the detail. We were aware


there was a mess in Europe. Hitler was not unknown and I think we saw Mussolini as a bigger problem than Hitler – most people did until about ’36, anyway. So we saw ourselves as doing what every boy should do. That’s all.
That’s interesting that you say that every generation accepted that they would have a war in their lifetime?
Yes they’d been going on for a


thousand years.
When you’d hear stories about people who were in World War 1, was that a really heroic sort of thing to?
Well, I had one uncle who had been in a tank in 1917 when he had been hit by a shell. And he didn’t talk much about it, but he told me that they found him in the mud in what was left of the tank and he was still suffering a bit. And I had another uncle who’d been a horse-breaker from


World War 1 and he used to give me a few stories of the problems of when they were in tent lines being chased by camels. They hated the camels when they were horse riders and so I knew a little of it. But strangely enough they never talked about the worst feature, which was artillery in the trenches. Perhaps that was the one thing that they should’ve told me and they didn’t.
Do you think that


that generation was very much into covering up the reality of war?
No they weren’t covering up the reality. They were trying to forget. There is a big difference. As late as 1920 some of them would hear a car backfire and jump on the ground in reaction because they were taking shelter . It was pretty common from those. Shellshock was universal, but the Australian Army


was the only ones that didn’t shoot people with shellshock. All others, they were treated as cowardice in the face of the enemy. The British army shot a couple of hundred. The French shot 20,000 because they dared to refuse discipline, and they were shot, every 10th.
That’s quite extraordinary really, isn’t it?
Yep. Thanks to the Boer War


we had the act that volunteers could not be shot. That was thanks to what…the one they made the film about. The fellow shot in the Boer War.
Not ‘Breaker’ Morant?
Yep. We can thank him that no Australians were shot for desertion or whatever in World War 1 or 11.
Learn a new thing every day. So


can you tell me how you actually went about signing up to the…?
Well I don’t remember signing up. You went in and they said, “Right go to the quartermaster and draw your clothes.” So I did. And we brought them home all smelling in mothballs and put them on and so on. And course you put your rifle with you and wherever you went, and in those days that was perfectly normal. Took your rifle down in the tram and then in the rail warrant down


to Swanbourne, etc. And I remember going up to an aunt living up in Walliston, in one case I rode my pushbike up and took my rifle with me and five confiscated rounds that I’d taken from the range and I went kangaroo shooting up at Walliston. Didn’t find any, so I fired them off into a tree and went home and said, “Well there’s nothing I can do.” I stayed with an aunt there for a couple of days and then came back. But that things didn’t


count in those days. They thought like the Swiss did, and still do. Every man should have a rifle there in defence of his country. Every man will look after it. Every man is on call. In the Swiss apparently are all conscripts from the age of whatever, probably 16, until 65. In European armies most are the same. In


Israel they still are. Lifetime commitment. And this I could see as perfectly normal.
So what did you have to do when you joined the AIF? What was the process?
I see, well, from the militia to, take you a bit further, we were called up in 1939 in September and told, “Right, you are now under army discipline.”


And a three-month camp was compulsory. So I went into camp at what was then the pine forest down at Melville and we had three months continuous camp as a battalion. And I was then given at that stage acting as the company sergeant major cause there wasn’t one on strength for Headquarter Company. And it was I think at the end of that


I remember the major saying, “Gee, I haven’t sent you for a commission.” So he said, “I’ll have to organise that.” So I said “Okay, thanks.” Anyway I went back to work and I nearly finished my accountancy training, which I’d been doing part-time at my own expense, when the French invasion started by the Germans and so I immediately said, “Well, that’s it.” I


went in and enlisted. So I travelled down to Nicholson Road drill hall – now been demolished, I believe – and enlisted. They called for volunteers. We resisted in ’39. My father said, “No. It’ll come soon enough. Let it be. At the moment there’s no need.” And I was still studying, so I listened and didn’t join up the first batch in ’39.


I later learned it was a good thing. Those that went in ’39, 40% that were sent had two wives and the army was the only organisation that paid both wives, and therefore rather than being held up for alimony or whatever then, if you had a wife and a de facto, it meant that the army paid both and paid for both lots of family, which is very vital. And a friend in the pay corps gave me the figures – out of the first thousand who


enlisted in WA, 40% were keeping two families.
So what you’re saying is they signed so they could?
To escape their problems. And at least one other in my section, told me he got a bill for 35 pound from the taxation department. That’s why he enlisted – cause you didn’t pay once you were in the army. I was silly enough to pay my bill of 2 pounds before I went away, and when I came back I found they’d written them off and I was most annoyed that I’d paid


Well that’s not fair is it? Now just going back to Melville camp, what sort of training did you receive there?
It was still very basic because they went right back to the start again. “Attention. Stand at ease. Form fours. Form twos and march.” A little bit of training was with weapons, but weapons were very limited. We still had Lewis guns, 1918 model, and Vickers guns,


1918 model. Ammunition, World War 1. Equipment, World War 1. Nothing had come out. They’d talked about Bren guns – we never saw one. And they talked about anti-tank – they didn’t know anything about it. Their only defence as I said was the only real defence against tanks will be to see that you’re in a position they can’t reach you. Either put trenches or over rocks that they can’t climb. That was taken as being


a logical measure. They did bring out the anti-tank rifle and I think they demonstrated one and said that was the answer. That was a .5 calibre rifle and I think I remember seeing one. We had anti-gas instruction. I remember wandering in a hundred plus degrees Fahrenheit with anti-gas gear and losing about two pound.
What does that…?
Covered with everything. A mask, plus anti-


protection – the sort of thing that they show you now for people who are going into to decontaminate. But they didn’t have anything other than black rubber. So of course it weighed a hundredweight and inside you felt like you were in a sweat bath – and you were.
Oh dear. Well it sounds like there was a lot of repetition within the training?
Yes. Because they didn’t have anything better to do. They couldn’t afford to waste ammunition.
What did think of your


Well I expected to be one, and I would’ve if I’d stayed on. I was sent… As I told you, I got the letter. I hadn’t told you. They promised me a letter. I must deal with it. Anyway while I was went into barracks in somewhere about April I think in 1940 said, “Oh yes. I’ll fix this.” And he was a forgetful old chap. He had just had a motorbike accident. The major –


a civilian. I think he’d had some experience in World War 1. So I enlisted in May ’40, and then about 3 days later I got a letter saying to report for examination – a medical examination – for a commission in the militia. Well it’s a bit late. So I never turned up so I didn’t get my commission. Because when you enlist you go back to the ranks. So I enlisted as a private and signed up. And we did, I think, take


an oath although I don’t remember doing it. But there would’ve been 40 of us all would’ve put up our hands. And then we were given a rail warrant and told, “Up to Northam. Report within 24 hours,” or whatever, “and take it from there.”
And so how did your family feel about you signing up?
They knew it was inevitable. My mother had said, “I fought throughout four years to keep your father from getting killed. I’ll wash my hands of it.” So she was unhappy, but


she accepted it. So I went up to Northam and I was the first in uniform. And went up there and joined the Carter, if you like, to be issued with giggle suit – the khaki drill stuff – which is what we were given and we started again from scratch. “Attention. Stand at ease.”
It must’ve been pretty frustrating having to go through all that process again?
Again and again and again. Yes a


little. And fortunately after about a month they sent me down to a training camp at Guildford and I emerged with a couple of stripes, and I thought, “Well, I’m on my way again.” It gave me a little bit better to do. I was training others instead of being trained and that was a trifle of improvement. They did some silly things. For example we had to go and dig trenches. My job then was to train


people to dig trenches. And the people I was told to train were Kalgoorlie miners and Walloona miners. They said, “Well you teach them to swing a shovel and a pickaxe.” And in the process of illustrating how important it was I remember putting a pick through one of my men’s hand, and I was doing it to show him how safe working was important in a confined space. It didn’t help.
Wouldn’t have helped at all cause those guys, they would’ve been


pretty rough?
Most of them were machine miners, but they’d all been started off as boggers in the mine, which meant swinging a shovel, so they knew more about it than I did, and they were nearly all older than I was and they saw me as a bookie.
A bookie?
Well a book-learned, useless twerp.
Right I got ya.
So I had to live that down. It took about 18 months. I had to get into action to prove to them,


to prove that I was not a gutless wonder.
Well that’s a pretty unfortunate thing to have, you know, trying to train a whole lot of miners and then you stick a…
That’s right.
It really couldn’t have worked out worse, could it?
In any case, what’s the point in a World War 1 trench? You had to dig it six feet wide, six feet high with a two sandbag parapet. Exactly the thing which they used in World War 1, which is a wonderful device to drop mortar shells into.


Exactly. So can you actually describe the Northam camp for us?
Well I was one of those who started it in 1935 and they sent us up and they said… As at then I would’ve been… I was already a corporal or sergeant, I forget which. And they’d been ordered to start the camp in Northam. We’ve just been granted this acreage of an old farm. I believe


it was bought off Mitchell, the Governor of Western Australia, and he sold this patch of land he didn’t want to the army and they used it to establish a camp. We had to clear enough bush to put up our tents in order to sleep. And why I remember it very clearly is we set up the row of tents and the one next to me was the quartermaster sergeant. And early next morning, just before we would’ve had a


bugle blown for reveille, we heard a terrific scream of agony and we went out to see what was on and it was the quartermaster sergeant. What we’d done was to cleared the earth and pitch the tent on top of a bull ant nest, and as soon as daylight came the bull ants came and they attacked the only person there. And so that’s why I recall the detail.


Well that would’ve been pretty hard work. The bush up there is pretty dense?
Yes, well.
How many of you were part of that clearing?
Well I s’pose they would’ve sent about two bus loads. I know I was thrilled we actually went up by bus. And a couple of bus loads went up to the camp and started off. Mind you the numbers grew as Northam grew, but that was by – I’m speaking of ’35-6 in the militia. By ’39


they’d put up then wood and corrugated iron huts with shutters, and that’s what we went back to after enlistment on the same area which had been expanded, and we had parade grounds and whatever. So we went through the same sort of procedure and after my couple of stripes I think I was given various jobs to do.


As corporal, “Do this and that and train men.”
Can you be specific about what sorts of other jobs you managed to get after you got your stripes?
Well I think I was attached to in one case, “Go down and help the transport.” So I went down. I had a motorbike driver’s licence and my own motorbike I’d managed to get in 1938, but no car driver’s [licence] at that point. So they


gave me a crash gearbox truck and said, “Can you drive it?” I said, “Right. Well let’s go.” So I had to learn how to drive a truck and drive it through water only. It had no 4-wheel drive and see if you can do that. So I do remember doing that and then, “Can you run a rifle range?” “Yes.” Logically anybody can learn how to mark or how to show others how to fire a rifle.


And we had problems such as the fact that the rifles are only meant to be fired off the right shoulder – the World War 11 rifles – and yet if a person’s got left eye only that’s a good eye, he fires off the left shoulder. Sorry, we normally fire, but he fires off the right with the problem that he is using a left eye and this means that what does a left-handed person do with a right-handed bolt?


We had to organise things – how do you beat that sort of problem and try and see if you could train people? I remember major in charge using me as a guide. Here’s a person knows how to use a rifle bolt which is obviously a problem that some of them couldn’t manage. Didn’t mind things like that., but most of it was repetition repetition. Still no advanced training. Still no company training. Still no


battalion training.
So when did the battalion training start?
Never had any. We went into action without.
Well what was the sorts of conversations that were happening between the men? I mean obviously you’ve got all this repetition going on. There’s no advanced training, there’s no battalion training?
Well I was unusual in that because I tried to get back to my old job. I was Intelligence sergeant so when they formed the 2nd 16th


I was part of the initial battalion, and after I’d finished this training I asked an interview and I said I wanted to join that section. Otherwise they hadn’t allocated us to companies. And the officer was some snobby type who said, “Corporal, are you good at art?” I said, “No.” “Are you good at photography?” I said, “No, I haven’t got a camera.” “Then


field sketching and photography, not your thing?” “No.” “Then I don’t want you.” “Thank you. Thank you sir.” And high dudgeon, I sat down and wrote a letter asking for a transfer. They were just forming the 2nd 28th Battalion, just been announced in Melville. So I wrote it and thought no more about it. Went back and did what I had to do and then a month later I got a letter and, “You will report to 2nd 28th Battalion and


here’s your warrant.” So without I’d forgotten about it. So I went down there and said, “We’ve just completing filing the I-Section.” The colonel said, “But I do want a corporal in 5 Platoon. Will you take it?” I said, “What do I do?” He said, “Whatever you’re told.” “Okay.” So I went there.
So what was the process after you agreed to do that?
Well I was then I saw my action with the 2nd 28th


Battalion. Meantime the 2nd 16th went overseas and we waited and we were… Then very shortly afterwards 2nd 28th went up to Northam and repeated the training in another part of the same camp, and repeated everything else for the umpteenth time. And that was when I think I had the episode with the pick and my miners. There were more miners in the 2nd 28th then


in the previous units because the World War 1 type had been the one who was authorised to check whether people were Manpowered, and he was a much-medalled man from World War 1 in Walloona. So he let all the Walloona miners go. He said, “Army needs you more than we do. The gold mines don’t matter.” So that’s why there were so many miners.
So it would’ve been a pretty rough?


That’s right. They were quite a rough group. I remember one of my jobs in Northam with them was to go around with my officer, who was given the job of seeing that all thousand men had signed a will before we went away. And I remember two of them signed with an X. We only had that percentage, I was surprised it was so low, were illiterate. All the others could at least sign their name. And we had to have a will. That was something they bought in in World War


11. And the old holographic will was no longer considered requirement. Under hundreds of years as a soldier was dying in the battlefield leave all my things to Mary Jane or to my mother and that was legal under all law until, well, maybe World War 1, certainly World War 11, and we had written wills. For the first time we had a literate British


So how was that job received by the men?
They accepted that. “We don’t expect to come back, so what.” That’s why at least two of my men got married. As they said, “Well the girl won’t sleep with me, unless.” So they got married. They were both divorced during the war. The girls divorced them. They weren’t given the option. I think of my 30 men in my platoon – we had


one Anglo-Indian, two New Zealanders, one Canadian. Three had jumped ships and become Australians by jumping ship, and the others came from all states. And I think there was six born in England, at least might’ve been ten, and came out and were Australians. So they were a mixture, which is what you’d normally find. And


our sergeant was a World War 1 veteran. I didn’t know, he was a… He should never had been enlisted. He was under pension and not supposed to be enlisted, but he was the best thief they had and we needed one to be able to get material. So the colonel valued him highly and covered up for his age and his blindness. He was almost blind. He called the roll by this way out of the corner of one


eye. He told me years later he’d memorised the chart when he was being medically examined. That’s the only way he passed.
Very smart. So you mentioned before that you had really no training and then the next thing you knew you were on a ship?
That’s about it. Yeah.
So what did you do for pre-embarkation leave?
Went home and made whoopee. I was very keen on dancing and went


as a teenager. After about 17, I went to dance classes and shall we say I didn’t get anywhere with the girls, but I liked it. And I danced every Saturday night at either the Embassy or Anzac House and enjoyed that. And took out a lot of girls and wrote to a lot when I went overseas, but I didn’t get anywhere.
Not through lack of trying, apparently.
That’s right, yeah. That was the ambition., but in


those days they wanted the wedding ring beforehand.
Was there a lot of fellows getting married for that reason before they went away?
I would imagine there were. I never did a head count other than the few in my own platoon and I wouldn’t have known about it until they told me after we came back after the war. They came back from prison camp with me and said, “Oh my wife divorced me a couple a years ago.” He said, “But I couldn’t really complain.” Said, “I only knew her for a few weeks and we


really married because we though well let’s make hay while the sun shines. We didn’t know what else.”
Fair enough. You’re boarding on the Aquitania, is that right?
That’s right. Yes we were told after our pre-em leave all the usual instructions, “You will not leave camp now because it would be considered desertion.” And they sent a couple of trains to Northam.


We marched into Northam camp. It’s only three miles, so we carried everything. And when we got there the trains went cock-a-doodle-do all the way down, so our secret departure was not really a secret. Half of Perth went down to Fremantle to see us off. And our family of course were down there on the wharf. And we were embarked on oil lighters and taken out to the Aquitania and the Queen Mary, both of which were anchored out in Gage Roads.[off Fremantle]


Don’t think any of the ships could come in. There were about five or six ships and all of them in those days were too big for the wharf at Fremantle. It hadn’t been deepened. And it was normal for big ships to anchor out. So we went in a fast convoy Queen Mary, Aquitania and a few of the other big troopships or converted to troopships, and we were escorted by


a couple of cruisers, I think. When we got aboard we found that they had about, it would’ve been 15,000 I guess, already aboard. And they’d taken the best places so we went down to G-deck – you couldn’t get any lower; we were down as low as we could get. We were tail-end Charlies because we got on last comers in Perth.
So what were the conditions like on board?
Well we thought they were marvellous. The Aquitania had very good kitchens – everything steam cooked, and they used to catering for several thousand passengers. So catering for 3,000 troops was no problem. We used to get lost for a day or two at finding our way around. We had to find lifeboat spaces. We played football on deck. And we did a little bit of drill. But most of the time we considered as a holiday.


And we sailed for a week on that as far as Colombo where some of us were given a few hours’ leave on shore and then ship sailed away and…
Did you get some leave in Colombo?
I managed to get a few hours, I think. Didn’t get past the first couple of shops, I don’t think. And then we were instead put aboard smaller ships because they needed the bigger ones. And they wouldn’t risk them going


through the Red Sea then because of Abyssinia and other areas were held by the Italians. And they then put us aboard smaller ships. We were on a Dutch freighter, the New Zeeland, and it was one that had been carrying all sorts of general cargo freight and cargo, etc., to the UK. And I think we put a thousand


men aboard. I remember climbing on it so we carried kitbag, rifle, pack, sea kitbag as well and climbed on board. Then he said, “Right climb down.” So we climbed down a hold. Then they said, “Wrong hold. Climb up.” So we climbed up. Went down the next hold., “Wrong hold.” So we went up and we climbed in the third hold and we were getting a bit browned off by then. So after a couple more


such blunderings, every time they gave us an order then as we gave a concerted, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.” So much so that the officers were driven mad. And routine orders for the battalion came out, “Troops will refrain from baahing when given an order.” So we enjoyed that.
One of life’s simple pleasures.
That’s right.
Did you ever feel that there was any threat after you’d boarded the smaller ships from Colombo?


Well we were trailing the anti-submarine gear on both sides. They had those out, they expected mines are a possibility and we knew the submarine hadn’t been thought of in the Indian Ocean at that point. But we were concerned about action from the Italian Somaliland. And they were using total blackout from


Ceylon onwards, and we were sleeping on deck because it was too damn hot down below. So yes, we never were worried about it. I mean we think we’re invulnerable at that age anyway.
How much excitement was generated from, you know, this part of the trip? Were you really looking forward to getting..?
We enjoyed it. We had no bother. We were watching the stars every night, sleeping on deck and watching. The first


time we can get glimpse of the north star, etc. And we went up the Red Sea and it wasn’t until we…Suez that there was any question of any problems. And then we heard that there was bombing in the Suez, which there were. They were dropping mines in the Suez Canal. So after we had managed to get as far as the Great Bitter Lakes we were anchored there for a week while they tried to defuse the bombs or explode them.


And then we were able to resume our journey.
How do you pass the time under those sorts of circumstances?
Well most people would’ve played poker or bridge or whatever. I think that would be it. I read whenever possible.
Were there any, you know, facilities to be able to read?
No. No facilities.
So they didn’t have a library?
Oh no.
Just bought some books with you?
I don’t remember.


Must’ve. I wouldn’t have dreamed of going without.
Sure. So from there where do you move onto?
Well after we resumed our tour from the Great Bitter Lakes we went as far as El Qantara where we were disembarked. That was the terminus for the railway which had been laid at the end of World War 1. And we were immediately loaded onto cattle wagons and taken up


to Palestine. And in the meantime, of course, the war in Europe had been finished. When I say been finished, France had fallen and we knew that it was unlikely we’d go to the UK. And the threat was to make sure that the Germans didn’t come down through Turkey. So we were landed to do training in Palestine


and make sure that there was no threat to the Suez Canal and the oil.
How many of you fellows are there?
That was a full battalion. A thousand. Or near enough to a thousand. And they put us in a camp just south of Gaza and again the idea was you’ll do training. Now Casa was quite a big camp and the previous unit had sponsored us. In other words, they’d set up tents, which was good, and they’d arranged to have a batch


of frames. Because the mud was this deep in winter in Palestine and it was still the rainy season then, they were made out of the coconut rather than canes. Not the coconut. They were date palm and they… You stripped the threads and you make a frame and you can put a palliasse on top and you’re out of the mud. All except the 16-stoners found that was excellent. They fell through.


So what were the other facilities like in this camp?
Interviewee: Raymond Middleton Archive ID 1422 Tape 03


So you were describing the facilities at Casa Camp?
Yes, well there weren’t too many. There was plenty of mud. There were orange orchards nearby and they’d merely put up tents. And there was a rifle range somewhere. I never got to see it because my platoon wasn’t a rifle company and therefore they weren’t very interested. We were expected to be very careful with rifles to be riflemen., but they never gave us a chance to prove


it, which was a bit ironic. And we went into action, we expected to use one. But that didn’t mean that they ever trained us for it.
What kind of training?
Well I was that disgusted because they expected me to take the non-tradesman section 5 Platoon called pioneers, and their job then would be to make a bridge, a flying fox, or whatever was required in action or in


those circumstances. And I thought I was the wrong person for it really because I’m not all engineering minded. However, my job was to train those who weren’t tradesmen. So the battalion painter. The battalion bricklayer. The battalion this and that were all one section, and the other section of that platoon was then tradesman assistant if you like, and I was expected to train them. That was why they dragged me in and the sergeant, the accomplished scrounger, [thief]


he was a builder who knew how to obtain things anywhere legally or otherwise, and all he did was to make sure that all nasty jobs were shifted onto my shoulders. He was very good at that.
And how did you manage the circumstances?
Well I was the sucker who got caught, and I mostly were dodging getting into serious trouble. When things were


necessary, for example, we had to dig trenches in Syria at a later point and we had no explosives when we struck great boulders. So then we would find a way to get into the armoury and pinch some detonators and some explosives in order to blow it. And the Kalgoorlie miners were quite good at the using explosives. So we managed


fairly well.
How long were you at Casa for?
Well we were at Casa only for about 8 weeks because we arrived at the end of January ’41. In the meantime the 6th Division had made their successful attack across North Africa and then they said, “Right.” Well the 9th Division, which we had suddenly been changed into, they were required to go and garrison the


captured areas. So they sent us untrained to go and learn how to do our training, but act as garrison. So they sent my unit and one other battalion. We’d never me them, the other battalion of our brigade, to Tobruk to be garrison. And they said, “Well then, you’ll learn on the job.” Which we certainly did.
How did you get to Tobruk?
They sent


trucks from would’ve been from the Great Bitter Lakes. So we would’ve gone by train down as far as the [Suez] Canal. Crossed the Canal by ferry. They had a ferry running non-stop and on the other side we were put on trucks. Oh no we might a been on trains as far as they went and that would’ve been possibly Marsa Matruh.


