and loading and unloading area there. And I think… I was the 6th child of the family, 12 of us in the family, 9 boys and 3 girls. I was mid one and
I believe I was a very big baby, I was a 12 pounds baby and gave a lot of trouble, and have given a lot ever since probably too. But then I did my primary education at the Ulmarra Public School and at the end of that I won a bursary to the Grafton High School. So I did the next 5 years a the Grafton High School. There was no
reasonable road between Ulmarra and Grafton in those days so I had to go to Grafton on the river steamer every Sunday afternoon and come back on the following Friday afternoon and boarded with a family in Grafton. At the end of the high school Leaving Certificate I
got a job in a clerical position with what was then the Clarence River County Council. They were the electricity providers for the Clarence River with most of the supply coming from a hydroelectric station at Nymboida and then in 1936 I was transferred
to the Coffs Harbour Office. And the council at that stage was just starting to supply Coffs Harbour with electricity. I remember we took over from a private contractor who had a series of old machines out the back of his garage and Coffs Harbour had 600 consumers at that stage. Two separate towns, two completely separate towns, separate football
teams, separate surf clubs and separate ideologies. It was an understood thing that you got a fight or you saw a fight because the jetty mob would come up to dances in Coffs Harbour and there was always trouble. But however I was there until 1940 when I enlisted. Prior to that time
the Militia unit. 13th Militia Unit was formed in Coffs Harbour and I joined there and then joined the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] in – when was it? – March 1940 I think. Everybody seemed to be doing it at the time. And I went to
Ingleburn and joined the 2nd 13th Infantry Battalion there. And after basic training the camp was required for more intakes than they had the capacity for, so we were marched off to Bathurst and our battalion marched from Ingleburn up to Bathurst.
And we had to march because the Bathurst camp wasn’t ready for us either, so when we got to Bathurst in the middle of winter it was a pretty cold bleak sort of a place. But we spent some time training there until September when we then trained back to Sydney and boarded the Queen Mary for the Middle East.
The Queen Mary and the Aquitania and the Mauritania comprised of convoy with of course associated warships. And from there we landed in Palestine, trained for another 3 or 4 months there before we went up the desert ourselves following on the heels of the 6th Division which had taken
Bardia and Tobruk in the meantime. So we went on through there up into Tripoli to a place called Beda Fomm, that’s as far as we got. And in the meantime the 6th Division went to Greece and got belted there of course. And the Germans ripped it into us and we hastily found our way back to Tobruk where
we were able to hold them off. And we stayed there until the end of December of 1941 that would be yeah.
we were the only battalion which lasted right throughout the siege prior to December when it looked as though things were quietening down. The Australian units were being relieved by Polish and British forces and we were the last battalion to be evacuated, but we were down waiting by the harbourside in a sunken ship,
or a damaged ship, for the relief boat to take us out. But the German bombers got it first, so we had to go back into our positions in Tobruk and we stayed there. That was about September I think, and we stayed there until December when the British forces were pushing up from the Egyptian frontier for another dash at
Rommel’s forces. Because there was information that Rommel was to attack Tobruk on a certain date. I just forget what the date was now, but sometimes in November it was. And the British forces pushed up as far as a place called Sidi Rezegh and they were stopped there. It was where the Germans had built a bypass road around Tobruk.
And they were running out of opposing forces then so they, the powers that be decided that the 2/13th Battalion had to go in. So
that’s damn silly, isn’t it? So anyhow we went out to this place called, have to try and vaguely pass it, Sidi Rezegh and we struck the Germans at a place called Edg, bloody silly…Edgina [?]. Actually
I can give you a resume there of our German battle. And after, or in the Edgina we lost a lot of men. As a matter of fact, when we went into attack the Germans one night there in the position they were holding, one of our own shells dropped on our leading platoon, killed, I think it was 17 of the platoon and
wounded the rest of the platoon and actually killed a bloke I was talking to at the time. Then anyhow we gathered the rest of them up and went in to attack on the Germans and we got, I think it was about 160 prisoners out of them and captured the position. And we nearly got Rommel that night because he had been operating there and he
got out just before we took over the place, might have changed the course of history a bit if we’d have got him. So then after things quietened down there we came back to Tobruk, it was about 10 miles out, if I remember rightly. And from there we
travelled back overland, back to Egypt and then up to Palestine. Trained again there and then we were located on the Syrian-Turkish border for some months because they were expecting parachute drops in the area from the Germans,
but they never eventuated. It looked then as though the German threat had virtually weakened and wasn’t any great consequence any more. And the Japs had come into the war and our battalion, or the division was then to come home and do battle with the Japs. So because the training was a bit antiquated
in Australia they decided to send one officer and two NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] from each battalion, head to Australia to try and revitalise the training a bit and bring some modern ideas into it. I was selected from our battalion and two NCOs and we came back to Australia. But
the training card, it was suppose to be a composite force and stay as a composite force, but the powers that were entrenched in Australia decided, “Oh, this is too dangerous for them,” so they split us up, sent us off to different camps and broke the actual wholeness of the unit. And
I was sent to Dubbo where I trained for, oh four or five months I suppose and then to Bathurst and Cowra and later to General Training Centre at Tenterfield. And from Tenterfield I rejoined the unit at Finschhafen in New Guinea. And after Finschhafen
campaign we came back to Ravenshoe in north Queensland and trained there for probably six months or something like that again and then went to do the Borneo landing. And we went to Morotai first there and trained with the American navy and then went on to
Borneo, landed at Labuan. And the Japs pulled out and we had practically no opposition there at all. So after that it was decided that we would then go onto a place called Murrimutoon [?], up the top of Borneo where the big Shell oil fields were. So the assault force was gathered
for that and we trained a bit around the coast there for that. Then we went up and did the landing at Miri, but the pounding was a bit too much for the Japs and they pulled out really as soon as the operation started. It was a massive sort of a thing on a small scale
if you get what I mean. We went up in American destroyers and went ashore in landing tanks and the cruisers and destroyers pounded the landing beach before we went in, really smashed it to pieces. Liberator bombers came over and they added it to it and our own
landing tanks. The Yanks that were driving the landing tanks, had a great time with 50 calibre guns firing every leaf off the trees. When we landed there, there was such a tangle of trees on the beaches that we couldn’t get through with the tanks – we had to disembark and go on foot. However, the Japs saw the better side of it too and they pulled back quick smart and they stayed out on
the Ram Road, which left us the high ground covering the oil wells and so forth. But they did turn all the oil fields into one huge big bonfire before they got away. I think there was something like 19 wells were burning when we landed and the sky was that dark that we never saw the sun for weeks and weeks,
with just the smoke from these burning wells. And incidentally, they brought over from America some fire team that was suppose to perform miracles in putting out oil wells. They couldn’t do anything with them at all. And eventually an Australian engineer did the job. They
rigged up aircraft engine on trucks with the propeller blowing the wind forward and when they got up near the seat of the fire they were able to get the fire away while they closed off taps and so forth. And eventually they got them all out but it was
a huge fire going. There was a stream running down the middle and it was just a stream of oil, must have been thousand and thousands of gallons of oil burnt. But, however, the Japs stayed fairly quiet. We did a lot of patrol work around the area to keep them out and that was the finish of the war for us. And by then the Japanese
force, or the Australian force against the Japanese, was being reconstituted and I was asked to go to Japan with them and I said, “No.” I’d had enough by that stage and had five years’ service in it so I decided I’d come home.
So I came home and rejoined the Northern Rivers County Council as it was then in the electricity department. And I worked here for some little while, I think it was about 12 months, then I was transferred to Lismore office, in charge of the Lismore office,
which covered the areas of Casino, Ballina, Mullumbimby, Kyogle and up as far as Tweed Heads where they’d extended electricity supply to in that time. And I was there until 1960 when computers first came into use
and it was decided to transfer all our billing system and so forth onto computers. But the idea was ahead of the computer knowledge and the computer capability. And we had one hell of a trouble trying to transfer all the records and consumer accounts and so forth to computers because the computers was a big thing then. They weren’t little computers
like they are now – they were things that big. And we had 12 months of really great struggle until we got rid of those computers and got more up to date computer in, and from there on things went along fairly well. That went on until 1980 and I then retired.
No, yes I retired in 1980. We decided we’d live the life we wanted and we bought the house at Bedrock and we spent most of our life fishing and lounging around. It’s been very good retirement for us, see our girls growing up and having
our their own families and that’s about it.
those days particularly in cattle, pigs, poultry and other agricultural products like potatoes and so forth. And the coastal steamers, the one I remember particularly was the Polgenbar. He used to come up, I think it was twice a week there was a service there, Tuesday and Thursday between Sydney and Ulmarra.
