Archive number: 1487
Preferred name: Laurie
Date interviewed: 03 February, 2004Return to Search results
You are listening to the interview audio
Recording now. So like I said, starting at the beginning, where you were born and those early years of your life?
I was born in Myrtleford, that’s in north east of Victoria. I was the second youngest of seven boys. In
1930, around about 1930 my parents separated and my mother came to Melbourne with the four younger boys. She started up a guesthouse and as each of the boys got to about 14, we all went out to help with the income. I went to school, to primary school, and then exactly the same,
at 14 years of age I went out and got work, and I did, radio was my hobby so I eventually got into a manufacturer that made radios and I learned a lot about radio and it was sort of my hobby to make radios. But then at about 17 years of age I went to work for a company called Vealls and they were radio and electrical, but they were non-essential
for the war effort, so I was directed by the Manpower at the time to work for the Bruce Small Company who made the Malvern Star bike. They made the bicycles for the military and also they made frameworks for the radar equipment, and I had a lot of difficulty in getting a release from
them, I wanted to join one of the services because six of my brothers had been in the services, and I, sorry, five of them, the youngest one didn’t make it. I had to go to the personnel officer and he said, “There’s no way you’re going to get out because it’s an essential industry.” But I persisted and I went to the general manager and he said, “Well if you want to go into one of the services I’ll release you.” So I was released to the
join the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]. So around about my 18th birthday I joined the AIF and we proceeded out to Royal Park for the initial induction.
Well, I’m going to stop you there and just go back to Myrtleford actually because it would be really good to hear, you were there until you were six years old, so you had this wonderful I imagine childhood in the country in the mountains.
Can you recall very much of that period?
I did start at school there at Myrtleford Primary School. Can’t remember a great deal about it, but I can remember with my father going around. He used to buy properties and livestock and that type of thing and he would take me as a youngster around
with him into Wangaratta, and in those days of course, something I’ll always remember is if we went in by gig, that’s a horse and a gig, the roads up in that area are all unmade roads, gravel roads, but when you got into Wangaratta it was bitumen. The clip-clop of the horse, you know, that used to be good, and going to the markets, the saleyards and so on there. My father used to buy livestock and so on.
And the only other thing I can sort of really remember was a time when he showed me where a snake had grabbed a little bunny, a small bunny, and had gone through a netting fence and swallowed another bunny and the snake was then trapped between because the two bulges in the body of the snake, the snake couldn’t get away, and I remember that.
He pointed that out, showed me that.
Do you remember your house, what your house was like?
Yes. We lived in one of those old type of country houses where, verandas all around and a passageway down the centre, and having older brothers, there used to be a big elm tree just right opposite and a neighbour, we used to, their house was similar
and we used to get up in the tree, tie a bit of cotton onto the knocker and get up in the tree and play knock-knock. But one of my brothers, the next one to me, a little bit older than me, he was down, it was his turn to tie the cotton onto the knocker and the lady could hear the little tap-tap and so on, so she opened the door and grabbed him. But he fortunately, this passage that run down the centre, he was smart and run straight down the passage and away again. So I can remember that and
not a great deal about Myrtleford. I can remember when all of our furniture was auctioned. I can remember sitting out in the, we had a piano and all this type of furniture that had to be auctioned before my mother came to Melbourne.
Was that a sad time, do you recall?
It probably didn’t register at that stage that it was difficult. Later on I found it
not the best. I was sent up to Mildura. My grandparents lived in Mildura and probably while she was settling down in Melbourne here I was up there for a while with my grandparents in Mildura. I, we came back and I went to a central school, a state school in Middle Park and I remember the first day. I remember that well because I took
my lunch and at morning tea time, at playtime or whatever they called it, I ate my lunch, thought it was lunchtime and came home. So that’s one memory of there then. I went to a state school there until I was 14 as I mentioned and then onto the, to work.
So you had five older brothers?
Five elder brothers and a younger brother.
All those boys in the family.
All boys, no girls.
So, did they, do you remember them teaching you things?
Lots of things. Three of them lived in the country and we used to go quite a lot back to the country and we used do a lot of fishing, rabbiting, and in those days possums, you could trap possums and that sort of thing, and it was Depression
days as you must remember, and my older brothers used to trap possums and rabbit skins, rabbits and all this sort of thing, and dry the skins and sell them and we used to have big piles of skins. Of course they’re now illegal to shoot possums and catch possums as you realise. We used to go kangaroo shooting. One story that I can remember them passing on to me was the elder brothers used to have greyhounds
and one of the greyhounds had a littler of about 11 pups and my father was getting a bit annoyed about all these pups, all these greyhounds around, and he said, and they used to do that in those days, drown the pups and so on, and he put them into a sugar bag, took them out, got half a brick, put them into a barrel of water, went in and had his breakfast and then went onto Wangaratta,
and when he came home that night after dark my mother said, “Go out and have a look in the laundry,” and when he goes out there there’s 11 pups all suckling at the mother, and the only thing we can think of is, it was a sugar bag he put them in and possibly there must’ve been air and they were able to, weren’t drowned apparently. I don’t know, that’s all we can think of. But anyhow they were there, but he didn’t have the heart to kill them again so they finished
up with all these greyhounds because we had a property, a farm.
OK. Did she go and get the pups out of the barrel?
I would imagine so.
So you had a farm, what kind of farm?
When I say a farm, he bought farms, like he bought farms and sold them and that’s how he made his money and this type of thing, properties and also livestock. This particular
place where we were wasn’t a big farm. It was just a, he wasn’t really a farmer in that sense. He just bought and sold farms and it must’ve been a property we were on.
So what did your brothers do with the greyhounds?
They used to go chasing kangaroos and that type of thing with them. They didn’t used to race them. We also had a couple of country performer racehorses. I can remember their names, I can remember the horses.
One was called Cooney Duke and the other was called Welcome. Welcome wasn’t a bad performer. It won a few races in the country.
Do you remember the country races, going to them?
No, I can’t remember the country races.
So three of your brothers stayed in Myrtleford after your parents separated.
Did they live, continue to live at the house?
No. They worked at various places and usually boarded with the people that they worked with. That type of thing.
Then one eventually came down to Melbourne and worked at one of the departmental stores.
And what did your father do, continue to do?
Well, we lost track of him because he finished up over in New South Wales. So we lost track of him and I didn’t see my father again until just after the war. One of our uncles knew where he was and Keith,
my older brother who in the army, wrote, he used to write to this uncle and this uncle told Keith where our father lived in New South Wales. So that’s how we got in contact again. But he came down [to Melbourne] and he, but he went back to New South Wales.
Can we talk about your mum for a bit? She must’ve been quite a strong woman.
Yes, she was. She, it was a battle with
the four of us, you know, to make a living and she had these two guest houses that I can think of. One was in Albert Road, South Melbourne and the other was in Kerferd Road, Albert Park which is down towards the beach, or it was very close the railway lines. It was a wonderful spot, and that house was owned by King O’Malley. Now King O’Malley was one of the, he was in
the first parliament and he was also one of the founders of the Commonwealth Bank and he had a lot of houses in that district, the Albert Park, South Melbourne District, and he used to, he collected all his own rents. He always walked around and collected his rents and if he struck kids in the street he would give them a halfpenny, and at Christmas time threepence, but if you weren’t home
you had to take the money up to the house where he lived for the rent. My mother tried to buy that house but he wouldn’t sell. It was a lovely old house, terrace house in Albert Park. Then when we eventually went to the war and so on like that, the American soldiers were over in the South Melbourne football ground, and
the rooms that we had she used to rent to them as well.
Did you have work to do around the guest house to help your mum out?
Not much I don’t think. No, she did most of the work I think. The only, oh yeah, I suppose I did a bit of gardening and so on for her. When the first part of the war started after,
my birthday was the 3rd of September 1939, I was 14. That’s the day war was declared against Germany and after that I, I don’t know whether it was then, yeah, I think it was then, built an air raid shelter. They said that if the war comes this way we’ll need an air raid shelter, so I made, dug a big hole in the ground and shored it up with timber and timber over the top and covered that with earth,
and being interested in radio and that sort of thing I had, built my own little radio to work down there and had a little light in it and all this sort of thing. One other thing I can remember about my hobby, in one of the houses we lived in the boys bedroom was right up in the top, the big bedroom, and we used to love listening to the wrestling in those days on the radio, and it used to be on at about 11.00 o’clock or whatever,
late in the evening, and our mother used to send us to bed. So I bought from a second hand shop one of those telephones on the stand with the receiver and I rigged this up, the microphone part of it down in front of the radio and a wire up to our room so at least we could hear the wrestling, and I used to build my own crystal sets and then
eventually I got better and built all sorts of radios and that sort of thing because it was my hobby.
Where did this interest come from do you think? Do you remember what sparked it?
No idea, just that I liked radio. I still love radio. I’d rather listen to the radio than television.
What else, did you listen to the cricket?
Yes, anything that was sporty or anything like that, but cricket was mostly in the day time, so
that wasn’t a great worry. We could listen to that through the radio without the telephone.
Do you remember the guests? Like did your mum have any long term guests at her house?
Yes, there were people that were there for years and years.
Did they become friends or part of the family?
Yes. Well, my mother was very friendly with them
and visited them later on when they moved on and had their own house and that type of thing, yes.
So who were they?
There were people named Thwaites, that’s one name I can remember. There was Campbells, Mr & Mrs Campbell, they lived in the Albert Road house with us in the guest house. He used
to work on the wharves and he would be away quite a while, a couple of weeks, and when he would come back I always remember this because he would bring me back a sugar bag full of crayfish. Flinders, he was working on the Flinders here and there and there used to be plenty of crayfish in those days around that area, but you don’t see them there now. So that’s something I remember there, the crayfish.
Live, and then we would
boil them in the copper.
A copper full of crayfish.
So they just lived there and they rented rooms there, did they, these couples?
Did your mum cook for them?
In some cases yes, like the single fellows, yes. I can’t remember any of their names and so on, but there were,
the long terms ones were the ones that used to do their own cooking and that sort of thing.
So they had cooking facilities in their rooms or did they share the kitchen?
No. In one of the guesthouses there were cooking facilities in the big rooms, but the others were, there were two, there was a kitchen and another one, another little kitchen.
I’m just trying to get a picture of what
daily life might’ve been like in a big house with, you know, sounds like quite a number of different people living there. Three, you three boys were all living there, four?
Well no. By then the eldest of the four had got a job and was living was with who he was, I forget who that was now, but he was, and then the second eldest, he did the same thing, moved out. So there was only the two
of us that stayed until about war time. But we never had much contact with those people. If any of my brothers would come down to Melbourne we would, you know, do lots of things. They used to ride bikes, bicycles from Myrtleford to Albert Park and South Melbourne, or to South Melbourne. If you had any idea what the roads would be like in those days, I mean even the Hume Highway, a lot
of the road was gravel road between the cities, the towns, I should say the towns, like you know, Violet Town and Euroa and all those towns. You’ve only got the bitumen in there, but they used to ride bikes from Myrtleford to Melbourne because it was Depression years, as you realise they didn’t have a car. Although we had a car back in, well there’s a photo of me, I’d be about two sitting in our Chev car. We had a car very early in the piece. Of course my father took that when he
went, when they separated.
Yeah, that’s a long way. I’m trying to think.
It’s 176 miles, going the old way, from Myrtleford to Melbourne.
It’s a bit shorter now I think, isn’t it?
Yeah, the highway has chopped a lot off you know. It used to come over Pretty Sally. Have you ever heard of Pretty Sally? Well Pretty Sally was very steep for the old type cars
in those days, and if you made it over Pretty Sally you were OK, and that’s another thing as a kid coming say from Myrtleford to Melbourne, when you got to Pretty Sally the kids would be asleep in the back of the car and their parents would sing out, “You can see the lights of Melbourne,” and we’d wake up and have a look and see the bright lights and that’s all you saw for a few seconds and then back to sleep again.
And cars that couldn’t make it, their radiators
would boil over?
Yes, some of them used to boil and you know, because it was a slow wind up to the top of the hill. Not a very big hill when you go over it now, is it? Although I suppose they skirt around the side of it now.
So what school did you go to in Melbourne in Albert Park?
Various schools. I don’t
know why. We lived in Albert Road so I went to the Eastern Road State School which is no longer there and then I moved to Albert Park, the Albert Park State School. I used to like playing football. I liked the sports days at school and one of my brothers did finish up playing league football for the South Melbourne team, so we had at one stage,
this was after the war, five of us played in the one football team, so we had a bit of talent.
What team was that?
South Melbourne. The team that we played the five of us was the Golden Gate Hotel Sunday Amateur Football Team. There used to be a competition, see they only played on a Sunday and they were a few of the hotels
around and Millers Rope Works and that sort of thing, and it was a big deal because they played on a Sunday and the bookmakers that would work on a Saturday at the racecourse used to come to those matches and there was big betting on those games because they would watch the game and they’d have bets on the game. So we used to get crowds up to a couple of thousand or more at times. We used to play on the Port Melbourne ground quite a few
times. So it was a very popular Sunday afternoon recreation.
I think that hotel is still there, isn’t it, the Golden Gate?
It’s still there. There’s the Star and Garter, that’s another one of the teams. The Star and Garter, the Golden Gate, I’ve forgotten the name of them now, but there was quite a few of them. Used
to be pretty well for young fellows that have got a little bit of talent that might make the top grade, or older footballers that were retiring and they still finished up playing the Sunday competition. There was one fellow called Basher Williams, used to play, played for South Melbourne and they played in that 1945 grand final against Carlton,
and there was I think about eight of the South Melbourne team reported. One fellow got 16 weeks, a fellow called Whitfield. Basher Williams got quite a few weeks. I just forget because I wasn’t there. I was in Rabaul at the time, but I heard all about it because Frank my brother, he was expected to play but because he wasn’t quite
fit enough he was only an emergency. But my mother used to send the cuttings up to me at Rabaul and I used to read all this, but it was always about two to three weeks behind. So when he retired he came and joined us in the Sunday afternoon competition business.
It was a bit of brawl by the sounds of thing.
It was. Well, they called it the Bloodbath. It’s famous.
The only thing my team didn’t win. But one of the young fellows that actually took Frank, my brother’s place, was a young fellow called Ron Clegg and he finished up winning a Brownlow Medal and I’ve got a photo of, he went to the same school as me, I’ve got a photo. He couldn’t make the school team but he finished up being a Brownlow Medallist, and a very good
So are you still a Swans supporter?
Yes. Only because of Frank. I mean Myrtleford, their colour football team was Richmond’s and that’s another thing I can remember about my younger days, it would’ve been about 1934 I think it was. My mother had this big banner, they were called the
Tigers, Myrtleford Tigers, and the banner was the same as the Richmond banner and she hung it up outside the house ‘cause all the family barracked for Richmond because of the association of the two teams, and when Richmond won the grand final, being in South Melbourne all the supporters of the South Melbourne team ripped the banner down. But,
you know, I don’t think they do those sort of things now.
But you were a South Melbourne supporter?
At that stage I was, yep, because of living in South Melbourne. I used to, Albert Road, do you know Albert Road at all? It’s right opposite the South Melbourne ground. We could actually, from the guest house we could look into the other side of the ground, and just up around the corner a bit was,
I think it was Hills Hotel, I think it’s Hills Hotel from memory, and Bob Pratt, a famous footballer, still holds the record for the most goals kicked, he used to drink there before the match and used to be always a little bit of a fight for the kids to get up and carry his bag over to the South Melbourne ground and he would usher you into the ground, and I was fortunate to get into that many times, and you finished up in the
rooms with all the star footballers there and that used to be a thrill for a young fellow my age. I’d be about nine or something, nine or ten. That’s a big memory.