Anyway we went might a been only as far as Alexandria. But we went by train where they took us and then they put us onto 3 ton trucks, loaded us, I think about 30 men plus all belongings, on the back of a truck and a little bit crowded, and then go through the desert. I remember doing that from Mersa Matruh onwards, anyway.
So you were shuttled off to Tobruk?
To Tobruk, that’s right. I


remember getting to Mersa Matruh and the 2nd 11th Battalion had just come back from North Africa and met the 2nd 28th Battalion, the other West Australian, and we had a football match, and I would’ve loved to have watched it, but I got myself a does of flu. So I was lying in what was left of an Italian army barracks, shivering in flu for 2 days. And then they said, “Right, well you’re well now. On you go.” So we loaded on the back of the truck and on we went. and my memories


of Mersa Matruh were not of the best.
What was the health like of the other members of your…?
All right while they were sober, and they were sober only when they couldn’t get anything to drink.
Anyone else have a case of the flu?
Can’t remember. Probably.
Cause the conditions had been quite wet and uncomfortable?
Yeah. Well normally we didn’t get it, we didn’t worry about it. And


we knew there was an army MO [Medical Officer] and the main thing is to keep away from it if you could. And I don’t remember too many of us having to do any problems with… I know I went into action without a bolt in my rifle, because in order to we were penalised. We were told we would be court-martialled if we had our rifle stolen. In order to prevent it, rifles were chained around your central pole in your tent and you took the bolt out and you put that


well away to keep it away so that they couldn’t take a rifle and bolt complete. And this was necessary because of the Palestinian uprising against the Jews. And my bolt was in my sea kitbag, and I was helping in the orderly room. When I came back I found they’d, unbeknownst to me, they’d ordered all sea kitbags to store. And so I reported it to the adjutant that my


sea kitbag had gone with my bolt. They said, “Well in that case we’ll save you the court martial.” I said, “Thank you.” And since they were responsible. So I went up into Tobruk with a rifle with no bolt and they said, “Oh well, we’ll sort that out.” And when we got there we found the remains of a .303 with a bolt in. And I was always grateful to our battalion armourer who modified that bolt to fit my rifle.


That’d have to be quite a precision job?
Oh yes, well, because an armourer had to do that. That was his job. And a battalion armourer was carried by every battalion. Armourer sergeant.
What kind of specialised equipment did they have to manufacture items?
I’ve no idea. Nothing much, but he wouldn’t have had much modification. He probably grind down a 1,000th or whatever if needed.
But still it’d have to be ground down very accurately with precision?
Most cases you could’ve


changed the bolts over and they were be reasonably accurate because they were supposed to be precision made and interchangeable, but they always made sure that they were exact, that’s all.
What do you remember of your arrival at Tobruk?
We arrived in the middle of a dust storm. We were taken to the middle of a dusty patch and told, “This is where you are.” And, “Build yourself a house.” I said, “What with?” They said, “Well, anything you can find.” So we got piles of boulders and


that looked to be the only thing. And we were trying to keep out of the dust storm and we were as happy as a boy that shot his father. Anyway, we found odd bits of timber and so on and made some sort of shelters. There were no tents. And we slept out in the open for a day or two. And then I think they took us to what would’ve been the old Italian line, and


that then will see underground concrete sangers [stone bunkers]. And the only thing wrong with them was they were full of fleas. Apart from that they were all right – you could dig them out and you could sleep in them. So we cleaned them out and used those where we were required. And we were there for about a month. I remember they were making stories. They said, “You’ll be in action shortly. We think the Germans are coming.” And my platoon frankly didn’t believe it. It was just a lot of training devised to just


keep bullshitting us. Wouldn’t have a bar of it. [German General Irwin]Rommel was coming and they weren’t, but they honestly didn’t believe the officers. And I remember being sent to become an anti-tank instructor. We had Italian 47mm Breeders that had been captured. So we went out to a patch where there was one of them mounted and we were given a royal artillery


bod who said, “Well, I think a team of three would be logical and you would have one man there one man there and one man serving.” And okay, went through the drill. and after we’d given the drill a couple of times we had from each company we had so many men. Said, “Right, now we fire a shot to prove it.” And they fired at a can over in the minefield. There were minefields laid already and I remember them hitting the can correctly – it was only


40 or 50 yards – and in the process one of those standing in this little trench with us got wounded by shrapnel, which was our introduction to it. They said, “Now you’re a fully qualified instructor. Go back and teach the battalion how to be anti-tank gunners.” I said, “Thank you.” Went back, the only thing is there was no anti-tank guns. So it was rather hard. And then we moved into a


frontline section and we actually heard firing and we realised that weren’t necessarily pulling our legs. And we heard from one of the rifle companies that they were on the first Derna Road section when the first troops’ scouts really from Rommel arrived, and they had found enough old Italian 75mms that they formed the first bush


artillery. No sights. Plenty of shells that the Ities [Italians] had left behind. So again their instruction – I learnt this secondhand – was put it up one telegraph pole whatever and aim at it and pull the trigger, but get a long distance away in case the gun explodes. So they did, and the first burst of fire was so erratic that the


Italians, or Germans rather, thought that it had to be a full battery because they couldn’t spread it so wide from one gun. And that was mainly because of an accident of history. So after a short burst, during which I think one of the Royal Horse Artillery batteries did knock out an armoured car and one of our guns accidentally didn’t knock out another, the Germans withdrew. We were manning


a 37-mile front with 2,000 men, which was a little bit difficult, and fortunately before the Germans had more of their troops up what was left of the 9th Division were withdrawing. They’d gone up as far some brigades they’d gone up as far as Benghazi, came back and broke through. Two British generals, who were supposed to be in charge, were captured, and


one of the battalions of another brigade lost a couple of hundred men. But they’d been trained and fought as a brigade, fortunately, so they were able to do a little bit better. We only had one other battalion that we’d never met and our third battalion hadn’t arrived from England to form a brigade, so we were completely untrained. So they took us out of that frontline area there and put us in the quiet section


down in the south east area of the Tobruk perimeter and said, “Now, see what you can get.” I remember going up at midnight and we drove we only had one battalion Lancia [Italian car] that our transport had got operating. All our vehicles had been taken up to Benghazi and all that weren’t had gone to Greece. So we were left stranded with one 1500 weight ute and whatever Italian transport


we could make operate. I remember going up about 5 miles and dragging back an anti-tank gun without a train and without a sight, and dragging it and setting it up back in this perimeter because we were told that it is expected to be a German attack in the morning. So I said, “What about ammunition?” “Oh, plenty of it.” I said, “Is it primed?” “Yes, all set up.” So till the midnight I sat


up, dragged in an orderly room corporal and one of my privates with us, and use his sanger of sandbags and waited for the attack in the morning. Fortunately it didn’t arrive, and when daylight came I found that we didn’t have the ammunition primed. In other words, there was no fuses in it. They had the… They put in a little aluminium plug until the official fuse. So had we fired, nothing would’ve happened. But


fortunately the Germans didn’t come and we had to wedge this train in a sandbag – it was the only thing we could do with a broken train. So fortunately it wasn’t an anti-tank gunner.
So you were thrown in the deep end?
Oh yes, well and truly. And a week later they actually gave us the first Lewis gun and they said, “Right corporal, you’re a Lewis gunner.” “Oh, thank you.” So we hadn’t ever fired a….sorry a Bren. We actually got a modern


Bren[lightmachinegun]. It came from England of course and they put it on a frame and said, “Now you’re anti-aircraft gunner.” And the German planes were coming out from Tobruk; they were bombing it steadily. And on the way out the way to dodge a 3.7 ack-acks was to come out at 50 feet, and we were at 50 feet and on the way out and they would avoid them by flying in low, and as they came out then if they saw troops they


would shoot at ’em. So logically our job was to shoot back, and so I was ack-ack [anti aircraft] for a while. Then they said, “Headquarters must not be in the front line.” Our colonel objected strongly, but he was overruled by the brigadier. So they moved us back from the red line, front line, to form the second line called the blue line, and that was in defence in depth ready for a breakthrough which had already happened


early in the May in another sector. And we had to do it in our sector and that was where we were anti-tankers, sorry anti-aircrafters. And if somebody pressed the button and a battery made a eeeerr sound, then that meant aircraft. Get to it. And I was eating a meal one day. I’d left private


to watch my ack-ack gun while I went over and got my meal. When the sound came I dropped everything. Did a hundred yards double and got down and there I found George half shaved, lying the wrong way, and leaving the gun alone. And the planes were so low that I couldn’t even fire them off the stand. So I unhooked it and dropped on sandbags and fired. And I got a burst into him and he got two bursts and I found two bullets either side of


me, but fortunately none in the middle. So I think that was the only time I was an ack-ack gunner that actually used in action.
Did you bring that plane down?
No, would’ve been some holes in it though. I got in one burst, but my only thanks was the adjutant, “Corporal.” “Sir?” “How many shots did you get off?” “One burst, sir before he passed.” “Why didn’t you get off more?” That was all.


Had you been at the Bren gun and not having something to eat, would you have got the extra bursts in?
Would they’ve possibly been enough to bring the plane down?
I doubt it because .303 bullet’s got to hit a vital spot. You’ve got to get either the pilot or a prop or something. Otherwise you make a few holes in the wing.
How long were you on the ack-ack gun there?


Well, I was then, I think I was told, “Right you’ll do other duties.” So, you know, in between.
Well simply because we were being moved around. We were…
But how long were you on the ack-ack gun before you were moved to other duties?
Probably a week.
So how many aircraft attacks were there?
Well there were 50 a day in Tobruk, but we might’ve only had two a day coming out towards us. Because after all there’s 37 miles to come out and they had an


airfield only 5 miles away outside the perimeter so they didn’t have to go far. And our planes were all shot down within 2 weeks and we had no further planes and no further aircraft to help us. They did a darn good job and they shot down a few Jerrys [Germans] before they were wiped out, but soon as they couldn’t take off without being bombed to hell, then they didn’t have much chance.


Why were the garrison defences constricting from the red line to the blue line?
How were they sorry?
Why were they constricting from the red line to the blue line?
Well no, it was only headquarters were moved. All their rifle companies were told to man the perimeter. I’ve read up long histories since and where at the time you only know where your little bit. I’ve read a lot more since of course, and what they did was to put so many brigades forward. Of that,


so many battalions forward. Of that, so many companies forward, and of that, then keep some in arrears. And they carefully organised it so as to have defence in depth. The artillery well back so when there was a breakthrough they let them come through, and those in trenches dropped down, and after the tanks went past shoot up the infantry. After the tanks got far enough then they knocked out the tanks.


Which is why we were able to stop Rommel – the first time that they’d been defeated since they’d started World War 11.
Was that while you were there?
Yep. It wasn’t my company. It wasn’t my battalion. It was in another section. Another brigade did that, but you’ll find that if you read your histories I’ve got one here in the…of Tobruk – then they definitely gave them quite a bloody nose and


the Germans were most upset. The first time they’d been stopped.
Was this information circling around the garrison?
Up to a point. We were told, “You are doing very well. You are holding them. You will continue to hold them. Yours is the only defence in the Empire bah-dah-dah-dah.” Big deal, but we were getting a mimeographed Tobruk Truth, or earlier they called it the Dinkum Oil, which was being run off on an Italian duplicator in Tobruk and a couple of


copies being sent to each battalion and being read to us. So that was the only news we got. There were no newspapers. There were no books. There were no radios other than the official battalion connection to Tobruk.
How did you feel that the odds were stacked?
We never felt that we were going to lose. After all, they were only Germans – we were Australians. Ignorance was bliss. We didn’t know how little we knew.
Although from what you’ve explained to me you had


inexperience and not really much knowledge of what you were supposed to be required to do, you were being moved around?
Well we reckon, “You give us a gun, we’ll stop anybody,” is the way we thought.
Okay. So you were about to be moved onto other duties after you were on the ack-ack gun?
No, well then well I remember we were on 4 hours on 4 hours off because we were expecting to be


attacked and we had to be ready. And of course you very hard not to fall asleep. So in the blue line then they said, “Right it was your job then 4 hours on 4 hours off and you will see that you are able to patrol the seven spots.” We had…my platoon was spread over 7 little command posts of 2 or 3 men all dug in holes in the desert and, “Be ready to defend them if


necessary or if anything comes through.” And so, “As an NCO [Non Commissioned Officer], you will at night check on them every hour while you’re on duty.” And that was great excepting on a pitch black night when a mist comes up – how do you find seven places over a mile of desert when you are in a black out? And I remember one night I had found two of them and then I walked on and I couldn’t find


the third. And I walked on and I walked on and on and I realised I must be getting in the wrong place. Next thing I saw was a wrecked Italian truck and I thought, “Well, I’ve never seen that before.” So I saw another air raid in Tobruk and I said, “Oh well, Tobruk’s over there. I must be over here.” So I said, “There’s nothing I can do. I’m only walking towards Tobruk.” So I sat in what was left of the truck that had been obviously machine-


gunned during the previous battles and waited until dawn, and then I found my way back. And I found I’d walked through the Northumberland Fusiliers’ lines. They were trigger-happy and fortunately they slept through. And I’d walked over the minefield twice and I’d got back to my lines and I shook the man I was supposed to wake up and said, “Here, I thought you were tired. So I took your shift.” He said, “Oh, thanks corp [corporal].” And that was


So you were very lucky not to have stood on a mine?
That’s right. Well I think they were probably anti-tank mines, in which case wasn’t as bad as later on when every anti-tank mine usually had a booby trap.
What kind of booby trap?
You attach a trap to each a wire or something to each anti-tank mine. If anyone tries to move it then you blow up both.
And I suspect


that a man’s bodyweight’s not enough to trigger an anti-tank mine?
Not an anti-tank one, no, but we’d laid a lot of booby traps on the front line in the earlier part I had taken a batch of the Italian grenades – there were hundreds of ’em lying about – and we took a hundred of them and we attached them all along the barbed wire out the front. We added more barbed wire and made an entry level outside the posts and attached these, and


then after we’d carefully put a string down to ground level then we pulled out the pin. Which they were contact ones, which meant that if anyone kicked them they went off. So we attached a hundred of those through the barbed wire out the front. So we were familiar with booby traps. And the Italians later dropped a lot of them, but at that point they didn’t have them dropped where we were. That’s all.
Where you relieved at the time to be moved back from the front line?
No. Because


we thought, “What the hell are we going to be doing back there?” The more… It merely meant more holes to dig. I wasn’t happy. One of the jobs they gave me was to bury the first two casualties in my battalion.
How were they taken?
Well my job was to go in, take 3 men dig them out. They said, “We’ve just formed the Tobruk cemetery. So dig them out of their grave and put them on the back of the truck and take them and put them in the Tobruk


cemetery.” So fortunately I had one of my men was an old bushie, tough as old boots. So I supervised while they dug the bodies out and travelled with bodies in the back of the truck. And we got to Tobruk cemetery there were graves already dug and we put them in. I remember holding one fellow, had his arm back, and we had to try and virtually not break it while we forced it down in order to bury the poor blighter.


How had those casualties been taken?
They were both… Well it was taken for granted. We were lucky we only had two. They were killed in an attack earlier on one of the rifle companies. They’d been buried about a week.
Just temporary graves?
Yes, well they were buried where they fell, I think. There’d been no authority on what we do about a cemetery. So they were buried where they fell.


And our job was to disinter and put them in the official cemetery. Where they are. I’ve kept it from their families. As editor of the journal I didn’t think their family would like to know about the minor. I can remember their names engraven on me forever and remember the fellow with his hand up, but not one of the happiest moments.
I don’t suspect it would’ve been. What filled the


remainder of the time you spent at Tobruk?
I didn’t spend as long as many others because towards the end of May I remember the adjutant, I think it was, calling me, “Corporal, there’s a danger. There’s all of these grenades lying all over the battalion area.” “Yes sir.” “Take a man, check them out, take a bag full, get rid of them.”


So I took one of my bods and said, “Right, I’ve got a pole to test them with,” – 10 foot pole – and, “Whack the pole. If they didn’t go off, they were safe.” Then said, “Right, now pick it up and put it in the bag.” And we picked up about 50, then we came to one that had been run over badly by a truck and I whacked it and it seemed to be all right. And said Wally, “Pick it up.” And he said, “Not on your


nelly.” And a few other words adjectives attached. He said, “That’s been damaged.” I said, “Yes, I agree with that. Might not be too safe.” So I pulled the pin and threw it and it still didn’t go off. I thought, “Hell, I’ve set a booby trap in the middle of the battalion.” So I went up gingerly and I hit it and it didn’t go off and I thought, “Oh well, that it is a dud.” So I gave it another hit for safety and it did go off and I copped the lot. And I got 20-odd pieces in me. It must’ve had a


hummock behind it. Mostly they only would clear a couple a feet. I’d had one go off at my feet without anyone hurt, but in this case I got 20 bits. There’s still 2 bits in me to my knowledge and they took out most of the others. But it sort a made a mess of me and the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] ran out of bandages and they said, “We can’t afford to lose any more bandages. Put him and send him into Tobruk


hospital.” So they took me in. I don’t know how they found a vehicle, but they did.
Were you concussed at all?
No, no. I was just annoyed.
You must a been a little more than annoyed?
Yeah. Quite cross about it. They shouldn’t have done this. I thought, “Well…”
What kind of injuries did you sustain with the 20-odd pieces of grenade?
Bleeding like a stuck pig little, bits all over me and bleeding, that’s all.
What was the reaction from the people around you who saw it?
What was their reaction?


Silly so and so to get caught. That sort of…
Were you taking maybe a foolish risk trying to detonate the grenade in that way?
I didn’t see it because earlier, with my lieutenant and sergeant, we had been standing around in the colder area time being. When we first got there it was still the end of winter so it was cold, and we were standing around in greatcoats and our officer, who was supposed to be trained


type in this area – he had done courses in grenades – had picked up a grenade with 5 bullet holes through it. He said, “Look how useless it is.” And he passed it around and we all looked at it and he said, “Useless.” He dropped it down and it went off at our feet.
Was he bomb happy?
And we thought, “Well, if it didn’t hurt anybody, they’re not much use are, they? They’re only percussion grenades. Only there to make a


noise.” Like a flash job that they use now. That’s the way we saw it. In fact of course they throw bits of metal. And depends on the luck of the draw and I got the bad luck on the second time, that’s all. So they put me in Tobruk hospital and I…
How did they get you there?
They must’ve used the 15 hundredweight ute [utility truck] and driven me into town. And there was under continuous bombing about 7 times a day


and in case of bombings to get under the bed, that was all. And I remember when I was able to walk a bit. I was limping at first of course, rather badly. They asked me to help hold down poor old civilian merchant navy. He’d been bombed and sunk in the harbour and I was told that he’d been torpedoed and sunk in World War 1 –


bombed and sunk in North Sea – and here he was bombed and sunk again. And he was bomb happy, to put it mildly. And every time they bombed Tobruk and we had a 3.7 ack-ack gun just outside the hospital. So obviously that was a target and the hospital was being shaken every time. And he, of course, was bomb happy, the way bomb happys do respond. He was up in the air and we had to hold him down. So I


did that for a few days whenever I could help the orderly. And if he wasn’t any problem, I was under the bed too. And anyway in the meantime my eye was starting to play up and I thought I’d go back to the unit, but I remember the doctor coming in and saying, “Corporal, your eye looks red.” I said, “Yes, it feels bad, sir.” So he said, “Mmmmm.” I said, “Well, I wear my tin hat [helmet] over the right eye and my tin hat had scratches on it.”


So that meant some had gone up there, but it wouldn’t be over the left eye. So he put me under a big magnet that the Italians had left behind. He said, “We’ll see if we can pull it out.” So they put me up against this mighty magnet and tried to pull it out. If they had’ve I would’ve lost the eye, too, I might add, but it didn’t work. So he said, “Well I’m afraid we can’t do any more now. We can’t help you and the eye’s bad. I’ll send you have to send to back to Alex [Alexandria].”


So I said, “Okay.” So a week later a ship came in and so I was sent along with the wounded aboard ship back to Alex. An all-night run to Alexandria. So I was in Tobruk hospital about I suppose a week or 10 days. And then Alex hospital was terrible. A British hospital. And their only interest was keeping the bed


straight. The nurses were officers and as long as the beds were lined up it’s all they’re worried about, and the blankets had to be lined up. They weren’t interested in attending to people. And of course the Australians didn’t exactly go down well with this. So the moment they put a blanket over us in June, which is mid winter pretty well, mid summer, then we kicked it off. And the nurses would come running to straighten the blanket, but not to look after us.


Said, “We can’t get rid of you Australians soon enough.” To which we said, “We can’t get out of this bloody place quick enough.” Anyway they sent a train to Alex.
So I don’t suppose there was any romance there then?
Was there ever? I mean we couldn’t bear the British approach to it. So they sent us on to the 2nd Australian General Hospital, which was El Qantara, beside where we’d first


disembarked. They were a tent hospital, but quite a big one, and they were getting all the casualties from Greece and from Crete and from Tobruk, and so we joined those. And they were much better. They treated us like humans. And I remember one girl there must’ve obviously got our record and asked me did I know one of my mates from school. It was cousin of my mate that I went to


school with at Modern School. So this helped, and you know they treated us like humans and were good to us.
So how much different was the treatment ?
Well they treated us as ordinary patients would in an ordinary hospital. Instead of, “How can we keep away from these contaminated people?” See we’d been in Tobruk without a bath or a wash or a shower or a swim for


3 months. We hadn’t had any chance to have a swim even. If you’re in the desert for 3 months you get a bit high. I had managed to have one bath. I managed to get a bottle of water from what was left of the rains in an Italian water bottle, where otherwise we’re on a ration of 2 pints a day. And so I stood in my tin hat, stripped, poured the Italian bottle over my head and had a bath.