Polgenbar, and I just can’t remember the name of the other ship, but they loaded from the wharf at Ulmarra, pigs and cattle and all sorts of things. There were quite big chutes and slipway things there for holding the stock. And that was the main way of getting stock to Sydney at that time. And
the passengers going to Sydney, that’s before the train times, they went by the coastal steamer. I think it took about a day to go down to Sydney, day and night. I don’t know, I remember it was a great source of interest to us when we were kids to
go and watch the pigs and cattle being loaded and so forth. I can remember them trying to load an old bull there one day and they had trouble loading it and they put a big rope around his horns and went to lift him up with a winch and drop him in. They got him just over the hold and the horns came in together and he dropped, boom, down on the deck – we thought that was great fun.
But things were pretty crude at the time of course. The river boats carried all the passengers up and down the river, they were virtually no decent roads and no decent transport. Cream which came to the butter factory, which incidentally was the biggest one in Australia, it came from around the river and tributaries of
the river, the Coldstream Narara [?] and so forth. And that was picked up each day by these little river boats from the jetties and wharves that each farm had down near the waterside. And that was one of the kids’ past-times in those days. We’d get up early, I think it was about 3 o’clock the cream boat left,
and we’d spend the day on the cream boat, Saturday or Sunday something, going up and down the various waterways shooting ducks and red bills, anything that was on the water. They were tough days in a way but we had a lot of fun with them too. But my father had a general store in Ulmarra and it was a very, very busy town
in those days. The main street would almost be choked some days with carts and very, very few cars. As a matter of fact my father’s delivery truck I think was one of the first to come to the Clarence, or to Ulmarra. It was a T-model Ford truck and I remember it was unloaded from one of these coastal boats onto the wharf and
a chap called Phil Amos who was employed by my father decided he could drive it up the hill. It was a fairly steep hill going up from the wharf. He got halfway up and it wouldn’t go any further because they were gravity feed, they had to turn round and back it up the hill. But we had a hell of a lot of fun with that truck too at the time. Our parents had a holiday cottage at
Bulli and my elder brothers used to drive this truck out to Bulli and have all sorts of fun shooting and fishing and so forth on the way. That was the days when you didn’t have to have a licence for gun, and I think in the cupboard at home there we must have had about 20 guns of different types and calibres. Even an old Martini Henry. But as time went on of
course the elder brothers went off to high school and university and, oh, I went to high school too at that stage. What else…
we were never together all at one stage. It was in the street behind, or next to the main street in Ulmarra and it was actually three blocks of ground, three fairly big blocks and the house itself was built when I was, I think I was about eight
or nine or something like that, when the house was built. It was a big weatherboard house – that mark I’ve got there reminds me of it. In those days the timber for the house were stacked in a big triangle like that, so they’d weathered before the house was built. And they’d leave them there for probably a month or more out in the weather before the builders
started to use them. I ran round the corner one day just as my brother threw a stone at a magpie. It was on the other corner and I just collected there and it was a real beauty too. And strangely enough it never thoroughly healed, it was 50-odd years ago, no 70, 80
years ago. But the house itself was fairly big house, there was… I think there was four bedrooms in it and kitchen, bathroom, laundry and a big veranda right around, which was the main sleeping
area in the summer time. That was about it. It was built when I was, oh, when I was only a young boy. Prior to that we had lived in another house. I can only just remember the house, around
in a street which was at right angles to the street where our house was built, that was King Street. We used to get into all sorts of trouble around that first house, too, I remember. The Morans lived across from us and they had quite a big yard and they were the main transporters
of the area. they had oh, probably up to a dozen horses or more there, cart horses and trolley horses, and they did most of the transport and removals and so forth around the place, all the unloading from the wharves and that sort of thing. And they were rough tough family, Irish people, or the old mother was Irish,
she was a real old villain the old mother. But it was a source of entertainment for us kids mucking around there with the horse and trolleys and so forth. We also used to make our bows and arrows and I had a bow one day about that long made out of big stalk of bamboo and I just finished making an arrow
with a wire, fencing wire point on it, when one of their horses walked into the yard. And nothing would suit me better than to let fly into this horse’s rump. The arrow stuck in tight and the horse went right up the road – they didn’t get it for three days.
at all. They had in almost every case be satisfied with agriculture work. A lot of them worked on the dairy farms, 10 shillings a week and your keep mostly, that was about the standard. And the keep was dependent of course on the way the particular dairy farmer
fed himself and his family. But that was the main source of employment. If you worked on a dairy farm and agriculture, I think you usually got 15 shillings a week. But you spent most of your day ploughing and harvesting and so forth, and then you’d be up at about four o’clock
in the morning to get the cows in and milk until about nine o’clock. Then you’d have a bit of breakfast and out to the agriculture again. So it was a pretty hard life. There wasn’t much else offering. Jobs like assistant in a store or something like that were few and far between.
I just can’t think of, oh, sleeper cutting was another thing that was fairly common at the time because railway lines were being built in many areas and a lot of the sleepers came from timber products on the north coast here. So if you couldn’t find a job elsewhere you went sleeper cutting and that meant ya
got a little tent and you went out in the bush with your own hard hat, provisions, and stayed there for probably the week or so cutting sleepers, stacking them, and then the railway inspector would come around and inspect them and put his stamp on the logs, on the sleepers that he accepted and reject some of the sleepers. It was hard going for
those chaps but there were quite a lot of them doing the sleeper cutting.
We didn’t have much contact with other nations or other countries at that time. There was an influx of Italians at one stage for working the cane field when things were pretty bad in Italy, and a lot of them came out here to do cane cutting, which was a very hard and
laborious job. But we didn’t see a great deal of them. They’d come as a gang to one of the cane fields down on the river and they’d stay on that cane field until they cut it out and move onto another cane field. There were quite a few more Aboriginals around then, fair dinkum Aboriginals, not these
white Abos [Aborigines] that get so much publicity. As a matter of fact, we had one old lady, Lilly, if I remember her name was, she seemed old to me then but she probably wasn’t old, she used to come and do our washing every week for 10 shillings. And later on my mother bought a full washing machine, which was
one of the first washing machines on the market, and she dispensed with the old gin then. But we didn’t see much of other nationalities, I think probably because transport was not so easy then to get from Europe to Australia where I’d expect to have been a very expensive proposition for any immigrant
wanting to come in. And there weren’t the jobs offering that would attract many emigrants either. So we didn’t see many emigrants, a few Irish…
River, Grafton and South Grafton areas. And at that stage supply was generated from a power station, hydro electricity supply and supply was extend to Ulmarra and South Grafton and Grafton. That was the main
area that was supplied. Later, when the lines were extended further and the demand was greater than could be provided by the embodier power station, a steam power station, coal fired, was built at Killcare about, oh,
six or seven kilometres outside of Grafton on the Copenhurst Road. And then that allowed supply to be extended down to Coffs Harbour, Macksville, Belgian, Urangan, all those places and then up as far on the north side to take in Lismore and Casino, Ballina, Mullumbimby area.
And that gave quite a bit of employment in the area, in the construction of lines and maintenance of supply of all the things that were associated with it. In those days there were not of course the number of people here that there were then, or that there are now, I mean.
And you were very limited in the early days to what you could have in your house because supply was only limited quantity. I remember most houses only had one power point, which was a start, and if you had an electric stove you were very, very lucky. And you had a jug,
an iron and one power point. That’s about the electrical installation that there were then. Cause as electricity become more favoured the demand went on for extra appliances. New appliances came on the market that we’d never heard of before.
prior to the war, probably because of interest by my older brothers, I was also very involved with the 15th Light Horse Regiment. They used to have a camp every year and sometimes it would be at Casino, sometimes Lismore sometimes Urbenville, some of the places. And it was a really good get together
these cavalry squadrons doing in all sorts of exercises. And I was still at high school when I joined and I think it was fourth year at high school when the headmaster came in and said, “Where’s Graham today?” and somebody said, “He’s in Light Horse camp at Casino,” and I believe
he nearly exploded. But I got by all right. My elder brother was very involved with the Light Horse too. My eldest brother and my brother next to me also got involved in it later. And I think that probably gave us the grounding. When I went to Coffs Harbour and the 13th Militia
was being formed there prewar, naturally I gravitated into the militia having had a little bit of Light Horse experience. It seemed the rational thing for me to do. And then when war broke out cause I was interested in joining the 2/13th Infantry Battalion. I
applied for that and I went and was interviewed by the CO [Commanding Officer] for it, myself and another fellow, Russ Sanderson from Taree, went down for the interview. We were accepted in the battalion and so we went.
with the live rounds. Most of the Light Horse chaps were country people who were used to firearms. From the time they were bits of kids they’d handled small rifles and shotguns and so forth. They were, I think most of them were very safety conscious about the use of firearms. No, I don’t recall any accidents at
all with them. I do remember one in the 2/13th, we were on a march from Ingleburn to Bathurst and one afternoon some of the boys went kangaroo shooting after we stopped, and the next morning at parade one chap looked down and saw that his rifle was cocked so he put his thumb
over the muzzle and went down, trying not to attract attention, and pressed the trigger and his thumb went right over the top of the battalion parade. That was one example of how not to do things. He eventually stayed with the battalion, too, without a thumb. He became a very, very good stretcher bearer.