So who else were sort of hero football players at South Melbourne at the time?
I liked all footballers. Even though I still follow the Swans and I still like to watch all football. I like the game itself
rather than getting too wrapped in the teams because its a bit disappointing when you lose and my team hasn’t won a premiership since 1933.
Really? You’re terribly loyal, aren’t you?
You’d have to be, wouldn’t you.
So South Melbourne and all that, I know South Melbourne and Albert Park, I’ve lived there, but around those times what
was it like as far as the sort of socio-economics of the area as in (UNCLEAR) people?
A pretty poor suburb and of course it was Depression days that I’m talking about, and kids used to get together a lot in those days. I mean Moray Street, there’d be one light in there and all the kids would congregate
underneath the light of a night time until about 9 o’clock or thereabouts. You wouldn’t do it today, little kids staying out in some of the streets today. You knew everybody in those days even around your area. In some of the suburbs you don’t even know who your neighbours are, or hardly.
What do you mean there was one light in Moray Street?
There was, every corner there’d be
a light. You could see a little group of kids playing there of a night time under that one light. Now of course it’s one whole stretch of lights the whole way, and it was a bad flood area around that area because whenever there was heavy rain, what street was it? Bridport Street had, Moray Street, it used to flood there every
heavy rain. Now of course it’s all drained and so on there now. So that takes me up to about where?
We’re sort of going here and there and everywhere really, a bit. So yeah, it would be good to get a picture of street life for you around there, this little bunch of kids, they all knew each other, they played together.
Yes, and like of a Saturday
most of that group would go to the local theatres of a Saturday for a matinee. I think it used to cost us threepence or something, or sixpence to get into a matinee. So most of those kids would go to the theatre.
Where was that?
The Kinema Theatre was in Victoria Avenue, that was the Kinema, and then later on there was on the corner of Dundas Street and,
I can’t think of the name of the other street, the Park Theatre, that’s the Hoyt’s Park Theatre, one of them. It was a pretty modern theatre in its time but it got pulled down. I think it’s only units or something on that corner now. But they were the two. There was another theatre in South Melbourne but most used to go down to the Kinema or the Park Theatre.
Where’s the Kinema?
The Kinema, do you know the Biltmore?
Yeah, I know Victoria Avenue.
Do you know the Biltmore, the Biltmore Private
Hotel? About two or three doors along towards the beach from there. I don’t know what’s there now. Haven’t been down that area for a long time, but just in that vicinity on the same side as the Biltmore and further down towards the beach.
Albert Park’s right next door to Port Melbourne pretty much, isn’t it? Port Melbourne was a very different suburb,
Yes. There used to be gangs in each of these suburbs, you know, occasionally they would have a bit of a fight between the rival gangs of South Melbourne and Port Melbourne and so on. A pretty rough area in those days and even further, like it was a wharf area of course. A lot of the ships used to come into there and there was a little bit of trouble at times there, but it’s
a trendy suburb now, beautiful down that way now.
Did you go to the beach much?
Yes. I used to, because I could walk to Kerferd Road pier, I used to fish on that little pier there and in those days you could catch lots of fish, you know, sometimes under size but there were mullet, there were silver bream, there was little snapper and flathead
and coota, and today, I don’t know about today, they’re coming back I believe, but I mean for a while there you could fish until you were blue in the face and wouldn’t catch a fish, but in those days there was plenty of fish. I think the scallop people with their dredging, they ruined a lot of the ground that the fish would live in under water. It’s just like a dredge being dragged over the bottom of the bay and I think fish disappeared, but they’re coming back now
because my son-in-law, my son took me out fishing just recently and there was plenty of little snapper that we had to throw back. As fast as you threw your line in you could catch them. So when they’re around it’s a good sign. Getting onto fishing, I did catch a snapper with it’s inside taken out weighed 25 pound. But I wasn’t the best fisherman. My other brothers were
better than me. They caught more. I just fluked this one.
This is down at Kerford Road?
No. The four of us after the war we bought a boat about 30 foot long and we put a sail on it and we had a motor and we could, we used to motor down, sometimes motor down, but eventually we used to moor it down at a place called Kirk’s Point, well down towards the big
airport down there. What’s that called again? Not airport but past Point Cook.
No, not Laverton.
Yeah, I think that could be what it’s called, Avalon. They teach pilots how to fly there, but in that area is where we used to moor our boat, and very good areas for both snapper
and whiting. I see in the paper now a lot of fish are coming back in that area.
Yeah, well that’s great. So when you caught this fish did you take it home to your mum for dinner?
Yeah, well if I recall correctly my Mum and my wife, she wasn’t my wife then, were down there when we caught this fish and I’ve got photos of them holding the fish and it’s
about that high to the ground, but a big thrill to catch that fish I can tell you.
From the boat, you caught it from the boat?
Yeah. That, the rest of the party were camped on the beach overnight, but three of us, two of my older brothers and myself were out in the boat and we fished over the night, just caught a few fish and the next morning we weren’t getting any bites. So
the two brothers, they decided to row around and see if they could find where the fish were, and I threw my line out and was laying back, they had bunks in this boat, and all of a sudden I could hear the real screaming as it was running out, so I raced out and hooked into the fish and everything that we needed, the gaff and the net and everything was back inside the cabin and I didn’t want to drop the rod to get those.
So I’m singing out to my brothers, “Come and help me,” and they thought I was kidding of course, you know, but anyhow eventually they came over and they got into the boat and they, I brought the fish up and you could see the size of it and my brother who was very good with the gaff, I’d never seen him miss before, the first time he tried to gaff mine it missed and the fish went down and the heart’s thumping because you could lose the fish right up the top. But the next time he was able to gaff it and get it in. But it was a lovely big
Did your mum make much money out of her business?
A comfortable living, comfortable living. Eventually when we sold out, or she sold out I should say, she bought a property, about a half an acre at Montrose up in the hills and built, had a house built on that and she finished up retiring in that area, and she had a lovely garden.
She had a beautiful garden up there because you know what that area’s like for gardens. The soil’s beautiful and she had this beautiful garden. People used to come and have a look at it.
So did you do things like go down the train tracks at Port Melbourne where the coal trucks came in and collect the coal off the trucks?
Yes. That reminds me of something. When was it?
About 19, it might’ve been after the war I think. I’m just trying to think now. There was, it might’ve been before the war, I’m not sure, but the thing was there was a strike and it must’ve been a power strike of some description, gas or power, I don’t know, but yes, wherever those big coal trucks used to, they used to go down to Port Melbourne carting coal to be made into coke,
to make the gas and the coke was the residue of the coal that was burnt. So it must’ve been a gas strike. So we used to collect that coal and bring it home and make a fire out in the backyard so we could cook our meals. So that was one strike that I can remember that caused a bit of trouble. Those trucks used to travel from, always heading down to the gasworks at, I think they’re still there but
it’s now made into a housing complex I think, isn’t it, where the gasworks are?
Well there’s still gasworks down at Altona.
Yeah, this is Ingle Street, Port Melbourne I think it is, in that area. It may be gone. I haven’t been that way for a long time. They wouldn’t be making gas there. It would be, because we’re getting the natural gas.
So do you remember, you know, the kind of atmosphere in those years building up to the possibility of war?
No. I don’t think any of us realised what was going on in Europe at that stage. I think it all came as a bit of a surprise that, I know we all listened to the radio to hear
Sir Robert Menzies announce that war was declared on Germany.
What about at school, was there discussion at school?
No, but we used to, certainly used to have Anzac Day and always there’d be a school parade for Anzac Day, and we also used to, then close to the Shrine, the Shrine of Remembrance,
they used to take the kids up to there and that was the first time I’d ever seen the light fall on the stone, you know, the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month sort of thing. So they used to take excursions up to there. We also used to do excursions to the railway yards. I remember that when I was little, a young fellow, and I think what made me remember it most was the nice
fruit cake they used to give you because they were all steam trains in those days and they used to have meals on board some of the trains and they used to bake all the food at the railway yards just out of Spencer Street, North Melbourne, that area there. So we used to go for school excursions to there which were very interesting. I enjoyed it anyhow.
Interviewee: Mervyn Hill Archive ID 1487 Tape 02
OK, so we’re recording again. When you left school where did you go to, what work did you go into?
It’s a bit hard to remember now, but I had, I had a job as a, where was it now? At a retail store. It was
Vealls, I went to Vealls originally and then I wanted to get more into the technical side of things, so that’s when I went to Radio Corporation and worked there for quite a few years. When I say quite a few, it was only from about 14 to 18 so it couldn’t have been long, but maybe a couple of years in the radio manufacturing side of things.
Did you do any training in electronics?
No, I did most of that myself. I used to get a publication called Radio Hobbies and all that sort of thing and learnt from that, but by being in the industry you did learn everything, you know, what to do, although you didn’t make the complete set, radio set, you worked on the production line. You’d do part of the circuit but then they would change so you would do
another part of the circuit and so on so that you learned the whole lot of it all the way through. But I remember one of the favourite tricks that the older fellows used to do, [they] used to get an electrolytic condenser, put it into the 240 volt power and then leave it on the bench of the person who was using, who had to do the next part of the circuit. He’d pick it up and still have a shock, get a shock from it, one of the tricks they used to do. In those
days there were lots of those type of things they used to carry on with. One of the things was to send you up to get a long stand. You had to go to a little section where they carried all the parts and the fellow behind the little counter would say, “OK, stand over there,” and he’d stand over there waiting for a while. He’d say, “Have you had a long enough stand?” Or you know, when you didn’t know anything about
it they’d also send you up for a short wave, and you’d go up to the fellow, he’d give you a little wave. All these sorts of things they used to carry on with.
A good group of people to work with?
They were, yes. I enjoyed it.
But you went to Vealls first. You were talking about the
I went to, into the retail side of Vealls and that wasn’t suitable to me, so that’s how I finished up.
Can you remember very much about working at Vealls?
Just behind the counter and selling parts, like resistors and condensers and that sort of thing, but no, at that stage I didn’t like it. I wanted the technical side of things. So that’s how I finished up with Radio Corporation.
So how long did you, were you at Vealls for?
It would only be a short time. I can’t really remember
So tell me about your job at Radio Corporation then. So you were on the assembly line?
On the assembly line, yeah, and as I said, I would have to work, in those days there was no printed circuitry. Everything had to be soldered in the condensers and the resistors, all this type of thing, and the transformers. Today your resistor is about half an inch long where
they used to be about an inch and a half long in those days. You could handle them, you could wire them together and all this sort of thing. The you would go onto, one section of it, you’d do the audio side of it and then the next time, the next few months you’d be on the detection side and so on. Like you went all the way through, so that’s how I learnt a lot to do with radio.
They were just building radios
or a variety of different types of radios?
Well, all types of radios. They built little radios, you know, small mantle models, radiograms and all this type of thing. I even recall when I first started to get interested in making a radio I made out of a pencil that used to have an eraser in the top, you know how they have an eraser in the top, made a crystal set out of a pencil.
Now how I did that was to wind the coil around the pencil, put the crystal into where I’d taken the rubber out. It could only lie on the table, but I was able to get a station from just doing that, and I also used to make my own crystal. I used to, I think it was sulphur and lead, used to melt the lead and then put the sulphur in which made a crystal and that’s how you could make your crystal
set, your crystal for the crystal set.
So you built crystal sets?
Originally, that was the start, and then onto one valve radios and then onto superheterodynes and the last radio I built was just after we got married. I wanted to build a big radiogram for us. It was, my brother was,
he was a welder so he made the chassis, a big aluminium chassis, and I bought the big 12OX speaker, the best around at the time, and made this and we were living with our in-laws, my in-laws at the time, but they were a bit sceptical whether this was going to work. But when I sat it up on the table and away it went they got a bit of a surprise about it being able to work, but it never ever got put into a cabinet. It never really got used.
don’t know why but it never. It used to sit under the shed, or under the house in a shed and it was just there, never got used, and eventually it finished up out on the lawn for, you know, how you put your rubbish out and it’s collected and taken away, that’s where it went. I was sorry to lose that now. It was silly, I should’ve kept it because, you know, we wouldn’t have used it but I mean it would’ve been good to keep it.
So why didn’t you put it in the cabinet and use it?
I think raising a family and that sort of thing, and then you could buy them anyhow, and by then, I’m talking about when I got married, I was back at Vealls and I could get them commercially made much better in cabinets that I could ever make.
So was that, it was an AM radio, was it short wave?
It was a superheterodyne. It was
AM, yes, it wasn’t FM and AM, no, not in those days. We never had FM in those days.
Can you, you said you made crystal sets, that you made single valve radios, can you tell me how you make a crystal set?
Yes, briefly. I can tell you that you, we used to get bigger cardboard coils that we could. You would wind your
wire around the coil and every now and again you would put a little loop in it. You would probably be told that out at Radio & Hobbies how many winds to put on, and then you would bare that. Like if there were about six or seven radio stations in those days you would have six little loops and whatever station you wanted to listen to on your crystal set, you would move
a wire to whatever that loop was. That’s how you would pick it up, and you had a little detector thing, a little cat’s whisker they called them and everybody knows about little cat’s whisker that on an a little arm that you moved around until you found a little spot on the crystal that would be the most powerful to give you the best reception. That’s how you made them. They were on a board and eventually they had
what they called fixed detectors that you didn’t have to use the little cat’s whisker and so on. But you’d find on a, making your own crystal you’d see a little spot, you know, a very shiny little spot which would be the crystal and if you got right onto that that’s where you’d get the best reception.
So were you holding the cat’s whisker?
No. It had a little arm on it and a little, it was in a swivel, you could swivel it around wherever you
want until you found the, usually the crystal had various little spots on it that you could find and you could move it from one to the other to find a better reception.
So what was the cat’s whisker made out of?
Well even in those days you could buy them of course, but you could wind your little bit of wire, little bit of wire and like a spring and use it like that.
It must’ve been wonderful as a kid making these?
I enjoyed it.
Sort of tuning into (so world making UNCLEAR)
The first time to listen, this is 3AR Melbourne. It really was good, fantastic in my opinion because when I look, my son now is a computer expert, he’s a programmer and when I look inside of them it just amazes me. At the present time we’re making detectors, he is, he is making them, gold
detectors. We’re going to go up and make a fortune very soon, or else have a lot of fun. But he’s making them at the moment.
Is that something you could do in Myrtleford by the way, did you go gold panning?
I didn’t, but as I mentioned earlier it was Depression years and those elder brothers used to. You’d have a sluice box and yes, they used to supplement their income by little bits of gold as well
because pretty well, it was pretty well known that the north east had a lot of gold and the Chinese were up there and found a lot of gold, and very interesting up that way, if you know the north east at all. You know the Ovens River, you know the Buckland River? Well, the Buckland River, if you go up, it’s pretty hard to get there now because it’s private properties and there’s blackberries overgrown and all this sort of thing, but what they used to do, the Chinese in those days with two,
would start from down at the bottom of the creek and cut through the hill like that, or the bank as I should say, only about that wide so there was light all the time, and they would then follow the reef along and you could see it on the side of the wall of this trench that they were digging through, and you could spot the reef and so on. They did a lot of that, but I notice a lot of those are overgrown now and
you can’t get to them to see them. That was the Buckland. The Buffalo River was another one they used to do a lot of mining, gold mining.