And then washed my clothes in it. That was the only wash that I’d had. Others didn’t have that. So we probably stunk a bit by the time we got to the Alexandria.
Time for a nice sponge bath, I would’ve thought?
Well that was the best we could do. They didn’t try and help us or anything like that.
No? I would’ve thought the nurses would’ve obliged you with a lovely sponge bath?
Yeah, but that assumes the nurses assume they are there for the benefit of the patients. They didn’t believe they should be looking after anyone below the rank


of lieutenant.
So they weren’t only objecting to Australian patients?
Probably not, but it happened to be all Australians coming in. They were the ones getting the casualties.
So you were soon moved on to the Australian General Hospital?
Yes. They sent a train and a trainload of us by stretcher went as far as El Qantara and then they took us by ferry across into the hospital. I was only there a week or two and they realised that, they said, “We have no eye specialists here.


So we’ll send you on.”
What kind of treatment were you getting?
Don’t remember. Presumably they were bandaging up all these other bits and pieces where I was stopped the bleeding, most of them were healing, and that appeared to be about all that they were doing. But the eye was the only thing causing me real trouble. And I had a very sore ankle where I assumed a bit had been taken out. I learnt later it hadn’t


been; that’s beside the point. I wasn’t aware of it. By then I was walking with a stick and I remember going even to a concert. And I saw a band and I heard the first music I’d heard in 5 months and it was rather a pleasure to hear a bit.
What was it?
‘Begin the Beguine’. First time I’d ever heard it. And they had the Monty Lister’s band out from the UK played it, and it was marvellous to hear.
Was it


a concert type?
Yeah a concert party. With a few skits and that sort of thing and the music. And it was the only entertainment I think I’d had since we left Australia other than what we’d made ourselves.
As a patient, how important is that kind of entertainment?
Not… Well it’s not so much as a patient, it’s as a soldier you need some. And we weren’t given any. In Tobruk it wasn’t possible. We didn’t…


You couldn’t exactly play a cricket match under fire. And you’re scattered anyway, so you couldn’t get together. I believe and there are a few cases where they were able to get together enough people for the padre give a sermon. We weren’t, and we had no entertainment.
Why is entertainment so rejuvenating?
I think it’s because what else do you do? What do with yourself? You have no radio. You have no music. You have no books.


You have nothing except the same few men to talk to. You go round the twist if you didn’t find someway.
Especially a reader like yourself.
Yes it was a problem. And you… If people talk about themselves up to a point, but again how do you keep discipline if you get too matey with your privates? Only up to a point. And you can do a bit after you’ve been in action with them


and proved that you’re not scared.
Apart from your obvious physical condition, what condition were you in when you left Tobruk?
I would’ve lost a lot of weight, like most others had, because we were living on bully beef and biscuits. And they were forcing us to take an anti-scorbutic tablet every day. They wouldn’t give us a cup of tea with our meals unless we took the tablet while they watched.
What was that for?
It was


salt and anti- what do you call it? The thing that they use to get aboard sailing ships. Can’t remember now. Scorbutic was the term used anyway. It’ll come back to me later.
Is that scurvy?
Scurvy. That was what they had to watch because you live on meat and biscuits only. That’s what you’ll get – scurvy. There were no vegetables.
How were you though, mentally, given that you’d been without


I was merely looking forward to something different, that’s all. I was quite okay.
You weren’t going around the twist?
Oh no, hadn’t been long enough. Some of them… Like 6 months later some of them were getting that way, but I was the lucky one if you like because by mid June I was out of Tobruk. I’d only been there from March until June.
We need to change tapes on that note.
Interviewee: Ray Middleton Archive ID 1422 Tape 04


The hospital that you went to?
Well my memories of it was a half a dozen beds inside an EPIP [English pattern, Indian product] tent – that’s the big one – and the nurses coming, and most of the things they’d chat to us as human beings and one of them, apart from the one that I knew connected through a friend, said that she could detect every state by its accent. And she could pick a Kiwi [New Zealander] from an Australian


by the accent, and I think it’d be right too. They could generally pick three times out of four, and after a while I could do the same. We could do it mostly now in Australia by words. If somebody talks about bathers they’re a West Australian. If they talk about a cossie [swimming costume] they’re New South Wales. If they talk about carrying a port [bag] they’re either New South Wales or Queensland.
What about if they want to wear their swimmers to the beach?


You’ve got it sorted out, really?
Oh yes. Those words are giveaways. If you talk about boloney [sausage] you’re a West Australian. If you talk about devon you’re an eastern stater.
I’ll have to watch out for that. I’m just interested to find out if that’s continued on into these days.
Well only up to a point, but do you ever see them advertising devon in the local? They always talk about boloney.
It’s very hard for me to make a


comment on that because I’ve really not been looking out for it.
Well if you look at advertisements, when they advertise, Coles Woolworths in Western Australian, they advertise boloney.
They don’t, I think you’ll find, in New South Wales.
So what were the facilities like at the hospital?
I never found out. The only thing I remember of it was enjoying the fact that our doctor, who had not been popular…


They sent a Perth gynaecologist to be our MO [medical officer] in the desert. And he was quite useless. One of my section had a growth on the side of his face. A big swelling came up. Each morning he went up in the queue. He stood up in the cold, and early morning it’s cold in Tobruk, and he stood up in the cold wind or dust storm for up to an hour to queue


up for the doctor. Each time, “And what’s your name, son?” And he told him the same name every day for 10 days and, “And what’s your trouble?” He’s got a great lump on the side of his face. “Oh. Well take this and come back tomorrow.” And gave him an Aspro [aspirin]. That was his treatment, so he was known as Aspro. And he wasn’t exactly popular; he was quite useless. And he was bomb happy. Worried about the fact that he was under a little hut


built in the open for him with sheets of iron on top with uprights and sandbags on top with a big red cross, which made a marvellous aiming mark for the Germans. And so he was bomb happy that he might be bombed. So the only way to get rid of him, they sent him back to hospital in where 2nd AGH to put him in charge of the bomb happys. And


I was told later with great relish that those who are back there heard he was coming. So they waited until he was coming in the door then they all madly leapt up and said, “Yeah.” And he got so mad, he collapsed. That was his greeting and that was how popular he was – not.
So is this is Alexandria?
That was in? What’d I say was the name of the point? I can’t remember now.


The Ismailiyah.
So what sort of treatment were you getting for your eye?
I wasn’t getting any. They put me on a train instead. They said, “Here we are with a warrant. Can you walk now?” I said, With a stick, yeah.” So they gave me a stick and they put me on the train and said, “Report to the 15th Scottish Hospital in Cairo where they have eye specialists.” So I went down and got to Cairo station and I didn’t even know enough to go and look for the RTO [Regimental Transport Officer], the


person who handled transport. So instead I hired a garry [horsedrawn buggy] and paid for it to take me to the Scottish hospital, which turned out to be one which pre war I gather was an important European hospital, been commandeered of course for the duration, and then they set it up as the 15th Scottish Hospital. And for some reason it was run under naval discipline with Scottish control, which is a little bit


confusing. And it was still British, and that’s a very bad thing cause the British can’t do anything right. They haven’t since… Well not much better than they were at Scootaree in the 1850s. And so we had beds and you stood by your bed and reported when you were told, and you made your bed by numbers and you were told to tuck it in by numbers and make sure you folded it the right way,


etc. And then we were introduced to the doctors after a few days. A little Scotsman came in – that’s to do with the Scottish part – and he had a routine which they carefully, the others in the ward, who were all people with eye trouble, had told me. He’ll come in and he’ll say to you, “That’s a very bad eye you’ve got.” Sure enough, in he came he said, “That’s a very bad eye you’ve got.” And then he walked out. The next morning he came


in, “That’s a very, very bad eye you’ve got.” And he walked out again. Next morning, as per instructions, he came, “Mmmm, that’s a very, very bad eye. And the trouble is it will affect the other eye if we don’t do anything about it.” So then the fourth day, normally he came in and said, “I think we’d better try and save the good eye.” So then they put ’em on a trolley and they came back an hour later minus one


eye. That was the usual treatment. And two of us refused. One Tommy [British soldier] and myself. All the others lost an eye. So when the others came in we said, “He hasn’t got your coloured eye for his collection. You’re the next.” So we’d warn them and sure enough it would happen. Anyway, in due course they said, “We will see if we can take that shrapnel out of your eye.” I’d refused to have the eye removed. And so they took me in and I remember watching,


I forget the number now, 16 or something mirrors that they shone down on me, and I looked up and they put drops of course too, and they prop the eye open and this eye blocked off and then I heard the two of the arguing, “I think we should have a vertical cut.” The other one, “No, I think we should have a horizontal cut.” “Oh no, I think vertical will get more to it.” “I think a horizontal.” So they said


“Well let’s do a diagonal.” So I watched the knife come down and cut my eye and then they probed inside it and probed inside it. I couldn’t feel anything, fortunately – they’d given me enough dope. And after I don’t know what length of time then they merely stitched me up and said, “We couldn’t get anything.” I said, “Well I gathered that.” So they put me back and afterwards


they he came and told us he said, “That means there’s still something in. We tried with the big magnet after we’d cut and it didn’t come out. That means it’s not magnetic.” I said, “So?” “So it means that if it’d been magnetic it would rust, so you’d lose the eye, but if it’s not, well if it’s aluminium, it might come good.


So you’re lucky.” I said, “Oh good.” So he said, “Keep it covered up now and in due course we’ll send you off.” So that was the treatment. And I spent another week or two there. And then came the news that my brother next older than me had come over. He actually was on air force training and he was a navigator and he’d been trained partially in


Australia, and he arrived in Egypt and he’d got leave to come and see me. So he saw me in the hospital and he said, “I’ll come and see you again in a week’s time.” The next thing the CO [Commanding Officer] of the hospital called for me and I went in and he told me that he’d been killed. So I said, “Well, I’m due for a discharge. Can I go?” He said, “Yes.” So he says, “Rightio, you’re discharged as from tomorrow.”


So I didn’t know where to go and so I reported to General [Thomas]Blamey’s headquarters. Blamey of course was out chasing women and no-one knew where he was or what he was.
Had a bit of a reputation for that did he?
Oh yes, and he was hated by troops.
Why was that?
Well he had been the fellow who broke the police strike in Victoria, and he had been a


policeman that broke the police strike, and he was considered a useless type who merely had good political connections. So he was not popular. And I found that his wife had come over against his wishes as a Red Cross worker to keep an eye on him. And she was living on a houseboat in the river in the Nile and he was endeavouring to keep away from his wife. Anyway his staff told me this and they


said, “You’re welcome help yourself to a bed. There’s always food there. Help yourself any time you want it.” They didn’t even know I was there. After 3 days I said, “Well I think I’m well enough to go on.” I had a pair of dark glasses given which I lost shortly after…
Sorry is this a different sort of hospital?
No this was the headquarters.
Oh right, this is the headquarters.
Yes, and just a small staff there. I just helped myself to a bed and some meals.
That’s right. For a couple of days until I said I wanted to go find


a grave. They said, “Well the best thing you can do then is to find a truck heading towards the Great Bitter Lake and go there.” And so I hitchhiked on the back of trucks until I got there and I found it. And I found it was a… I found the squadron, that’s right. My brother’s squadron was station near there and they took me in and said, “Yes, you can sleep in there tonight,” and they gave me a tent. And the adjutant called me up and said, “Well,


you’re welcome to any of your brother’s things.” They said, “The rest we’ll be sending home.” Well I didn’t want to carry a lot of things with me anyway and his (UNCLEAR) were already sent home. And he told me what had happened. He was so keen that his squadron and the one next door were both flying Maryland bombers, and quite against common sense they were using it to practice dive bombing. And it’s a small wing


span plane meant for high level bombing. And over the squadron practising dive bombing, and they weren’t good enough at it and they didn’t pull out of the dive. They were squatted [crashed] on the ground near the target range, and of course that was it. So next day they took me to the cemetery which had just been established, and I saw his grave and


I took a picture and I said, “My mother must never see that.” Because it was just a patch of desert at that point and that was all. “There’s nothing more that I can do, so I better hitchhike my way back to the battalion.” And they told me, “Oh, your battalion’s gone back to Palestine.” So I then reported into the railway and said, “I want a pass to Palestine.” So they said, “All right.”
Just before you get on to the pass to Palestine,


in the hospital, what were the nurses like?
In the ones in Cairo?
Yeah Cairo?
Well we never saw a nurse; they had orderlies. They had WAAFs [Women’s Auxiliary Air Force] women volunteers who came in and helped a bit. We never saw any nurses. Instead the male orderlies did it and they ran it like a navy ship. So you had a breakfast with a bugle and they hailed the... For some reason the cavalry bugle woke us. Cavalry


reveille. And then they had breakfast of sorts. You would sneeze at it if you saw it. And then a midday snack and then what they called because of the navy tea at 4 o’clock and that would be a tiny little pie with a cup of hot cocoa, and then at 7 o’clock some sort of supper and then you went to bed. They did have, after you got a bit


better, one padre ran silent films which you could go to if you were well enough. And apart from that we’re supposed to go out in the quadrangle if you were able, where alarms came. Cairo got a few warnings. I used to go and have a shower instead of going outside. That’s what I thought of it. And no, we didn’t see any nurses. And the WAAF woman, the one that I remember, was a wife of a senior RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force]


squadron leader or something and she was quite a nice person, but apart from that and the occasional… There was one French civilian that used to come in and play a squeeze box [piano accordian] in our faces and thing, and in French, and rather make us more scared than anything else. We had nothing until we went out.
Sounds like it was pretty, you know, boring?
Pretty boring. They gave me the


job because I was up and on my feet of looking after the Tommy – the other one who’d refused the operation. And they used an electric needle to sew his eye back on. He’d had the full bulletproof glass of a tank blown in his face and a bit of a mess. So I looked after him. He had to lie flat on his back for 6 weeks, and for 2 weeks that I was there after that and I ministered to him. And we’re good mates. And when he went,


he was discharged in England and sent me the first parcel I got later on in Germany.
That’s nice.
Yes, and he was a nice fellow.
Was he an Australian?
No, Pommy [English]. No, he’d been in Egypt since 1935. He enlisted because there was no work in England and so he went out as a cavalry and then they changed in ’36 to tanks. So they made him a cavalryman. And


he was in the 7th Armoured Div [Division] – the one’s that did the fighting in North Africa and in the attack in Markillie. They drove in and the Italians for once waited till they were 50 yards away and then opened up with all artillery, and he got a full 75mm shell blew inch thick glass in his face. And he drove his tank away, despite that, until they escaped, but of course he was never quite the same man. And he was discharged


unfit and went to blind school in England. I was in touch with him 40 years afterwards.
So he ended up blind, did he?
Yes, that… I think he said he could see shadows for a while. No more.
It’s just bizarre that doctor that you were talking about was just so completely incompetent?
Learning by doing. If you take eyes out enough you learn something about it. And eyes are cheap. There’s people coming in every day with shrapnel.


All right, if you take out enough you learn something.
So he actually wasn’t a specialist of any description?
Well he was called an eye specialist. I dunno what lessons he’d had. No way of knowing. We take them at face value. Probably meant he was a captain instead of a lieutenant.
So anyway, back to where we were before. I think you’re on the road to Palestine?
That’s right. Well I hitchhiked as far as the Canal and I


remember hitchhiking across the Canal and then getting on a train, and I helped a nurse, a civilian nurse, to get across. She said, “How the hell do I get this luggage across?” So I said, “That’s all right. Give it to me.” So soon as they tried to use customs I said, “Officer’s luggage,” and went across. But I didn’t do any good with her. The best chance I had.
You thought you might?
No harm in trying.
Yeah. It’s good to see you’re still trying.
And I never saw her again. Anyway I reported to


my unit then. In fact they were up near Gaza again in the rear echelon. My unit rear echelon was what I was told to report to. Training battalion. And I was only there a couple of weeks before my other brother who had been training in Australia came, and he came… from Egypt up to… he managed to get the post office


to disclose my whereabouts because it was given as ‘hospital in Gaza’. What had happened was that I got back to training battalion. I couldn’t wear boots because…
Why’s that?
Bad ankle with shrapnel. So they put me in there operated and woke me up next morning to say, “It was only tissue. It had worn its way out, but heavy tissue.” I said. “Thank you.” So I fell back to sleep again. Anyway because they had an address he was able to come to the


hospital and they were able to say, “This is where he is.” So my eldest brother came and saw me and we worked out a code that we could use of fictitious aunties and uncles. Like, “I have been wounded,” we spoke about auntie so and so. “I am in hospital,” uncle so and so. Little things like that which wouldn’t give any breaches, but were things that we knew the censor wouldn’t pass otherwise. And


then we had a night in the sergeants’ mess at the training battalion and then he and his mate went off, and it’s the last time I saw him. And…
What happened to him?
He was killed in action and I’ll tell you about it later.
Okay. Can I just ask you also, what sort of condition are you in physically by this stage?
I was fit other than the fact that my eye was rather tender and…
So you hadn’t suffered really any visual problems?


Well no, the left eye recovered. It was never as good as the right thereafter. It’s only better now because last year I had a replacement, but there’s still a bit of shrapnel in deep. They found it 12 years ago, found it again.
A doctor a specialist got finding it, hunting, and he determined to find it and he eventually found it, but he’s only looking through, you know. It’s not worth operating on.


I’ll carry it with me to my grave.
Oh well, if you can see, you know, and…?
Oh yes, why bother?
Then it’s fine. So you’ve just met up with your eldest brother?
Caught up with the elder brother yes, and then shortly after went back and the battalion arrived and I rejoined them. They were put in another camp about 10 miles further on and so I rejoined them. Normal then, and they merely said, “You’re bloody lucky to get out of Tobruk.” And I said, “Yeah, I enjoyed it.”


And so I… Then we were… Shortly afterwards we went to… This is the winter of course, as you might imagine. They always sent us to the desert in summer and to the cold and wet in winter. So after Christmas in Casa camp, what was…
What did you do for Christmas?
The officers actually served the men for lunch. That’s Christmas. And we had a meal with a little bit more than the usual of Christmas pud [pudding] and some [Australian] Comforts


Fund items, and I think you were allowed a bottle of beer. Big deal.
What would you get from the comforts fund?
I think occasional parcels. I don’t remember getting any myself. And I think the unit got some with a bit of a pudding in it and things like that. And there were some that we got in the desert would have things like knitted gear. Sometimes knitted by an unknown person saying, “I hope this is good to you, etc.”
How were you


equipped for the cold then?
Well, we had a summer dress and a winter dress. Summer dress was normal khaki trousers and… Sorry, were shorts and shirt. Winter dress was your khaki jacket and trousers. And boots. And you had the same boots, anyway. And the only thing they’d change is puttees were given away to the little wraparound things which we wore.


How were you greeted when you came back to your unit?
I remember the padre was the only person that said, “Ah, Ray, good to see you.” I thought it was marvellous with a thousand men, but of course he would’ve checked. He would’ve made it his business to look up and see who was coming. And he talked about, “Had you heard from your parents,” etc. That sort of thing. And the others, “G’day. Good to see you, corp.” Had only been away for 4


months, so what? And didn’t talk much about Tobruk. They hadn’t enjoyed their last part of it at all. So we resumed training and shortly afterwards they said, “Well you’re off to Syria.”
What sort of training exercises were you getting into?
None. No different at all. Nothing different cause there was nothing different to train with.
Was there any special equipment that you had for desert fighting?
Not while I was there


until the second time, but I’ll tell you about that when we get there.
But we were told instead that, “You are to be garrisoned in Syria and to build defence lines.” So they drove us by truck from Casa, north up along the coast to as far as Tripoli, which is just north of Beirut, and we were based there to build the line


just north of Tripoli. We found the 7th Division, after having made part of the attack that captured it from the Free French, had tried to dig trenches against any item, and they dug World War 1 trench 6 feet deep and throw the white soil in front, which was visible from the air. Utterly useless, but then of course they hadn’t been under bombing and they weren’t aware of it and so


they didn’t do a good job. So our first job was to put up a defence line that might hold up if tanks came down through the north. So we were attached, my section, I was attached to a Don company up in the hills where we were building sangers for a defence line in case there was an attack through. And we were supervising civilians making sangers with


a bit of galvanised iron rock and concrete to make sure that we got a defence line extending beyond the coast. A narrow strip with mountains behind. And we were there for a few months and quite pleasant cause we could visit the villages. We were invited into a few homes.
What was that like?
Quite pleasant. We have quite good memories of it. And one there, I didn’t know there was no marriages. There were a few cases where they were interested. Dad tried to marry me


off in one case, but I wasn’t interested. I mean I liked the girl.
What? You almost got married off?
Well I had laid a bet with somebody while I was on picket seeing that all was well in the village. I said, “I bet I can get in have a cup of coffee in that house.” And I won the bet. So all I did was to present myself as corporal of the picket and said, “Have you had any bother?” “Oh no, but we’ll call you if there were. Would you like to come and have coffee?” Sure enough I did. So I went in and


I met the family. He had worked in America for 20 years so he came back and then married. He’d married a local girl, who of course she spoke Arabic. He spoke English and Arabic. And they sent the daughter to a Marranite school – they were Christians – so she spoke French and Arabic. So of course I was using schoolboy French to try and talk to the girl that… I knew that they couldn’t follow my smattering of Arabic to talk to both, and


English to talk to Dad. So it was quite interesting and I was very accepted enough that I was allowed to help coffee grind at night.
Well that’s nice. And how did you actually pick up Arabic?
Through the way that the odd words that one does. There were you know translations – the greetings and the farewell and the slang and the mostly rude words that one uses.
It’s always a bit like that isn’t it, you know, the rude words first?
That’s right.
What did you think of the Arabs?


We called them ‘wogs’ and for that matter we didn’t distinguish between them and the Jews. They were all Worthy Oriental Gentlemen which is WOG, and the one of our officers made the mistake of telling us aboard ship, “Please do not call them wogs. Worthy Oriental Gentlemen.” So of course what did we call them, but wogs having been…had the word put in our mouths.
Oh right, so I see what you’re saying. So going back to


you were creating some defence lines in case the Germans came down?
Yes. And we were then working on that for some months. This… Well we arrived, it would’ve been about February I think in 1942, and we worked on the defence lines according to where we were placed. And there were three different villages that I went to until June and we had some leave. They were more liberal with leave. We went up to the Cedars


of Lebanon for a weekend.
Sorry, the what of Lebanon?
The Cedars of Lebanon – one’s from the Bible. Up where they had bit of snow still left, and the first time that I’d seen snow anyway, but it was wet snow and we had to walk up, so of course it’s a bit bad when your boots aren’t suitable. And we were able to go to what was peacetime would’ve been the hotels there and visit. A few of them did ski training,


but I wasn’t one of those. And I did escort two munition trains being taken up to hand to Turkey. We were encouraging the Turks to resist if the Germans came through. So we were taking train loads up to the Turkish boarder and then we’d leave the trains. And next morning the trains would be empty. And I went up through Baalbek on one occasion in between the items with


one other and we were escort for a trainload of munitions. I remember going shooting with the local at Baalbek. And on the way back then we took a day’s leave, self taken, and went to the NAAFI [Navy, Army, Air Force Institute] and found that we had West Australian beer at the NAAFI, which made us very cross because we couldn’t get it.
Why’s that?
We only got eastern states beer. Why would they give it to an English NAAFI? And Swan Lager was available


in a NAAFI at Baalbek. And I got a couple of bottles and then found it was flat. Which is… We had a look at the French brothels, but we didn’t go in them. The French always organised their brothels officers. NCOs. Other Ranks.
What, three separate houses?
That’s right. They have according to rank, and I dunno whether the standard of the inmates varied, but they had them all organised.
Is it…


Are the French brothels the ones that people were interested in going to the most?
Well we never saw brothels unless they were. I mean, they… Unofficially there were brothels everywhere, but the French army organised brothels. The same as the German army did. The same as the Japanese army did. The only army that didn’t were the British. Ridiculous really, because there would’ve been far less clap in World War 1 if they had’ve organised them. The French always organised them.