But that was the only accident I remember with shooting. There were others. I didn’t have any personal knowledge of with silly things
like climbing under a barbed wire fence. I can remember one chap, I never knew him, but he climbed under this barbed wire fence and pulled the shotgun behind him. That finished him. But silly things like that. But these are something our elder brothers forced into us when we were first using guns and rifles and so forth, was safety.
there was a unit called the Australian Instructional Corps and they were based in Sydney but their instructors were allotted to various areas at different times and they were responsible for propagation of tactics and drill and that sort of thing. And they
wore a light khaki uniform to distinguish them from the ordinary soldier, but they were sort of looked up to, the Australian Instructional Corps. They were always very smart and very well dressed and so forth. And they were the nucleus of the formation really of
the new units in any place. They went to that area and gained enlistments in the area and then formed up the unit in that particular spot. And that’s what happened at Coffs Harbour. A couple of these AIC [Australian Instructional Corps] chaps arrived and said they were going to form a unit there and wanted
volunteers. And after the volunteers got in, the AIC chaps did a fair bit of elementary training with them and they picked out corporals and sergeants and so forth to look after various squads, and that’s how the thing grew up. And then each year there was a battalion
camp held at some particular place where all these companies from the different centres came together to form the battalion. And mostly it was at Rutherford in Newcastle and they’d hold the camp down there. And it was actually at Rutherford when I heard the announcement by Prime Minister Bob Menzies that war was on.
We were in camp at Rutherford at the time. So that’s how they came together, little scattered bits all over the place formed mainly by these AIC instructors.
back on them in the light of what experiences I’ve had they weren’t very productive. That is the infantry ones weren’t, we used to do various company and battalion operations but looking at it in the light of later knowledge we’d have got shot to pieces.
The things, you did like jump and go forward and one section would go forward and bang, bang, bang and that gave the other section a chance to move up through. It wasn’t very realistic in terms of warfare because most of our instructors,
or not most of them, a couple of the main ones were World War I instructors or people that had experience in World War I. Some I don’t think had had as much experience as they tried to make out they had, and their tactics anyhow were quite different from what the tactics or operating conditions in the Second World War. They didn’t have
tanks and aircraft and so forth to operate with as we did in World War II. And even World War II would not have been, pardon me, the Vietnam War, we were very, very outmoded with our equipment in World War II in comparison to what they’d been using in Vietnam.
A number of planes and helicopters the various technical equipments they’ve got now that we never had.
out what specialities they had, if any. And through that they either allotted them to either rifle companies or headquarter company, which consisted of signallers and cooks and drivers and all the other paraphernalia that keep a battalion running. And then training started mostly in drill formations
and rifle practice, going out to the rifle butts at Liverpool, doing a lot of firing practice. Then after about three months I think it was in Ingleburn there was another intake of soldiers coming in, recruits coming in and
there was no room for it in Ingleburn. But Bathurst camp was being built and it was decided that we’d transfer to Bathurst. But as it wasn’t ready we had to march up. So we marched from Ingleburn up to Bathurst. By the time that we got up there the camp was ready, or supposed to be ready for us, but it was still very primitive and it
was the middle of winter and the showers had a bit of tin around them from there to there like that and the wind used to whistle through them, so you weren’t long in the showers. But it gradually got better and better. We then moved out of Bathurst in October 1940
and went by train down to Sydney to join the Queen Mary. Funny little side was that we did all sorts of exercise. Battalion headquarters marked out on the parade ground areas indicating carriages, train carriages, how many went in this one
how many went in that one and so forth. And they had the formation of the train so that they could mark this out. Also they collected nine pence from each person for pie and a cup of coffee at Mount Victoria as we were going down. And anyhow the train comes in for us to get in and it’s
back to front from what, this training thing, all the plans were thrown, “Get on.” So anyhow when you get to Mount Victoria the train just vroom straight through Mount Victoria. And from there on life right through the battalion, if blokes had to vent their anger on anything, it was, “Where’s our bloody nine pence?”
It went all the way through, “Where’s our bloody nine pence?” Even the recruits who came in, the reinforcements who had never been there, they still took it up, “Where’s our bloody nine pence?” So they never lived that down, it went into the battalion welfare funds I suppose, they got it back some way or another, but they didn’t get passed that nine pence. Anyhow we went down to Sydney
joined the Queen Mary. It was all very, very secret, but half of Sydney was there to see us off. The Queen Mary, the Aquitania the Mauritania and a couple of warships and away we went. We got to India and [Queen] Mary course was too big to go through the canal I think so we went ashore at Bombay and then went to a place called
Deolali, it was a inland British Army camp. And we stopped there for a while, had a good chance to look around parts of India while they were arranging another ship for us. And we went onto a ship called the Christian Hogians [?] and that ship, and that took us up the Suez Canal and landed at Qantara and from there we went on
by train up into Palestine. Trained there for, I think it was about three or four months and at that stage the 6th Division had taken Bardia and Tobruk from the Italians and the Greece campaign was starting to shape up,
so it was decided we would replace the 6th Division. And we went up replaced them and went as far as Beda Fomm up in Libya, up past Libya. And thought we were doing pretty all right until the Germans came in, Africa Corps, and they had much
bigger sticks than we had and they chased us back very smartly back to Tobruk. But we managed to get inside Tobruk without losing too much and then we stayed there from, that was April until the end of December.
Try to evaluate what was wrong at the time, why they didn’t win this and why they didn’t win that. And we still concentrated a lot on rifle shooting, machinegun shooting, that sort of thing. I suppose when we got into Tobruk it was handy to us, but we didn’t do much on the movement side because we just didn’t have
the motor transport at that time. We were lacking in a hell of a lot of equipment because the government had allowed it to run down after World War I – they weren’t expecting World War II to come up. And we were very short of arms and ammunition, arms particularly, when we were in Palestine. And when we went up the desert
we were still woefully short. We only had one Bren gun to a company and we had to substitute by captured Italian weapons. Most of the time we were operating with Italian Fiats and… What was the other one?
Oh, one was an 1890 Austrian machinegun, Schwartzslaus we were using. And we didn’t have Tommy guns until very much later in Tobruk, we got the American Tommy guns. And they were a vicious thing, but they were effective too.
But we never had full strength in sub machineguns or light machineguns until well after Tobruk. We were working in Tobruk with captured Italian mortars and captured Italian field guns. The English had their own guns, English artillery regiments,
but we had what they called the bush artillery and we were working on captured Italian guns and captured Italian ammunition. In our forward posts we had practically all Italian machineguns, Schwartzslows and Fiats and Bredas and
we were virtually a rifle company in every sense of the word. At one stage, later in Tobruk we did get an issue of sniper rifles but they were very few and far between, one or two per company, the sniper rifles. But it wasn’t until we got back to Australia
really that we started to get properly equipped with all the weapons we wanted, and a lot of them were American weapons.
his personal safety at all. Cause the truck had big Red Cross signs on it, but I don’t think that probably deterred the Germans particularly because they were a long way back from us, with the big heavy gun. It was a big 210mm gun that they were using on us at the time, big naval guns,
and they came down with one hell of a bang. I think it was about an 80 pound shell that they fired and when they hit, they really hit. I remember one bloke lying alongside me, he was only from here to that box away and one crashed down, not far from us and,
“Jesus I’ve been hit.” I said, “Don’t be bloody silly.” He said, “I am. Look at my legs.” And he had three holes right through his calf there. He got out, Phil got him out. He was a cook, too, by the way.
That was when we were out at Algerdha [?] and it was a funny sort of a place. All communications had been disrupted and when we took the position there we had aircraft recognition
and flares to throw up in the Verey pistols, the white and the red or something, which our aircraft would recognise as friendly, but they must not have read the words right or something. While we were holding this position, which had previously been held by the Germans, they came over and flogged us just the same, although we sent the recognition signals up.