This is along the banks of the river you’re talking about or the hills going up along the side?
They’d walk along in the water and then dig up the bank and they’d cut right through so that the light, it’s not a tunnel, just a big
trench into the bank, and they’d go in as far as they could to find the gold. They found a lot of gold there as you know, and then eventually, I suppose after that they dredged there for gold. They had big dredges in the Ovens and those rivers up there and all those pebbles that you see around is where the dredges lifted them up and spread them all out dredging for the gold.
So were there Chinese families living
out there when you were a child?
Yes. There was one family that, the Pan Looks, they used to, they ran the hop gardens up there. If you know that area just as you leave Myrtleford about eight miles further on you’ll see a lot of hop gardens, well Pan Look, he was a Chinaman. He married, I don’t know whether an Australian or an English woman, but she
was European and they had eight children. Seven girls and one boy, and all attractive girls. That was a big thing in those days. Even the locals, like again, Depression years, used to go up there and pick hops. They used to pick hops, they used to throw the vines. The vines used to grow up to about 18 feet and they’d pull them down over a bin and the
people would pick the hops into the bin and the measurers would come around and measure what they’d picked and they were paid accordingly, and in those days, this is rather interesting with Pan Look, he introduced his own coinage and money. When you came up to there they would give money and buy his coinage and his brother also ran a
store, so if you had to buy anything at the store you used that money, the Chinese money, his money, his actual money. And then when the season was over about eight weeks or whatever it was, you would then cash in all this Chinese money and get your Australian money back. Now he was a pretty cunning old fellow when you come to think of it, because you could go to Myrtleford or Bright and buy something, but I mean if you’ve only got Chinese
coins, some of the locals used to take it.
Take it away?
Take the money and like you could buy something and they’d take the money and they’d come back and cash it later at Pan Look’s, but he didn’t like that of course.
So what were his prices like?
They weren’t outrageous. They were reasonable prices. The butcher and the baker used to come. The butcher used to come from,
actually one of my uncles, he used to come two times or three times a week or something. You’d order your meat the week before. You see, a lot of the hop pickers used to come from Melbourne. There used to be a special train that would come in to the hop gardens and they would do the picking plus a few locals that used to go up there as well, and there’d be quite a few there. I don’t know how many would turn up for the season,
but there’d be quite a lot of people, a little community for a while. Even the kids used to go to a special school there.
So he had what, a camp set up or quarters?
They had, what did they used to call it? They were a big type of shed with a cubicle all along and a centre passage and a fire place at each end and the people used to live in those, and then people used to bring their own tents.
It was a big complex you know, like the area, and then he also built little house type of thing with hessian as the walls and most of them used to cook outside because it was summer anyhow. Just about now it’s hop picking time. Another few weeks and it will be hop picking time. I’ve got hops growing out here.
Have you, why?
I think, because it was lovely up there. If you pick a lot of hops and put it under your pillow it’s lovely, it helps your breathing.
It’s got a beautiful smell actually, hasn’t it, very rich?
They’re not quite ripe, but they’re just flowering, just starting out there now.
So did you work for the Pan Looks?
No, I never worked for Pan Look’s. I never actually worked up there, but my mother used to go there and
I used to come and help her to pick hops.
OK, so your mum was working there?
Not working there, only in the hop picking season just to help again, more income.
So it must’ve been quite an interesting community of people, these seasonal pickers that would come?
Yes. Mostly the people would be the same people come each year,
and of course even the locals used to know them as well, and they used to have boxing and dancing nearly every night. There was a hall there, they had dancing and there was boxing. When I was a young fellow I used to get up into the ring and have a few little bouts. That was good in those days because if it was a good fight they used to throw coins onto the apron of the ring and we used to share that amongst us, so that was
another few little bob we used to get.
This is all on Pan Look’s property?
All on Pan Look’s. That, we were there just recently as a matter of fact, we were up in Myrtleford, my son, my wife and myself, and we called into there and they’ve got a little bit of a museum there, but it’s quite a big area. It travels from Fernydale right up to,
what do they call that part there? I don’t know, quite a lot of acres, acreage there. Over the river as well, ’cause the Ovens flows right down through there as you probably know.
So it was like a village?
It used to be, and like every Sunday there’d be a cricket match. There was a big area where you could play cricket. It was an enjoyable time for the hop picking time. Now it’s all
done by machines now. In those days when they were collecting the hops they used to have great big draft horses pulling the carts around. Now it’s all mechanised. It’s a very interesting place. If you’re passing there, knock on the door and go and have a look at the museum. It’s quite a good little museum.
So those hops would be brought to Melbourne, would they, for beer?
wasn’t absolutely sure where they went to, but they, now they export all over the world, but I would imagine they’d go to our breweries, like either Carlton . At one time the Richmond Brewery bought it, but it’s now owned by Carlton & United Breweries now. I was only told this just recently.
So were there other Chinese families up there as well?
Yes, there were, but you know, I can’t remember who they were and so on, but there were others around. A lot of them had gone, left, died, that sort of thing. My mother even remembers old Bill Pan Look, that’s the father. She said he looked to be an old man when she was a girl so he must’ve been pretty old at the finish. He must’ve lived to a ripe old age. My mother was born in
1893 I think. Just guessing at the moment, 1893, 1893 or 1897, I’m not quite sure whether it was three years before the turn of the century, but one of our trips back from up that way, we called into a place that sold and grew walnuts
named Weston, and there was this old chappie reading a paper, The Age, and he looked pretty old, anyhow, without any glasses and we got, we wanted to buy some walnuts and I casually mentioned that not far away there’s a church there and I said, “My mother got married over at that church at Eurobin,” and he said, “What was your mother’s name?”
I said, “Her name would’ve been Daisy Dean.” He said, “I remember Daisy Dean, she was a teacher,” and I said, “She wasn’t really a teacher.” She would probably be one of the older girls in the class and she would have probably helped him, and I thought he was just putting me on here a little bit, and he said, “Daisy Dean, she had a brother.” I said, “Yes,” and “his name was Albert,” he said, and then I
knew straight away that he knew that Albert was her brother and that he wasn’t telling, you know, or just guessing or something, and you know later on I said, “You’ve got a good memory,” and he said, “Yeah, walnuts, they’re the best thing for your memory. If you live on walnuts it’s good for your memory.” But I don’t know how old he was, but he must’ve been well towards 100
I’d say when we were up there.
OK, so coming back to Melbourne and your working life, you were working at Radio Corporation, yeah?
Then I went back to Vealls. By then I’m about 17, back to Vealls and was working in the, we were making sound equipment
for factories and that type of thing, like amplifiers and all that sort of thing, and they were also retailers. They had a lot of stores around Melbourne, but getting towards 18 the war had started between Japan and Australia and US, and that wasn’t an essential job in those days because
selling radiograms and that sort of thing was non-essential, so the Manpower at that time directed me to work for the Malvern Star Company. I think I mentioned this earlier where the Malvern Star Company made bicycles and radar, the frames for the radar equipment which was used by the military. So that was an essential company for the war effort and I had a lot of difficulty in getting out of
that company. I think I mentioned I went to the personnel officer and he said, “No hope of getting away because you’re required for this job.” But I eventually persisted and went to the general manager and he said, “If you’re so keen to join I’ll let you go.” So that’s how I joined the AIF.
So what work were you doing at Vealls the second time around, sorry, at Malvern Star?
At Malvern Star?
Just making tubular stuff for the
frames for the radar equipment. Like they were tubes and they were made up, these tubes were made into frames that they sat the radar equipment on, so it was nothing to do with radio or anything like that at all. It was just making these frames, and then the other fellows that were there permanently before me were making the bicycles, and I always say that they must’ve
been making thousands of those bicycles but I never ever saw one while I was in Bougainville. I don’t know who got them.
They were making bicycles for the war effort?
War effort, yeah. Army bicycles. Where they used them I don’t know. They used to say that, the clothing was the same, they used to say that the more in those clothing factories, the more material they used the more they got paid, and that might’ve been one of the jokes, but always the
material, the clothing that you wore was, there was two sizes in the army, big and bigger, and I’ve got a photo somewhere of my brother who was in the 2/8th Battalion. He was up in Mataranka or somewhere up in Northern Territory area, he is fairly big, he was 14 stone, and he is one leg of a pair of shorts and there’s another fellow in the other leg of a pair of shorts. Just gives you an idea of the size of the shorts.
Mine were far too big for me, I know that, most of them were.
Well that explains it, doesn’t it, that big clothing?
Whether that’s correct or not I don’t know, but they used to say they got paid more, the companies making the clothing, if they used more material.
I haven’t heard any mention of bicycles through out any of the campaigns.
Well, that’s what they were doing. They were punching them out by the heaps.
They were on the corner where Jeff’s Shed is now, that time, you know where Jeff’s Shed corner is? Well Malvern Star factory was there.
So were you welding these parts together?
No, I think I was only doing the sawing of the lengths of this tubing with hacksaws and so on, pretty primitive.
No, well there would be machinery there but what the job I was doing was
just sawing these lengths of tubing. I was glad to get out of there.
Yeah. That explains why you didn’t, you know, why you were keen to get out.
But at that stage there would’ve been three older brothers in the air force. Keith was in the, he was the next one to me, up, he was in the 2/8th Battalion
and one older than him, he didn’t want to be in the services at that stage because he had just started a business. It was making things out of Bakelite, you know; smoke stands and all this type of thing, anything out of Bakelite. Bakelite was pretty new at that stage. So he started that business, so although he was called up he eventually got out to run this
business which was a pretty good business at that stage, but unfortunately alcohol got to him and his business failed in the finish.
So with your brothers who were in the services, were you hearing from them at all? Did you know where they were and what they were doing?
Yes. Two of them went to Darwin. Alec, the eldest one, he was an instructor.
He was a welder so he was to instruct the cadets how to weld and all this sort of thing. So he never left Australia, but the other two, at least they were in Darwin and a couple of times flights over to New Guinea. Keith was in Mataranka in that area at that stage, but then they went up to the Atherton Tablelands and they were there until they were sent overseas.
Did you see them? Did they come home on leave?
Keith came on his final leave. I must’ve still been not into the army at that stage and I saw him for a couple of weeks until he was sent to Queensland. Bert and Frank came home on leave and I remember Bert, did I tell you they lived up in the country
and used to do a lot of fishing and hunting and so on? So while he was in Darwin, when he came home he had a quick trip home and he flew home with one of the planes. He was not in, ground crew, he came home in one of the planes, air force planes, and when he arrived home he had two great big buffalo horns. He’d been out shooting the day before and shot a couple of buffalo and wanted these as trophies, you know, the big buffalo horns, and then
what he proceeded to do was boil up the copper and put them into the copper to, like there was a certain amount of meat still in each top end of the horn. It used to smell like lovely stew cooking, these buffalo horns being boiled, so you’d get whatever was inside the horns out. And he was telling us that at one
of the stages, they were, must’ve been going Buffalo shooting or something and they were coming down in a truck down the highway and a Zero came over and spotted them and was strafing them, so they went into as far as they could into the scrub and then got underneath the truck, but fortunately they weren’t hit.
This is in Darwin?
Well, south of Darwin. I don’t know how far down. That was the only action
that they really had, was the bombing area of Darwin, that business.
So was it exiting when they came home?
Oh, for me it was thrilling. You know, my big brothers. You see, I think that was one of the reasons why I wanted to get into the service, you know. They, when they came home it was good to see them again, tell their stories.
So you had to wait until you were 18?
Yes. I was released on my 18th birthday. I don’t know if it was my actual birthday, but around about that time, and well, the first place I had to go to, I lived in Kerferd Road as I mentioned earlier and right next door to us there was a doctor, Dr Stevens. He was our doctor, and when I went over to the drill hall, it was over in, near the football ground
there was a drill hall there where he gave you a test and anyhow, I had the test and then I had to go to Royal Park to be inducted into the army and they had a medical board there testing every soldier, and they had me up and down on my toes, up and down on my toes and they were all looking at my feet and all this sort of thing. Anyhow it turned out that Dr Stevens had put down that I had flat feet
and I mean you can’t get into, it was very difficult to be in the infantry if you’ve got flat feet. The doctor must’ve thought that I wanted to get out of the army because Cecil, my brother who did get out, he examined him beforehand and got him out because he wanted to run this business. Anyhow the medical board said there’s nothing wrong with your feet so I was duly inducted into the army. I’ll never forget that either because,
it was Royal Park and they had a road down there and they had the tents down on either side and your bed was a straw palliasse on a board floor in the tent, and one morning I woke with a fright and what it was, it was a pipe band, excuse me, a pipe band, the drummer
banging his drum right outside the tent behind me. They proceed to go up, the band proceeded to go up and down and play reveille to get us out at about 6.00 in the morning. So we were really wakening to the first day in the army.
A whole band?
A whole band, just a pipe band, used to pipe parade up and down playing the pipe music.
Did you have to make your own mattresses, your own palliasses?
They didn’t make them, they were already there, but they were just a hessian bag type of thing filled with straw, but you had to make the bed up each morning, put your blanket on and fold your blanket up neatly and all this sort of thing because they came and had a parade to see how it was done and all this sort of thing, if it was done correctly. Do you want me to continue on about that from there?
Yes, yes please.
We were about a week there and you got your uniform
and your number, service number, and then you had an aptitude test. After that it was onto Warwick in Queensland, and the, I’m just trying to think, it must’ve been the first trip away, I’d never been to Sydney and
my mother and younger brother came to see me off and they had, it was a troop train this particular train to go north, and a lot of people on Spencer Street Station, and they had a band playing music there and just as the train pulled out they were playing Goodbye Melbourne Town. Have you ever heard that song? I think there were a few tears there when I was leaving, you know, going first away somewhere.
So we went as far as Albury and then when you got to Albury there was another train. You know what Albury’s like, another train waiting on the long platform there which we got to Sydney. Excuse me. On to Sydney and changed trains there, up to Brisbane and then Brisbane out to Warwick. The
difference in the trains, you know, they’re different. Our gauge was wide and then New South Wales was a bit narrower and then the 3 foot 6 of the Queensland, so there was a lot of difference in the carriages of all the trains, but then the one going from Brisbane to Warwick you could get out and walk as fast as that. That’s how fast it was, and we eventually finished up at Warwick Station
and then they trucked us out to the camp which was, they never put the camp right next to the town. It was always a long way out, about 20 miles out from the town of Warwick. So then there was the start of the initial training and we did all the rifle drill and marching and all this sort
of thing which I wasn’t too keen on and then I remember on one occasion there we went to the rifle range shooting. You learnt how to fire automatic guns, rifles and throw grenades and all this sort of thing, and somehow I had a couple of rounds on me and I was caught with these couple of live rounds and I was fined. You only had six and six a day or something, it was not much money and I was
fined, and I wasn’t too happy about that either, but a week or so later when I got my pay packet there was much more in my pay packet than I should’ve had. I thought, well this will pay for the fine. This is the first thought that went through my mind, this’ll pay for the fine. But anyhow, after we went to meal parade I thought, no, I don’t think I can do that. I can’t keep
this. So I went back to the orderly room and the light’s on in the orderly room and there’s two officers pouring over figures and I explained to them, I said, “I’ve been overpaid.” They said, “Thank God, because we wouldn’t have been able to find it and balance the books.” They said, “We would’ve had to put in out of our own pocket.” Can I have a spell because I’ve got a tickle?
Yes, yes, stop.
Interviewee: Mervyn Hill Archive ID 1487 Tape 03
We’re back on. So I just wanted to get an idea of the war had been going obviously ’39 and the Japanese involvement from ’40, late ’41, early ’42.