It’s usual to assume that if you can’t stop it, you’ll control it. It’s not unreasonable and there’s obviously far less clap [VD] if you control it. They had learnt enough that they did have blue light discos to overcome red light visiting. So where if we were on leave we were advised to go to a blue light before and after, if we had had any luck, as they put it.


Luck. Was there a lot of VD [venereal disease] around?
I don’t know. I think there would’ve been some.
I’m just wondering?
Well there was far less in World War 11 because World War 1 the experience had been… I’ve seen the statistics and they were very bad. I did study them at one point and the troops in the Middle East had twice as bad VD trouble as the troops in Europe, and the percentage of persons out of action because of illness


was as high as those out of action from enemy action. So it was serious enough that they’d reorganised our medical facilities to get blue light and organise it on troops on leave.
What did they tell you about VD? Did they just say, “Well, don’t do it?”
They gave some very graphic illustrations of VD and any good doctor would’ve given those lessons and more or less. In other words, keep away


is the best and if you don’t at least go to the blue light. Which is fair enough.
That’s fair enough all right. So it sounds like you were very responsible during a lot of your leave. You were, you know, going to see the Cedars and…?
Oh yes, well opportunity’s a great thing. And I suppose I was more responsible than some. One of the things being that I’m not a drinker. I am aware of the fact that my alcoholic tolerance is low and


I’ve never been a drinker before the war. So although I drank a little and occasionally had a few drinks, got drunk, but I realised then I wasn’t able to cope. So then I was much more wary than most.
That was probably a lot to do with it.
Cause, you know, we’ve heard stories about there’s a lot of beer, you know, being drunk on leave that, you know, some fellows just stay in a pub the whole time?
Where would you drink


in Tobruk? Is a good question. And where would you get the beer to drink? Our colonel was known as One Bottle Jack because he gave only one bottle per man per week. On the ship, one bottle per man per day. In the desert, if we could get it, one bottle per month perhaps. If you could get it. So I remember in one in cold early stages they managed to get us an issue of navy rum and we were very glad of it. Bitterly cold and we had


one issue from one of the ships in the harbour. So although, “I don’t like rum,” but it was welcome when you’re cold.
Sure. So what happened next on your journey?
Well next thing was June and we’re sailing along waiting to go back to Australia. Meantime of course we knew about Pearl Harbor and we knew that the 6th Division was going to go home. We knew that we were replacing 7th Division so we guessed they’d gone home.
Well what


was your reaction to Pearl Harbor?
Well main thing was, “Well it’s about time we got back and defended Australia. We’ve saved Britain once. Let’s go back and save Australia.” And then they did with some difficulty get two divisions sent back, despite [British Prime Minister] Churchill. And we were the last one to go and we were called in June we thought, “Ah, we should be going back.” At the same time, we heard of the fall of Tobruk and we were really upset.


After all, we’d held it for all that time and we thought, “They’ve put these bloody silly South Africans in and then they let it go in 24 hours. What’s wrong with them?” That was our thought and, but, “We gotta be careful, we might be the bunnies to go back and have to take it.” And then they made us paint out our insignia on the trucks and take off our tins hats. Put on tin hats. Take off our Australian


hats. Take off our badges. They put us on trucks and they said, “Now, we’re going to see that nobody knows who you are.” So they drove us down through from Syria down the back way, and we thought, “When we come to the Canal now, it just depends which way we turn. If it’s left we’re going home.” And they turned us right and they may well have saved their breath anyway because we’re still wearing Australian red boots. The only


ones that wore them. So all the way down through Palestine everybody’s, “Hi, Aussie.” They weren’t the one bit tricked.
How many of the men were all of the same idea that they wanted to go back to Australia?
They all did. We were getting Dear John letters. You know the Dear John letter? “Dear John, I have met somebody who’s not afraid to fight for his country and you’re having a holiday over there.” And we had at least 6 men in our battalion got Dear


John letters. Wife or girlfriend or fiancée used that as an excuse to go out with somebody else. Some cases they lost literally lost their wives, too.
Did they really believe that you were having a holiday over there?
Well, we’d obviously sent letters from wherever we were and we’d said after Tobruk what a nice place it is by comparison. So we probably painted a brighter picture. “We’re going on leave and it’s great in Haifa,” or, “It’s great in Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem.”


Which we’d been to. And some of them would say, “What a nice place you’re in. How lucky you are.” And the fact that we couldn’t do anything about it, whether we wanted to come back wouldn’t come into it. So Dear John letters are the standard term for that throughout World War 11 and in all armies.
That’s just really interesting isn’t it, because also…
Americans over there used a lot of


Dear John letters. And people, “You were having a holiday in the Pacific and my new fiancé is now fighting the Germans,” and, “What are you doing having a holiday on a south Pacific Island?” It might be Guadalcanal, but they weren’t allowed to say so.
It’s just interesting the way that the media was even, you know, presenting, you know, people who were involved in a war then? You know what I mean?


Well we were not given too much information and very few Australians were allowed to go with us as reporters in the Middle East, so we were anonymous British in most cases. And much the same way as the Americans wouldn’t allow, when we were from Australia they weren’t allowed to say, “It’s Australian troops were beating the Japs.” It was Allied and American troops,


even though it was only Australians. You’ll find that. The American? Mac, [General Douglas MacArthur] he was worse. He couldn’t bear to give any credit to any but his own mob. Churchill nearly as bad.
Was that the sort of impression that was on the ground at the time?
Oh yes, we knew quite well that we were the bunnies. Send Australians in.


Our casualty rate was three times of what the others were. They supplied in World War 1 as well.
Why is that do you think?
They used Australians as shock troops. In many cases the it’s on record in World War 1 that, “No civilised troops should do it. Send in the Australians.” They used us as shock troops too, and that’s why by 1918 the some of the units were down to


500 men going into action. Cause they couldn’t get more reinforcements and they wouldn’t let themselves be amalgamated further. And yet they were still being used as frontline troops more than their proportion.
Did you hear any propaganda from the other side?
Oh yes. We had pamphlets dropped in Tobruk and they’re well quoted in all the books. and, “You surrender.” “Put out a white handkerchief and you will not be harmed.”


“You are in Tobruk.” “You are cut off.” “You will be captured shortly.” “Come out and you will not be harmed.” “For you, the war is over.” That was all that sort of nonsense and of course the terms Rats of Tobruk came because the advertising: “You are captured rats in Tobruk.” So we made it badge of honour.
But that’s kind of the Australian way really, isn’t it?
That’s right.


I’m still a member of the Rats of Tobruk Association.
Did you hear any radio propaganda?
No, the reason was we never got near a radio. Only there was only one radio in the battalion. How would you?
Well on that note I think we might break for lunch and come back with, you know, you thought you might be going left if you were going home and you went right instead. So we’ll just pick it up from there.
We’re gonna take two more days, you realise, at the rate we’re going?


Interviewee: Ray Middleton Archive ID 1422 Tape 05


So you were being sent back to the desert, right?
That’s right, we knew that. We’d heard the fall of Tobruk and we were cross about it. We said, “Well, that’s means they’re in a mess and they’re calling on the Australians.” Which was exactly right.
Did you discuss those feelings about the fall of Tobruk before we broke for lunch?
I don’t know. We heard it while we where in Syria. And we said, well I think we did mention it, yes, but we’d held it for all those months and they


handed it to South Africans and they let it go within 2 days – ridiculous. We weren’t to know at that point that it had been allowed to run down in terms of its defence line and also that the navy had said, “We’re not going to lose 57 ships again. We haven’t got them in order to supply Tobruk.” And neither did the South Africans to be fair. But they started in bad heart and the Germans


started determined not to make the same mistake twice. So he put in a major attack within 36 hours and did what the Australians had done in January of 1941. And therefore he went into Tobruk like that with and after going in he turned around and went behind. So, to be fair, I’ve since learnt that they couldn’t have


stopped him although they could’ve done a lot better than they did do.
So what had you been told about El Alamein?
We didn’t know other than we were told go up and help stop. We learnt subsequently that Alamein was a narrow channel, as you all readers will know, between the desert and the sunken area which is all swamp for hundreds of


miles. So it was a possible hold area. So they pulled troops from east Africa, from anywhere in Egypt, and us from Palestine and Syria. All troops from everywhere plugged the gap. And so we came in. Unlike the other divisions, we had never been defeated. So we had a fresh division. We’d replaced of course many thousands of casualties and


we were confident and for the first time we had our own artillery. So therefore El Alamein was where they chose to stop the Jerry, and with enough artillery and our own airstrips and enough planes just behind where the Germans had a long carry, then we had a chance.
Where did you take? Or actually how did you get to El Alamein?
We were driven as far as


Alexandria and it transpired that what they did was what was usual. Put brigade into action brigade in reserve. We were brigade in reserve. And then of the brigade in reserve they said, “right Senior battalion in reserve to reserve.” So we were left at Amaria , which is an outer suburb of Alexandria, for about a week, after which they shot us up quickly. And


it transpired that brigade, the other two battalions, had already been put into action, and they sent in, as we learnt, they sent in a company where it should’ve needed two at least, so they got a terrible pounding. So they sent in a couple of companies where they needed four at least, so they got a pounding. So then they pulled us in, sent in a battalion, which is the obvious. And we had two attacks successful. This is July ’42.


And then they said, “We’ll do a midnight attack to drive them off the hill.” The hill being a 40 foot elevation which at least gave vision. So with very little preparation we were told to go in and take this hill. And the Germans were prepared because 2 days before we’d gone in with 40 tanks and we’d almost reached it. And


it was a plain misunderstanding then. They said, “You’ve gone past your objective,” and they pulled us back. But we’d lost 20 tanks on that day with quite a lot of our men. One platoon or one company was riding on tanks, and when an anti-tank shell hits the tank and you’ve got 10 men riding on it they don’t fare too well. So we’d lost a lot of men and they’d lost a lot of tanks.
What were your actions that day?
We’d gone through. We did a…


Went through in daylight with a smoke screen and we did a straight march in extended line through and we’d taken our objective. And I found myself, along with others, in the middle of a dunk puddle. Our tanks behind us, the Jerry tanks ahead, and I’m lying in the middle and they’re firing over my head. I’ve never hugged the ground so tight in my life. But they were interesting in knocking the tanks out. We were minor. And


anyway we got out of that in tact, but of course we were sent a few days later to capture the ground – capture the hill.
Before we move on to a few days later, where did you bed down for the evening and put up defences?
You dug a hole where you were and we dug that hole and had been living in holes ever since we’d got to the line.
So what’s the night like spent in a hole?
Waiting for the


dawn. Nothing else.
How do you make yourself comfortable?
Well you take of your boots if you dare and you hope that not too many scorpions, which are all in the desert, fall down on you. I only pulled my boots on once with a scorpion in and I got it off pretty quick. Otherwise it’s just one more night.
Do you actually gain any rest?
Oh yeah. When you’re really tired in action you could sleep in a barbed wire fence.


It’s amazing what you can do when you’re really. I s’pose it’s nervous exhaustion.
But to allow yourself to completely drop your defences and go to sleep it must be kind of an unusual thing to do in a hostile environment?
No, it’s amazing how you can do it. Not at all difficult.
What were the other kinds of hazards you experience in those conditions?
Well we were under 88mm air fire. 88mm


travels faster than sound. Previous artillery we always saw a flash in the distance and we had time to go to ground. When we got to Alamein we found that he’d bought up 88mm batteries close and he was using it in the anti-infantry role. So all they’d do then is fire it, time it to air burst exactly over you. And you’re suddenly you’re just going along anywhere, you’re right in your tent or,


sorry, your slit trench, or talking to somebody or having a dixie of stew and suddenly this whooo-whoo-whoosh, three bursts above you, and you dive for the trench. Nothing happens for an hour, but after you’ve heard these three explosions then you hear a gun go off. It travels faster than sound. So you get no warning. We lost 50 men in 2 days and we were what I s’pose a


kilometre away from the nearest. But they could observe us from this slight elevation and therefore at irregular intervals they’d fire a couple of air bursts and then shut up. But it kept us from moving about by day.
Can you describe the terrain between you and the Germans?
It was just desert with occasional patches of mostly sand, with a little bit of camel bush, rough scrub. That’s all.


And what kind of elevation did they have?
They were only up a slight rocky hill. It’s got a fancy name in Arabic, but it was known as Ruin Ridge because the remains of an old ruin on it. And it was a major objective because if you’ve got 40 feet of elevation you can see. And you can see down, so therefore it was important. And that was our real objective in the previous attack. Which we could’ve taken


had there not been a blunder in amongst the brass.
What blunder was that?
Well they said, “You’ve passed it. Go back.” When you hadn’t reached it. It’s all featureless and it’s very hard to measure your distances and they worked it out in darkness without any real fact. So quite easy to happen in that sort of corresponding area.
So what stages remain in the battle between now and your


Well the last attack. On the 26th of July they sent in our battalion complete with a 16. No 6 anti-tank guns and all support. And they thought they had taken up a decent coverage of mines through the minefield, so we crossed the site’s start line about midnight and our job was to take Ruin Ridge


and to occupy it, and the 50th Tank Regiment British would come in and at dawn. And we did our part. We went over the line and we got through the gap, and not long after we got over, the Germans had one anti-tank gun, 50mm, 50 mil job, not very far away on the right and it was not taken out. So they fired a couple of shots


at the truck as it was going through the gap in the minefield, and I saw the truck go up and of course it illuminates very brightly. So I said one of the following truck driver pulled around to go round it so he hit a mine, so up went another. So he put another anti-tank shell hit. So there was another fire. So we got the men could go through, but the vehicles with our ammunitions supplies and food then had trouble. So we


got, I think, only 2 out of the 6 anti-tank guns got through and only 2 of the mortar guns. Might’ve been 3, I don’t know. A few of the mortar trucks with 3 inch mortars got through. The few of the Vickers gunners made it and a few of the engineers made it. They were the ones had taken out the minefield. But essentially then I think we’d lost about 150 men already in previous attacks. So about 6 or 700


men made it through. Occupied the hill and were told, “You have two sand bags. Dig in.” So on a rocky hilltop we had to make sort of what we could do. Essentially we had two sandbags each. Fill it with earth and rubble and make a sanger for protection if you can and wait and fight off the Jerry [German]. Well we got shelled all night, as you can imagine. And


come morning the first thing we found was that the only tanks coming were German. And I believe one of our… I was told later one of our anti-tank guns held out for quite a while, but then of course 30 tanks knocked out one anti-tank gun without too much trouble. So then they just closed in on us and we had a few hand grenades and a few rifles and a few machine guns. And we were cut off. And one of the first areas they attacked


happened to be our end of the hill where the colonel… And then they closed in. I had a mortar truck try to make an escape and it charged at and the next thing I knew it stopped. It was stopped by an anti-tank shell 10 yards from me in my sanger and of course it started burning. And all our own 3 inch mortar bombs whick-whick-whick and kept burning for 2 hours, or at least one, and during that time every


unknown minute or two off went a couple of mortar bombs. And they’re very lethal at 10 yards. So we stayed within our sand bags. I was with one mate. We’d made L-shaped sangers. Anyway it stopped down quiet for a couple of minutes and I called out to the other one. I was in the open end which got the target. I said, “Jack put your head out and see whether it’s safe.” And he put his head out and swore. And


I wondered what it was so I climbed out and on 10 yards the other way there was a German half track with a 2 pounder gun and a machine gun on me, and said, “Come on out, Aussie.” And I had my rifle down inside. So all I could do was come on out and I found out that I was by far the last one. They’d already taken 400 men. One platoon held out for 2 hours. They didn’t know. And anyway


they were all rounded up. So the battalion was wiped out – literally. Next day they had 60 men left out of battle, which we always do to form the base, and about 40 wounded. And they managed to muster 80 in the morning a couple of miles back and the rest of us, well we were wiped out and taken prisoners if we weren’t killed.
What do you mean if you weren’t killed?


Well we lost a hundred killed in the fighting and a lot of those who were captured were wounded. I was lucky I wasn’t either.
What goes through your mind when you’re captured?
“It can’t happen to us,” is what goes through your mind, but it has. At least I’ll be fair to the Jerrys – they didn’t have to take prisoners under the laws of war. The colonel had surrendered in the name of the unit. Companies didn’t know they’d surrendered. Under the rules of war, if your unit has surrendered theoretically and others fight on then they can be wiped out.


But the Jerrys took the view, quite correctly, that they didn’t know, so the surrender was more or less when you were taken. We were marched off into our own artillery because they didn’t know we’d been captured and we didn’t have proper connection. The radios had been blown up in the minefield. So they were trying to stop the tanks and we lost a lot of our own men walking through our own artillery.
In what formation were you walking through your own artillery?
We were


walking like this with Jerrys behind us.
What just in standard line in a pack or in a…?
All they said is, “Keep away from there. There’s mines.”
So like stragglers?
We straggled according to... No, we were ordered. The Jerrys were ordering us and marched us off a couple of miles behind the line.
Were you talking amongst yourselves?
Not much. I remember one of the officers saying, “It’s all right. You’ll probably be handed to the Italians and they need us post war for


the same as they always have, as tourists.” And I don’t what that was supposed to do. Cheer us up, I suppose. Anyway, then they loaded us in trucks and we were driven off.
Before you were loaded in the trucks, how far did you have to walk?
A couple of miles, I guess.
And how heavily were you being shelled?
Well it was our own artillery, that was the trouble, and they were in a narrow bind or just a strip trying to catch the tanks, and it was too late


anyway. Once we’d gone past that, then of course we were out of gun range, too.
How many men did you say lost their lives then?
I don’t know exact number, but I mean the figures they’re all in our history. But we did lose several hundred apart from the 453 of my battalion captured that day, plus about 20 attached troops.
But just to your own artillery, how many men did you lose?
I don’t know.
Did you see any men falling to your own artillery?
I saw one. I passed one split in half.


He wasn’t a pleasant sight.
Had the shelling ceased or decreased at that point?
It was still going on.
So that must’ve raised a lot of concern in you?
Well yes, all we wanted to was to just get out of this. There’s only one thing with artillery is to get down and preferably under ground.
And you were walking with your hands in the air?
That’s right. We were walking with people goading us with a machine gun. So we couldn’t do a great deal. One fellow did make the mistake of bending down to pick up his haversack and the Jerry didn’t wait – he


just fired his gun. And I think I was a Mauser. And he showed me his tin hat. It went straight through and he had a nice crease over the top and out his tin hat. He said, “I’m taking this home with me for a souvenir.”
As you would, I suppose.
Well except that they took it off them when we got to Italy. So he lost it then.
Well we’ll pick it up, shall we, from the point where you were loaded into the trucks?
Yes. We were put aboard big Itie [Italian] Lancia


diesels. Loaded standing up, up to 50 in a truck standing up. No room to sit down. I believe they had one where the wounded there were two wounded (UNCLEAR) and they put them ahead. Those who were not too wounded to stand up, stood. And we were driven off and over the bumpy desert track and just we knew we were heading west and we were put that night in El Dab’a in what had been the barbed


wire prison we had kept Italian prisoners up till the week before, or not long anyway. So we spent a night in Dab’a. And I remember putting my tin hat on the edge of the ground, putting my head in it, and I was asleep before I knew anything about it. We weren’t fed. We hadn’t been fed for 24 hours, but we were just plain exhausted. And dawn we were roused up again, “Aft, aft.” They treat you like you sound like a dog when they bark


and they act a bit like it, too. Put aboard the trucks, taken us down to near Derna, and we were on a desert patch by the beach and they said, “You can have a swim if you like.” And most of us did. I think they must’ve given us some water then, which was a help, and we might’ve even got something to eat. I’m not sure. I can’t remember – it’s a bit of a blank. And the next day we landed up in Benghazi


where we were dumped inside a camp. The old barbed wire started properly. And we joined up with 10,000 of those who’d been caught in the Tobruk siege a couple of months before and were still in camps up there.
That’s a lot a men, isn’t it?
Well they caught 20,000 in… Over 20,000. They were a full South African division plus a couple of battalions of


British, but a lot of them were rear echelon men. They weren’t all fighting troops. And of course the Germans had also captured a complete service corps with supplies of petrol and food, and that was what he used to carry on. And that was the big trouble because he had supplies that he’d captured.
What did you arrive in that camp with?
Tin hat. One shirt. Pair of boots and socks.


That was it.
What about the other men that were already being held there?
Those there. The South Africans had been able to march out with a pack and four blankets and a kitbag, so they were relatively well equipped, but they didn’t share a damn thing. Didn’t make us love South Africans. After we’d been there shivering a couple of nights lying on the mud, a Kiwi, one who’d been captured in the fighting too, gave us one of his two blankets


and that served 6 of us. And then the Italians gave us one ground sheet per 2 men and two lengths of piping so we made pup tents where 6 of us joined in. And we could put our…make a hole in the mud for our hip and we could sleep, and we did for 4 months. And we were in the camp at Benghazi lying beside a salt lake there from, that had


to be what July about 29th until in my case November, and they fed us about 88 grams of food a day. One tin of – we thought it was Abyssinian mountain goat. I don’t know what it was – which would be about I suppose 400 grams at the most. Probably be much less than that. And two biscuits captured from Tobruk. That was our ration.