Oh, things were very disjointed at the time because the fluid war going backwards and forwards and we’d be in one spot today and another spot tomorrow, and you could understand that back at the airfields and probably back in Alexandria somewhere they couldn’t pinpoint these positions as accurately as they should have, or could have.
most of the company, most of the battalion went on a Beda Fomm, but our company, C Company, was allotted the task of looking after prisoners as they came in. We had a prisoner of war camp at a place called Barce. And Barce was a town which had been built by Mussolini
to accommodate Italian farmers who were willing to migrate over to North Africa and start relieving the Italian population a bit. And it was quite a lovely little town, a town about oh, probably 600 people or something like that would have lived in,
had their own little hotel. And anyhow we set up this prisoner of war camp on flat ground outside of Barce and we had up to about 3000 prisoners in there at one stage. They were coming in from all directions. And it was the simplest thing. We didn’t have the number of troops
to do any real guarding of them. If they wanted to get out, they could probably get out. But we just dug machinegun pit at each of the opposite corners so that you could fire that way or that way, and that one could fire that way or that way. Every now and again during the night you’d just put a burst down along the wire that way and swing around and burst down the wire that way so that the prisoners never knew
when a burst of fire might come down. But we never lost any that I know of. We gained a few. I can remember some of the blokes were a bit, well there was a big Italian hospital there too and they had staff which were untouched, they weren’t thrown in. But when we
were taking prisoners out to do work on the airfield and things like that, now and again they’d lose one and the guard would usually pick one up from the hospital and stick him in the rank to make the number up when they got back. And there was a hell of an outcry from some of them about this. They didn’t like the idea at all. I don’t know how many finished up in a prisoner of war camp
who shouldn’t have been there. But anyhow, when the Germans came we had to get out in a hurry and we just had to leave the prisoners there. “There you are boys. You’re free. Go where you like.” Oh, it was a hell of a mess. When they first came in we had no system worked out to feed them or house them or anything. All we could do is
drive a truck full of bully beef or something into camp and unload it in the middle of the camp and let them fight over it. And that went on for some days before we could form up some system of distribution properly among them. But they were coming in hundreds at a time and it was just impossible, so we just left them there when the Germans came. I don’t
know what happened to them all. But they were a good lot of people in Barce. The Italian civilians there had no problems with us at all and we had no problems with them. They just stayed their own life, lived their own life. And the only trouble
we had there was when we were evacuating. And it wasn’t the Italians, it was the Libyans that gave us the trouble because Barce had been the big store dump for a lot of their base requirements. And they had big storehouses of flour and meals and beefs and wines and all that sort of stuff
there, which we had been guarding pretty carefully. But when we were leaving, the Libyans came in to loot it all and they were blocking the streets and everything and we had to actually put a couple of machineguns over the roof of the trucks and fire a burst over them to clear them. They got out of the way pretty quick then, but we wouldn’t have got out otherwise. And they were
running out bags of flour on their head, everything they could hang to and grab, had their supply depots there. It was a bit funny in a way, they had, must have been thousands of gallons of wine stacked in these storehouse, shanty and all sorts of stuff and before we
went we decided we’d get rid of this wine. So we bought a team of prisoners up from the compound and gave them axes and told them to smash the heads in on these casks of wine. Well look, wine was flowing that deep around the yard. We let them take a billy can each back to the camp with them, but by God they had some wine, reds and whites and all sorts of stuff.
And then we got out of Barce and we couldn’t join up with the rest of the battalion. Oh, and we had to get out on Italian trucks – we didn’t have any trucks of our own. Big Fiat trucks. And we were jammed into these trucks and we had to
take the coastal road to try and get out because the Germans were closing off the inside road. And we didn’t join up with the battalion until we were almost back to Tobruk, but fortunately we got through all right. And then we went into Tobruk. Oh, before that we were cut
off by Germans and we were expecting to get hell chopped out of us and we didn’t have anything in the way of decent digging tools or anything to make any sort of protection. And we were there trying to scoop out holes with our tin hats to try and get a bit of cover for this expected German attack. And fortunately they stayed about a
mile away from us and went around the side. We thought, oh, we’d be cut off later but we didn’t. We got through to place just outside Tobruk and joined up with the battalion again. And when we went through the wire at Tobruk we felt reasonably safe because the Germans hadn’t been able to really close on us. They did get
most of the 15th Battalion. The story goes, I don’t know just the accuracy of it, was a British military policeman met the line of trucks and directed them down the other road where the Germans were. And it was thought, or said at the time, that
he was a German dressed in British military police, but how that was I don’t know. But anyhow most of the 15th Battalion got caught there. Anyhow we got into Tobruk and fortunately the Germans didn’t have sufficient forces up at the time to make a straight-out assault on it and we were able to disperse
around the various frontline positions and get into position to hold them off. And it wasn’t until Easter, Easter Friday, I just forget when it was we got back in, but it was some weeks before the Germans actually attacked again. Apparently had to get their forces coordinated for the attack. But they were forestalled
a bit because the tanks came through, German tanks came through, and the theory in the German army was if the tanks took the place, the occupants surrendered. But that didn’t happen. We just let the tanks go through – couldn’t do anything about them – and got stuck into the infantry which was following them. And the tanks went forward to the gun positions, our
artillery positions, and the artillery men were into them over open sights. They got most of the tanks. I think two got back out, but they got the rest of them and we never
got the infantry past the front line, past the wire. Knocked out all the German infantry who were coming in and that quietened them down for a while, and they were prepared to just sit outside and play guardian to us for quite some while. But apart from occasional
foray and patrol activity, there wasn’t a great deal doing until the Germans went for Hill 209, which was one of the high points in the perimeter, and they captured it. And that gave them the commanding position over practically the whole of the Tobruk area.
And we had to go up and hold them back in again and that was one of the worst periods my company had in that area. We were under continual shellfire and sniping and so forth. But we managed to
not only hold them off, but we then moved forward and straightened the line up a bit to shorten it to give us more manpower in certain sector. And we were able to hold that right through until the end of Tobruk when the Germans put in a main attack to try and capture Tobruk.
But it was a bad area, no question about that, because the Germans were looking down on us from a higher position and we were down on the lower ground. There was no movement during the day whatsoever – you’d get your head shot off if you stuck it up during the day. But everything had to happen at night-time,
had to be fed and rationed and supplied with ammunition and so forth during the night. It was pretty testing because the Germans knew we were doing it, too, and we knew they were doing it – re-supply at night. So both sides would let go at any old unpredicted time at all.
And you’d have guns set up on the sights during the day, and during the night when you suspected there might be ration parties or anything you’d put a burst of machinegun fire across into that area and they’d return it the same. It was a tit for tat job. But at least you could move during the night, where you couldn’t during the day.
we were a couple of hundred yards away on the right. We missed the main bulk of it, but we were able to direct fire across at an angle to any German forces we could see there. But the 17th got the thing direct in front of them. We had some primitive weapons at the time, too.
I can remember we had what we called Molotov cocktails, and they were a beer bottle filled with kerosene and sump oil it think it was, rag wick out the top. The theory was, when you got close enough to a tank you lit this wick and pelted it at the tank. I don’t know where they devised this bloody scheme. We were supplied with these
anyhow. Fortunately we never had to use them. And later on they supplied us with sticky bombs they called them, and they were as useful as a fur coat to a cat, too. They were a bomb around about so big with a handle on it and a split pin in the casing around the sticky bomb. And when you got close enough up to the tank you pulled this pin and whacked it on the
tank and that broke the glass encasing and the explosion went off. They never said what happened to you, but it was suppose to blow a hole in the tank. But we went out to this place outside Tobruk when we were going out there, we were issued with these sticky bombs, but fortunately we never had a cause to use them.
Oh, some bright spark worked it out.
which the Italians had built, but were too far apart to be really effective – we dug secondary trenches in between these concrete ones. And depending on the hardness of the ground, the rock below it, was how deep you could go. Mostly you could go down about, at the most about that depth before you struck a shelf of rock
and you couldn’t get through it – we didn’t have the tools to get through it. So you laid in that all day, it was, with the hot sun streaming down on you and you just sweltered and sweltered all day and you were just longed for nightfall to come so you could get up and breath. And normally we got the food up during
the night-time and if you wanted anything during the day the best you could do was open a tin of bully beef and have a bit of it. You couldn’t eat much of it because you got sick of it after a while. But then apart from that we built another line of trenches, some hundreds of yards behind the first line, that was called, the front line was called the red line,
the next line was called the blue line. And the theory was you did time in the front line for a couple of weeks and then you moved back to blue line, blue line moved forward and took up your position, gave a bit of variety. Then there was another line going behind the blue line and it was a more or less rest and recreation one. And if
you were lucky you could get down to the sea at times and have a swim in the surf, which was something we really looked forward to, but you always had to have an eye cocked out for German bombers which came over and tried to spoil the surfing. But generally speaking the conditions during the day were pretty horrid, just lying cooped up
in these very hot trenches and the flies would come in hundreds. Very prized possession was a little bit of mosquito net which you could drop over your face during the day while you’re lying there to keep the flies off ya, it was worth gold. And then of course at night time
the ration truck, when it was possible, would come up from the company kitchens back behind and bring up the dixies of usually hot stew and water rations for the day. And they didn’t wait around, they came up dropped the dixies and went for their life because the truck noises would carry.