How closely had you been keeping tabs on what was happening with the war?
Well I didn’t take a great deal of interest in the European war but as soon as the, the only thing I was, I was very proud of our soldiers who were over in the Middle East, where they captured a lot of the Italians.
You’d see the Movietone News of two or three Australian soldiers with thousands of Italian soldiers. So I was pretty proud of our efforts at that stage, but at 14 or so I didn’t think I’d be involved in the war about four or five years later, but when war was declared against the Japanese I started to take a big interest in things then.
And Keith, who was in the 2nd…
So where did he fight?
When, they were first of all stationed up at Mataranka and then they came around and went up to Atherton, the Tablelands, I can’t think of the name of the Italian town that’s there, but anyhow, they were there for quite a while. Then they went over to Aitape
and that area there.
Was there any thought of trying to get into his battalion?
Yes, that was important at that stage because after the training, I did a lot more training before I went to my battalion, but when I eventually got to my battalion, they were Queenslanders and there was a little bit of bickering between the southern states personnel
and the Queenslanders because they had been in that battalion since ’39 a lot of them, and they were a bit superior to the southern states blokes. We were only young recruits. So I wrote to Keith and at that stage you could be claimed by an older brother to his battalion if you decided. So I wrote to him and he wrote back and said he didn’t think it would be a good idea because if we were out on patrol together, out on patrol
one would be worrying about the other, what had happened, so I decided to stay. But getting back to Warwick, the trip to Warwick, see I hadn’t been to Sydney and when it got to Sydney on that train trip through the Hawkesbury River, that was beautiful. I thought that was a lovely trip through there, going over the river and through the tunnels. And then at training at Warwick, you know, I can remember one time we had some of the
older Middle East fellows that had come back and they were instructors. We were to go on a route march and we got out about two miles and the sergeant said, “OK, we’ll rest here. Take your packs off.” They produced a couple of pennies and we played two-up for the rest of the day. So a lot of that was pretty good, I enjoyed that. From Warwick, we had about six months at Warwick, and
did all, you know, unarmed combat, all sorts of training and we were still only eighteen, just eighteen.
Do you want to stop for a second?
Just stop for a second.
Yeah, sure. So you were telling us about Warwick.
You were there for six months. Can you recall for us some of the specifics of the training and the drill and the discipline that you experienced there?
Yes, well there was a lot of parade ground drill and all that type of thing as you know. I wasn’t all that happy with that type of thing, particularly with the drill. I didn’t mind the route marches because you were out and covering an area where you hadn’t been. I’ll always remember the very first route march we went. We came out of the camp, coming along the road and there was a creek running across in a ford and a little footbridge over the creek, and I thought, oh well, they’ll
just walk over the footbridge, but of course they went straight through the water and getting my boots and socks and everything wet wasn’t too, you know, a bit of a change. But anyhow, later on it didn’t worry me at all to get my boots, feet wet. But it was just the usual training like bayonet training and there was always supposed to be a Jap that you were bayoneting and all this sort of thing, and you were pretty well
taught that the only good Jap was a dead Jap, you know, that’s the feeling you got. So really getting that into you to hate the Japanese.
We were talking off camera before about propaganda. Can you recall examples of that?
No. I didn’t know there was propaganda or anything like that at that stage, but when I, years gone by I realised there was a lot of propaganda and everything. So after
Warwick we came down to French’s Forest which is North of Sydney on the North Shore and we trained around that area there for a quite a while. That wasn’t too bad there because you could get into Sydney for leave and we used to go into the, stay at the YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association] there and also go down to Anzac House,
that was in Hyde Park. It might’ve been in a temporary building, I just forget now, and you could get tickets to the races or football or whatever it might be. So it was pretty good being outside of Sydney there. Then we got two weeks leave so I was returned to Melbourne and I was enjoying this leave until, I used to do a lot of skating, ice-skating when I was a young fellow
and although there was a girl I was interested in, it wasn’t very serious. I took her out a few times and we, towards the end of my leave we were down St Moritz skating and this fellow used to come around and try and knock me off and that sort of thing, and when the skating was over and we came out he
wanted to fight me. I was in uniform and of course down at St Kilda at that time there was a lot of Military Police around and I said, “Well if you’re going to fight we’ll have to go down to the beach,” but he wouldn’t be in that so there was a bit of shoving and pushing and so on like that and that was all it was, and then I was a bit worried at this stage so I overstayed my leave. I became AWL [Absent Without Leave], or ack willy as we used to call it in those days, and
I was about a week overdue but I was going to go back. I knew I’d be going back, but in the meantime a fellow called at our house and my mother was there and she said, “He is going back.” He said, “Well if he doesn’t go back he’ll be in real trouble.” So anyhow, I went back on the Monday and the, I was put under open arrest because I was AWL, and it was out at, where were we?
I forget where we were. Royal Park I think it was from that time then until it was time to go back to the unit. Now we were trucked to the station, Spencer Street Station and there was a normal train with a carriage set aside for troops to go back to Sydney and there was about, there was a group of other fellows, a couple of really bad eggs, soldiers, bad eggs, and the
Military Police were there and we were all standing on the platform waiting to board the train, and a lot of crowd milling around, and one of these fellows he just back stepped a bit and dropped down off the platform and ran in amongst the other trains and they lost him. They went around searching and so on but they couldn’t find him and they tell me that they tried many many times to get him back to his unit but they failed. Anyhow, when the time came to leave there were a couple
of other baddies too, so we were handcuffed, all handcuffed to these other fellows and we had to travel to Sydney handcuffed to these other blokes. The only thing about it was that when you arrived at a country station there was always a mad rush to get up to the cafeteria to get your lunch, but in this case they brought your lunch down on a tray, so that was one little compensation. But when we got to Sydney and we were walking up the ramp in Sydney there were a lot of people on either side
and we were spat at a couple of times, and the only thing I can think of was because we were handcuffed to these other fellows they must’ve thought we were Military Police as well and that’s why they spat at us.
So the Military Police were that detested, were they?
Military Police weren’t liked at all by anybody, by the soldiers or by the public I believe. So we were taken out to Victoria Barracks in Sydney
under open arrest again, or I was. I mean I had to go back to my battalion and I was fined a heavy fine again, and still in Sydney of course. I think they had to pay you two shillings a day, well, it’s not much to go and spend leave in Sydney, so that hindered me a bit. I lost my sixpence proficiency pay.
What was that, sorry?
If you were a proficient soldier or something you got sixpence extra or something like that and I lost that.
For how long?
For quite a while. So that wasn’t too bad when we got back there.
Can I just ask you a couple of questions about those incidents?
First of all with the girlfriend, did you sort things out there or was the other fellow still
I never saw him again and my girlfriend at that stage she had no more contact with him, so whether that sorted it out or not, but it never blossomed anyhow. What happened there was she was, their family was Roman Catholic, very strict Roman Catholic. I was not a very strict Protestant but it didn’t work out at all because of that particular thing.
It’s a different thing today. I mean it doesn’t make difference, does it.
So you’d seen, met the parents and all that sort of thing?
Oh yes, yes, yes. They were dead against me not being a Catholic, but I liked the girl. I mean she was quite a nice girl but I think the parents had too much influence. So we just drifted apart.
And on that train trip do you remember who it was that you were cuffed to?
No idea who it was. Never seen him before, didn’t see him again. He wasn’t in my battalion.
Did you find out what he’d done?
No, never really found out. Didn’t find out what the fellow that dropped over and got away, had no idea what happened to them or why he was so bad an egg, but they just told us they were bad eggs. You get them in the army as well as anything, in civilian life.
Did you feel that the treatment you copped was a bit severe?
I thought it was a bit severe because, you know, I like to be able to get up and move around a bit
and so on, but we just had to sit there. It’s a long trip from Melbourne to Sydney sitting in the one compartment.
So when you got back to, was it back to French’s Forest?
No. When we got back we were then transferred to Pymble. Pymble, which was another good spot that was very close to the railway station. See, not being 19, you couldn’t go overseas until you were 19. So what they did,
there was a strike on the wharves so they used to send us in by truck in the morning to various wharves around Sydney, Pyrmont and all these particular wharves and you would help on the wharves loading and unloading. And that was a rather funny incident there. One time we were loading equipment to go to the comforts fund and the canteens up in New Guinea and there were crates of beer. We
used to sit on, they were up in the sheds and we used to sit on these crates of beer while the slings, they had slings in those days, they didn’t have containers of anything like that, the sling would lift up a big crate and take it over and dump it and while it was there we’d go up and sit on these crates, and one of these fellows somehow, you could see that they were bottles of beer in these crates, so somehow he prised a top off a bottle and then he was able to put a straw in and suck out the beer. He was in a
mess when the day finished, and so we worked there for quite a while. Pymble was a good spot because I used to like playing football and if I could get into a game or match it was much better than drill and all that sort of thing. So I used to play rugby, you know, even though I knew nothing about it, I’d play rugby and Australian Rules football. You’d go to the various other camps and play football. So from Pymble
can you just put us in the picture time-wise? How long were you in Pymble?
A bit hard to remember exactly how long we were there. It may be a couple of months, it may not have been. Put it this way, that we were transferred from Pymble to Penrith, Penrith which is out towards the Nepean River area. We were transferred to there and
we were working in the rail yards there, again loading trucks and so on, army trucks and so on. We were camped right next to the town so that was good. You know, every night you could get leave and go into the town. Go to a dance or pictures or whatever it might be. Then one night, one day there was a hasty parade called and it was, they were selecting fellows
to go to the Cowra prisoner-of-war camp. It was the day after the Cowra prisoner [breakout]. They told us what had happened and we were trucked out to Cowra the next day and then we were sent around to round up some of the escapees that, there were still a few at large. We never got anybody that was at large but we came across them hanging from the trees, had hung themselves and others had
jumped under the railway, on the railway tracks and let trains run over them. So we were then there for about a week at Cowra and they then decided, I think the initial idea was to separate the officers from the other ranks because there was going to be trouble, and they were to take them down to Murchison in Victoria. So we were there about a week and
they then formed up this convoy to take these Jap prisoners of war down to Murchison, Victoria. The convoy was quite a long convoy. They’d have an officer leading, then there’d be a truck of Australian soldiers, a truck with Australian soldiers in it and then two or three more trucks with the Jap prisoners of war and then another truck and so on until the end of the convoy. I was a bit fortunate that I was travelling in
a jeep with a driver and I, all other soldiers had their rifles and Owens. I had an Owen gun and every now and again we’d pull out and we’d up and down the convoy to see if everything was going alright, and we’d heard there were three fellows killed, three Australian blokes killed, two other ranks and an officer killed at Cowra and there was, you know, just coming back from Warwick and that, you know, and every Jap, the only good
Jap is a dead one. You know, if they’d have tried anything they would’ve been slaughtered, there’s no doubt about that. That’s how we all felt, these young fellows, and we got to, we had to travel on the back roads. We didn’t come down through the main roads and the dust was unbelievable because you can imagine a convoy of length, which is pouring into the back of the trucks and the poor old Japs, they were huddled into their, they had the Australian greatcoat, you know, the army greatcoat dyed red, and they had them huddled up around. All you could see was
just their face and if they opened their mouth you could see all the gold in their teeth and all this sort of thing. So they said if there was going to be any trouble it would be at Kapooka which was on the border, because we couldn’t do the trip in one day. So we pulled up at Kapooka and they had a cage prepared there for them to put them in. But there was no trouble. They went in and next morning they were back onto the convoy and then we came down, we were on
better roads, bitumen road then, so we didn’t get the dust until we got to, lost all the dust when we got to Murchison prisoner of war camp. So we were about a week at Murchison and it was strange there. I mean there were Italian prisoners of war, there were German prisoners of war and the Japanese. The Italians, they were walking around freely anywhere like this and you know, they were locked up of a night, but they were free,
pretty well roamed freely in the day. Then the Germans, was good to watch them of the morning on their parade. Their compound was up on a bit of a rise with the sun coming in the back from behind them. They were all done up in these splendid uniforms that the Germans used to have, and they’d have their officers have a parade and when they’d come to attention it was just like closing a blind because the sun behind them with the legs coming together. It was good to watch how good they were drilled.
I suppose they did this to sort of relieve the monotony of being locked up. Anyhow, while at Murchison, it’s not too far from Melbourne, I thought I might try and sneak home but I thought, oh well, I might not get away with it. Just as well I didn’t, because they came and said, “OK, you’re on your way back,” so they trucked us into Seymour, and Seymour we went back to Pymble, and Pymble we
were there a little while and they said, “OK, you’re off to, that was about the, I think the breakout was the 5th of August in ’44, so it was only a few weeks later and they said, “OK, you’re moving on again.
Can I just hold you there because this is really fascinating ’cause we haven’t spoken to anyone who had any involvement with the Cowra Breakout and the incidents there. You said you were in Cowra for about a week
About a week, yeah.
just rounding up the
escapees and so on. What sort of state were those people in, in terms of the escaped Japs? What was morale like and was there ever any trouble with them be it in Cowra or on the convoy to Murchison?
No trouble whatsoever. They, I think the ones that didn’t commit suicide or hadn’t died, I think they were happy that they weren’t from what I can gather. But there was the, see, the guards were mostly really
young fellows or older blokes, you know, that weren’t suitable for service overseas. They were very, the Vickers gunners were very lucky because what the idea, how they broke out was they lit fire to all the premises that they were living in and they threw all the blankets over the barbed wire and the Vickers guns of course were mowing them down as well and they were just mowing over their bodies and
escaping. But then they charged the Vickers gun, and the Vickers gun, you know, was running out of ammunition and so on like that and they would’ve been overrun, the two or three fellows behind the Vickers, but whatever, something he threw away would stop the gun from being used, so they were fortunate there that they didn’t get hold of that gun. If they’d have got hold of that machine gun, the Japs, it might’ve been
a different story, would’ve been a lot more killed, Australians. But because of those being killed we were, you know, as I said, you know, we would’ve slaughtered them if we were given the chance. But they were pretty meek and mild all the way over. I don’t think they had leadership, but they made knives out of their cooking utensils and all this sort of thing. They were well armed too, and baseball bats, they had baseball
bats and they were going to if they could. What they were going to do when they got out of there I’m blowed if I know. They, some of the people on the farms were a bit worried because there were still a few roaming around, but they found, they eventually got them all.
So you’d been working on the wharves and then loading trains, I guess maybe feeling that the war was a long way away. Did this experience sort of bring you close to it?
It was a bit of an eye opener to see bodies
hanging from trees and it wasn’t a nice experience but it just told you what war was about anyhow.
And what were your duties when you were in Murchison for the week at the camp there?
Actually we did nothing much at that stage because we weren’t attached. We weren’t on their strength. We were just waiting there to go home, when I say home, back to our battalion.
That’s why I thought about well, if I’m going to be here any length of time I’ll hitchhike back to Melbourne and meet my family, but I didn’t, and just as well. As I said, they didn’t give us much notice to get back on the train. But there was a lot of drinking going on there because there were New South Wales blokes and Victorian fellows and we were all telling them how good our beer was compared to theirs.
A bit of two-up played and that sort of thing, so we had a bit of a rest there before we went back.
So prior to that, when you had been based at Pymble and Penrith, I mean what was your, how were you feeling? You joined up because you wanted to do your bit. You’d had that training, you know, hate Japs, you got over there and do you bit, but then you’re doing this sort of loading work?