Was the Abyssinian mountain goat as good as bully beef?
Anything was good. Anything you could eat. There was a lot of trading to try and get it. The I-tyes were quite happy to trade over the wire and the German that had picked us up had gone around picking off watches. I was lucky I had a short-sleeved cardigan I’d taken out of a wrecked truck during the earlier fighting, and because it had got warm when we were picked up


I had it draped over my wrist, so he didn’t steal my watch. So I was able to exchange it with an I-tye over the wire for a kilogram of rice, which I boiled up and my… 8 of us or 6 of us managed to get a solid meal. So that was quite handy.
So who were these 8 men with you?
My section. My own section. We stuck together. We knew each other.
Can you tell me about some of those characters?


Yes well they were there were all sorts of bods. One was been north west – do you call him boundary rider? Running round a big station on a motorbike and required to keep the fences on about a 400 kilometre station with magnificent eyesight. He could pick a plane up before the detectors heard it. And he was Joey Jones. I had three


named Jones in my platoon, which is a bit remarkable. Another one was a Kalgoorlie miner and the other one was a Walloona miner. Another one was a Perth painter. Another one was the fellow that had jumped ship from New Zealand and he was the one who’d got me blown up the year before by refusing to pick up the


grenade. And so I knew them all of course and I saw them as my men and I looked after them to the best of my ability.
How did you fend for yourselves in that large camp?
Well we disciplined ourselves. Some of the Poms who didn’t know each other didn’t stick together, and when one fellow was caught stealing from the other they handed him to the I-tyes, who put him in isolation in a barbed wire


bit outside with no cover for a week for punishment. But when we found one fellow trying to steal, so we just beat him up. He was one of our own and that was it. And we didn’t deal with the enemy for it. But we were there for 3 or 4 months and after a month or two they started trying to shift us off as ships were available. And I changed my name a couple of times with other people


so that I wouldn’t go on ship. I thought that we’d be relieved if we waited long enough. And just as well I did. Two ships went and they had loaded the two ships – one with A to L and one with M to Z. And the one with M to Z was hit by two British torpedoes in the Med [Mediterranean] and 243 British prisoners were killed and 500 Indian prisoners and the other cell. And


of that 27 of them were from my battalion. I wouldn’t have known about it, but they someone came to me and said, “You 2nd 28th?” Said, “Yes.” “Well I’ve got a chap’s disks.”[identity tags] You know, we all carried our dead meat disks. And what had happened was he told us that the ship was torpedoed, a patch of them jumped aboard a raft, thought they’d escape. By next morning


out of the 20-odd that had jumped on the raft, the others, quite a swell on the Med, had fallen off and drowned. And the 10 drifted for a week without food or water. By the time an Italian convoy coming had picked them up there were only 2 alive. One of them was one of our signallers and the other was a New Zealander. The New Zealander was the only one who lived. The Australian died in hospital in Benghazi. And the Kiwi gave me the dead meat


disks for this fellow who I had known. Well I handed them in later of course, but that’s how I knew that it had happened. And I was supposed to have been aboard that ship.
What was that moment like for you?
Well I didn’t know. I merely thought I was bloody glad I wasn’t aboard it. That’s all that goes through your mind at that time. So our only good time during that time was watching a few flights of bombers come over the bombing of Benghazi Harbour.


And they got a ship while I was there laden with oil and we thought it’d gone. We said, “Oh, they’ve missed.” And this almighty whoof and we could see bits of ship thousand feet in the air. So we knew that it had really got something. And of course we all stood up, if we could stand up by then. We had to… we were so weak from hunger that we had to climb on somebody’s shoulders to stand up. And we were cheering it and the I-tyes stopped our ration.


The ration of one spoon of sugar a week and half a quarter of an ounce of salt – they stopped it. And we were dying for salt and there was a salt lake alongside us and they wouldn’t let us get anything or bring it to us. Salt lake full of piles of salt like this. So we weren’t allowed to have a razor blade. We couldn’t wash. There was no water except exact ration one litre per person per


day of water. Nothing else. Plus this one meal that came through. And so they made sure we weren’t strong enough to be much trouble.
What were the Italians like?
Well we were always contemptuous of them. Then we mostly would’ve caught their third rank. They used to get an extra pay for being frontline and we were in very much rear line bods. And they usually


picked their worst ones for guarding, as you can imagine. So we were a bit contemptuous of them and they weren’t all bad, I know. They were quite happy to trade and do what they could and those who were from Tobruk had plenty to trade didn’t do too badly, but we were not in that position.
When you say contemptuous, what were you contemptuous of?
Well we thought they were third-rate soldiers and didn’t think much of them.
Even the frontline Italian soldiers weren’t


held very in high regard?
Well we tended to give them unfair criticism, I think. We didn’t think much of them as soldiers. We respected the Jerry as a soldier. Whatever he’s not, he’s a soldier.
What about the South Africans and the other men amongst those 10,000 men, did you eventually integrate?


I was forced to when we got to Italy. We to pick up where I left off. In early November they got no option. The last of us we were marched down to a ship. The reason was we just heard that the breakthrough and that the Allied troops were advancing, so they didn’t give us a chance. They marched us down to a little ship that had pulled in at Benghazi and put us aboard in a hold –


600 of us in a room for nearly 200, I suppose – and then they sailed off. We were given one water bottle of water and that was it. And the ship pulled out and the only thing good about it we found very quickly we could break into the hold and we had lots of tinned beans. But raw tinned beans and nuts bags of nuts on top of people


with nonstop dysentery and diarrhoea, the ship became a bit of a mess. And the only thing I’ll ever say for South Africans is that their sergeants organised a series of 44 gallon drums to come down and have it hoisted over the side. Otherwise we’d probably died of stink. As it was it wasn’t pleasant, but we were allowed 6 up on deck at a time once a day to use overboard toilets.


Well 6 out of 600 doesn’t go too well in terms of time when you’ve got dysentery. So I wouldn’t recommend that as a health cruise. But we got to… We went through to the Corinth Canal. They took us up to Greece to the entrance, the eastern entrance, and then they unloaded us because they thought correctly that some who’d got in the hold might’ve got


pistols from the effects of dead Italian officers. So they searched us and they didn’t find anything round our part of the world other than tinned beans, and put us back aboard ship, and at dusk sailed us through the Corinth Canal to Taranto, the Italian naval base in south of Italy. They took us ashore and they actually gave us a lukewarm shower, which


was rather welcome after a couple of months, 4 months, with no shower. 4 months with no shave. And they used sheep shears and they just shore heads and beards. And we’re, “Good lord, that’s you, is it?” We couldn’t recognise each other because we’d grown long beards, of course, meantime.
They were actual shears were they?
Oh yes, sheep shears.
Cause they can get quite hot. I’ve seen shearers for a lark shave their heads and actually burn their scalps


with those things.
No, well they didn’t worry. They just went over it zoom zoom zoom zoom. And the same as you would. Well you see it now with the modern version when people decide to go bald for cancer. That’s how we were left and they did the same with beards.
Was that a relief after?
It was a relief because we were all lousy. The lice started within 24 hours of landing in Benghazi and we had lice nonstop. There’s nothing you could do about it except sit in splendid


isolation with your one garment off while you collect lice every day. And they put all what we had, which clothes left, and they put it all into a delouser. A big long tub, wooden tub, and they inject steam in, but they overfilled the darn thing and didn’t put anything like enough steam. Meantime we had our shower, and we stood around in the altogether obviously until we got dried and the clothes were handed back to us. We didn’t


have to worry, the clothes came out and walked back to us because all they’d done was hatch out the eggs. So the clothes were just riddled with lice. And they gave us back the same clothes and they put us aboard a series of cattle wagons and took us over the peninsular to Brindisi on the south-east of Italy and we went to a little village called Tutarano where they had a what had been a transit


camp for prisoners. Nearly all had been landed there in the past and sent north, but they’d had so many of the last month or two the Germans had given all prisoners to the Italians. Germans logically said, “It’s your country, north Africa, you look after ’em. We don’t want ’em.” So we were handed to their tender mercies. They were more gentle than Jerrys, but a lot of them also less efficient. So that’s how it came we


got to Italy. And in Tutarano we found they’d decided, “You’re the last batch. All right, you can stay in Tuta rano.” So they made it from a transit to a permanent camp. All it consisted of was couple of compounds barbed wired off. Double barbed wire everywhere. And series of huts with a hundred men a piece. So we were there from when we arrived, which would’ve been November, until the


following, what, September or August, anyway. So that was my first, if you like, permanent camp. Some that had gone off earlier said they’d do better by getting in a permanent camp. And it was better in the sense that we started at last getting some Red Cross parcels, which did keep us alive. The Italian ration wouldn’t’ve.
What came in the parcels?
Well it depends. New Zealand parcels were meant to be supplements.


They were good, but they didn’t go far enough. They weren’t balanced. UK parcels been packed with all sorts of goodies and they usually had a balanced ration in it. A tin of this a little bit of that, a tin of condensed milk, which was the biggest thing, and a bit of flour of some sort. The American parcels, or Canadian rather, they came with a tin of Klim. Klim milk, you know, powdered milk, and their ration was pretty stable. So the Canadians were probably the most consistent.


The UK were very good and were very varied. When we got Kiwi parcels we had literal nightmares the night before because we knew they were unbalanced and we were just plain hungry. And you always know when men are hungry. When they’re really hungry they don’t talk about women at all. Women don’t exist. As soon as they talk women you know they’re not starving. Starving men only talk food. The number of people who wrote down a hundred recipes


were amazing. All the food that they’d eat. They’d make your mouth water while they talked about the meals they had in the past and what they were going to eat and how they were going to cook it. As soon as they stopped talking food you thought, “Ah, you’re not hungry now.”
Which was a good sign? And the next subject was women?
Then, well I went out working from there because of the boredom. And I thought, “Well there’s no chance of escaping.” I’d tried twice from within the camp.


I’d climbed through a 15 inch pipe and I got halfway and I got stuck and the other little fella coming with me also got stuck. So we were pulled out like a cork out of a bottle. Afterwards we found that there was barbed wire wedged at the other end anyway. So just as well we didn’t get stuck further down. And a couple tried to get out through the gate under disguises in various ways and got picked up and smartly punished. So we thought, “Well, let’s go on a working party.” So


I went in as…
What kind of punishments were they given for trying to escape?
I think it was usually bread and water for a week in a dark cell. That’s the I-tye’s one. Jerrys were a bit harder than that. Anyway we went out to a working party. Which was better rations and plenty of wine. They gave us a litre of wine a week – was rough as guts red wine – and I swapped mine for extra tucker was the way I felt about it. Anyway


while we were there, after a couple of weeks I organised with this little fellow I’d gone through the pipe with, “Let’s go escape.” So we saved up our Red Cross rations. They weren’t puncturing it and... Normally in a camp they puncture it so as you can’t save it. And we had enough that he could get we could’ve got anywhere, but I had a bad case of diarrhoea again and when you’re on the run every half hour you know for


24 hours a day you no use trying to walk a hundred miles. So I said, “You’ll have to skip me.” I said, “I’ll help you over the wall.” So we did that and we put a dummy in his bunk for 2 nights and then let them find out by removing the dummy and say, “Oh, he must’ve gone.” Anyway, they put on a great show and we made them worse by… When they said, “Go and look for him,”


we went and looked in the toilet and we went and looked under a piece of paper and put on a show and the I-tyes just went raving mad to think somebody had escaped. So they put us back on a truck even to go down to get a meal within the 10 foot wall distillery where we were working, and they had a wall of bayonets in case we were dangerous, you know, that sort of stupid thing, which just made us even more contemptuous of I-tyes. So they took us back to camp


and said, “You’re dangerous prisoners. No more.” And wasn’t long after that without cause I had taken my boots off in summer to avoid wearing the only pair of boots that were any good. I was walking barefoot and I walked on the edge of a bully beef tin nearly took off two toes. So they whacked me in the local hospital camp hospital and they gave me a 1,500 injection of


anti-tet [anti-tetanus]. And I’d already had some just before I was captured, so hell, was I in a mess. And my heart nearly went like that all night cause they’d doubled the dose that one should have, but I didn’t get tetanus. Instead they put me in the bed and I got crab lice off the bed sheets. The only sheets I ever struck in 2 years. And…
Bit of a disappointment?
A little bit. So that in the end


I had to go through the treatment for crab lice and shaving and back to camp, but I couldn’t wear tolerate boots for quite a while. Then the news of the landing came on Sicily and we knew next would be south Italy, so they put us in a train and sent us up north.
How did you receive that news?
Well we knew it was inevitable. We thought, “Oh well, that’s one step closer. We’ll have to hang on a bit longer.”
Did someone have a radio or did


the Italians tell you?
You always get news no matter what you do – there’s always someone builds a radio. You never see it, but it’s there and you get BBC [British Broadcasting Commission] news read to you in all camps. They find ways. And you also get the local newspapers read to you, so you read between the lines. And so we weren’t surprised. And I got a fairly good trip right up the whole east coast of Italy because we were the sick or “maladers”[sick ones] . We were


given actually third-class sitting on an ordinary wagon and we weren’t crowded.
Interviewee: Raymond Middleton Archive ID 1422 Tape 06


Rolling. So you were just…
We just go on the train.
Yeah, yeah.
Well the train was quite reasonably comfortable. Our little guard was actually a Scotsman, but he was the son of Italian fish and chip merchants. And I dunno whether he’d been born in Scotland, but in any case his parents were Italian and they made the bad mistake of going back to visit


family in 1940. And of course immediately as an Italian son was conscripted. And he had to learn Italian, but of course he was fluent Glaswegian and he was very good to us. As a guard he went up to the engine and made tea for us every time the engine stopped and looked after us until we got to northern Italy. Which was right up north of Udine and


that’s in the Friuli region and north of Venice.
What were the conditions like on the train?
Well as I say we were lucky. We were in a third-class compartment. The others weren’t too bad. They were in a cattle wagon, but the I-tye guards one for every wagon and he sat with his feet hanging out the side and the doors open and was pretty good to them. They were much, much better. Very different from the German approach which I had later. The I-tyes were


never brutal or vicious and I hold that for them very, very much.
So what happened after you disembarked?
Well we arrived up in our camp and there was one of the long established camps in a little village. I just can’t think of the name of it in Friuli. It’ll come to me in due course. And we were marched to this camp which had been policed for a long while.


And they had mostly Australians captured in previous battles there, and we joined them and… Not officers. They have separate offload camps. They always kept officers’ camps separate from other ranks. They’ve got that almighty stupid idea of the British that once you’ve got a commission that makes you God almighty. And therefore you’re more dangerous. And the Germans thought that, too. Anyway this camp was


run by the carabinieri [Italian police] with a horrible bastard in charge, and carabinieri used to walk around with a loaded machinegun pairs all the time and they had not been very kind to prisoners – I learnt this within the first 2 days – and had shot one of the Australians who had managed to get a litre of plonk [wine]. And while drunk he had been rude to one of the carabinieri’s so they just shot him and that was


it. So they weren’t very… It wasn’t a happy camp, put it that way. Those who were sent out working and mostly a batch of privates they were up north on the River Po and mostly growing rice and they were quite okay. They were well treated, got on with civilians. But in the camp we just happened to strike the nastiest people around, but we were only there for a couple of weeks when the Italians surrendered.


They’d taken us up north to avoid it of course, but we though, “Whoopee, we’re right.” And it appears that the instruction that came out is, “That prisoners stay in camps and our troops will be with you.” But instead of our troops being landed next day, the Germans kicked out the Italians and we were treated as newly captured prisoners of war.
How did the Germans treat the Italians?
With more contempt than we had. Much more.


I’m just wondering if you know they managed to beat ’em up or?
Oh, they did. They shot em up a lot, too. They treated them as contemptible allies and they were very rough on them, and that’s one reason why they were happy to turn and switch to the British when the time came, but they were split between the two. Anyway we had no choice being in a camp and being surrounded by Germans. We were marched out in fifties


and told, “If any man escapes, the other 49 get shot.” And they kept two machine guns on every one group of 50.
What were the conditions like inside this camp?
Well we got 2 meals a day and relied on the Red Cross. There was no entertainment that I am aware of. I wasn’t there long enough to see whether they’d organised anything. There was no sports that I was aware of. Again it might’ve been a bit better, but I


wasn’t there long enough to know that much about it.
What was morale like after the Germans came in and took over?
It dropped a wee bit. We said, “Oh well, looks like we’ve got another year yet.” So we did what we could when we got aboard a train. I remember when we got into our 50 into a wagon there were I think 50 of us in a wagon to take 40, and a little Jerry type made a hole in the back of the


roof and knelt down so that he could spit on any prisoners underneath. And they locked their door very thoroughly, made it quite clear that anyone opened the door there’d be a…they’d just fire into the group. So not too many escaped. I believe in one train load they did manage to open the door and jump out into a hills and a couple got away. Certainly not ours. We were against the guard, but I don’t think they were in


every wagon and we were a bit unlucky. So the next thing we knew then is we were taken out in a little valley in the hills halfway through the alps and unloaded. I was told it was because they didn’t know where the devil to put us. So there were a few huts there and they put us in, and the moment we got in we were attacked by bugs. Great big ravenous bedbugs. We had nothing, but boards to lie on


and we didn’t enjoy that, but there wasn’t any option. They at least gave us something to eat.
Is this an established camp that you were in?
No it was just a transit. Lake Longmound, the whole length and just a valley like this with mountains going up to snow, well up 3,000 feet, and the rail line through the middle and this long hill alongside. I asked what it was and I was told they were Russians. They’d brought train loads from


Russia last year. And they didn’t open the train for 3 weeks. So when they got there they buried them and I had no reason to doubt it. The guards weren’t that bad excepting if we dared light a cigarette or something after dark then they’d threaten to shoot because there might be bombers going over. Apart from that all we had to cope with was the bugs and not much sleep.
How come there were so many


Well bedbugs infest any place where there’s a place where they can hide and where there’s some food in prospect. I’d never struck any before. I’d never struck lice before Benghazi. I’d struck fleas before. So we went from flies in north Africa. They were shocking in the front line with unburied bodies out in the front. I had to


go out… In one of our days at Alamein I had to go out with two men, and whenever they held up they went out in a jeep, whenever they held up a shovel, take 2 men over and dig and bury the I-tye still lying on the ground. Well the flies were in quadrillions you couldn’t take a mouthful without you did this. We’d had flies, then we got fleas when we got further, and then we got lice when we got further on, and then we got bugs when we


got further along. So we enjoyed all of the wildlife that they had to offer.
Yuck. So how long were you in this?
It’s only a couple of weeks. We were obviously in transit, we knew not where, and it appears that one half of the camp went into Austria and our half was sent off the other way into what had been Sudetenland and Hitler had managed to scare the hell out of poor old Czechoslovakia. And this was a camp,


it was Tessian and that was the camp we were officially registered and we were given our POW [prisoner of war] registered disk and we were told that, “While you’ve got that, you are a prisoner. If you remove it you are civilian and can be shot.” And we were then officially registered, if you like. And then potentially it was a hungry camp. There was no Red Cross so they said, “Now you can go out to work or you can stay put.” So I did the obvious and


went out to work with 350 or 60 others, mostly Australians a few British. And they sent us to a camp in what is now Austria. It was then on the old border of Germany and Austria and we were housed in a batch of huts. Reasonably comfortable by German standards and we found they had a little stove in the middle of each one and a lot of burnt sulphur in it whenever


found in. We found out later that that was what they used to sterilise the place and had done the job. And we actually had bunk with a bit of straw in. So we were well off and the food was better than we would’ve got, and then they started to work us, of course.
What sort of work?
Well, any work that they wanted. They were constructing a power station and the first job was to climb on steel girders walk on steel girders in our shoddy boots


and climb up 3 or 4 storeys carrying weights on our shoulders. And there’s no support, no help at all. So if you fell, too bad. Anyone who fell got buried. And in that case you know they’d be actually be sorry for you and would fire shots over your grave. Big help. Anyway our party after a few days of that was given the job instead to go in another direction, and we marched a couple of kilometres away to


an overflow from a mine where they had put another shaft for a mine. It was all coal mining area of Upper Salesia and on the mine spill of course, rubble from underground, they decided they’d better build huts for refugees. So our job was to dig out a big place to put and then put down the foundations and put up prefab huts. So each day we would march out in about what


about 20 of us with one guard and work all day allegedly digging with a shovel. You talk of shovel and all they expected was 8 hours shovelling, and we were not completely wholehearted in our shovelling would be a fair statement and it wasn’t making big progress. So after a few weeks they grabbed a number of Russian urchins – the small boys that they hadn’t bothered to murder when they


went into Russia – and they brought them and they used them as they were becoming teenagers as another work party. Of course we got on well with them. We used German as the common language and we knew enough to exchange information and swear at the Germans.
What sort of information would you pick up?
Oh well, how was the front going? All the news. And we learnt that they were tough young cookies. They were the


ones who became the Cheilalgia [?] I think they called them after the war and were no end of trouble in Russia for obvious reasons – they’d learnt how to survive on the streets. They were, if you like, sun dwellers in enforced by Germans and survival was the main key. So we were better housed than they were. They treated the Russian prisoners – there were some near us – very badly. And so much so the Russians, one of them


tried to pick up our scraps and I watched our officer or under officer here, corporal in charge of 370 prisoners plus a guard of 20 and one corporal in charge with the power of life and death. And I watched him do firing pistol to make this poor old Ruskie [Russian] jump and run and it wasn’t very kind. But that was John the Bastard,


and well he told me that before I got there he had shot one fellow in his bed because he wouldn’t get up and go to work, and he said, “Na, you’ve got the sick quota. You’ve got to get up.” And he said, “No, I’m not.” So he counted to 10, hadn’t got out, so he shot him. And he would’ve been punished post war excepting that I learnt in Hollywood Hospital post war that a couple of my battalion grabbed him as soon as the Russians were coming and


they got the pistol off him and then hung him from the nearest lamp pole. Didn’t wait. Which I think was fair justice. So we were there for a couple of months and we did whatever jobs we could. Like Christmas day they said, “You’ll have to go out, there’s 2 truckloads of bricks.” They were big wagon loads of bricks. They said, “You don’t have to worry. Just get ’em unloaded and you can come back.” So of course we broke 90% of the bricks in the process and then went back


to the huts, as you can imagine. And we were there and then the commandant, John the Bastard, said, “I’ve got orders for 30 men to go down the mine.” The Grubi Coal Mine. We knew what the story of the coal mines were like. They weren’t bothering to do any more shoring up so the casualty rate was high. They were only using prisoners – why worry? So I used my rank then


and said, “No thanks. I want to go back to camp.” And we all put on a show because we… He said out of the 30 he picked all 27 hut commanders to go down the Grubi in his first lot. And for once he listened and he didn’t and he drew another fresh draw. So I knew that I would be in the next one. So that’s when I put in official request to return to camp. And as an NCO I was entitled to do it. So I was sent to


camp, but instead of going to Tessian they sent me to Stalag 344 at Landsdorf in the other direction, which was in southern Germany. And that’s where I then spent a few months because it was nearly all NCOs. They had about up to 10,000 in that camp and up to 50,000 working from it.
Well that’s huge. That’s a big camp.
Oh yes.