But as the Germans were doing the same thing there was a sort of sanctuary for a while, and the first one that could get out was the safe one. There were some funny incidents, oh, boy, thought they were funny at the time. It was flat ground and it was night-time…
cables are not to be sent until stamps arrive, so I’ve postponed writing you this letter for some days, but have now decided to write it and post it whenever I can. I received a lovely parcel, number 11 of assorted sweets from you last night and I’ve nearly made myself sick on them all day. Thank you so much darling. I only wish you knew just how much
I appreciate them. I also received one from my mother the night before containing fruit salad, cream and cake. I don’t think there was any need to say how much I enjoyed it, a change from the good old bully. Things are fairly much the same although the news
of the big pushed last night has worked wonders in the men and in the excitement and they have all forgotten how tired and dirty they are. I had no sooner finished writing you my last letter and boasting about our luck when it broke and we received a terrific shelling which lasted for hours and we got pretty badly knocked
about.” Oh, Christ, must be getting bloody old. “I’ll never forget those few nightmare hours expecting each second to have a shell land on top of me and blowing just, being just another case for the stretcher bearers. And afterwards I was a jack of all trades giving orders, disposing of wounded
and I was patching some, abusing others and I don’t mind saying that one more pretty shaken lot. At times like this is when one sees the very soul of all men around him
cruelly exposed, you are their fear, you see their fears, their bravery, love for their friends, cowardice and shattered nerves. And when I was on the top of the trench you’re watching to see what results the shelling is getting. You see a man squarely on the mouth of a dugout about
30 yards away and then the dust and smoke clears, you can see the roof blown in and you say to yourself… But out from the dust and fallen roof a man emerges
and starts cleaning sandbags and supports feverishly away. He whips out a field dressing and goes to work on something down below. Shells are falling all round and as he works the terror can be seen on his face,
but that doesn’t prevent him doing what he can. Quickly he’s finished and he’s running along the shallow ammunition trench to me, five words explain the situation, “Jimmy’s got it,” he says, and I said, “Badly?” “The lot,” he answers. He’s covered with dust and terribly
shaken, he hardly seems to realise that he has escaped, Jimmy was his pal…a fine chap…shit, saving his army pay to get married after the war. I shove him into my dugout and quickly try to console him and give him a cigarette
but he’s shaken, his hands, he’s a machine gunner and will be no good for a day or two. I look up again and can see ammunition and fire in the pit with the dead man and a man races from the next dugout, picks up the blazing stuff and tosses it over the power of it. Luck is with him and he escapes unhurt. Another section
I can hear a man’s screams getting less wild, more ammunition is alight and being thrown out, his friends are fixing him up, he’s okay. I dropped down to miss another one which bursts near me, I put my head up as soon as the splinters are passed over, there’s a rapidly increasing unearthly shriek. As my thoughts register quickly, “It’s going to be almost on top of me,” I drop
but I feel I’m too late, there was a terrific red flash in my eyes, ringing in my ears and lying there I can feel stuff falling all over me. I tried to rise for a second, I can’t I think. There’s too big a weight on me. I think I’ve been hit but I can’t tell, I can’t see a foot for dust and smoke. I realise that half the trench wall is on top of me and with and effort I shovelled it off. I’m surprised to find that I’m not
hurt, it only landed a few yards from me and for a while I don’t mind admitting that I was pretty well shaken also. I told myself that I can’t allow myself to be shaken at this moment and pull myself together with an effort. About 20 yards away I can see the stretcher bearer working on the chap until he can get him comparatively to safety. He’s evidently been hit around the foot and the bearer has taken
his boot off and put it on the parapet, the parapet above here, and as he does the boot is wrenched out of his hand by a flying shell splinter and hurled yards away. There was a whistle and a heavy thud and he drops to the ground, the dud has landed against the parapet within a yard of him. And apart from a bath in dirt he’s safe but slightly shaken, by the nearness of it
and the thought of what it would have done had it exploded. The shelling gradually diminishes in intensity and just on dark falls away almost completely. I make a quick survey of the damage that we’d escaped miraculously, quite a few have been hit but only one is dead. The wounded are cleared away as quickly as possible, equipment, rifles, guns, food, ammunition have been damaged or destroyed. A
quick check is made as they must be replaced tonight. I attend to that, by this time a few hours have past and I feel the need for a cigarette and a drop into my dugout. A man is now on the faint light and I can see a man huddled in terror in the corner of my dugout. “What’s up?” I said. “Take me away sir, I can’t stand this, take me away from all this murder.” He’s completely shaken
and soberly bitterly, he can’t stand up unassisted. So I help him outside and call over a man to give him a hand away, he’s a bad case of shellshock and needs a spell out of the line otherwise he may never recover. I think everything’s almost settled when I hear a rifle shot about 20 yards away but I want that cigarette and take no notice. While I’m sitting smoking and cursing our hard luck and the enemy,
a young chap of 19 comes hobbling to the opening of my dugout. I then know the significance of the shot. “What made you do it?” I ask. The lad is broken up a fair bit but seemed to have regained his composure. “I don’t know. I’ve been laying there next to him for hours listening to his moaning and all those shells and I don’t know what came over me. I just felt I can’t stand it any longer.
I feel sorry for him knowing that he could not have been normal.” “Is it bad?” I ask. “No it’s a clean wound. I put a dressing on it, it’s okay.” I started him over on his way back and the night was almost over. Jerries have arranged too well to the position so we decided, so next night we move the unexpected way, 300 yards closer to him and under cover of darkness quietly but working like demons we dig
in new position and by first light we’ve occupied the completely new and well-camouflaged position. And we silently laugh as each night he regularly gives our old position a bashing. I went back to my old post last night for a jacket I left there but a shell had since landed squarely on it and I didn’t bother to look for it thanking my lucky stars I came quietly back.
Well I just got carried away with the description when I started writing and I’m afraid that this is just five pages of assorted description which should never have come to you at all. But as the wogs say, “Inshallah,” which is written, which is written, what is written is written or it is the will of God. Well the light has just about failed and there are a few things
I must do before it does. I’m still well but no so happy due because I haven’t had any mail from you for nearly a month so when it does come I should get a week’s reading out of it. Once again, thanks for all the sweets and send my greetings and all, best kisses.
That was written the 18th of June 41. What now?
or listening posts, things like that. I didn’t go out every night of course. Patrols were rather difficult thing because the country was so flat and so featureless that it was very, very easy to get lost. And we had cases, I remember one German officer walked into our wire there one night and he was very
upset when somebody put a bayonet to his throat and brought him in. He said, “I’ve fought all the way down through France and across north of Africa and to be taken in such humiliating conditions.” He was very upset about it. But you could get lost very, very easily and it
was a means of, well we used to work on the north star a lot, that was our guiding light. And sometimes we’d lay a line behind us as we went, but we worked it out on the map first, you’d take 200 paces that way, 200 paces that way and back and so forth and hoping you came back to your start position. But it was very, very difficult
and we used to lay all sorts of traps there for unwary Germans, I don’t know how many we caught. But if we could find the signal wire we’d cut it and tie a grenade to the end of it and pin it either side then pull the pin. So that when the line would come along looking for it he’d pulled the grenade out. I don’t know how many we ever caught but that was one typical joke we used to play on them.
by a lot of tripwires out in front, and the tripwires were attached to mines there, jump up mines. And if you kicked one of those tripwires, and they were tins about as big as a jam tin, or not as wide as a jam tin, half a jam tin, they’d jump up out of the ground and explode about that height, and of course you coped it. But they tended to rely on them
to protect their area more than patrolling to see what we were doing. Now and again they’d find a listening, or sight a listening post out in no-man’s land, but usually they got clear of it when any of our patrols were around. They didn’t stop to fight, they’d just slide out in the dark
and probably report on our patrols. But one night we stumbled across one place where we knew they’d been camping, which was fairly close to our lines and in those days we, oh, our patrols carried the American Thompson submachine gun because
we didn’t have any of our own. And the next night Lieutenant Pigney and two other chaps went out and occupied this before the Germans did – well it turned out they were Italians not Germans. When the Italians came up to occupy the post during the night, Pigney called out to surrender. One of them did
but the other fellow dropped, went to go into a firing position and Pigney nearly cut him in half with the Thompson. But that’s the sort of thing that they did. The other fellow surrendered and he came back. But they did depend on that sort of thing more than patrolling.