I wasn’t happy about doing all that, doing that, but it was a bit of variety. Instead of having to have parade ground drill and so on,
it was better to go to work in Sydney or on the railway yard. Better to do that than out, you know, pack drill or that type of thing.
So after Warwick you came back down to Sydney. Was there training as well?
The training went on. We trained all around French’s Forest and wherever. You still did your training, but if I could get out of it by playing a game of football I’d be into that rather than training.
When we got to Penrith, at Penrith there was a scratch rugby match between the Penrith team which are now a good team, but they were then a pretty pussy old team in those days, but the army put up a scratch team and I played at fullback. Now I’m a Victorian and you know, didn’t know much about this game but they made me fullback because they reckoned Aussie Rules blokes can kick a football.
Well I thought I’d show them how to kick a football. It came down to me, the ball, I thought, I didn’t know anything about it, tries and all this sort of thing. I thought I’ll try and kick a goal between the posts, and I did what they call a torpedo punt but instead of it going and sailing the right way it went off and slid out off the side, sideline, and they were all cheering and clapping and carrying on like this. They said, “Oh, beautiful kick.” Anyhow, they,
we got a try out of it because it went out right up close to the try line and, but that’s the only try they got. They trounced us because they were a far better team than we were.
So you’re a Victorian trying to show them how to play their own game?
Yes. I played a few more games after that, but where did we get to? We got to
After Cowra, you came from Cowra to Murchison. How were you, you sort of,
you mentioned briefly what you were doing outside during your after hours kind of thing recreationally. What were you doing in Sydney? I mean what would you get up to after?
I think I mentioned I liked ice-skating a lot. I used to go into the racing, ice-skate racing and dancing and so on, a few of the dances, not all of the dances. But one day we were walking down, there was a group of us, four of us, we were walking down Pitt Street and
a woman sort of sidled up to us and she said, “Why aren’t you up in New Guinea fighting? You’re only Pitt Street commandos.” So that didn’t go over too well, you know. We thought maybe she’s lost her husband or something like that, but anyhow, we finished up ice-skating that day and it was a good day. But you’d get, like we used to go to the races, the football and occasionally you could get an invite to a,
like an afternoon tea or something with a, say on the North Shore, some of those places there where I think they’re doing their bit for the war in entertaining the troops. So those were good days when you had a nice afternoon tea. You could stay overnight but you would be back next day to your battalion.
Were you with the battalion yet?
No. These are still training battalions. So
the next thing was there was a move where the whole training battalion was to move to Singleton. We thought we’ll be trucked there but they trucked us into Hornsby Railway, no, wait a minute, sorry, I’m getting a bit mixed up there. What we did, we had to march, this is what surprised us, we had to march from,
not Pymble, the other place. From Sydney anyhow, from Sydney to Singleton. Now that’s a fair sort of a hike. So how they did that, we’d march along for you know, an hour or so and then you’d have a rest and at lunch time they would send forward a mobile kitchen and when you got there a hot lunch was cooked for you. That went on for a couple of days. We didn’t stay at Singleton very long because
we were then told we were going to Canungra. Canungra’s the jungle training camp, and we went by train to Brisbane again and Brisbane out to Canungra and trucked up to the training camp where they used, I always remember they went past a cemetery and they
said, “Half of you will finish up in this cemetery,” because they used to use live ammunition and everything in that training camp, and again all of the targets that you shot at, they had these targets that would come up as you walked around the corner and this sort of thing, and they were all painted like Japanese. The propaganda again that you’re fighting the Japanese, and you’d pour a round or two into them, and then they had crawling underneath [barbed wire], you did everything to do
with jungle training. You know, slings across the river, floating across the river. You’d made out of your groundsheet, you folded it all up so that it would float with everything in that and then you put your rifle over and you floated across with it, across the river. All that sort of thing, everything to do with jungle training.
So who was doing the training there?
Well it was a training battalion, but by then I’m with a platoon. I’m into a training platoon. Everything
was on the double. You shaved in cold water. You had to run down to the river and shave. Just lather up and shave with the cold water. Everything was on the double, and the CO of that camp, he was a pretty tough man because if any of the defaulters, you know, defaulted in some way, there was a flag pole right at the top of the hill and he used to make them put on their gas mask, all their gear, pack and everything and run up the top of the hill and raise the flag, and he would
watch with the binoculars, and if they didn’t they’d go up until they did it. But I saw one fellow come back and when he took his gas mask off it was full of vomit, so I thought well, I’m certainly not going to do anything wrong here, and never had to run up that hill.
Who were the instructors? Were they guys who had returned from New Guinea?
I don’t know where they were actually from but they were certainly experienced trainers, and
you know, they, you had to, flying foxes across with rifle and all the gear. So it was good training, there was no doubt about it. There was no leave there but you did plenty of route marches, and I’ll never forget one of the first nights there, you slept on the ground, you did a bit of a bivouac out amongst all the lantana vines and all this sort of thing, and I woke up with something screaming. It just sounded like a girl or
a woman screaming. Anyhow the Queensland blokes said, no, it’s a curlew I think it was, curlew? I think it’s a curlew, but it just sounded like a woman screaming in the night time. Anyhow, we finished that training there.
Did any men sort of struggle to the point that they maybe couldn’t, didn’t get through?
There were some, yeah, there were some that couldn’t. But they kept you at it to do it a second time. Like some of the walls you had to get over
were as high as this ceiling here, and you got a rifle and tin hat and everything like that. Some of them couldn’t get over but they eventually, I don’t know whether they, if you didn’t make it the first six weeks you had to do it again so I made certain I did it. I didn’t want to do it a second time.
And by this stage had you formed some close friendships?
Yes, I had there because six weeks of that you do,
but then to upset that because I’d overstayed my leave in Melbourne, the original platoon I’d started with training, they’d gone on, they were ahead of me, they’d finished. These were new blokes. Anyhow then, they said, “OK, we’re finished that training. You’ll be posted to your battalion.” So I’m thinking I’ve joined the AIF, I’ll be sent to an AIF Battalion,
hoping that it would be my brother’s battalion, but when I arrived we were sent up to just outside of Brisbane, a place called Strathpine. The battalion that I joined were camped there in readiness to go overseas. They’d been all around north Queensland, places like Jacky Jacky, Horn Island and there. They’d never been in action but they’d been bombed, and
when I get up there it’s the 26th Battalion, and the AIF were always 2nd, 2nd this, 2/26th or whatever it might be. I was a bit disappointed. I thought, gee whiz, I joined the AIF, why am I in a militia battalion? But what happened, there was enough of the original Queenslanders. The battalion was formed around Julia Creek, Longreach and all that area, were from out west
and mostly Queenslanders and there was enough of them to turn AIF, some didn’t, but there was enough of them to turn to AIF and with us, the new recruits coming up, it was then made the 26th Battalion AIF, so it became an AIF battalion which meant they could go out of Australian Territory. You could go to New Guinea because New Guinea was a mandate of
Australia at that stage, but you couldn’t go elsewhere out of the territories. So we were there. I was attached to C Company and I get a message to report up to the orderly office. I thought I couldn’t be in any trouble here, could I? And I go up there and they had a talk to me, one of the officers had a talk to me and he said,
“We want you to go into the signals because of your background.” Incidentally way back at Royal Park when I was inducted there, after that aptitude test an officer interviews you there to find out what you’re going to do and where you’ll be sent and he asks you first, “Where do you want to go?” I said, “Well I want to be in the infantry.” He said, “Infantry?” He said, “With your background here and so on, there’s better places
for you than the infantry.” I said, “I want to go in the infantry.” So that’s where I finished up. But I suppose my background being radio and hobby radio and that sort of thing they put me into the signals because you use radio and so on in the signals. So for the next few weeks I was learning Morse code and everything to do with signal work.
That’s back in Royal Park?
No. This is in Strathpine before the battalion went overseas. So
learning there all to do with signal work which I enjoyed because here it is, back to my hobby, radios and so on. But the unfortunate thing is when we got to Bougainville radios wouldn’t work too well. Anyhow, a few weeks there and then back in
Tell us a little bit more about what you were learning there in terms of the sigs work? I mean you said there was radio running lines, that sort of thing. What else
did you cover?
Well, how to operate radio, how to operate field phones, Morse code. I can still do the phonetic alphabet, Able Baker Charlie, it’ll never go, I’ve still go that, but learnt all that because it was just drilled into you day after day.
How many words a minute would you have (UNCLEAR)?
I’ve forgotten now, but we never had to use it. Never had to use it, so
it became a problem. I got, you know quite adept at it. It came easy to me to be able to do that. So after a few weeks of the training there we were told that we were going somewhere overseas. So you know, you have a colour patch on your puggaree of your hat, so they used to put a bit of the 4 by 4, do you know what a 4 by 4 is?
It’s the material that you clean your rifle with to cover your colour patches, because it was so secret where we were going. Anyhow we were driven down to the Brisbane River to board the SS Mexico. It’s an American ship, and all the wharf labourers are singing out, “You’ll be sorry, hope you enjoy Bougainville.” We didn’t know where we were going, but they’re
singing out, “Hope you enjoy Bougainville.” Anyhow, about two days later there was a parade called up on the top deck and an officer tells us we’re going to Bougainville. Big secret.
The wharfies would’ve known because previous ships had been going out or they would’ve heard from the crew I guess.
Anyhow, we, they told us that the Mexico was very fast and not to worry about the submarines although there
was Jap submarines operating between there and Bougainville, and then, another thing on the ship, you weren’t allowed to light a cigarette, I smoked in those days, on deck because if the Jap subs could spot the light they’d be able to send a torp or shells or whatever it might be, and then about, getting close towards Bougainville
there was, the ship ran over something. Nobody knows what it was. It was a metallic sound and it was grinding all the way over. Some said we were going over a coral reef, other said it was we were crossing the back of a submarine, all sorts of things. But being a Yank ship we had no idea, they didn’t tell us. But then, we had a little bit of a riot on board because they were only going to give us
breakfast and an evening meal, and of course we’re all used to our lunch as well. So we stood up to them and they then supplied us with our three meals for the day. I remember even after all this, the mess decks were well down, and with a lot of fellows on board you had to wind your way down the steps. You took your dixie down and they’d feed you down there. Well I got about half way and it got pretty rough at one stage
and I never made it down there, back up, see youse again.
What was the food like?
The food was quite nice. The food was good on board the ship. Better than our army rations.
Interviewee: Mervyn Hill Archive ID 1487 Tape 04
OK, so we’ve got you on the ship to Bougainville. You’ve joined up with the 26th which is predominantly Queensland. How was it fitting in with the 26th as a southerner?
Well, on board the ship there was no problem there until we actually, it was a bit before we left Queensland, you know, about that business. Actually the CO [Commanding Officer] had a parade and
mentioned that there was troops from every state in Australia and to cut out this bickering. Well it did cease then to a certain extent. It wasn’t what it was before. So, see I was with the sig [signals] platoon and that was good. I was enjoying being with that platoon because you got to know every fellow in the platoon, where later on I’d be sent to A Company or B Company or C Company and you didn’t know
those fellows so well. See, the headquarter company is made up of the sigs, the pioneers, the machine gunners, the mortars and so on, and they’re sent to other companies to do their work.
Right. So in the early stages that bickering you were talking about, what form did that take or what (UNCLEAR)?
Oh, you know, we’re recruits, they’re experienced soldiers and so on like that and all this sort of thing,
we’re just kids. ‘Cause some of them had been in since ’39 some of those blokes, a good built older. See, I was one of the youngest to join the battalion. But that improves later, when we go on you find that improves.
Alright, so let’s see, you’ve talked about the ship hitting what could’ve been a sub or
Well, nobody knows what that was, but plenty of rumours. But then when we arrived at Empress Augusta Bay, that’s the, where the Americans landed, we anchored overnight and approaching it just looked like Luna Park. You know, we think we’re going to land and be shooting and fighting and so on, but it was just like Luna Park. It was lit up. Those Americans, what had happened
there, they’d captured this base at Torokina, that’s the name of the base, they’d captured the base. All they wanted was a base to then hop onto like for the next phase, the landing at the Philippines and so on, but whilst they were there they were attacked, counter attacked two or three times but were able to push the Japs back and hold this perimeter. But they built
roads, they built these barracks, they built a place where we used to call Paddy’s Market. They had a good big perimeter all around. They put up, not theatres but they could show films at these outdoor screens and they, I’ll never forget when we arrived.
Next morning when we got up and looking at the island it looked absolutely beautiful. The blue of the ocean and the green of the jungle and in the background volcano that was smoke coming out of. It looked absolutely beautiful. We thought, God, is there a war going on? That’s the way we thought about it. Well, next morning we were brought back to reality a little bit because on the way into the landing we passed an
island and there was not any vegetation standing. It was just flattened, and then when we eventually landed on the island, see, the Americans used to stand off with ships and pound and pound for a week or so before they landed anywhere so that it made it a lot easier for them to land. But even so, they lost a lot of troops, a lot of troops. I remember one time
when first arriving there we must’ve been driven somewhere, it was past one of their cemeteries and it was down into a sort of a valley and as far as your eye could see there were these white crosses, so they must’ve lost a lot of troops there, a lot of troops, and I used to think of MacArthur, used to say, you know, he was pushed out of Manila by, out of the Philippines by the Japs and he made that famous statement, I shall return. Well he returned alright but at the loss of a lot of
lives, a lot of lives. So OK, we arrived there and we find our areas and then we had to relieve the Americans because a lot of them were young fellows coming in. Some had only been in the army six months and they were getting ready to go to the Philippines and they had this big perimeter around and they had sentries and so on like that all around,
and up on the hill they also had, you know, a perimeter there. But in one of the spots we relieved, the Japs used to go for their water in the morning and the Americans would go in the afternoon. They didn’t want to disturb them, they were quite happy to sit there, hold the base, and their planes used to fly from there to Rabaul and bomb Rabaul. Heaps and heaps of planes flew over to
Rabaul because Rabaul was the biggest base in the Pacific for the Japs, so they sent tons and tons of bombs over there. So anyhow, we were into about December then, late, I remember we had a Christmas dinner and concerts and so on like that. I’ll tell you one funny thing about this Paddy’s Market as they call it, you could buy anything there, souvenirs or any sorts
of things. Our engineer blokes soon got onto the young Yanks that were coming there. They used to make Japanese swords out of the old springs and sell them for about $100 each, and all sorts of souvenirs and that sort of thing. Anyhow, the Yanks used to have, I thought it was a pretty fair sort of gambling concept. They had a cylinder that stood about six inch
high on the table and then another cylinder outside of that and in the inner cylinder there were holes. Some were big, some smaller, larger and so on and over these holes was the odds. Over a small hole it would be bigger odds than a big hole. That would be say, it might be 2 to 1 for a small hole and 10 to 1 or something for a bigger hole. But in the centre of this cylinder on the table there was some sort of a cover over a
live mouse, and when everybody put their bets on they would then lift that cover and the mouse would run around and whatever hole in ran through they paid the odds. If it ran through the hole that was marked 10 to 1, well they paid 10 to 1, and there was quite a lot of holes around you see, so they’d win every time I’d imagine. Until a couple of our con men got there one day during the day time and they got hold of some bacon fat
and on one of the higher odds they rubbed this bacon fat in all around this hole and of course when the mouse, it’s running around, it smells that so it runs into that. So they won a lot of money these two fellows. It was amazing how those Americans set up this base. I mean they made their own ice cream. Also they had their own bread factory which we
took over and so on at the finish and all this type of thing, the Australian Army.
So you were mingling with the Yanks a fair bit?