It had been long history. It had been a camp in World War 1, prison camp, and had been a training camp for Poles when they held it, and apparently in 1870 it had been a camp. Anyway a camp again built by those captured at the fall of France by the British and they were…they’d been there 4 years or 3 years when I got there and they were just about around the twist. You can imagine 4 years of close confinement. And


they were not happy. There had been a lot of Canadians I was told, but the Canadians had been shifted out. And the only thing we found is as soon as the thaw came after the winter of ’44 we found one Canadian body floating in the pond where we’d been skating. They merely had one pond which was used for anti-fire protection since all huts were wood. And course it froze over 6 inches thick in the winter


and those who could were on skates. Australians weren’t too exactly skaters. And so we went through the rest of the winter there. And it was mighty cold, minus 15 for 3 weeks nonstop.
What were you wearing?
Luckily I’d got a parcel from home and I had a comfortable set of long johns,[underwear] thank God. As well as they’d given us a fresh uniform and the Red Cross had provided British battle dress.


So we had full battle dress over long johns with a British greatcoat, and then it was merely mighty cold. And we were getting Red Cross pretty regularly. So that meant that we could cope quite well while we were there.
How many cases of frostbite?
Not too many. Those out working are always at risk. In the camp, not unless you were silly. You don’t get that unless you expose yourself to


it. We nearly got it one day. They decided to put a search on us because they couldn’t find some people they wanted to put in jail, and so the only way was to suddenly… And normally they called us out at seven for a count, “Raus. Raus.” [Out!out!]And we normally went out in – I had a pair of pyjamas by then, believe it or not, with an overcoat over it, and I went out in that in my boots.


And instead of letting us count and go back out they shut us out for 8 hours while they searched the huts, and there was a bit of frostbite that day cause it was minus 15 is not entirely pleasant. And no food.
What were the medical facilities like in the camp?
They had a few British doctors in a hospital next door and most of them were trying to keep the insane ready from…separate from the healthy.


Quite a few started to crack. The moment we’d heard the landing in France, that’s when they cracked. They’d sort of hung on for 4 years and they heard of the landing and apparently quite a few went round the twist then. And I believe our doctors were hard put to keep them under control. I only knew of one case where he ran for the wire. You know, he’d had enough. And all you had to do was to run for the wire and


you go past a warning tripwire and start to climb. They give you one warning, you take no notice, all right you’ve been warned. And one chap did do that, but it wasn’t regular. Most’d survived. We reckoned if you could survive 6 months you could survive 3 years, but the first few months are the worst. Your stomach has to shrink from that size down to an orange and then you learn you can’t hold a big meal anyway when it’s shrunk, but


our stomachs are all over, full over size. Quite apart from the current rash of talk about it. It was true even then.
So what you’re saying is that you were just really hungry for 6 months and then it got better?
Well no, we weren’t starving. We were always hungry, yes. They gave us food of a sort and we had Red Cross parcels to live on and trading and a


huge black market was on that you could buy anything in the black market.
And who were you trading with?
Cigarettes. Canadians.
Who were you trading with?
Oh well, they traded with no doubt through the black market outside the camp, but Canadians were sent parcels of 10,000 cigarettes for 10 dollars and if you were anyone who had connections with Canada was getting cigarettes through and


anything could be bought with cigarettes. You didn’t worry about other currency and so if you had 50,000 – I believe one fellow reputedly bought his way to Sweden. I never saw confirmation, but I think it’s probable. You’d have to bribe your way and that would be enough to do it. We could’ve gone out to… We did go out to work to get wood because we had not sufficient fuel.


The ration of coal was not enough to warm a tenth of what was going on, but we had the chance to go out once a week one per so many per hut to help clear where they’d cut down trees, and there were the stumps of pines trees and if we’d like to clear the stumps we could take the wood back, which we did, and we took it in turns and that kept our fires going for cooking our own little bits and pieces and that was important. And that gave us


a walk outside too, of course, which was vital. Under guard the whole time as you could imagine. So we knew a little bit of what was on. There were German newspapers came in every day. We had Jewish volunteers from Palestine who were in British uniform and had been captured and treated as British, and they could interpret the German newspapers for us and of course


there were BBC being picked up. We never found where, but when we checked they’d always have… Our hut commander would put guards out and give us the latest BBC news every couple of days. So we were kept up reasonably up to date.
So somebody in the camp obviously had a radio?
Oh yes. There were always plenty of people who could arrange those things. We did have a university within the camp


virtually. That was established because it had been for years. So they had full courses going connected with London University. I studied for my Inter B.Com there and I was all ready to take the exam in, when was it? I forget. November ’44. And there was a mail delay and so when the papers arrived they said, “Na, they won’t accept them. There could’ve been answers sent to you in that gap.” So they we weren’t


allowed to sit. So I’d studied French and I think maths and English for Inter B.Com London, but I could never take the exam. Others in the off-lags did and one of my lecturers at UWA who’s a good friend of mine actually completed his B.Com [Bachelor of Commerce degree]. He’d been shot down in ’41 and


he finished his from London external. And he went to London, finished a further degree and came back and had been lecturing at UWA [University of Western Australia] till he retired. And he lectured to me when I went there later.
How common was mail coming in?
In batches and you’d you know, “Where’s mail for me?” And once they’d found you then it started to become reasonably regularly. It was the long way round


and it was always months in coming. So 3 months late as a rule. And family was restricted because you knew it was gonna be censored on the way out. And our mail was censored on the way out too. We were allowed one card per week and one letter per fortnight, I think it was, and the letter being a standard size and they carefully told us, the girls who are the German


interpreters, “Please know quite well, don’t talk about Uncle Joe, we know what it means.” In other words, don’t try and put over nonsense or you won’t…your mail won’t go. So we had to be very careful with what we said.
So what would you say?
Well mostly so that well I remember saying I had my birthday last week. This is March ’44 and I cooked myself a


toad-in-the-hole. I got the ingredients from a British Red Cross parcel and I used the cardboard from the box and the stove we had made from tins and with that was enough to cook the toad-in-the-hole with a sausage inside the dough. And I was quite proud of my cooking. And back came news about it – they talked about that. And how were the old cat was doing at home and the family that we knew and whether they’d


heard from my brothers. I still had two other brothers, you realise. Although I was the one who had to write from North Africa and tell my mother that the eldest one had been killed. Cause while I was there one pilot came in and I asked him his squadron and he said, “223.” I said, “Then you’ll know my brother.” And his face dropped a foot and he told me that he had been shot down over El Alamein and a few days before


his own plane was shot down, but my brother was killed and I was the one who had to write home and tell my mother about it. They only knew that they were missing and I didn’t enjoy telling that news either by letter. I hope we go back to Egypt again later this year again to find his grave.
That could be difficult?
I’ve found it once. I found it in 1981.


a bit of an adventure.
Yes I’ll do it again this year. I’m hoping. I’m planning at the moment.
Oh well, we’ll get onto that a little bit later. Yeah you were just talking about mail and…?
Mail went out. I stopped letters to most of the girls around the place. Obviously one of the reason being that I found earlier on that one or two that I was writing to were being written to by 3 others and I thought, “Well blow this, I’m not competing.” So I


dropped out. I thought, “I’ll save that mail time on for those that I knew better.” And I think I made the rather bad mistake. I got engaged to a lass from the office that I worked in from by mail.
Yeah from Germany. And when I got home I found that even though I liked her, nice person, but I didn’t want to marry her. So I had the pleasant job of breaking it off. The troubles that you build for yourself.
Was the engagement just basically


all about having communication with somebody back home?
I think so. Somebody that you knew and somebody that you liked anyway and I still like. If she’s still alive I don’t know, but I mean I had nothing against the girl. Quite a nice girl, but that isn’t really an adequate basis for a lifetime commitment.
That’s true. So tell me more about what it was like living inside the…?
In camp? Well we had plays and


university. We walked much around and round the perimeter as we could to keep up the exercise and, as I say, I studied and I became pretty expert in bridge. I taught my mate, who didn’t know anything about cards, first solitaire and then taught him bridge. And so we played till late at night – after the lights out at 10 o’clock we would light a make a little candle if we were still playing with


German margarine and piece of string and finish our card game and go to bed when we had to.
And what was the company like…?
Well we had a table with 8 men on and you had to share the food that came in in groups of 8, and I had a number of South Africans I didn’t get on with terribly well.
Yeah, the South Africans don’t seem to be very popular with you?


the Australians generally don’t.
Is it the sense of humour or the sense of attitude…?
Well the fact that the Boers still are bores in both spelling. Generally speaking. The only ones I got on with were those who were British descent from Natal or south. Those from further north, from the Boer countries, no. And we had most of those with us, unfortunately. They’d all been in or nearly


all had been either miners from Jo’burg [Johannesburg] or they’d been a full police battalion. They enlisted surplus police in and of course they were huge eaters and used to giving orders, not taking them. They were pain in the neck. So we didn’t get on very well.
Is that the only other nationality within the camp?
No, we had lots of others. There was even one Chinese. Poor unfortunate blighter was a cook aboard a ship and when


the ship was sunk he was dumped in with everyone.
It can happen. But we had within our own English speaking group 2 Palestinians, about 4 Poms and a couple of South Africans and a couple of Aussies. And where there were a number from our own unit so you knew them, but you got to know others when you’re working with them. So the border


between your battalion and the next was less important and the fact that you have 2 Aussies against the rest.
Was there men who stuck together as far as states were concerned, you know, like Victorians and New South Welshmen?
Well largely. Yes to a certain extent. The reason being that if you had all West Australians in the battalion they were the mates you knew, but it wasn’t automatic because your best mate could turn out to be a Victorian or whatever. I think the one I tried to escape


with was South Australian, but it just happened to be that he was built right. Unless they were built like me – light – there’s no way of getting through a 15 inch pipe.
Right, I see.
If I’d have taken one of the big broad-shouldered types, how the devil would he make it? Couldn’t.
True. Can you tell me what your sleeping conditions were like in the camp?
Well we had three-decker and we all of us had taken out the bottom boards so you’d fall through if you got on ’em in order to make


either burn them for firewood or use them for escape attempts. So the beds were always dangerous. Fortunately the numbers were down that we only needed two. And we used to sleep either top or bottom and try and get enough bunk boards before somebody pinched them and you had a bit of a palliasse with a bit of straw in it. And then you had three blankets, I think, and you didn’t


dare open a window, not during for 6 months of the year anyway. And minus 15 – you can imagine. It was bad enough that our only water for washing was open taps in an open concrete slab with the snow drifting in. So having a bath was a bit of an ordeal, you could say. Same way as the toilets were a hundred yards away and we all of us diarrhoea, dysentery or


weak bladders, and we were living on water for lack of food. So a hundred yard dash 3 times a night was not popular. And one of the little items that springs to mind was when we first had a wooden container at the entrance to each block of bunks if you like, and this was supposed to be a night latrine dating from when they used to stop you going to the toilets. Anyway it


continued after they allowed, but they tended to fill up and overflow and then it would freeze and people who were cleaning out the frozen in the morning were getting a bit browned off about it. So they said, “Get out no more and we’ll remove that.” So we did the obvious, which is a they had a deep drain in between with barbed wire down the centre, so we used that at night. And by the time


spring came there was a 6 feet sheet of ice from urination. Yellow of course. That’s the colour of tea drinkers. And we got tea in parcels. Coffee? No they never sent coffee. And you can always tell from the urine colour what people drink. They found that in the snow research. And they can judge nationality according to the urine.


And anyway ours was yellow and it was a sheet 50 yards long by 6 feet high when the thaw came, and that was why our winter and it was mighty cold. When we washed clothes we washed them in cold water of necessity using Red Cross soap if we had it. Then you put them on the line and the side facing the sun dried reasonably well and the other side froze. So you’d turn them around and that side froze


and this dried. So after about 3 days you put them inside and let ’em drip over your bed. Otherwise you stayed dirty for the whole winter. And I had a few showers, but I didn’t enjoy them. You know, ‘shower’ meaning standing in something and pouring cold water just above freezing over you. And I can’t say I enjoyed the smell of myself and therefore that was the only thing to do.
Yuck. You’ve really got


no choice, have you?
No, not really. Well the others might smell worse, that’s all.
What do you think was the hardest part about living in the camp?
The fact that you knew that you were dependant on others and there’s nothing you could do about it. We were getting the news. We knew about the advance in Europe and we thought, “Well, we should get somewhere.” And that was all very well until when it


came along in – what was it – January 1945 and the Russians were advancing and we knew it. And we used to put up a map on the wall and we’d put a red line where we knew the British were, but we were very conservative, and a blue line where the Germans said they were. And we were very conservative so that they wouldn’t blame it onto hidden radios, but we knew roughly where the fronts were and we knew they were getting close to us.


So we were given a couple of hours notice, “Carry what you can,” and, “You’re going to march.” So they put us on the road to march across Germany. And it was about minus 12, I suppose, and we set out and they gave us an extra 10 pound parcel that they should’ve given us at Christmas and we hung that round our necks on top of everything else we were carrying.
What was in the parcel?
Well food parcel. Christmas pud [pudding], things like that. And


quite heavy nice food, but in an awkward square parcel what do you do with it when you’re on a frozen road like that on boots with no cleats in?
So what you’re sliding around?
And falling and carrying everything you owned. I’d crocheted myself a big blanket. I’d managed to get discarded clothes and unwound into 20 ply wool and learned to crochet from one of the Tommies and


crocheted a full blanket. It weighed about 10 pounds.
Well done.
And put between blankets it was good, but of course I had to carry it then. Carry it with me until I was relieved, and I gave it to a Frenchman. I often wondered what happened to him, but he needed it more than I did then.
So you literally gave it to him for free?
That’s right. And anyway we were marching and falling all day and all the people that had carefully brought books from the


library and that they weren’t gonna leave behind for the Germans were starting to throw things all on the side of the road. And it was a rough couple of days and I was getting badly shaken up with the falls and my foot.
With the… Sorry, with the cold, did you say?
With the falls.
Oh, with the falls.
We kept slipping and falling and my foot was given me hell because it had never healed properly. And so after a couple of days I told my mate


I said, “Look Jack, I’ve got to go. So next time there’s a place you coming with me?” He said, “Na.” I says, “Right, I’ll see you.” So when we were passing through a little village and there was a gate I could see a hay barn. So I shot off hid in the hay for 2 days during a snowstorm and stayed there. Anyway then in came a Russian prisoner, obviously working as labourer, and I managed to, told him I was sick.


And he ignored me, went on and a few hours later in came a Jerry with a bayonet, “What are you doing there?” I said, “Oh shut up, I’m sick, “Oh dear. Well come on with me.” He was the local cop. He took me to his village – it was only a half a mile away – and he put me to the cell and he said, “What have you got to eat?” I said, “Not much.” He said, “What can you trade?” I said, “Well I’ve got a spare pair of boots here. They give me a pair Pommy boots.” So he gave


me a whopping great loaf of bread in exchange and he gave me an issue of coal so I got warm for the first time in a week. And after he kept me for a day or two he said, “Well what do I do to get rid of you?” I said, “Well, take me back to camp.” So he hired a horse-drawn sleigh and took me back to camp where we’d come from. And there were only a few there – the sick – and they were still there and they’re having quite a good time because instead of 10,000 there


were 1,000 and they were burning all the fence posts and things like that to keep warm. And we thought, “Well it won’t be long,” and Russian bullets were starting to drop amongst us, which didn’t worry us at all. We thought, “So what? They’ll be here shortly.” But the Red Cross complained that prisoners were being at risk. So the bloody Jerrys sent a special train to take us away. So we were marched onto a train and given a


bit of meat and a bit of bread and a half a bucket with slots all round it so it leaked, and locked in a cattle wagon, 41 of us, and told, “Right, you’ll get out when we let you. And there’s your food supplies.” And so they started taking us right across Germany and we were a week and a half locked in a train. They opened it twice, I think. And once it was one time, it was in Prague,


and a few of them disappeared there, but we reckoned the further west we got the safer, and we were getting stories about what the Russians were doing anyway. And…
Didn’t think about escaping again in Prague?
Well I didn’t. A couple did and it was a bit risky, but it was equally likely that you’d get shot because they weren’t going to take prisoners if they were escaped. It had reached that point. So you were on a


gamble as to whether you would you find anybody who’d help you. You didn’t know and I’ve never heard if any…
Interviewee: Ray Middleton Archive ID 1422 Tape 07


On a train that the Red Cross had ordered. And we were locked in the train for a week other than when an Allied plane arrived and they stopped the train and the engine went off. The guards went off the side to see that we didn’t escape and they left us there so we’d be sitting targets and they wouldn’t. But fortunately they didn’t think us worthwhile dropping and wasting a bomb on. So we got to west Germany safely


and we got out at a place called Bad Kissingen – it’s in Bavaria somewhere – and they put us into a camp there and it was a very hungry camp. They had no Red Cross and what they gave you wasn’t worth much. So they said, “All right, you can go to work if you want to eat.” So we obviously went to work. About 30 of us were marched off. We were somewhere between


Würtzburg and Schweinfurt and we marched for quite a few hours after we’d had a train ride, and if we did light a cigarette the guards threatened to shoot us. The reason was there was a thousand bomber raid on Würtzburg and that was only a few miles from us, and it was a little bit noisy. And course the guards were panicking. I mean, why the hell they would leave a city to go and bomb a cigarette I couldn’t


quite see. However they were nervy. So we were marched out to a tiny little village and they said, “Right, you’re a working party here.” And they commandeered the little hotel guesthouse, whatever one calls it, barbed wire round it. They said, “You sleep here at night and you’ll go out. And you, you and you, go out to that farm. You, you and you, go out there.” And one New South Wales bod I didn’t know and myself were sent to work for a nunnery, of all places.


It was an adjunct nunnery, the main headquarters in Würtzburg and only elderly nuns. Apparently all the young ones had stopped going into becoming nuns Hitler had said, “You’re better thing to have children for Germany rather than go into nuns.” So they were all elderly. Anyway they had already had firebombed the year before, but they were trying to run a working farm and keep themselves


in this fairly rural area. And when they found that neither this trainee school teacher or myself was a farmer they were a bit snorting. They said, “Oh well, you’re useless then. It’s no use getting you to milk cows.” We said, “No.” Last thing we wanted to do. And that saved us from having to get up at 4 o’clock and milk cows and so on. And instead they sent us out with simple jobs like, “Go and get


4 tons of leaves to supplement the straw to put under the cattle.” They stall them all through the winter. And this was March ’45 or February ’45 still. So they still had to keep them in stall. And the fallen leaves in the forest were that thick and we had to fill the wagons. You know, the little carts that you see with slats down the side drawn by a cow? And we had to fill it with tons, literally, of leaves which they


stored and mixed with the straw and used it. And each day they hauled out what was the mess under the cattle and put it on a great steaming dump, which of course is the fertilizer they would use later. And apart from that they got, I think, 6 bags of potato fertilizer which we had to go the train one day to pick up and that was it. So they were kind to us, but inclined to snort a bit.


Any people who aren’t farmers are not worth a bump. That was their way. And after we’d finished their leave job, they said, “Right, now prepare these paddocks.” They gave us a couple of acres and gave us an 18 inch rake and, “Rake everything so that it can’t damage the mower. When the grass starts to grow it’s got to be clean. Every stick, stone, bone and feather off. And if you want to rake for 18 hours a day you can enjoy yourself.” So


we got a bit browned off with it, but we weren’t there very long fortunately before the war started to change shape. And we the bomber raid showed effect and they got us to go, the two of us, to go in with them one day and help pick up from the remnants of the headquarters of their nunnery. That had been destroyed along with the rest of Würtzburg and they just cleared


way through it and they’d managed to get petrol and the hire of a truck. So two elderly nuns, or it might’ve been three, and a driver – elderly, logically – and we two went in at dark and got into Würtzburg. Nothing higher than 12 feet – the whole town was flat. It was like 5 blocks of Perth had all been flattened. And they’d


made cleared road through it and they told us that 60,000 had died. Of those, 6,000 were German and the remainders were civilians from other countries that had been killed. I couldn’t argue with the figures – I didn’t know. Anyway what was left of the headquarters monastery or nunnery had been badly damaged, but the basement was intact. So our job was to bring out everything they’d stored in there a lot of preserved apples without sugar


and so on. And we loaded as much as we could aboard and of course we ate like mad all the time we worked since we’d never stopped being hungry, and after we’d eaten all day long I found a batch of cigars and I found a half a bottle of Tokay brandy and I wondered what it was doing there, but I guessed it was for visiting father someone or other, so and he missed out. And we got back after a 12 or


14 hour shift and they said, “You two have done very well. We will give you special reward.” So they gave us a sausage and a bottle of beer. And we were already bulging like this and our haversacks were full of what we’d confiscated. We had to look at each other – how the hell would we cope? But I think we added it somewhere. So that was all that we could do. We had to come back on the autobahn and


we were spotters and we said, “Well, what happens if a Yank plane comes down?” They said, “Well in that case lower the ladders so that the nuns can get down.” But fortunately we weren’t put to the test. So we got back intact. The only time I’ve been on the German autobahn. So we came back to camp and we were only there a few days when they said, “Right, all prisoners out.” Because we could hear the guns coming. There was a push from an American Third Army, I


think. And they’d got within gunfire range. So they mustered all the prisoners from round about and put us on the road and we marched then south towards southern Bavaria. And fortunately our guards were all old soldiers from the Russian front. They all had missing toes or fingers – frostbite. And also they weren’t interested in the war; they were just seeing it through.