They were content to stay at battalion headquarters fairly well back and send their messages from there. But the Salvation Army, on the other hand, made every effort they could to keep the frontline troops supplied with what little, you know nice things they could. If they had extra cigarettes or lollies or something like that
they’d make every effort they could to distribute them. And they would actually come up to the front line to do it. And they were particularly good as far as mail was concerned, getting mail up and making sure that writing materials were available to the troops. But with the padres, we never saw that sort of
really trying for the welfare of the troops. I might have been one-eyed there because it might have happened in other battalions quite differently form what I saw in ours. Talking about the Salvation Army, when we were up on the Turkish border, border of Turkey and Syria,
we had a Salvation Army padre there and he turned out to be quite a drunk because wines, etc., were very cheap up there and you could get a bottle of wine for what would be about a shilling, something like that, poor quality stuff too. It was bitterly cold, blizzards used to come round Mount Qassab [?] up at
Turkey and sweep around and join us, just where we were on the Turkish border. And he started to like this wine and he was getting drunk pretty regularly, and he told us one day, he said, “I came from a Salvation Army father and mother and as far back as I can remember I was playing on the street corner
with the Salvation Army band. And I married a Salvation Army girl and I never ever knew any other life until I joined the army and I’m making the best of it now.” But the Salvation Army back in Australia must have heard about him and he got withdrawn. The last I heard of him he was running a bike shop in Sydney. That was his experience,
but he was a good little bloke underneath it all.
with us for, oh, I think it was two or three weeks or something to get to know the country before their main forces came in. And we found them very good. They were laughing, happy sort of people and they’re only interest was to get stuck into the Germans. They weren’t worried about the Italians. They didn’t want to be an Italian front, they just wanted
Germans. And they were good. They were with us when we were breaking out of Tobruk at the end there and we got on very well with them. We had some Czechoslovakians in there at one stage too, Indians
and, Indians were a bit of trouble because they had to have their lambs or whatever it was brought in for them alive and killed ceremoniously and so forth. They didn’t work, they were taken out after a while. Try and think who else was there, Poles,
Czechs, Englishman, Scotsmen. Didn’t have any Irish. We didn’t have any New Zealanders right until the finish, they weren’t actually in Tobruk, they came up with the forces from the frontier. They were a bit cocky too, they come up telling us how to run the war,
and they’d been there for about seven days at that stage, telling us how we should conduct ourself, didn’t go over real well.
And we were put back in one of the quieter sectors on the rocky front, on the Derna side, and we didn’t have much trouble there until the rain came – that gave us a bit of trouble. But we did lose a few men in the patrol one
night, but most of the time it was long range shelling. We’d get a fair range of shelling during the day time and it was pretty unnerving because it was all rock, hard rock, and the shells burst right on the top of the rock. They didn’t dig in at all so every splinter that came off the rocks travelled somewhere
on the surface. But they seemed to be more intent on shelling us from a long distance to keep us on our side of the border. And then we stayed there for, oh, some little while. We actually we got a rum ration. The Poles took pity on us, and I don’t know how they arranged it but we used to get a rum ration, what 1/64th
of a gallon I think, 1/64th of a gallon per man per day. And that was more rum than we could sensibly use, too, because quite a few of the chaps didn’t drink at all and you couldn’t go dispensing four or five tots of rum to those that did like it, so we finished up building up a bit of a reserve on rum before we were moved out of that area.
But then when the push from the front came we had to come out of that area and join up with the forces pushing out from Tobruk to join up.
later on when we’d settled down in Palestine I went to see a show in Cairo and it was a show called Desert Victory, and I realised then how some of these fakes are made. It portrayed, or it was suppose to portray, the actions of the British and the Australian forces in busting out of Tobruk and how they did it. And I can
recall practically every sequence that was in that and some of them were absolutely out of order completely for what they were suppose to be. There was one opened up with the shelling of the German positions ready for the breakout and I knew damn well that that was a shelling had occurred on my company front from the German side because I could identify
things that were in it. And other things, blazing tanks, setting these German tanks on fire. And what happened was the German recovery of tanks were much better than ours and they had recovery tanks which could come in when things were reasonable, hook onto a tank and pull it back out with a,
you know, no matter how badly the damage and it could go back to their workshops and get repaired. Whereas ours just had to pour a bit of petrol into them and set them alight and burn them. And this picture showed these burning tanks, supposedly German tanks that had been set alight by our gunners and so forth, and they were our own tanks being destroyed. And the whole picture was just full of fakes like that. I thought, “By hell, it will be a long time
before I believe some of the things I see in pictures now.”
authorities in Haifa, what it was all about. And I reckon they put me on a ship to Corsica, I think it was. I finally got through, I finally understood what they were talking about and I said, “No I’m not going to Corsica. I want to go to Australia.” Anyhow it got down the Suez and
then we joined others there and we went on this meat ship called the Dorset Star. It was a New Zealand ship and it had been a meat ship and all they did was clean out the hulls that had been carrying the meat, put some stretchers in it, hammocks at least, say, “Well there you are. Ta-ta and away you go.”
Anyhow we got half way across the Indian Ocean and got word that there was a Japanese sub [submarine] just in front of us and we turned and went south, right down to the Antarctic, and we were there for some days. And this old ship, the toilets were temporarily built along the decking, along the scuppers, and the only shower was a four inch
salt water hose that came down on the deck. And you stood under that and turned it on and she come down whoosh and nearly blew you overboard. Anyhow, coming up from down the Antarctic back up towards Fremantle the toilets got washed overboard – fortunately there was nobody in them at the time. And we got back to Fremantle and she was loaded with quite a bit
of ammunition for the Australian forces back home here, battling the Japs. And there was something like 200 tons of gun cotton and quite a lot of artillery stuff and so forth in the hulls, which we didn’t know about when we boarded, but there wasn’t much we could have done about it. And when we got back to Fremantle the wharf labourers had a strike; they wouldn’t unload it.
Anyhow, we had about 200 blokes on board and we chased the wharf labourers, got them right off the wharf and told them to go to buggery, and they got quick. And our troops unloaded the whole things themselves, the troops that were on it, unloaded it onto the wharf and I don’t know what happened about it after that. But we joined another ship and came around to Adelaide, from Adelaide
the army was at it’s best in Australia then. There were two machine gun officers from the machinegun battalion from Townsville, and when we disembarked at Adelaide the movement control officer said, “Oh yes, you’re to report to Townsville straight away,” so they put them on the train and sent them to Townsville. When they got to Townsville, the Townsville officer said, “No, you’re not here
at all. You go back to Adelaide.” And it took the train about two days then to get from Adelaide to Townsville. So they went back to Adelaide, “No you should be back at Townsville,” so they went back to Townsville again. Talk about army bureaucracy! It was great! I don’t know what happened to them after that.
only on loan, that was to bring, try and bring moderner wartime practices back to the training battalions here because they were still training troops with World War I officers and so forth and still training for a World War I war.
