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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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 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…
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.