At that stage, yes, but then when we relieved them they then were off on their way to the Philippines and our first, what did we do? Just after, early January we went up to take over, one of our other
battalions, our battalions, the Australian battalions, had captured an area called Little George Hill and they’d had a lot of casualties unfortunately, and it was our time to relieve them, our battalion to relieve them, and it was up what they call the Numa Numa Trail, the Yanks call a track a trail, well we stuck with trail, and this Numa Numa Trail it started off at river level and then it went up just like the Kokoda Track,
just exactly the same as that, and we had to go up there with all our gear. At that stage I wasn’t required as a signaller because I was in use as a rifleman, and on the way up the first thing I saw was a cross and a foot sticking out of the ground. It was a Jap grave and it got a lot of rain there and it had washed the soil away, and the foot sticking up
with, they used to have a shoe that had just toe toes on it and we used to have our old big army boots, but I think those things were better because they could climb and all that with theirs. We couldn’t climb a tree with ours. So that was the first thing that I saw, a dead Jap on the side and somewhere along another sign, 20 Japs buried here and all this sort of thing. So we got up to where all their weapons pits were and we had to relieve them. We took over all their weapon pits.
They dug all these weapon pits like two man pits, and it was all around this top of the ridge looking down all over the area. The Japs were down in the scrub somewhere. Anyhow we didn’t have to leave there, we just had to defend and hold that, but we sent out patrols. They were just reconnoitring to see what was going on, and this is where our first patrol, our battalion, first patrol, there was about 12 fellows that went on that patrol and
as Darkie was, sorry, Darkie was, he was one of the fellows in this patrol and as he was walking out Frosty sitting in one of the pits sung out to him, “Bring us back an ear, Darkie.” Anyhow they went on patrol and they came back just before dark and Darkie threw something to Frosty. It was something wrapped up in greaseproof paper and when he opened it
it was an ear. There was a bit of trouble over that, but anyhow, it just shows you what these fellows were like. They were pretty rough big Queenslanders.
What was the trouble that came with that?
I don’t know what it was but I heard there was trouble. Well I could imagine why.
And that was an ear off one of, that was someone here got shot?
Probably. It come off a Jap anyhow.
And what did you think of that when
well, at that stage I thought good, but later on when I think about it, but at that stage I thought these are good fellows, you know, to have with you.
So you felt pretty safe in their hands?
On the right side?
Yeah. They were pretty tough.
So with that first patrol what would you have been doing? Were you on patrols at all?
No, I didn’t do a patrol there fortunately. We didn’t have many casualties
there either, but you had these pits and you were looking down the valley and the first shift I had to do was in the night, and I thought I could see torches being shone around down below, but what it turned out to be was fireflies and they, you know, just looked like they were people walking around with torches, but then they were flying around everywhere. They eventually come up
to the top of the hill later, these little fireflies. Turned out to be helpful to me because I had a watch that wasn’t luminous and if I could grab a few of them and I could hold them to the watch and just see how much I had to go on my shift.
This is like your sentry?
Yeah. You had two hours on and two hours off, the two of you.
So who was up on Little George Hill before?
I think it was the 9th Battalion.
And was there any communication
with them as they came down?
Well there would’ve been communication between the tactical headquarters and them when they were told they were going to be relieved and so on, but they just left and we just went up. Another thing, this track was up, I’ve got a photo in there if you like to see it, but it was up a very steep, on a ridge all the way up, and they used to use, we used to call them boongs in those days, natives,
that used to carry all the equipment, the ammunition, the food, all the equipment and so on up to this perimeter, and one day I dropped a razor blade. Like your perimeter was, your pit was here and the track was just there and I dropped a razor blade there and one these natives, they’ve got great big feet and he’s got this bit of bamboo with a big pack, big whatever it was, biscuits or something on his back and he picks up the
razor blade with his feet and brings it up to his other hand. I don’t know how he could do it, but he did it, a razor blade. They used to smoke boong twists. Have they told you about boong twist?
I think I’ve heard that but can you explain again please?
Well boong twist was the native tobacco. To me it looked like a big stick of liquorice and they used to roll it newspaper and they’d smoke it for a while and then they’d park it behind their ear until it was the next time to have a smoke. God, it looked
weird. It smelled shocking.
And you were still smoking your cigarettes?
My Log Cabin, LogCabin ready rubbed, sometimes fine cut. Smoked like billyo then. Didn’t smoke much before I joined the army, but see everybody, pretty well everybody smoked. I mean if you were close to each other one would light his cigarette and when it was nearly out he would pass it to that fellow and light his and so on.
And later on we used to have wax vester matches, which you had a tin of them and if you scratch it to light you sort of make a noise. That’s why we used to use the lighting from one another because you didn’t want the Japs to hear the scratching noise.
What about the sight of the lit cigarettes, wasn’t that
Oh, you’d be down, like you’d have to smoke them in the pit and so on.
So up until this point had there been any need for you to do any sort of signals work?
No signal work at all there, and then we were there for a few weeks and then they said, “OK, you’re going back to Torokina, that’s the base. So we went back to Torokina and had a good relax for a while, and then I think in, it would be early February I think it would be they said, “Alright, we’re now advancing. We’re going to go north. We’re going to push the Japs off the island.”
So that was our start into, this is where I started with my signal work. Now there was a platoon that I was with at this stage and then, it was a telephone system. What you had to do was reel out cable. Now, a very primitive method of doing anything, but you had a reel of cable about a foot in
diameter. It held quite a lot. I’m not sure how much. A lot of wire is very heavy, so I had to carry this telephone, field phone, a great big phone about so big, this wire. What I had to do was put a stick through the centre of the reel, tie a bit of wire to each side and then another stick so I could carry it and then another fellow carried a spare reel. So that was the method. Now, it was only one wire. So you need two wires to make
your circuit. So from the phone itself there was a cable with a stake on it, so you shoved the stake into the ground and then you tee’d into the wire that you were laying. That gave you your circuit back to our technical headquarters, and because of that we used to get what was called induction. Induction is that you can hear other telephone lines being used. You know,
just faintly, like our artillery might be ranging on a target and you could hear them giving the bearings and so on. Later on I’ll tell you a little bit about that, but anyhow, we advanced until our forward scouts came in contact with enemy. So they came
back, and the sig travels with the officer commanding that patrol, that platoon, and they came back and they said, “Alright, we’ll set up,” it was on a track that was through the jungle, it was a track, and they set up a perimeter there, about 25 yards in a circle like that. Anyhow, we were all sitting down there just waiting, waiting and then all of a sudden
heavy machine gun fire came towards us and rifle fire and then they started to mortar us, and we were sending, had our mortar platoon behind and they were mortaring the Japs, but one of the mortars hit the trees above. This was our first casualties. It hit two fellows out o the outer perimeters. There was another sig
standing with me in the same pit in this case. A bit of shrapnel came down, took his big toe off. A little bit hit me in the back but I was able to just prick it out. It wasn’t anything to worry about but it was our first casualties. So anyhow, we mortared as long as we could there. So next day we advanced on and here were two dead Japs just
outside our perimeter. So that was our first introduction into battle.
Sorry, now whereabouts, where on the map are you now?
We’re heading towards, we’re heading north from Torokina along the coast of Bougainville heading towards what is known as Soraken Peninsula, we’re heading that way.
Sorry, so how did you get from Torokina up towards Soraken?
I’m not too
sure. We probably were trucked up to a distance and on foot from there on.
And with Numa [Numa]?
No, the Numa is finished. We’ve gone
That’s right, but there were you again were you marched to Numa?
You were trucked to the river, where the river was but from then on it was up the track. Coming down out of Numa Numa we had another bit of fun there. They had tents pitched
along the bank there so that you could rest and wait for the trucks to be, we had slept there overnight, to pick you up next day when we were coming back to Torokina. About midnight, it had been raining like billyo, and we looked down and here’s the flood waters coming through our tent, and they said it did, the river rose feet in no time because it was coming off those mountains, so we had to hastily get out and get up onto dry ground. But in this first section I’m talking about
when we were advancing we were close to the beach but we weren’t in, we were on fairly high ground.
Can we just talk a little bit about the terrain and the weather and the creepy crawlies, all that sort of thing?
Plenty of them. It seemed to rain every day, very heavy rain and then it would stop and the sun would come out,
but you couldn’t see much sun because there was so much jungle, and we used to follow their tracks. They used to use these tracks to their market gardens where they were growing food and that sort of thing. We used to follow them along, and on either side was very very thick jungle, extremely thick jungle. Loya vine hanging down and occasionally those great big, I don’t know what sort of trees they
call them now, but the roots come out like that, like, they were good to get to hide in incidentally because they were a good shelter, but the idea was to, when we were advancing maybe a section of the platoon would do what we call the scrub bash.
They would go out with a signaller, go out and then come up back to the track a couple of kilometres ahead of us I should imagine, and then set up an ambush there and the rest of the platoon would sort of come through and if there were any Japs in between, well they accounted for a lot of Japs that way. So that was the method. We called
this scrub bashing and one way of advancing all the time.
And you’d be carrying, you’d be taking the wire with you?
Rolling that wire out all the way.
How much wire would there be on one reel?
Somebody said it’s a mile but I don’t know exactly how much it was. It was a distinctive red wire, just one cable. I think it was made up from finer wires inside from memory, but you had to
strip that and then connect up to that to make your circuit and then you’d see the officer who was leading the patrol or the sergeant whoever it was, would then radio back and report what had happened that day to tactical headquarters.
So you’d always be pretty much beside the sergeant or whoever?
Right beside him. We had to be because he couldn’t operate the phone and so on.
And did you encounter any difficulties, any problems with the wire being
tampered with or just the terrain making it difficult?
Well radios, they tried radios originally, but the other battalions told us radios didn’t work, so that’s why we started off with the phones. What was your question, sorry?
Well now you’ve brought that up, I mean what was the problem with radio? Why wasn’t that working?
Well, because of the mountains, mountainous country and so on like that. You know, your radio signal courses up and down like that, not like a direct signal. So it’s like if you go to Eildon or somewhere like
that, it’s finding it hard to get a reception from Eildon and those place because of the mountain terrain around. So the phones were used. We had trouble later on where the Japs cut that wire. In different campaigns I’ll tell you that, but they cut the wire, but apart from carrying it and the weight, and I carried three
extra grenades too which, had a big weight, you had a rifle. Our phones were I would say about that long, at least a foot long by five or six inches square, so they were quite heavy, and a great big receiver. When you got to the Japs they had little things about this big they could wind. Ours had batteries inside them. Theirs they could wind to
get the, generate the current. As a matter of fact Tokyo Rose, we used to listen to her back at Torokina, Tokyo Rose who was the propagandist for Japan, used to speak in English to the troops, and she said, “You’ve come to fight a war in 1945 with 1914 equipment,” and she wasn’t wrong. Actually some of the rifles had
names of and service numbers of 1914 soldiers. So she wasn’t wrong.
Talking about Tokyo Rose, everyone listened to her. She was saying all these nasty things about the Aussies and the Allies, why did people keep listening?
Blowed if I know. She used to play good music as well. I don’t know that, you
know, we listened to it all the time but you only heard it back at base anyhow.
When you got to Torokina was there like an American station there or were you able to pick up American or Australian airwaves there?
Torokina, no, we didn’t do any, the Yanks might’ve had one. I can’t remember now whether the Yanks had a radio station or not, they could’ve. They certainly had the latest of
movies, very latest of movies. I wasn’t a movie fan but I did go to them because you know. We used to have boxing contests and things like that when you were back at the base. I remember one time it was a concert, they had a concert there and there was a, I’ve forgotten her name now, a well known opera singer from Melbourne and she was
singing something out of Madam Butterfly and on the stage, out in the open as you realise, they had these big arc lights lighting up the stage and she’s singing away and there’s moths darting around all over the stage and one flew straight into her mouth, and unfortunately, well she just gave a little bit of a cough, spat it out and continued on as though nothing had happened. But you know, we had,
not Bob Crosby, Bob Crosby? Yeah, Bob Crosby, not Bing Crosby, Bob Crosby. He came up because there were Americans there and he had a concert band and so on like that at one of the concerts. So entertainment was pretty good there but after the Yanks left it jus fell off a bit. It was just their own concerts and we still got good films though. That’s back at Torokina base.
talking about the difference in technology, the 1914 versus 1945 technology. So you actually came across some Japanese hardware, did you?
Oh yes, we captured a lot of Japanese stuff and as I said, their equipment was extremely good. Their wire that they laid, see, they must’ve had the same trouble with their radios as well as we did because if you went along a well used Japanese track there was a yellow wire
So that’s at a point where you’ve actually broken through there? You’re advancing so that wire’s there for, not operating is it? You’re coming across it.
Some of it’s not but eventually I found a place where it was operating. We advanced along there and then we were coming to a place called Tsimba Ridge which
another platoon captured part of it. They had a lot of trouble there and we also run into a lot of trouble there because it was up on high ground. They had dugouts, pill boxes and that sort of thing up on the hill, and of course to get up and take that was pretty tough, but once we got up there it was a good position to be because you had the control of the area around.
I can remember getting a cutting from my mother. We’d been on Tsimba Ridge a while and the cutting said, Aussie troops, this was out of the Melbourne Herald, Aussie troops capture Tsimba Ridge. Aussie veterans, we were all about 19, the younger ones, capture Tsimba Ridge. But Tsimba Ridge, we used to get shelled a lot there and I can remember
every night they used to shell us or in the day time as well, but mostly night, and I was sharing a pit with a little fattish fellow that came from Cunnamulla. Didn’t know his name, I would’ve known his name then but I can’t remember his name now, and we dug this pit to about four foot deep, you know, and when the shelling we’d be in that. Anyhow, this fellow,
he didn’t like the shelling. Neither did I but he hated it more than I did. So every morning he’d dig a bit further and he wasn’t very tall and he couldn’t look out of the pit in the end, but he was a very light sleeper. So it’s very uncomfortable in a trench, so we used to sleep on the side, and I said, “Well you sleep on that side because you’re a light sleeper,” and as soon as he heard the first shell coming he knocked me into the pit, and I’ll never forget this young
fellow, he was only my age. But he loved paw-paw and right where we were there was a paw-paw tree growing and he said, “Look, there’s three paw-paws.” He said, “We’ll wait until we’re leaving here and I’ll get them.” Anyhow, the time come to go from there and he said, “Now, I’ll shake the tree.” It’s just a thin stick of a tree sticking up. “You catch them.” Well, I’m waiting like this and they fell down alright and splashed all over me because obviously there’d been a
bat, a flying bat had eaten the top out of them and it had gone rotten. I wasn’t disappointed, I wasn’t that keen on paw-paw but he loved paw-paw, so that’s one little thing I remember about that.
So Tsimba Ridge, that was a bit of a battle was it?
A big battle there.
Can you recount your memories of your experiences there?