Whereas we were supposed to be a bit more modern and were able to use explosives and all that sort of stuff. And when I got back to Australia I found that there was an entrenched opposition to making any great changes in the training establishments here. So I paraded myself before the brigadier who was in charge
of the camp first, told him what I wanted. Oh, I went first to the battalion commander. He couldn’t do anything about it so I said, “Right, parade me to the brigadier.” So I went before him and told him what was wanted and what I thought was wanted and what I thought our rights were, and oh no, he couldn’t do anything about it either. So I sat down then and I wrote to the Minister of the Army, who was Forde at the time, and he took
me very seriously. But the only thing was that someone along the line threatened me with a court martial for going over the head of the brigadier. But Ford saw some sense in it and within a matter of a couple of weeks we got a whole trainload of stuff at Dubbo – mines and explosives and all sorts of stuff –
everything I’d asked for.
between the two on what was called the Bypass Road. That was a road runs around Tobruk built by the Germans after Tobruk was holding out. And the night we attacked them
it was thought that, well prisoners told us that Rommel had been there directing the forces that particular night, but he got away. And in the morning we found one staff car shot up pretty badly by our troops and bloodstains and so forth in the
car, but prisoners told us that Rommel had been there. Whether he was in that car or not we don’t know, but he got away. Had we got him it might have changed the course of the war. We did get 160, I think it was, prisoners out of it, and killed quite a few. But things were a bit dicey. In those days we had a couple
of tanks operating with us, our own tanks, and it was the first time, I believe, had ever operated at night with infantry. And I think the tank crews must have been jittery because as we went in the tanks turned on us, chap on either side of me was killed and fortunately I managed to get up to the tank and belt in on the side with the rifle butt, managed to get through to them
that we weren’t Germans. And they went, but they got lost altogether in the darkness and the light and the confusion. And prior to that there had been, I think it was seven different German tanks, were sitting across in front of the infantry to protect them while they dug in and consolidated. And that’s
why we had the tanks there. Our CO would not go into the attack until we got tank support and chased these other tanks out of the way, otherwise it would have just been suicide. And I think in the dark they sort of got lost and had our troops and thought, “Oh, well this is it,” and so forth and swung the guns on them. But however by this time our
artillery had been shelling this German position heavily and the tanks, German tanks, withdrew. And at that stage we went in, but I think that’s probably when the tanks got confused because their night vision is practically hopeless and they didn’t know what was happening around. I suppose they felt endangered, fired off a few bursts,
that sort of thing. Got two of our chaps unfortunately.
That night we caught two English officers back, they were in the German hands and we recaptured them. One was Lieutenant Austin, he was the son of Austin the car manufacturers, and he’d been in an antitank unit and he was telling us later the tanks just came over the hill,
boom, boom, boom, knocked out his three guns in short time and he got taken prisoner. And another chap, he was a captain, can’t remember his name at the moment, it will come back to me later, he was from the Northumberland Regiment and he got captured too. And he was telling us later they got their hands up in the air and no sooner they had their hands up in the air
when the Australians were attacking and they were deprived of all their cigarettes and tobacco they had. But this Austin, he was a typical cartoon Englishman, slim bloke with a little moustache and so forth, and he was carrying submachine gun and he stayed with us for a couple of days while we were in that particular area
after the attack. And then it looked as though we were in for another serious attack by German forces coming at us across the plains and he then said to me, “Hey, say, old man, can you show me how to work this bloody thing?” He had the damn thing for two days. He was a really, I think he only got his
lieutenancy because he was the son of Austin. Captain Clarke, yeah, he was from the Northumberland Fusiliers. He was a good officer. Anyhow we got, the three of us got into this little stone sanger [fortification] and we were determined, and we knew that if the Germans came across we had no chance of stopping them,
that we just didn’t have the forces there to do it. And we thought, “Well the only thing we can do is get into the sanger, cover the approaches and if anybody’s silly enough to stick his head out of the tank to have a look around we can get him.” But fortunately they didn’t come our way, they turned and went over to the New Zealanders and the battle took on over there.
proper use of cover and effective supporting fire from other units and then moving when other units had suppressed what opposition there was. And also the use of explosives, we did a lot of work with explosives and never had an accident with it either. And
well it was half and half. At that stage the troops hadn’t come back from the Middle East and we weren’t sure that they would, but yet they were needed in the [Pacific] Islands because the Japs were threatening there. So what we were trying to do was combine training such as could be used successfully under desert conditions and also be useful under jungle conditions.
So, and after sometime there, some three months or something I think it was, I went to the Jungle Training Centre at Tenterfield and I trained troops there for some time. But there we were getting in first intake troops, young fellows mostly about 18,
and the first day they came into camp the dentist got them and pulled half their teeth out and the doctor got and shoved needles into them everywhere. The poor little coots. They weren’t much good for a few days. Not only that they were only issued with jungle clothing and it was the middle of winter in Tenterfield, so you can imagine how happy these poor kids were. They’d get out on parade in the morning and you couldn’t
help feeling very, very sorry for them. They could just crawl out from under the blankets and sick and sore and sorry. Anyhow after they got over that, we did train hard and all those troops went off to join units in New Guinea at the time. And I spent about, oh, I think about three months there. I was getting a bit frustrated with myself.
I applied to go back to my unit, which I did, and joined them for the Finschhafen show. From there on I was back with the unit for the Finschhafen and Borneo operations.
and it was just in the very, very early stages of knowing what conditions were in the jungle. At that stage we didn’t even had any jungle uniforms. We still had to khaki uniforms which stood out like a lamp on a post sort of thing. And we had to devise ways and means ourselves of dyeing these
various khaki pants and jackets and so forth so that they did resemble a bit of green jungle. But things weren’t organised at all. They still had brown boots and tin helmets that stood out like landscapes in the jungle. We weren’t prepared for jungle warfare
at all. However, it was a case of learn and learn fast. The main thing was to learn to be able to move under jungle conditions without drawing undue attention to yourselves. You couldn’t just go charging across a barren landscape or anything like that. Had to
use and learn how to use the particular jungle conditions, make the best of concealment and surprise. Apart from that there wasn’t much you could do except locate the enemy and engage him and that was probably one of the worst features of jungle warfare, that
when you’re moving forward you had to be somebody who could spot them before the main body became engaged. And he was called a forward scout and it was damn near a suicide job for the forward scout because he moved forward of any main force and surveyed the landscape and tried to line up any
enemy that might be there in concealment or otherwise. Quite frequently he was the one that got shot first. But it was a job that just had to be done to protect the main body, and if he got shot or shot at it would disclose the Japanese position then there could be measures taken accordingly to deal with that. So
in many ways it wasn’t much different from jungle warfare, except concealment and surprise in locating the enemy were the main considerations. There were so much scrub and jungle in which and enemy could be hidden that it was difficult to locate them
before they located you, particularly if they were just lying hidden. That was really the main difference between the jungle training and the other training. The other training depended on more or less shooting ability and accuracy and so forth, cause you could select your target there reasonably well.
Hello, you knocked off already?
Finally, earlier you’d said that you got a whole lot of explosives, you trained the men in finding suitable cover and also in the area of other company’s support fire as you’re advancing. Can you explain those three areas just in a bit more detail of what you were actually teaching the men?
Well, only the explosives weren’t used in the sense of destroying the enemy in an advance or anything like that. They were only designed to give the troops more knowledge in the use of explosives when they had to blow anything up,
such as dugout or anything like that. They weren’t used as, what you might call an offensive weapon. They were used more as a destructive weapon to destroy dugouts or anything that could be blown up successfully. Because if a person doesn’t know anything about explosives you can’t say,
“Go and blow that wall down,” or something like that. He’s got to know how to handle them and what precautions to take, how to use them. And that was the main purpose of explosives really. At other times they could be used for various other things such as blowing bridges
or crossings, anything like that where some, it’s necessary to remove something before you can go across it. The only problem is then you usually haven’t got the explosives when you want them. They say, “Oh, they’re engineering stocks.”
heavy jungle undergrowth and the Japs held on to that fairly strongly. But their main force was at Sattelberg, that was, it had been originally I believe a Catholic monastery or something like that to try and infiltrate some religion into
natives. But the Japs were holding that as their strong main point and it was probably about 3000 yards back from, pardon me, Finschhafen beach. And that was the scene of most of the fighting, and there was skirmishes all the way up the road to Sattelberg.
We bought a tank in at one stage but it didn’t do any good either, it got becalmed in the middle of the track going up to Sattelberg and the crew spent a very unhappy night in this tank. But anyhow Sattelberg was taken and then the Japs had to flee westward, what was left of them and
they went down across the Masaweng River, held out there for some four or five days, if I remember rightly. And we had a bit of trouble crossing the Masaweng River because it was fairly wide and up to about chest deep. Anyhow once we got them out from the other side of the Masaweng River,
mostly with artillery and machinegun stuff, they moved back along the Rye Coast and we chased them all the way back to Sio, which was the next harbour on the northern side. And at Sio they virtually capitulated, they were broken down by that time, their
recovery system was very, very poor. We came to one place when we were chasing them up the coast, about half way between Finschhafen and Sio, I just can’t recall the name of it for the moment but it was a Casualty Clearing Station, they had about probably 100 beds made out of palms and cloths
and anything they could lay wounded or sick chaps on. And that was supposedly a staging point for the boats to pick them up and take them back elsewhere to get better treatment. But a lot of them died and some of them we just buried alongside the bit of a bunk they were lying on, they just dug a hole and tipped them out
and buried them and then put another bloke in the bunk. But it didn’t matter to them. They all died before we left there anyhow, they got sick very quickly. Then we chased them up as far as Sio and they were just a straggly mass by that time. They were just getting out as quick as they could along the coast. What did get away from Sio
eventually I think finished up at Madang and then most of them were captured in that area. But at Sio I got dengue fever and I came back to Finschhafen and went into the Causality Clearing Station there, oh, for about a week or something I think. As far as that was concerned, the New Guinea
war was over and I returned back to the unit and we then came back to Ravenshoe and we trained there for the Borneo operation.