So they were easy to get along with and after I’d stolen a little cart because I found walking very painful with carrying the weight of my back, then I charged them cigarettes and I’d put their pack on my stolen cart. So that gave us some bargaining power and you can buy things with cigarettes. So they gave us, I think, three issues of food over the month we were marching. The rest of it was up to us,


so if a chook made the mistake of appearing, it disappeared. And the same with an egg. We refused to eat raw potatoes. There were two captured Americans were pushed in with us. The first we’d seen, and they were hopeless. They hadn’t been prisoners 3 months so their stomachs hadn’t shrunk – they couldn’t cope. And they were useless. The others, all of us were long term prisoners. We could cope. So we were lucky that the old soldiers knew and they went in a


long roundabout way – we marched for a month. First day was a long one – nearly 30 miles – but thereafter we only averaged I suppose 10 or 15 miles a day. And we went down and crossed the Danube up near Ingelstadt well up the Danube and we were in a little village there when Ingelstadt was bombed and they fell on us, the job to try and console the


civilians. They were only elderly women and kids who were scared stiff because there were Allied bombers by this time overhead 24 hours a day in streams crossing over. No German fighters. I only saw the odd one. I remember seeing one or two and they were coming out at 50 feet. Most of them were shot down. Most of them had no fuel. So we mostly had to avoid being bombed by our


own forces and the old soldiers were used to that in Russia, so we were lucky and we were never attacked.
How was their experience valuable to you?
They knew to avoid crowded places. Keep in small numbers and don’t put yourself in a place where you’re attacked. They never used bayonets. We had one little nasty sod – he was a Hitler Youth type – and he tried to be


nasty. We caught him later. I’ll tell you about him later when we get there. Anyway we saw primitive villages in the Upper Danube area. Some of them were like smoke houses. No windows and the only light was where the chimney went out in the centre of the room. They lit a fire in the centre of the floor. They were living as primitively as our cockies [farmers] were in 1912 up in the bush. And


all that they could give us when the guard tried to confiscate rations was some bean flour, and we cooked it up in community oven in the middle of the street and God, was it terrible! Each little block would weigh about a kilogram or two and of course when it hits the stomach it’s like dropping a lead weight in, and what it does to an empty stomach is nobody’s business. So we were,


our, you know, all dysentery, diarrhoea-ridden at that point and we were pretty good at stealing and swapping. When it’s not safe to steal, then you trade. So I carried a spare woollen shirt and ready for trade if need be. Eventually we reached the point when there was no... They said, “You can’t go any further. We’re getting jammed up. We’re getting towards southern Bavaria and Austria and…”


Excuse me Ray. We’ve just been wanting to adjust the camera. We’ll continue now if you like.
Right, good. Anyway they said, “You’re hold up in this village.” And then we heard the guns getting closer and we knew, “Oh well, they’re closing in on us.” And we were housed in the top of various barns. Most nights they’d put us up in a barn and all they ask was that you don’t set fire to the barn. Seeing as we were in


it we were fairly careful, although we still lit cigarettes in piles of hay. But we were careful and nobody got incinerated to my knowledge. And we…
That sounded like an understatement?
Yeah it’s true. We were careful on our own cases and we weren’t bad at... Well, one case we got a chook and it was cooked and eaten within 35 minutes.
What was the worst thing that you ate?


Beans, bean flour. Cooked as though it were bread. Shocking. And the Americans were trying to eat raw green potatoes, which are not only not very palatable – they’re poisonous – and their stomach suffered accordingly. We knew not to do that. So there wasn’t a lot to eat, but we managed to get by. I stole a few eggs of course. Whenever


we could we always listened in the barns and before the chook had stopped cackling we had the egg and we had the chook if there was no-one else around as well.
How many men were you marching with?
I think there would’ve been about 50 or 60 in this group. Cause we were in the collection from a small area, that’s why we were lucky.
You would’ve still been quite conspicuous though, wouldn’t you?
Yes, and they did shoot. Further north they shot up piles of prisoners marching in small numbers.
We were fortunate. We were far enough south that there weren’t fighters. There were only bombers and we’re not a bomber target. You don’t waste a bomb on 20 people, but you can use a machine gun if you’re on a group along the road. So those who were marching further north, they got shot down by our own planes. Quite a few Australian pilots copped it too, I learnt afterwards, but


we didn’t have any of that. So we were shut in the final village and told, “We’re not going to do much. You can stay here or you can go. If you go we’ll warn you that there’s French SS [Schutzstaffel] in the next village and French SS know that their lives are forfeited [they were Nazi collaborators] as soon as the Allies get them. So they’re not ones I want you to deal with. It’s up to you.” We said we’d lived for that long we weren’t gonna throw it away. So we stayed there. The guns were getting louder. We knew


it was only a matter of wait. And sure enough we got a call one morning, “Raus! Raus! On the road.” So three of us jumped in piles of hay and they didn’t even bother to count, and put the others on the road. And an hour later they’d gone and we saw tanks coming – streams of them. Where the hell did the Jerrys get all these tanks? There they were with coalscuttle helmets and then I looked and I saw big star on the barrel – US [United States]. “Hell, the Yanks have


changed their helmets.” We didn’t know. They were still using British helmets in 1941, but by 1944 or ’45 they’d changed to their coalscuttle, much like the Germans, but I could identify US in a star. So we jumped out went down below and said, “G’day.” They said, “Hi.” They’d been picking up prisoners all the way, “Do you want to come with us?” We said, “Not on your nelly. We’re going the other way.” Said, “Okay,


you go that way. We’ll see you.” And, “Got any Jerrys around that there oughtn’t to be?” I said, “Yes.” The little so and so was the one, the only one, I told you, was a Hitler Youth who had been trying to be difficult with prisoners. We saw him sneaking away into the farm house in civvies [civilian clothing]. So we told him and they’re, “Oh, is he?” So they were stopped by traffic hold up. So they just sent somebody and dragged him out they said, “Right,” and sat him on top of the tank on top of


a sandbag and said there’s Panzer Bertha coming at us. Every now and again they were using the first of rockets, so they were putting sandbags around the top of the tank. So they put him on the top of the sandbags and said, “Right, you’re our mascot for the next couple of days and then we’ll hand you over.” So we felt that justice had been done and we went the other way. And we went up to a…walked for a few hundred yards. All traffic was one way,


we couldn’t get out anywhere else. And called in at a house and said, “We’ve got the makings now.” They tossed over containers of rations to us from the Yanks and the cigarettes and so we called to the woman, “Would you cook us a meal?” She said, “Oh yes, come in.” She said, “My husband’s a prisoner in England. I’d be happy to.”


So we were there and having a quite an enjoyable meal when a Yank burst in with a submachine gun and held us at bay and said,


“I’m searching for prisoners.” I said, “Well we’re escaped prisoners you’re just handing back.” So he check out ID [identity] and searched the place then he went on and all was well. Anyway we went out and we struck one only jeep going against the traffic. Said, “I’ve got to go back to Nuremberg.” Said, “That’ll do us.” “Hop in.” So we did and he drove us back to Nuremberg and dropped us at the edge of the airport where the Third Army headquarters had been. And


he said, “Okay, you’re free.” And when we got there we said, “Right, where’s the food?” So they said, “Oh, chow over there.” So we went there and queued up and they said, “Oh, they’re only giving us small rations because the prisoners were likely to get sick if they eat too much.” Of course we said a few rude words and we went over to the Yank lines and said, “They’re trying to keep us on half rations.” He said, “Oh God, here,” and gave us a couple of cartons of American rations,


C-rations, and then we took those back and we joined the queue and we ate that, and then we joined the queue again, and we had ate 7 times a day and we had the C-rations in between. So I went up from 7 stone to 9 stone in a couple of weeks. We were only there for a two weeks and it wouldn’t have been that long except they had a snow storm at the end of April and they couldn’t fly us out of Nuremberg until that was over, but anyway then they decided they’d fly


us out. We found a lot of people, in fact what they did was to grab the nearest German car drive to Paris, have a holiday and then sell the car. So I’m afraid I was a bit slow on the uptake and I didn’t do that. And instead I dutifully got on an old DC-3 along with 20-odd of us and I watched the guard, or the driver rather, Yank pilot, he loaded a stolen motorbike and about


6 pistols aboard – that was his black market stuff he was going to sell – and put us on. And then the silly bugger flew across the top of Bologne. No which was it, Bologne? One of the ports that were still holding out in north France. And we nearly got shot down on the way to England because he flew over the wrong spot. Anyway that’s typical of the Americans – they weren’t given any


proper teaching in their navigation. They used to work in bulk with one navigator to 40 planes, so they weren’t good navigators.
When you say nearly shot down, what happened during that experience?
Well the Germans were shooting at all planes overhead. We nearly got shot down by the Germans who were still in still fighting because this is before the 8th of May. This is about the 29th of April, something like that, in ’45 and


this was still occupied and hadn’t surrendered within France.
But what did you see and hear during that flight?
We didn’t know anything about it. I was fast asleep. When we landed we all fell asleep. We were all of us that relieved to be in it that we just fell asleep in the plane. And we were too used to noise to worry about minor things like that. And the pilot was still white as a sheet when we landed. That’s when we found that plain lucky we hadn’t been shot down. So they landed in up near Reading, north of…inland from


London, and we had a night there in the airfield. And then they brought us down to London and then by train down to the British or the Australian depot. They got one down – can’t remember the name of it – on the coast and they’d sent Australian officers up ready with supplies ready to receive us. So we were given the once over and we had the usual go over all, anything for


information, and outfit you completely and then sent you on a couple of weeks’ leave. So I spent VE [Victory in Europe] week in London and had a riotous time. No-one could get drunk. There wasn’t enough grog available in town. Pubs opened for an hour then it’d run out. You’d hear, “Such and such a pub a mile away has got a drink.” So you’d fight your way over there with a couple of ATS [Auxiliary Territorial Service] girls or whatever, WAAFS whatever, whoever was with you, and see


if you could get enough to get one glass each. And, if so, then you’d carry on and jaunt and dance round the place. Went outside the palace [Buckingham Palace] and listened to the announcement and saw the King and Queen, etc., etc., and Churchill. Most people cheered him more than anybody else.
Why do you think so?
Well we still reckoned Churchill was the only thing that let us win the war, even though we had nothing against King George, but we all thought


he did embody the fact of who was going to win. And I’ve got to hand it to him, although he’s an old bugger and he did a lot of things that we didn’t like such as stopping the Australians from going back, and sending the Australians to Java when it was a lost cause, and so there were a few things we didn’t like about that, but still he still embodied the better part of it. In any case, we didn’t know about that till post war. That wasn’t told.


So I then got in a train with 10,000 others and sat on a case or stood up until we got to somewhere up north to Sheffield, and I went and saw the chap who’d been in hospital with me in Cairo. And I’d been in touch with him in Germany and he’d sent me cigarettes from England and he said, “When you come to England, please come to see me.” So I did just that. And there he was, and his wife,


sitting up in bed with a week-old baby and the first thing she said, “Oh, you’d better give me those trousers.” They’d just issued me with khaki trousers that were about 3 inches too long. She said, “I’ll take them up.” So sitting up in bed with a new baby, she took up me pants for me. And it was great to get to meet somebody who you’d known from way back. And they were very kind to me for a few days.


And then went back and was sent back to camp and they said, “There’s a ship going.”
Can you describe what was happening in the camp?
In which camps?
The camps you were staying in before you left?
Oh yes, that was part of our intelligence assessment. They wanted to know, “Did you have anybody that you want to report?” I said, “Well, John the Bastard.” And they said, “Well, what’s his name?” I said, “I don’t know. He was John the Bastard.” So they couldn’t do much really. And, “What was the


name of the town?” I said, “I know. It was near Deboyton , but I don’t know the actual village. Couldn’t say.” And it wasn’t till was in Hollywood [Hospital,Perth] a year later I found he’d been hanged. So justice was done and there’s no problem. But in many cases, useful information would’ve been obtained. I don’t know. And anyway after leave, as I say, I was happy. And they said, “You can go on leave or you can go home.” I said, “I think I’m 4 years


away from home long enough.” So I took the train to Liverpool. And we got aboard the Dominion Monarch – it was taking 3,000 to Australia. Of that, 2,000 were British navy being sent after 4 or 5 years of war to fight another one against the Japs [Japanese]. Most of them were a little bit down in the mouth [sad], with good reason. A lot of them were kids just drafted, but some of them had already had 6 years of war.


And after winning one it’s not much fun to be sent off to another one. And the 600 Australians being repatriated, and we were real problem. We weren’t going to be given junk for food and we weren’t going to be given half rations and there wasn’t any two ways about it. And a hundred walked off before we left Liverpool and they said, “Well, you can go on leave or you can come.” So they went on leave. Some spent another month


before they came and possibly I should’ve, but I didn’t. Anyway.
Why do you say that?
Well I mean they enjoyed themselves, and all depends on whether you had anyone waiting on you. I knew I had family and this girl that I thought I was going to marry, so I got on the boat. So we went through to the Panama Canal and we were on blackout until we got through it, and as soon as we got through they lifted the


blackout in the Atlantic, but left it in the Pacific. So then we did a long loop south of the Galapagos [Islands] and right through to Sydney – 30 days. And then we were unloaded at Sydney and sent to Sydney showground and, of course, Sydney types ignored us. After all, we were only Australian. Everybody knew Sydney. They weren’t interested. But any Tom who’s around, “Would you like to come to a party?”


And they took it for granted that we would know if we were Australians. So I rang up from there, rang up home and arranged for an uncle who was in Kalgoorlie to met us on the train, which he did, and we had a week across crossing by train. And uncle met us with 6 bottles of beer – that was something – and then down back to Perth. And then sent on leave prior to


discharge. And then discharged they gave me the offer, “Do you want to go on and join your battalion and fight the Japs, or do you want to get out?” I gave him two looks and said, “You’ve got to be bloody silly.” And so I did like everybody else and took a discharge. And already my employers at Treasury had said, “Can you come back? We’re dealing with no-hopers who are wrecking the books and everything else. Can you come in?”


I said, “All right, okay.” So I went back to work.
I might just interrupt there and ask you a bit more about the voyage home?
Yes, well 30 days under blackout conditions fighting the captain mostly because he didn’t like us coming up on deck, and we thought, “Well, we’re not going to sleep down in the bloody hold,” and, “We’ll put our hammocks on the deck and get a bit more comfort.” It’s too darn hot in the tropics and there’s no air conditioning down


below on the Dominion Monarch. It was meant to carry a couple of hundred passengers in cabins. Instead they just dumped us in the hold, which is meant to carry frozen goods or something. So we were not taking anything from the Pom just because he was the captain of a ship, and we didn’t. They wouldn’t let us go ashore while we were going through Panama. One warrant officer air force did,


and after they captured him and brought him back they tried to court martial him and they found that they didn’t have any senior air force officers senior enough to be able to carry out the court martial, so he got away with it. And we were only cross because we hadn’t managed.
What was the morale like amongst the men?
The Aussies? “We’ve won!” “We’ve beaten the Jerrys and it’s only a matter of time till we beat the Japs!” “Let’s go home!” We


were as good as gold, but the Poms weren’t quite as cheerful. They were going off to fight another war and we didn’t have a great deal to do with them.
How did you manage to separate from them?
Well we were put in a section on our own, I think, and we were told that, “You can have more food than the others, provided you don’t waste any.” Well, we agreed with that. I didn’t believe in waste. We’d learnt not to waste food. So


most treated that pretty carefully.
What kind of food did they serve you?
They tried to give us kippers, that sort of stuff, and Red Cross tried to be big-hearted and give us a tin of asparagus occasionally, and I don’t remember. Nothing registered. But I put on a lot of weight so I must’ve eaten.
And was there beer?
Oh no. Totally dry except for the officers’ mess.
So anybody get hold of


a beer from the officers’ mess?
No, no, that would be guarded with people with bayonets and pistols.
That’s a bit unreasonable?
Yeah well a bit hard.
Did it cause any friction?
Well no, most of us had got the point that after 3 years when you can’t have a grog you’re not as capable as you were anyway, and you find you become a cheap drunk. You’ve dried out well and truly. And I wasn’t ever anything but a cheap drunk, so I knew there was


not much good trying to be anything. But when 6 bottles came on at Kalgoorlie it didn’t go far amongst 12 of us.
And you all resolved not to go on fighting in New Guinea?
Oh well individually said, “Stick it up your jumper,” or something similar. I remember getting a test. The psychologist was dying to give somebody an aptitude test. I said and he said, “Can I give you one?” I said, “All right, if you want to.”


The poor beggar had to get somebody I s’pose to avoid being sent to Japan, so I said, “All right, give me one.” So he gave me one and said, “I could recommend you to take a degree course fully funded in Engineering.” I said, “God no. I’m an accountant. The last thing I want to be is an engineer.” And because I’d passed a few points in physics and so on he seemed to think I’d make an engineer. “I’ve no illusions. I wouldn’t.”


And I refused it. And he said, “Well, I can give you an Arts degree?” I said, “No thanks, I can’t afford to if I’m going to get married.” So anyway, I thought, I went back to work early. Broke it off with the girl with some trouble and met my wife while I was waiting discharge down here in Point Walter.
Before we go into detail about meeting your wife, where did you sit the aptitude test?
Was I what, sorry?
Whereabouts did you sit the aptitude test?
At Karrakatta


camp where discharge takes place. And they…
So what happened when you got back to Perth?
What happened when you got back to Perth before you were discharged?
Well the family were waiting for me at the train and, you know, the old hugs and kisses and all the other things like you see in pictures, and, “Let’s come home,” and, “Let’s feed him.” And I think my mother was giving me 12 pints of tea a day, which my stomach wasn’t doing, it was overdoing it a bit. I like tea, but I couldn’t cope with that.
12 pints?
That’s right.
How many


cups is that, about 24?
Well a mug held a pint and my mother’s idea was you have a pint before breakfast, a pint with a pint after. Then a morning tea, and then a lunch, then an afternoon tea, dah dah, and so on.
So there’s probably two or three cups in a pint?
Oh yes. Well I had to ration myself a little.
What else was she serving you besides?
Oh well, I was eating everything that the rations allowed and I


wasn’t doing badly. They gave us special coupons for discharge and while you’re living at home everything was on rations, but we were given extra coupons. Even given an extra ration of petrol. So I think within a week of discharge I bought a motorbike. I managed to get one the army were letting go and doing up, and so I bought a bike and I had a couple of gallons of petrol and we got on the black market and got some other petrol, so


we were able to cruise around a bit.
What kind of bike, excuse me?
What was it ? An English, I’m just trying to think. A 250cc
Would it have been a BSA [Birmingham Small Arms]?
Well I had a BSA pre war. It wasn’t a BSA. The one named after another town in England. Can’t think of it at the moment.
Obviously not a Triumph?
Yes I think it was. Yeah and…
Is that a town in England,


is it? Was that named after a town, was it? Triumph?
No, it’s not, so that, but there is one named after. I was thinking of a town, Lee Enfield, and there’s another one. There’s a number of makes at that time. Most of them drop off, but Triumph was one of the many English ones and I think that’s what I had. It need not have been.
How much money had you accumulated? How much service pay?
About 600 pound, I think,


which was considered a fair amount in those days.
What could you buy with 600 pound in those days?
You could buy a house and land, but of course you had to find one available for sale and there was a terrific restriction on who could buy and who could sell. And I wasn’t on the hunt, in fact, to get one.
What do you mean by restriction?
Well, they wouldn’t allow it to be sold without permission to see that it was in the public


interest to sell it. You weren’t allowed to buy it if you were buying to sell for profit, but then so there were literally none on the market. So the value of a house might be – a house and land might be 500 pounds, but you couldn’t offer 600 because that’d be black marketing and you’d be grabbed. Price control was much tighter.
Just on that subject, what do you think of the prices of real estate in Perth today?
It is utterly ridiculous, of course.


Do you think we could see some tighter control of the market?
Well I think so. I think that for one thing it’s because everybody’s trying to squeeze in little bit around Perth and that is utterly ridiculous. And of course, demanding that you will put in roads, underground water, power, phones, before you release the blocks. Obviously, people pay for that. When we bought first postwar house,


War Service Homes were building it. We had a road but it didn’t connect to anything, and we had a water pipe. There was no deep sewerage so you had to put in a septic. There was no telephone for another 6 months. There was no buses. So I mean we were lucky. This was in the bush in Como. In that day, that was bush. In fact, we found where there’d been tent pegs driven into the ground and twisted from where they’d had an army camp.


I think they’d had a searchlight battery out there early on in World War 11.
With regard to real estate today, the houses are often bulldozed and properties only purchased for the value of the land?
Oh yes, well I mean this is partly to do with the move to the cities. Perth had 600,000. Now, well when we left WA there were only


600,000 in Western Australia. Of those, 200,000 in Perth, 400,000 in the country. Well now we’ve got just under 2 million, of whom a million and a quarter are in Perth and we’ve got then a drift from the country steadily. Well how on earth can you justify that when your land values are all mad on Perth? After all you can go to Moora and get a block for 50 pound now,


50 dollars or whatever.
Can you?
Yeah. They’ve been offering them free.
In Moora?
Over the TV. Been offering them up there, yeah.
Moora’s a fair way away though, really?
That’s right. That’s the point. They want people, but people don’t necessarily want to go bush. That’s the difference from war.
Anyway, I think when we went on that tangent we were about to discuss how you met your wife when you came back?
Yes well.
You’d returned to your job, had you?
Well, we were


on leave and they said, “Will you come back to the barracks at Point Walter,” which is where they were keeping people and housing them, “until you are discharged?” And I said, “All right, I don’t want the girls to...” They said, “They’re bringing in groups of girls to dance with the troops.” It was unfair not to be present if they’d taken that much trouble. So I went back that night and met Orma ,


and things started from there. And 2 days later I broke it off with the other girl. I realised she was not the one for me and Orma was the one. And 6 months later we were married.
That’s not a bad position to be in?
Well that’s nearly 58 years ago.
But being able to choose the one right for you is a very comfortable position to be in when selecting a partner for life?
True. Yes, well


I was lucky. Orma was working with a cousin of mine and she came for the dance too, and of course that’s where I was introduced to the right person.
How did you recognise the attraction?
Just the one I wanted. Just like that.
And the attraction was mutual?
Well I had to convince her first. That took a few weeks.
That’s a woman’s prerogative isn’t


That’s right.
Yeah, I’m getting the wind up. We’ll have to change tapes there. Thanks.
Interviewee: Ray Middleton Archive ID 1422 Tape 08


So what job did you get yourself back into?
Well I went back into Treasury where I’d left, and in the meantime they had made do with temporary staff and some of them had apparently been real disastrous. And they were very glad to get somebody who knew a little bit about it so I was promoted quick smart. And I was there for 2 or 3 years.