A signaller sits in the centre of the perimeter and only at various times does
a signaller get the chance to, you know, fire back because if you’re in a perimeter and whatever way their attacking if you’re in the centre you’re going to be firing at your own fellows. So they did most of the, the outside blokes did most of the firing and so on, but I think it was in the area of Tsimba Ridge we were on this high ground and the phones went blank. There was nothing operating on the phone and my first thought
was Japs had cut the line. It was going down the hill where we’d come from and they’d come in behind us which they used to do a lot. So anyhow, they said, “OK Hilly, out on the job.” So with about 10 other fellows I said, “Well give us all the Owens you can give me,” you know, to the fellows. So we had to trace the wire down expecting
an ambush all the time. We had a lot of them later, but expecting an ambush all the time, and you’d only do, like the forward scouts would crawl down and they’d wave you on so you’d come down a bit further. It seemed to take hours to get down. Eventually we come to the break. No ambush, unusual. One little trick we used to do, if the wire was broken or cut or anything like that, we wouldn’t go straightaway down. We would leave it as long as we could
just before dark if we could or late in the afternoon because if they were sitting on it as an ambush they might get tired and leave and we were hoping that’s what had happened. Anyway, I get down to the wire and I crawl over to it and all the other fellows are down each side of the track just waiting, protecting me, and I was just about to start to join the wire and the one furthest me started to move. So I alerted everybody and we backed under cover expecting someone to come along or
something like this. We were there for a half an hour at least and nothing happened. So they said OK, out we go again. I get over and I connect the wire up, plug my phone in. I can talk back to my platoon and back to tac [tactical] headquarters. So alright, we thought maybe they’re gonna be on the way back. So same sort of thing all the way back up the hill. Scouts are slowly working their way, because that’s what they did. Got back up to there and not a sign of anything,
to relative safety. Another thing in this same spot, if you wanted to fill your watering can [meant water bottle], whatever you call it, you had to go down to a creek. Well when we dug this pit there was a loya vine, the root of a loya vine and I saw it dripping, dripping, dripping so I put my mug underneath it and it three-quarter filled that. I
thought well that’s got to be pure, so I was able to get a drink without going down again for a while.
Look I might as well finish this tape. (UNCLEAR) five minutes left.
Keep it going, keep it going.
So with the wire, was there a theory as to how the wire had been cut there?
No idea. It looked like when you look at a cut, it looked like it had been cut by a pair of pliers. It didn’t look like a shell. Sometimes the shells
or mortars used to, but they were generally several spots at once, but it was just one clean cut. I would think it would’ve been one of the ambushes set up but they either got tired or decided to go on or something. Never did find out.
So how many reels would you need to have with you?
Well I carried one and always another fellow carried another reel, a spare.
But as you advanced and that line became longer,
how did you
Tactical headquarters would move ahead all the time following you so many kilometres, couple of kilometres or a kilometre or something behind. They would be coming up all the time, but sometimes you were pinned down for quite a while. At Tsimba Ridge we were pinned down there for a couple of weeks.
With Tsimba Ridge, it sounds like,
what were casualties like there?
My book would tell me that but I just can’t remember. I know there were casualties at Tsimba Ridge, our platoon would be there and one other and one other company was there and they got, they were the first to land on it and they were badly mauled. I don’t know what their casualties were but they were bad.
So a period like that, would you be with the one platoon for that whole period?
Yeah, yeah. Sometimes
you would only go out on a section, a patrol with a section like the officer would, you still had to phone back to tac headquarters, but he would want to know what’s going on with your patrol. So quite often I had to go out, still laying a line out with a patrol. The same thing there, you’d have your three forward scouts, the officer or sergeant, whoever it was, and then the sig bloke and then the rest of the
patrol, and you’d report back, you know, enemy sighted or whatever it was or it’s nothing, or if you came across a big base of Japs or something you’d report back that and then they’d go back to tac headquarters to tell us what to do. Whether another company would be brought up or whatever they had to do. So the telephone was a vital thing as far as jungle warfare.
So if you’re going out with either the full platoon or section it sounds like you’re pretty much occupied?
All the time. Yeah. We were getting casualties and sigs were dropping off and soldiers were dropping off and it was getting less and less, so you got more work, but if you had two sigs, if there was say a platoon you could have two sigs, but
eventually it gone down to only one because sickness, they were getting malaria and all that sort of thing.
How did you fair in that respect?
I got malaria but not until after the war. So after Tsimba Ridge we then had to come down into the swamp area. This was the worst of the whole lot because
you had big mountains like that, you had this flat ground, there was all this swamp area and you know, you might find a little bit of a rise and you could dig a pit there, but even if you dug the pit there the water would seep in and so I used to dig a trench and then put it on a slant and dig a sump at the bottom so if water did seep in it would be down there, and I’d get hold of a few
bamboo fronds, sorry, banana fronds, and spear them over the top because it rains pretty well every night and in this area you had to walk through and carry your rifles and gear above the water. Sometimes up to about your navel and it was, because generally speaking where there was swamp there’d be jungle over there and you were in the clear, and quite often they were in there and they were
able to see us coming across. So they weren’t the best of spots. And then eventually we got to, we walked out of this swampy area and there was a lovely little creek. We’d been about three weeks in this swamp area, and this little creek flowing down was going the way we wanted to go. So everybody took off their boots and so on and you could just peel the skin off your feet.
You know, it was just white and we rinsed our socks and so on and put them back on, but I peeled off a heap of skin.
Interviewee: Mervyn Hill Archive ID 1487 Tape 05
Yeah, so you were patrolling through that swamp country?
We were advancing through that area to get further north to where that Soraken Peninsula was, but this swamp area made it difficult to get there quickly because we had to try and go around or through. There were parts of it that were too deep for us to go through and as I said, it wasn’t a very good spot because it was open area where the Japs were and the Japs could be sitting in amongst the
jungle and pick you off. So you had to either skirt around it or take a chance and go through, so it wasn’t the easiest part of the job.
And did you come under attack?
A few times we came under attack but we were lucky enough to get away without any casualties that I can remember, in my platoon. The others may have suffered, the other platoons might’ve ’cause they had different ways of reaching where they wanted to go.
So can you give me a picture of what those conditions must’ve been like?
Like what did you do at night for sleeping?
Well of a night time you would look for like, you know, try and get around to the edge where there might be a bit of higher ground and set up a perimeter there for the night. But I can’t remember being really attacked in the night time in that area, but as I said it was a difficult area. I don’t know whether I mentioned earlier but when we got out of that area we came to a creek. I think I
did mention that. That creek, the running noise of the creek was very helpful to us because when you’re going through that swamp you’re going through mud and you’re up to your ankle or calves in mud and that’s sloshing and making a noise, but walking down the creek with the rush of the water the enemy wouldn’t be able to hear us.
So you were very conscious of the noise that you were making when you were going through the swamp?
Yes, conscious of that because
if they could hear us, we at times could hear them, so if they could hear us that could be, so we had to be very careful there. Sometimes you’d come to an area and go down to your chest in the water, that type of thing.
And what about wildlife and reptiles?
They never told us about crocodiles, but I believe they were there. No, none of us that I know of was taken by
a crocodile, but they were in that area.
Did you see them?
I didn’t see one, no, not there. They certainly did, our battalion saw them when they were up in north Queensland because they were up on the coast in all those the rivers running. There was a lot of crocodiles there.
And mosquitos, malaria country?
Plenty of mosquitos. They’d attack you of a night time. You couldn’t do much about it. We had, I don’t know what it was called, but it was some sort of a liquid that you put over to
repel them, but I think they loved it. The thing was with that, I think I made mention earlier that I used to smoke and I used to have these tobacco tins, and with that liquid you could polish that and take all that paint off the tin and it would polish and make it look nice. Now what does that do to your skin I wonder.
Did you take Atebrin?
I took Atebrin religiously, never missed, where some of the fellows wouldn’t take them. They would
spit them out. Well, they were given them first. You had an Atebrin parade and you were supposed to take them. Well some of the fellows just threw them away. So then they realised that they weren’t taking their Atebrin tablets. I don’t know why, but they weren’t taking them, and so then they came along and they put it into your mouth. Those fellows would hold them there for a while and then spit them out. I can’t understand why they did it, but they did it. But yes, I was as yellow as anything with Atebrin. Religiously took every
tablet of Atebrin.
And did many men come down with malaria?
Quite a few, with dengue and malaria. A lot were, got some sort of dysentery and that sort of thing but fortunately I didn’t get any of that trouble.
So what would morale have been like amongst the men when you were doing this difficult
Well starting off it was
quite high, but as the numbers were depleting morale was getting a bit hard then. We were hoping we were getting sent back all the time.
You were hoping you were?
Hoping we would be sent back to the base because the further we went north the tougher the resistance got. We came across big marines, like you know, they talk about Japanese being little fellows and so on. Some of these Japanese marines were over six feet and they were very very
good soldiers, knew what they were doing. Then again there was some that had no idea of what they were doing, because one time we were patrolling on a track bringing the sig wire down and was coming down a hill. Anyhow, the forward scouts spotted two Japanese soldiers with their rifles over their shoulder carrying dixies,
food containers. So our officer said, “OK, we’ll double back and get a nice position and we’ll wait until they come up.” Anyhow, we set up, and what they did, my wire had been down and was coming back again to where I was, they picked up that wire and walked under it, and of course we didn’t take many prisoners up there, so they got those two fellows and when they had a look in the dixies they were hot sweet potatoes,
so they must’ve been taking them somewhere for food for others.
Where was that, where did that happen?
It was on one of the tracks just after Tsimba Ridge from memory.
So all part of that journey. Were you going north?
We were going north. We were heading towards and island called Buka where they had a fairly big fortress there. They were getting a little bit of supplies. Rabaul was the
big base. They weren’t getting any planes, any supplies by planes or ships, but submarines were getting over and bring equipment over. So we were told they’re starving and all this sort of thing. Well that’s a lot of rot really. They were getting a certain amount of supply. A lot of them died of illness and so on, but they were getting supplies.
They also were cultivating gardens?
yes. They had, every now and again you’d come across one of these gardens where they were growing yams and sweet potato and various sorts of things for food.
Did you eat, did you take from the garden yourself?
No, we stuck to our bully beef and M & V [meat and vegetables] which I hated. Also we came across, no, one of our other battalions that we relieved,
they were telling us about they’d overtaken a Jap position and in their utensils there was very suspicious looking meat. They thought it was human flesh. They don’t know whether it was Japanese flesh or, they’d killed a few of our fellows. Whether they were ours or not I don’t know. We never found that out, but they were pretty certain it was human flesh, the Japs.
Was it dried or
what did it look like?
I didn’t see it, but they told us about it. See, they wouldn’t have had any meat. They wouldn’t hardly get any meat so I can imagine them turning to cannibalism.
What about wild boar, wild pigs?
No, never come across any. Plenty of scorpions and that sort of thing, but never came across any wild boars and there should’ve been because
the natives had a lot of pigs. Although the natives were all out of the area where we were, but they did have a lot of pigs before we got there. It’s a wonder some of them didn’t escape and become wild.
So were scorpions a big problem?
They weren’t a problem, but you had to be careful. I mean, giant big nippers on them. I think the insects were the least of our worry. There were other things that were on our mind, but
yes, sometimes you’d be sitting on a log or something and there would be a big scorpion crawling along or something like that.
It’s just that in those tropical situations getting bites and cuts can lead to illness basically.
Ulcers and things.
Ulcers and illness. Did you experience that?
I didn’t experience, no, I wasn’t too badly off, but some of the fellows did have a lot of ulcers and things like that.
So was there adequate medical attention
for those things?
Yes. You had, like there was, what do they call them? The regimental aid fellows, you had those and the stretcher bearers and all that. They travelled with you or weren’t far behind you anyhow. But no, there was, if anybody was wounded well they were quick on the job with morphine and so on, with bandages.
And did you have local people
as stretcher bearers or assisting you?
No, unlike New Guinea, we didn’t have those, not in my area anyhow. Our own stretcher bearers did that. We did have some local natives come to us at one trip and they were going to act as forward scouts and our officer said, “OK, you lead us and we’ll follow you,” and they said, “No, no, no, we work better on our own.” So anyhow,
away they went and about an hour they came back and they said, “Japan boy all gone.” So we thought OK, this is not too bad. They decided we’d push on. We got out about 200 yards or so and we came under very heavy fire. Woodpecker, that’s a type of machine gun, and other automatic fire and rifle fire. So we had to withdraw and then bring the mortars onto them and so on like that, and a few days later we
overtook this area and there was quite a few dead Japs and you could tell it was a lot of Japs in that area. So I was very glad we didn’t use the natives again. They weren’t New Guinea, the New Guinea natives were a different fellow altogether. They were very good, but these were local scouts. Now whether they were on the Japs side or not we don’t know. I don’t know anyhow. But don’t forget they were, the Japs landed there first and
they gave them there food and all this sort of thing and of course some of them would be friendly towards the Japs.
But I just wonder how a decision would be made to use native scouts?
I don’t know how that came about, but there were two scouts sent over to us and that was the result of it.
OK. Now, just referring to your notes, you wanted to talk about your mother’s letter. What was that?
My mother’s letter. Well, my mother
didn’t know where Keith, my brother who was in Lae and where I was, so she wrote a letter saying, write with a letter, start each phrase with the letter of the country you’re in or where I am. She didn’t realise I was in Bougainville, so you can imagine starting a letter with, I had the B-O-U-G so I wrote something like Bert. I started off with Bert,
something about Bert. I forget how I wrote the letter now, but it was B and the O and then I got down to B-O-U-G-A-I-N and I thought well she’ll know what that is, and sent the letter. I thought it’ll never get through because they’re all censored. I’ll never get through. Well she wrote back and she said I know where you are. And see, Lae where Keith was at that stage would’ve been easy, L-A-E.
But Bougainville was a bit difficult, and I think the grammar would’ve been very wrong in that letter.
So it got through?
Got through, but then later on I wrote another letter. Had nothing in it that would be, that they’d want to censor and yet when she got it, and she showed me when I got home, most of it was missing. I can’t answer why they would take all of it out because there was nothing contentious in it.
Do you know
who was censoring your letters?
They used the padre [chaplain] or the officers. Of course there was so much mail going out they used the officers and the padre and so on like that to censor the letters. I think the start of that letter was Bert’s Christmas cake arrived the other day or something like that. That’s how I started that letter off. In those days the mother’s or friends used to bake cakes in a tin,
usually fruit cakes, and then they’d sew them up in calico and then address them and why she didn’t know where I was, all you had to do was put your name, Private Hill, AIF, Australia. You didn’t put Bougainville, but that found you. Like your number as well and so on, but they found you from that. This big secret, remember when we left there,
the big secret of not knowing where we were going? Well.
Right. So how often were you able to get cakes from your mum? How often were you able to get cakes and things sent from your mum?
Every few months. See, everybody seemed to get them. When they got, arrived, they were all shared amongst your mates in the tent. Like if you got one now you’d share
that and when the next one arrived that would be shared, so they were good to get, and she used to make a special little biscuit that she used to put on the top. I used to love them, ‘cause you know, nothing like that from our cookhouse.
OK. The story about the man with the pliers. Do you want to tell us that one?
Yes. When we were progressing
along a fellow used to come, one of our [platoon], he was a Victorian fellow as it turned out, I didn’t know at the time, but he used to come to me and he said, “I want to borrow your pliers.” I said, “OK, but you’ve got be very careful with these because that’s the only tool that I’ve got to be able to tap in on the phone.” He said, “I won’t lose them.” Anyhow, he’d come back and give me the pliers. This went on about three or four times. He came back and I said, “What are you using the pliers for?” And he opened his hand and here was
little pieces of gold and I realised what they were. He said, “Do you want some?” I said, “No thanks.” But what they used to do, they used to get this gold and back at Torokina there was this Paddy’s market and all these fellows were making souvenirs and all this sort of thing. They used to get this gold and they used to use perspex and toothbrushes, little coloured toothbrush and sort of put it in and make
little trinkets and things like that. They also had a heart shaped thing for your mother and a volcano in it and all this sort of thing. So they used the gold to make these and sell them at this Paddy’s Market. He didn’t, but he used to sell it to the fellows back there.