The landing craft hit the beach, Japanese fire, and fire from the landing craft boats and fire from anything else that can plug it in. And we get ashore and just clean up and consolidate, try and get a foothold as quickly as possible, and then after having consolidated be prepared to
get your stores and so forth behind you and move forward to clear the Japanese out from that area. They didn’t take a great deal of shifting from the beach area because I don’t think they intended, or I don’t think they expected, really, a landing to take place there. Their main line of march,
as you might call it was from Sattelberg across the inland area of Finschhafen and up the coast to Sio. I think they probably felt that if they held that high country included in Mount Sattelberg they were right. They’d be very difficult to defend
any point along, well practically any coast, because you concentrate your forces at one point you can get a landing at the next point which is unopposed. And unless you’ve got enough points to cover the whole of the coastline, the only thing you can do is try and fight on the best fortified spots
that you can pick. So I don’t think they really intended to fight to the death sort of at Finschhafen. I think they intended to get back to Sattelberg and say, “Right, you get us here if you can.”
it was only foot track stuff, towards Sio and went across the Masaweng River. They stood and fought for a little while on the other side of the Masaweng River but after that they broke and went west fairly quickly. We did used to get a bit of fire returned from them sometimes down the track. They’d apparently been
carrying a couple of light artillery pieces with them, which they were dragging by hand, they’d fire a few shells in our direction. And we’d call the artillery up with air strikes on them and they’d be quiet again. And this happened a few times back along the track towards Sio but they were just a beaten force then, just doing what they could to delay us. They didn’t do
any real damage. But we were fairly good mobile force in those days. They tried to stop us at one place, fired a few shots, few shells back at us. They were along a little creek, and we
decided to attack this and we lined up 12 Vickers guns on the little bit of a ridge behind us and we had to go through kunai grass to attack it, and the kunai grass was just about head height. And it was planned that as we got to a certain spot these Vickers guns would open up on the Jap positions and give us cover until we nearly onto them.
And it was a really frightening experience that we got under that and suddenly 12 Vickers guns firing about 600 rounds a minute each, passing over your head, just a few feet over your head, it was a frightening experience. I remember a chap near me, he hit the ground that quick he lost his gear.
But after, you got used to it after a few dozen yards and you knew it wasn’t so bad. But it was a very frightening noise they make. They make one hell of a din if they go over your head in a burst like that, yes. Anyhow when we got to the riverbed the Japs had had enough too, and they scampered out the other side as fast as they
could. So we had no more trouble with them after that. Yeah, one thing there that might interest you,
the American, what do they call them the fast American boats. They caught several Japs outside this area we were talking about where they had their evacuation unit. They caught several of their boats loaded with Japs and they ran straight up with their guns blazing and then turned side on like that
and the great wash from the side swamped the Jap boats, and that was a tactic they tried on several of them, vroom like that, with a great wash of water, and down went the Jap boat. I can’t remember the name of the place, and I should.
landing on beaches and then back to camp again. And then we went to Morotai and we had to familiarise ourselves with the American ships that would be taking us over. American destroyers they were. And we spent, oh, some
weeks, probably a month or so, in Morotai getting to know these Americans that we’d be travelling with and also doing landing exercises in the boats. And we got to know them quite well. As a matter of fact, I was very surprised, the captain of this destroyer I was with, he
was asking me about Australia and I think he knew more about the Australian landscape than I did. And he had a really strong knowledge of Australia and its cattle population and horse population and people population. I felt a bit silly because a lot of things I didn’t know, but he did. But he
was describing to me the way they came across the Pacific Ocean from there to Australia. He said, I think there were seven ships he was talking about coming across, and he said, “Day time we’d go lickety-split as hard as we could until night-time come. That stage we’d all see each other and close to each other, but night-time,” he said, “we spread all over the sea.”
He said, “We’d be miles and miles apart, when morning came we’d all come together again and away we’d go.” Their navigation wasn’t too strong. I forget what he told me. He’d only been in the navy, oh, some very, very short while when he got command of this destroyer. But that’s how the Yanks were doing it.
But they did a good job when we got up to Borneo. They really pasted the place and I think shells were two bob a dozen. They really fired them out.
Brunei where we landed with these American destroyers and we embarked into landing craft from the destroyer, some couple of miles outside and landed on Labuan Island. From there we had quite good artillery cover from battleships and
destroyers and aircraft, but there was no opposition. And then it was decided we would take the Miri oil fields – they were the big Shell oil fields in Miri – and we did expect that the Japs would put up a fierce fight for them. So the support fire was very, very strong there
and we re-embarked on a LST [Landing Ship Tank] with landing craft tanks – that’s their means of getting ashore. And we had supporting fire from several destroyers, Chop Suey I think was one of the cruisers and
all the American landing craft were mounting 50mm machineguns and the destroyers outside pounded the beach, the American 50mm guns raked it with thousands of rounds, the Liberator bombers came over and belted everything flat on the beach. And then we landed and there wasn’t a Jap in sight.
They had spotted the attacking force from up in the high ground behind and I think they decided that they weren’t going to beat this force and they got out and went down what was called the Reaem [?] Road going out into the inland of Borneo and virtually they stayed there all the time after we had landed. They used to give us a little bit of trouble sometimes
poking around at night-time, but not really any trouble. And it wasn’t until the very last day of the war that we sent a patrol out to Reaem Road to see what was happening. They went out in a jeep with MG [machinegun] cover and so forth and the Japs met them
and shot one chap. And he was a chap that had been with us right from the start. He was wounded in, I think it was Tobruk, and evacuated back to Australia. When he got fixed up he rejoined again and came back to us and the last day of the war he got killed. That was the end of it. Then
a day or two later the Japs surrendered when the bomb went off at Hiroshima. Strangely enough, when I was at high school I had science teacher called Taylor and he was very much ahead of his time, I think, and he told us very clearly in the science classes what power would be available if they could break
the atom, and this was years and years before the atom was broken. And when the news came through that they’d dropped this bomb on Hiroshima I said straight away, “Well, at last they’ve broken the atom.” I couldn’t help thinking that this chap Taylor was so far ahead of his time in knowing what could happen
you know, bits of fern and so forth, so if you kicked them you pulled the pin on a grenade which was alongside the track which of course blew up. But they weren’t very sophisticated at all, not like the German ones which jumped out of the ground to about shoulder height and then blew about 60 or 100 steel balls in all directions.
I nearly got hit with one of them myself one day after the Germans were beaten in Tobruk, and we were sort of getting ready to come home myself and another fellow went out to have a look at the German positions, which had been in front of us. And he was, oh, a bit of a hasty sort of a bloke, you know, rush here, rush there, sort of thing.
And he was walking around this German position and kicked one of these pins. And instead of it jumping out, it must have been a bit old, it only came just out of the ground, hit him all up the back. I think he had about 27 pellets or something in his back. Didn’t kill him. But
we managed to get him back and evacuate him back out, but he wasn’t much good after that of course. Also in this field I remember there was one dead Australian whose foot was tangled around a string and it had blown the top of his head off, and he must have been there for probably months and months. They’d just left him
in front of their position. Nobody ever tried to extricate him or… The Germans must of put up from a hell of a stink from him at that time. Because he would have been killed, oh, probably four or five months earlier than that when there were casualties in that area.
alternative being taken up. When you get one state which will not come to terms with other states, no matter what the conditions are, but they want to assert their own rights without opposition from anybody else, I think it comes down to war eventually, and that’s what has happened.
It’s what happened in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Jerusalem, Israel, Palestine, Syria. They all say they’ve got might on their right and they go and do what they like no matter what happens to the other people, and they just won’t come to conciliation. I think that’s the whole
trouble. And somebody in one country gets a bit power mad and thinks that if he’s got ten men in the army, he can beat the army that’s only got eight men in it, sort of thing and get his way. I can’t see an end to it really. I know there should be, but I can’t see. Even the Iraq war
there wasn’t any attempt at conciliation really between Iraq and the United States. The United States said, “We’re going in. That’s it.” It appears their reasons were fairly groundless now. I mean Hussein might have been the dictator and knocked a few people off,
but I think that’s likely to be happening anywhere. And they probably could have achieved results without the great expenditure they’ve gone to on it.