The only problem I had was the girl I’d turned down was sitting 3 or 4 seats in front of me.
And I was very relieved when she married someone else. And in those days that meant she left, of course, and no married women in a job. Had to be a widow before you got a job, or single. So I was able to keep the peace until she was married off and that eased things. And I was eventually forgiven by the other girls having tended to let


down one of their mates. At least I hope I was. But then I took on a bit of part-time teaching while I was there because I was already qualified when I enlisted, and I found that I had a natural ability, if you like, to lecture in accounting. So I went and got a year’s transfer after doing part-time for a while and they rang me up and said, “We want full time. We’re expanding. Can you


come?” So I said, “Yes, if you get you can get me attached.” So I was able to talk to the Public Service Commissioner, since I was pay officer paying him, and he gave me permission to be transferred for a year and attachment to the then Technical Division Education. They were just expanding the teaching of accounting. So I


went over full time and while I was there I took Teacher’s Certificate and then did a Uni degree part time while I was lecturing, and took my Secretarial part time. Did my Advanced Cost Accounting part time and did my Teacher’s Higher Certificate part time while I carried on lecturing. So I was a bit busy for a few years, like 80 hours a week.
That’s busy.
And at the meantime, 3 young children. So


Orma was kept a bit busy too. And we had a fairly hectic time. And anyway I finished my degree in ’62 and it was more for my satisfaction. I didn’t get any support for that. And I abandoned it and so I went on my own, but as a mature student, and I was given provisional matriculation from my Teacher’s Certificate


provided I passed X units in this time, which of course I did, and so I got an Arts degree in Economics. Anyway, a few years later when the expansion came, this is when the expansion for universities and so on, that’s when they said, “Well we’re looking to get people for New Guinea.” They advertised. One of my mates had been there. He said, “The interview was interesting, even if you don’t


take it.” So I said, “Oh well, I’ll put in. So they sent me over to Melbourne for an interview and they apparently liked me enough to make me the offer. So I went up to be the first head of the School of Business at what is now the University of Technology in Lae. And in order to see what it was like I took long service leave in November or October something ’67


and we volunteered to go New Guinea. The Uniting Church was looking for volunteers for a Teachers’ College up there up in New Britain. And so Orma and I both volunteered, and she was already a Speech Teacher qualified in her spare time. So we she took on language laboratory got some teaching in Perth, and when we got up to New Guinea we found that they had a language laboratory provided and nobody who knew how to


use it. So I wrote the material using my history and geography, which I’d studied at Uni, and Orma put it into learning state for the students on her language laboratory. And the students came from all over New Guinea. And amongst the 750 dialects then they’ve got to learn English. And so she had a job and I had a job


for the 3 months and we said, “Well, I think we rather like it.” So I accepted the job in Lae and came to Perth, sorted things out. Had to leave all my home. I still had one – the youngest daughter was at Penrose for a year; the other two had finished. And so we went up to New Guinea. Left Orma at home for that first year. And the job was then recruit the staff, recruit the students, write the courses


and do it. So
A one man band?
That’s right. So I recruited the staff and recruited the students. They had given me the first year batch, they were already there, and all they’d tried to teach them was a bit of maths and a bit of English and said, “Now you do the rest.” So it was quite an interesting challenge. So I recruited staff from all states. From the UK. From New Zealand. And tried to pick the best of the courses and


rewrote accounting courses completely. The Australian ones I knew had a lot of absolute rubbish dating back to the 19th century. Things like the average due date for bills of exchange. Dated back to sailing ship days. And we were still being taught that. I thought, “Well, what’s the point in it?” So I abandoned all that and tried to update. Up there I started an accounting laboratory that had never been had in Australia before


and I managed to get a very good technician up and we set up one where they used accounting machines and calculators and the first of the computers. And I insisted when they got the first computer in New Guinea that it be able to be cope with binary. They wanted to use a non-binary and I said, “No way. Cause the engineers like it – so what?” I was fighting engineers, as always. And they were always getting the main share of


the money and I was always fighting them.
What’s the use of having a computer in those days?
They were just, or they were using it to solve equations, and the engineers were trying to work out, for example, what depth of gravel would you have to do to keep a stable road in the mountains where you’ve got 150 inches a year of rain? That’s their sort of problem. But ours was to see that computers could be used to solve problems which


were coming up in business, and I was a bit ahead of most. I’d had some programming lessons while I was at Perth Tech [Technical School]. So I knew a bit about it and I could see the future was going to be much more in computers. When I said I was going to do it, they said, “Ha, there won’t be any computers in New Guinea for 20 years.” When I left 6 years later there were already 7 major installations there. That was in 1973. And


my students all had to learn at least the basics of programming before we could do anything else. So I left when they offered me another 6 years, but I said, “No, I think I’ve had enough. It’s time to go home.” And I was offered jobs at that time – one in Singapore, one in Hong Kong and one in Lismore. So I said, “Lismore is starting another School of Business and I’d be boss cocky. If I went to Singapore I’d be Junior


boy with all the other Chinese and they’d want me to work twice as hard as I was prepared. Chinese really can work. If I go to Hong Kong I’d be 2IC [Second in Command] and I’d have the same trouble and they’ve got no golf courses there.” That decided me. Six golf courses in Lismore. So it’s closer to home. Closer to golf courses and less trouble. So I started the what is now


the Southern Cross University in Lismore. It wasn’t called that then. It was the old Teachers’ College and the moment I joined it became a multi-purpose College of Advanced Education, I being the first of any non-education faculty. And of course it’s grown now. It’s one of the biggest universities in New South Wales and at that point it wasn’t at that level, but I pioneered it. Wrote the courses,


recruited the students and the staff as like I’d done before. I had much trouble because the Higher Education Board in New South Wales tries to tell you and look over your shoulder at everything you do, “But we haven’t qualified everything that you’ve done,” you know. “Well, that’s my job.” But no, they’ve got to look over your shoulder and vet everything, you know, “You’ve only listed 7 books for that one bit of one course.” And I found that the people on the Higher


Education Board were all failed teachers, as you might imagine. I told them, I said that, “I carefully recruit from every state. I won’t take a teacher who has not taught in more than one state.” I remember the boss cocky saying, “He wouldn’t recruit me.” I had to bite my tongue from saying the obvious: “Well you would be totally inadequate.”
That’s very funny.


That’s right. Anyway, I succeeded. And 6 years later they said, “Well you’re getting a bit long in the tooth.” I was 62 and, “We’re not going to sign another contract for you.” So I said, “Okay, over to you.” So I left there and I said, “Well it’s a bit young to retire.” So I was going… I bought a house in Lismore already, but they…and then the Uniting Church said to me, “You’ve dealt people in New Guinea


and we’ve got an office in Derby running an accounting service and we’ve got no-one to be take charge. Will you do it?” I said, “Okay.” So they paid the transfer. And the salary was nothing terrific, about a third of what I was getting as a professor before as a Head of School, but that wasn’t important. I mean shall we say I need money, but something of interest


and better than the pension. So I went up there for 4 years and after a year or two with hopeless girls who were only interested in going to get laid at night. I got rid of them, fortunately, and Orma came into the office and she was the best offsider I had, and we worked together as a very good team until I – what was I? – 65 and


a half and my hearing was going and I felt that I couldn’t do my job properly. Cause dealing with four Aboriginal communities was my main clients and they will not speak up and I’m chairing meetings of aboriginal communities and trying to get the message that because you’ve rolled over four utes this week you can’t have another one next week. That sort of message is rather hard to get over. And trying to move them, shall


we say, a little bit towards the 2,000 years they’ve got to pick up in a hundred. And it was interesting. I learnt a bit and…
Was it difficult dealing with a completely different sort of culture?
I much preferred the New Guineans to the Aborigines. The New Guineans were much easier to cope with than the abs [Aborigines] although I got on okay with the aborigines. But the New Guineans were much cleaner and much more advanced, and well they were


a… Put it this way. They were agricultural communities in New Guinea and the Aborigines were still in the hunter gatherer. We had to jump further to bring them into 20th century. We still haven’t bought either into the 20th, let alone the 21st, but I can see it’s another hundred years and then we’ll be like the… It’ll be like the African Americans. They’ll be taking over the show.


It’s happening in America, but you didn’t see it in 1950 or ’60 either.
It’s starting to get, yeah, a little bit of a…?
Well, now they have the token white face in a black film. In 1950 it was a token black face in a white film, but we haven’t reached that point yet.
Sure. So what did you enjoy most about your time in Derby?
The fact that in a small community you make your own fun and they were


very good and they were very good social life. I was active because the Uniting Church was running the accounting service, I was automatically the treasurer whether I liked it or not and automatically had to attend their functions and so on. And since we shared with another and the Anglican Church, we got on well with that group. And for many years after we came to Perth we used to have an old Derby reunions. And we made a lot of good friends.


People with few resources always do. And it was good to meet them.
What happened after Derby?
Well I retired for the second or third time then – I was about 66 or something – and we bought a place in another part of Brigadoon and I had a house. But my youngest daughter had married and was living


in Zimbabwe with a Faith Mission mob and I knew that they had to get out. So I bought a bigger place so that they could come with us and had to bring them out after their independence. I went there in 1981. We toured while I was still in Derby. We toured South Africa to Kenya after we’d been in Zimbabwe,


and I drove all round Zimbabwe – it was safe just at independence. It was only a year later or two that he started to feel his straps and become the difficult type he is. And so then I was retired, although of course I immediately took on work with Legacy, RSL [Returned and Services League] and Probus – all the other things that one does.
What’s the motivation for being involved in all those?


I couldn’t do nothing. And of course I could at least join a few libraries, which I did.
Sure. You mentioned to me earlier that you actually looked for your brother’s grave?
Yes, well in 1981, and on this tour I’d planned to make time. We’d joined a tour group and when we got to Cairo then one day when they were going to see the Sphinx then I hired a taxi and told him, you know, arranged for the day and


I went looking for one brother’s grave. He’s buried near the Great Bitter Lake south of Ismailiyah, and I had a lot of trouble finding it. So did he. He didn’t know anything outside Cairo. But we I picked up conscripts. The war was still on between Egypt and Israel – or just over – and a lot of refugees, and they found the cemetery in the midst of refugee camps. So I found that one


and then a few days later there was another tour somewhere around Cairo, so Orma and I took a taxi and drove to El Alamein where the other brother is buried. He was shot down over Alamein. So I found his grave. Then we came back then continued the tour.
What do you get out of revisiting places from your war experience?
Well it’s nice to know what happens after you leave


and how they’ve changed. I went back and to Lismore one time about 10 years after I’d retired, had a look at the new head and what they’d done. I haven’t been back for some time now. They’ve gone a long way. Completely rebuilt of course, and completely developed. It’s taken over the University of New England. When they first made it a CAE [College of Advanced Education], then when amalgamated it, they made it a branch of University of New England.


It expanded so fast that University of New England is now a branch of the Southern Cross University and it’s now got branches all down the north coast. I helped establish the first of them in Grafton, so I was rather proud of that. And teaching at a distance we started to establish while I was there. And I had all my students able to use computers again long before they were normal.


So my students, my graduates were never out of a job unless they chose to be because they were the first group if you like who were properly taught accounting in my thinking and properly related to computers. And that, of course, is what turned out to be right. I was a bit ahead of my time.
I’ll say. At least by 10 or 20 years.
I think so. I felt rather proud of it anyway.


they would’ve been a fairly large device at the time, wouldn’t they?
Oh, they were huge, cumbersome things and useless, too, in general term as we see it now. But they were still on the way in and you still had not to be frightened of it. And if you were writing your own programs – there were no pre-progammed stuff you could put in. And the proof of the pudding was that your program was then sent at 3am to somebody else’s computer, and if it worked then you were


passed and if it didn’t work – do it again. And you had to write up every step in your program in order to work a computer. So it was a lot harder than the modern one. When you got a program, shove it in and it’s away.
Cause that’s pretty technical actually, having to write your own program?
Oh yes. We had to start from, “What are bytes?” and, “What are on-off switches?” Start from that point.


And what sort of tasks could you actually complete on a computer in those days?
Writing a program was as far as we could get. Because then others had got to the point when your program would be to deal with debtors or to deal with payments. Salary would be usually one of the first I think they wrote. So that you worked out a computer which would select wage rates bring it to a fortnightly or weekly as the case might be, take standard


deductions from it and work it all out and so on. And solve it so that this is a pay sheet. That was a big deal. Pioneered by the railroad in Canada. Canadian Pacific Railroad. They used punch cards in 1966. They were the first, and we were studying them. I was the president of the Cost Accounting Institute in Perth in ’67, using that as a model. So that was where I started


if you like on that road. But they dropped their staff. The staff – they had to pay 17,000 people weekly scattered over 5,000 kilometres and they had to do that then by punch card system and 20 people. They cut it down to that. So I could see it was heading places in 1966 and we followed on.
So I suppose you’ve got a computer now?
Oh yes.


I’m, mind you, I’m not a fan of the internets. I use e-mails and whatever.
But it would be kind of silly if you didn’t have a computer considering your background?
That’s right, although I dropped right out and was all behind the 8-ball until my son gave – who was in practice as an account and gave me one. He said, “We’re upgrading. Here’s one. Here, use it.” So I did that and of course I got a new one later.
So did you teach yourself?


we have various lessons in the village. One of the advantages. A couple of bods that have had a 20-year love life with computers teach us for nothing. Or for $5 a month or something.
Great. That’s a great service. We were talking earlier about, you know, your time in the POW camps, and how important is mateship under those sorts of circumstances?
It’s very important. It depends on who the mateship is for.


I mean you share gear. For example, while I was in – what month? About March, April ’44 – I’d received parcel from home. I had clothes and in came one of the chaps I’d never met before from my battalion. He had been on the loose in north Italy. He’d been out working so he went and joined the partisans. Six months later one of the Fascistic paid him in [betrayed] for a reward so he was


picked up and sent to join us. As he was being marched off one of his mates said, “Look for the paper tomorrow.” This is in Itie [Italian] of course. And next day they found where the Fascistic had been found stabbed as a reward for putting him in. Anyway he was sent to Germany and he came with nothing but what he stood up in into the camp. So I was able to give him surplus clothes and


so on. That was mateship. He was 2nd 28th. I’d never met him – so what? He was my battalion. He would’ve died about 5 years ago. I’ve been down. I made sure that I was his Legacy widow to look after his widow. So she’s been to our reunions a couple of times now.
Is that where you think the biggest part of mateship happens within separate battalions?
More. Because the closer you are fighting together the more you


are likely to stick together when things get tough, yes.
How’s that carried on over your life, all that mateship?
Well, I’ve always been active in service items. While I was up in New Guinea I was cut off a bit from the battalion, obviously. Once I got back to Australia then I started getting the journal again and putting in occasional articles and so on, and then when I came back to the west they immediately grabbed me


once I came to Perth to be on the committee. I couldn’t very well from up in the Kimberleys [Kimberley Ranges]. So I’ve been on the committee now for 10 years. Started as auditor, and then they pushed me through as vice president, president and so on. And while I was president, the editor died so guess that’s how became editor. And I’ve now passed the job as president to somebody else, but I’m editor for life. But I think, as soon as I go, I think the association will have to wind up


because the journal keeps it together. We’re scattered over every state in Australia and although the majority are in West Australia and the widows are scattered likewise and we have associates of family members who choose to be interested. You can imagine that without something to correspond there’d be no association. The Rats of Tobruk Association folded up last year in Western Australia


simply because they couldn’t get a committee. If you can’t get a committee, there’s nothing you can do.
Why can’t they get a committee?
Well if they’re not in hospital, they’re dead. And about 3 people that are able – I’m one of ’em – says, “Well, can’t be in both.” Not both to that extent.
Too hard.
So that’s the reason we said, “Wind it up.” We attend the Rats of Tobruk function once a year, but we’ve now got a college running it.


We’ve passed it on to the next generation if they want to. And no doubt when I cark it then this will happen; the association will fold up. The 16th Battalion did. No the 11th Battalion Association folded up last year. Couldn’t get another secretary, treasurer, editor.
Sounds like a pretty big job?
It keeps you busy, yes. I’ve got books there and you’ve got to put work on it.


I’d say about a hundred hours each issue.
What do you get out of being a part of an association such as that? Or what do you think other people get as well?
One thing, well you don’t get Alzheimer’s [disease] while you’re working, that’s one thing. You are connecting with some of them you knew, some that you never knew, and I know from the some of the pathetic letters that come in that I publish that some people... Absolutely


pathetic that some of them live only for it, for the journal. That’s the only thing that they’ve got left in life. They’re in a nursing home and their only contact with the world is to get a journal every 3 months. And you think, well, you’re doing something if you’re keeping them sane.
It’s quite tragic really, isn’t it?
It is, and I’ve got, I can show you a hundred letters that I’ve got there that… I expect that the new journal would’ve come out today, but it hasn’t arrived. They’re quarterly and they’re


supposed to be due out the 1st of March, but I always have trouble because the printer’s slow. February’s short and we’ve got a bloody holiday Monday at the start of March. So between the three it’s always late. Not much I can do about it.
So it’s really just a job out of love that you’re doing?
That’s right. Yes and I’ve found that I have a flair for it. All right, let’s use it. Apparently I’m doing much better than the previous editor
so I’m told.


And at least they write and say so often, “Enough.” They don’t have to.
What do you usually do for Anzac Day?
I usually go and march, of course, and things differ according to where you are. When I was at Rockingham – that’s where I’m a life member – I marched there for the dawn parade and they wanted us to march at 11 o’clock. You can’t be in both spots at once.


Now that I’m active on the committee and I’m up close enough and I always march with my unit in Perth. We have our own unit memorial in the west end of Kings Park. They have a 7 o’clock service there and they wanted me to take it, but because it’s not easy from this side of the river, cause if you park from here, when you go round there, how the hell do you get to the other end of Perth in order to march for the other one – where do you park? We have troubles with it, but


this year I’ve told them I think I will skip the 7 o’clock one. I couldn’t go last year because I was just out of hospital with the eye operation, so I marched at the 11 o’clock but not at the earlier one. And it’s the first time I’d walked more than 10 yards in a month and I had a little bit of difficulty completing it. Anyway, I’m fit now so I can’t use that. But I told them the march is going to go backwards this year because of necessity with mucking up the oval.


With the convention centre?
Esplanade. Well no, it’s not that so much. It’s this bloody silly railway.
They’re going to pile… A great pile of earth will be full blocking the entrance so there won’t be enough room on the Esplanade to hold the Anzac Day service. So we’re going to hold it in east – what do you call it? – park there on the other side of Victoria Avenue. What do you call the park? I forget now.
Right. Is it a shorter trajectory?


distance, but they’d start from the Terrace and march east instead of starting from east and marching west. It’s already decided.
Hang on, we just might have to pause for a second. I can hear a door.
It might be my wife, I don’t know. It probably is. That you Orma? (interruption)
Okay. So what does Anzac Day mean to you?


It means a lot. The memory of my own brothers, my own mates, and it’s obviously making sure we don’t forget that what we have is not bought cheaply. That’s as I see it. Certainly not a war glorification. They asked me that question a couple of years ago on down at the Esplanade and I had the answer ready and they put it on the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Commission] as a matter of fact and sent me the


extract afterwards at my request. They obviously realised that I knew what I was saying.
How do you think that Anzac day has changed over the years?
I’m pleasantly surprised that a younger generation is now seeing it as being a major day for people. And more of the younger generation are joining it. I find I’ve got a granddaughter that makes no end of trouble to go there. My


eldest daughter, who for a long while was a pacifist, makes great effort to always be there to watch me march, etc. Apart from my wife, obviously, and now my great grand kid marches. Well he doesn’t march, he comes to watch and wave to Grandad. Good to see the younger generation getting a picture of it.
Why do you think there’s been this increase in popularity, do you think?
A lot of things


put together. I think there’s been a lot of publicity, some of it good. There’s been more understanding since troops have been sent off to other actions that the idea that peace is forever because we’ve signed it, they realised is a bit of a myth. You’ll only have peace so long as you’re prepared for war. And we paid the price. That’s one reason why I never feel guilty about taking my pension. We had to


pay for the governments that refused to equip the forces. We went in under-equipped, as I told you earlier, in Tobruk. And scrounged what the enemy left behind. We would not have been captured if we’d had proper guns. After all we were still using 2 pounders when the Germans were using 88mms. We had an effective range in our tanks of 300 metres and they had an effective range of 2,000 metres.


So our poor tankies [tank corps] were just sacrificed absolutely and this was just a normal part of it because they said, “We’ll save money.” I felt that that was all government waste because they were saving money. And so, “Instead of sending guns, we’ll send more bodies.” And the bodies, what do they do? Taken prisoner. And after all you’ve only got to look at Singapore for that. We were very


lucky we weren’t in that one.
What did you think about the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
Marvellous. Every year the question is asked of me, “Was it justified?” The answer. Yes. It saved 50,000 Australian lives. Half a million US lives. And probably it saved 5 million Japanese lives because they would’ve fought to the end


but they still would’ve died. So this was better to lose 100,000 quickly than 1 million in agony. Which is what would’ve had been the alternative.
Do you really think they had serious intentions about invading Australia?
No. I didn’t know that till post war. If I’d have read up at the time we were in danger, all they would’ve bothered about was taking the north in order to see


that we couldn’t disturb them. That’s all they would’ve worried about. They didn’t want Australia; we were a pain in the neck. They wanted the tropical islands which gave them oil, which we didn’t have at that point. Rubber, which we didn’t have, and they didn’t need anything else that we had. So we were totally useless – just a problem because it was a launching point. So all they were doing was stopping the launching point.
What do you think


your experience of being in the Second World War, the impact that it’s had on you, how’s it changed you?
Well I grew up was one thing. Although I was 24 when I went away I was still immature because it wasn’t normal to leave home unless you were sent away or got married. Both my elder brothers were sent away to the country with their job. Okay, they grew up more than I did and I realised I was immature


and I said why. Although I was going to be sent for a commission, I don’t think I’d been a good officer at that point if I’d got it because I was not mature enough. I think you’ve got to live away from home and have bit of rough stuff before you are fit, and this is, after all, one of the growing up bits, and some of the troops that I had to live with help you grow up. Does that answer your question?


What are the positive changes you had on a personal level, do you think, from being a POW?
I know a little bit about how the other half lived so I know why the war occurred a bit and why Europe is like it is in its history, which I knew – studied it, anyway. But it I can follow it and appreciate it. And I don’t blame them because with their history it was


inevitable. You can understand a lot more of the rest of the world. There, that’s the positive, and you’re not usually bitter if you understand why one people do it. I’ve never been bitter about Germany. We’ve got two Germans – one living in the next villa and she was a girl during the war in Germany and good friend. Another one who was submarine in 1945, a boy


of 17, and quite a good friend. I don’t hold it against him. After all, if he hadn’t done that he would’ve been probably sent to fight in the Russian front and been killed anyway. So what?
So you’re not really holding any hard feelings whatsoever?
Oh no. Why bother? Everyone did what they had to do. The only ones that I feel a bit disgusted was those who dodged any service


when they didn’t have to and didn’t do anything useful. See, farmers were necessary, but I noticed that anyone who really wanted to could get away from a farm if they really wanted to.
Sure. Well, Ray, I just want to thank you so much for talking to us today for the archive. It’s been a very informative day, being a POW and all the experience in the desert. So, thank you very much.
Thank you.


0 Comments You must to sign in to add a comment Add a comment