You haven’t actually told us where the gold came from?
Do you remember I said that when we were in
Cowra and we were travelling behind the Japs in the convoy and when they opened their mouth their teeth were full of gold? That’s where the gold came from, dead Japanese.
This is on Bougainville?
So he was going out?
He’d go out like you know, if we had a bit of a skirmish he’d go out with the pliers and yank the teeth out and get the gold out and
accumulate that and when he got back to base he’d sell it, and 48-odd years later at this reunion we had, he recognised me, I didn’t recognise him, he said, “Can I borrow your pliers?” And then I remembered all about it.
What did you think about what he was doing with your pliers?
It didn’t matter at that time. It didn’t matter, I mean they were dead Japs and I don’t think it worried me at that
time. But I didn’t like the idea of keeping any because I knew where it come from, so I didn’t want any.
So you had a tool kit with you that was your tool kit?
Yes. The pliers and, it’s pretty about all that you had. The pliers were, they had cutters on them, they could cut the wire, and that’s about all you had to use.
There were no other tools that I had apart from the equipment, the phones and the cable wire.
So were they, if you lost them would they have been difficult to replace?
You’d get them, but I liked these pair of pliers. I got them off an American somehow somewhere and they had little nicks so I could cut the wire and slide the insulation off very easily, where our local ones, our own ones didn’t have that. So they were very valuable to me. That’s why
I didn’t want to lose them and I told him so.
OK, so just on that subject of your kit, do you want to tell us about the can?
The can. We had this can, canned heat, and it didn’t make any smoke because if there was any
smoke, if you lit a fire to cook a meal or something, the smoke would be a giveaway to you, so this had a lovely blue flame and it was hot and it didn’t, it didn’t make any noise, any crackling or anything like that and you could make, what I used to do was make a porridge. Those biscuits that they had, I used to think they’d be good as shields. You could put them in each pocket here and a bullet wouldn’t go through them. Anyhow,
they were about this square and I couldn’t bite into them. So what I used to do was soak them overnight with condensed milk, soak them in the condensed milk. A few of us used to do the same thing, and then in the morning you’d use this canned heat to heat it up and make a sort of a porridge. It would soften up by the morning, and I don’t know whether I mentioned this but we, out of the blue here we are right up on the forward line
and some fellows came up and they brought up some fresh steak and this amazed us to think we were getting fresh steak. So we used to have tinned butter as well. There’d be one fellow would carry the butter and so on, so what we did, these dixies, you hold them over the flame, put a little bit of butter in and each was given a little bit of this steak and we fried that, and I used to think the Japs will smell that and want to come in for a feed. But
it was, and we never ever saw any fresh meat again. Now I don’t know why, but we didn’t. But the American rations, we used to get them occasionally, they were a tin about 15 inches high and they had three sections in them. You’d have your breakfast, your lunch and your evening meal in them, and they were good, far better than our field rations. As I said, I think some of them were still from 1914, the rations we had.
I’ve heard that too.
And the M & V, I just could not take that M & V, and of course, you know, you try and heat it. Bully beef was alright. You could just punch a few holes with your bayonet into that, put it over the heat and that wasn’t bad. I could eat that, the M & V I couldn’t.
What was the M & V? Was that from New Guinea?
M & V is meat and vegetables but it would be made by,
what’s the name of the big crowd down at, Angliss, think they made it in these tins and that sort of thing. It looked like dog food to me but I just couldn’t take to that, and yet, the cooks back at the base used to camouflage it all ways they could. They used to put into big trays and put a pastry over the top and cook it like that and then serve it. It wasn’t quite so bad that way, but the food wasn’t very good.
So how come you were getting American field rations at that point?
I don’t know how, most of them had gone, but there were still quite a lot there. There was the New Zealand Air Force and their base. That was their air base. They were still bombing Rabaul from there so whether it was just surplus I don’t know. I’m not quite sure how we got that, but we did get it occasionally. We didn’t get it all the time.
So the New Zealanders were still there
at the Torokina base?
Yeah, they had their air force there, so with our air force and the Americans were still there. There were still quite a few Americans on the base but they weren’t infantry troops.
So they weren’t involving themselves in any combat on Bougainville?
Not on Bougainville, only the bombing.
Alright, so your next, was it an operation to get up to Soraken
to the plantation?
Yes, we battled all the way there, had a lot of skirmishes getting there. Finally they said, “OK, it’s captured, we’ll go for a rest,” on this Soraken Peninsula plantation right on the beach. On our way there we were following a river, reasonable sized river, and someone spotted
some nice sized fish in one of the deeper holes. I thought we’ll have a fish dinner when we got back to the beach. I pulled off, I think I carried three extra grenades and I pulled off one, threw it in expecting it to explode under the water and knock the fish, but nothing happened. Three I threw in and didn’t explode. So I thought God, what had happened if I had to use them in a desperate situation.
Anyhow, we said we can’t get the fish so we went back to the beach where we set up a camp in amongst a coconut plantation and we were to rest there until our next campaign and it was quite good. Along the beach about a quarter of a mile back, the cook set up a kitchen with seats to sit
down and cook our meals and this was going to be lovely. We could read, we could wash our clothes, swim, all this sort of thing. Anyhow that went on for a while. It was very enjoyable considering what was up there, until the acting CO at the time, he didn’t like to see us all just lazing around and enjoying ourselves, so he said, ordered us to clean up the area and there was fronds of
coconut trees that had probably fallen over the years. We had to rake all that up and put it into an area, and then there was an order given to light it, to set fire to it. Well the smoke went up and then the Japs ranged onto this smoke and we were shelled every night from there on. So the rest became a rest alright. But what we did then, see we just
had trenches in case there was anything. When they decided, when they were shelling us we decided that we would build good big dugouts. Fit two or three fellows in the one dug out. So we built this big dug out and we chopped down coconut trees and put them over the top so that if a shell hit we should be pretty safe. Anyhow a routine order came out that you weren’t allowed to chop down anymore
coconut trees, and actually a shell landed on the top of ours, the one I was sharing with these two or three other blokes, and because of those logs none of us were injured, and yet we were told not to cut down these because they belong to Burns Philp and after the war they would want their plantation back. But so then each night at around about 5 o’clock, time we’d be going off for a meal, down
the beach for a meal, they’d be shelling us. The cooks got sick of this and they said, “We’ll cook the meal in the daytime and put it out for you and you can come and get it if you want it.” So two or three days later were pretty hungry and two or three of us said, “OK, we’ll go down and get a meal.” We got down, got to the beach and were having our meal and all of a sudden the shells started. They were landing out, we were right on the beach and they were landing out in the water so we took off and ran like hell back to our dugout
and you were looking back and seeing the shells and they seemed to be chasing you all along, so we just got into the dugout in time. Another time we were all out swimming in the daytime this time, and we didn’t have any costumes, swimming costumes of course, and the shells started to come over so there’s a mad dash, all these nudes running up into the plantation and back down to their dugouts. It must’ve been a funny sight
Well it sounds like they really had you running scared. The Japanese hadn’t been shelling the plantation before you arrived?
Not before we arrived. They wouldn’t have known we were there. Well they may have known we were there but they weren’t worrying us at that stage.
But then they discovered that you were there?
Yeah, well they were up, there were a couple of islands around. They were on the islands and they were also up in the high country and they used these mountain guns.
They were 75 mm mountain guns that they were shelling us with.
So how far away were they? Where were their positions?
They’d probably be, you know, the island would be a couple of miles off the coast and the hills in the background where they would be would only be probably a kilometre or so away.
So were you sending out patrols?
No, we weren’t sending out patrols. We were resting there because the other battalion that had taken over from us they were doing that. They were
going on. So they were doing that. We were just resting, just have a nice old rest. There was no rest. But anyhow then, after about three weeks or whatever it was, new clothing came up because all of our, because of the swamps and all this everything was rotten. So new clothing came up to us and they said, “OK, we’ll be going onto the next campaign,” which was the Ratsua campaign.
So how did you feel after your three weeks at Soraken?
Towards the end of it they sent out a few patrols from the area where we were and there was no contact, immediate contact, so they must’ve been a bit further along. We struck them further up because we were advancing along the coast all time.
So Soraken’s on the coast. Are you going
Still going north. Yeah, you’re going to
Which is what, north?
North again. Although you might find that one company, the whole battalion is going forward, there might be one company going in the high ground. We were doing that area and so on so that you would cover the whole area.
Just back tracking a little bit. This distance between Tsimba Ridge and Soraken, how far is that?
It’s pretty hard for me to remember how far because it was very slow going. You might be held up for a couple of days. On our way there we, close to the beach, fairly sandy area and in the jungle just out away from the actual beach, and we come under very heavy fire. There was Japanese machine guns and so on, and we went
to ground and I started, personally started to dig a trench to get a bit of cover and I could dig the front and about the centre of where I was digging there was coral, and I couldn’t get that out, so I dug down there and I dug down here and all I could get was my head in front of my body down in the hole and my backside sticking out and my legs OK. I thought then if I get hit the backside would be the best part to get hit. But they were very cheeky there. They
were singing out to us, “Aussie, come out and fight,” and that suited us because if you heard where they were our Bren [light machine gun] gunners would give them a burst from there. So a few of them could speak English and that’s what they were doing there. They were singing out because they’d only be 25 yards away and this thick jungle in between you, you wouldn’t see them. Anyhow, again we called on the mortars and give them, and this area we used,
the battalion has what they call three inch mortars but there was a company of heavy four inch mortars so we called on them to pound them ahead of us, and they were pounding away at where the Japs, where we reckoned they were. We were phoning back saying where we thought they were. Then all of a sudden you could tell that the mortar bombs, there’d be one a long way away and then coming closer and closer
and closer. So I had to get on the phone and say, “Look, you’re coming back right over the top of us,” and they phoned the mortar crowd and told them to stop. We found out later what had happened, the coral again. The base plate of a mortar, and these are big heavy mortars, every time you drop a mortar in they explode and send off and they bounce into the ground, and it was coral and the coral was crumbling underneath and the trajectory was going up like that which meant instead of them firing
over there they were coming back all the time. So we nearly had a little bit of trouble with our own mortars, but when those mortars landed they cleared the jungle for 30 or 40 yards around. That’s how they just cleared all that around, except for the great big trees but all the undergrowth was just removed. So they were very handy to us.
And presumably killed whoever was there in that part of the jungle.
Yes, when we
left that, where I was telling where I had to go to ground and my backside was exposed, we found three more dead just outside the perimeter.
What did their bodies look like? Like what happens to a body that’s mortared like that?
Well, we had to be very careful there because one of their favourite tricks was to take the pin out of a grenade, roll the body and put the grenade underneath the body so that if we, we searched them all
to see if there was any papers and things which we found a lot of information from, and you had to be very very careful rolling a body over because earlier some had rolled them over and the grenades had gone off and wounded or killed some of our soldiers. So that was one of their tricks.
So were the bodies burnt or were they (UNCLEAR)?
No, there was a lot of blood.
A lot of blood and all that sort of thing, but
whether we, a bomb landed on, one of those mortar bombs landed on one direct I don’t know, but they spread out and were cut by shrapnel.
Did you ever experience any situations with friendly fire?
Friendly fire? Friendly fire, nearly, nearly. This is a bit later on
in one of the campaigns, or the last part of the campaign. A new lieutenant camp to us from Duntroon. He was fresh out of Duntroon, a young fellow, and we’d, our platoon had set up a perimeter and the OC, officer commanding the platoon, had decided to send a patrol out with this young officer leading.
Anyhow, he, I was the sig to go and the wire was a communication back to the officer. So away we go and the young lieutenant’s got his compass and when we were going out I could, we were leaving the perimeter and I could tell that our wire, I could see my wire turning on a curve and I pulled him up and I said, “Look, we’re going in a curve,” and he said, “No, we’re going right, we’re going right.” So we kept on going for,
it took us a long while because you’re slow on a patrol. You’ve got your three forward scouts ahead. Anyhow, I still couldn’t get over that we were going in a circle all the time. Anyhow, one of the messages came back from the forward scout, “Japs ahead.” So everybody goes to ground and then this young officer gets on the phone and he phones back to the CO, the captain, not the CO, the OC, and he’s the captain,
and he said, “What will I do?” He said, “Go in and do them over.” Well everybody was getting ready to go in and do this when the forward scouts came back and said, “Stop, it’s our own blokes.” It was our own perimeter that we’d left. It’s pretty hard in the jungle. I must admit it’s hard to tell. I could tell by the wire that we weren’t going straight where we were supposed to be going but he reckoned his compass was right. So that would’ve been friendly fire because here they were with
heaps of Bren guns and us with one Bren gun and a few Owens and so on. We would’ve been bowled over. So it was close to friendly fire. That’s the closest I got anyhow.
That’s an interesting idea too, the fact that your wire going on a curve meant that you obviously weren’t going in a straight line, in a straight direction.
I don’t know why I couldn’t convince that young fellow that.
Was that something that you were very conscious of whenever
you were laying a wire?
Yes. You had a good idea where it was laid. I mean you followed the tracks and so you sometimes put it up in a bit of tree to get it out of the swamp or water or something like that. But yes, you could tell where your wire was.
Did you always, you always I guess relied on your OC for taking that compass reading and following that?
Well he was a young lieutenant and you know, well he
should’ve been able to read that compass better. Whether he read the compass wrong or what I don’t know, but he said, “No, we’re going right,” where we wanted to go.
OK. So, we’ve pretty well covered Soraken, haven’t you, the plantation?
Yes. Soraken, yes, we had our little spell, our little rest and then we were on to the next campaign.
Just one thing though, by this
stage you’ve covered quite a big area, you’ve traversed quite a lot of miles…
Oh yes, miles now.
…through territory that is held by the Japanese.
And you said before that you realised that the resistance got stronger and stronger the further north (UNCLEAR)
Well they were losing territory you see. They were getting pushed off, either killed or pushed off. So they regrouped and they were really attacking us at one stage. They were coming behind the lines. Like we would
lay out telephone lines and move on, and our jeep supplies used to come up to bring supplies and they were making tracks and coming up, and they used to come right down behind those and they used to booby trap the roads so they knocked over a few of our jeeps bringing our supplies. So we then had to change our tactics. We had to move by platoon, more than just patrolling, and the way we did this, you always followed their tracks because
you knew if you were using those tracks there’d be somewhere Japs in that vicinity. So what we did, the platoon would go as far ahead as they could, you know, and they might get skirmishes and that on the way, but they’d go to an area and dig in, and then the following platoon which is roughly 30 men would then follow that and any Japs in between they’d be able to account for. So we had to get more resourceful as well
as they were. Then there was a report of Jap tanks. We could hear them coming towards us, so a message went back. See, the phone was vital. The phone went back, a message went to the New Zealand Air Force and they come up and they spotted these tanks and they were able to put them out of action. So we would’ve run into a bit more trouble there. On the
way, in this area we were coming along a track with, the Jap wire was yellow wire, ours was a red colour, there’s was yellow, and we were following this track along and then the officer decided we’d make a perimeter on the track because that’s where they, when they walked along there we’d have a Bren at one end and a Bren the other end, and whatever way they came in you could account for them. So where this track was,
this yellow wire was right in front of my pit where I had a dug our pit I thought I’ll try this line and see what’s happening. So I put my phone onto it and very soon I could hear yabber of two Japs from one end and Japs from the other end talking to each other. So we, I said to the officer, I said, “Might be an idea if we can send this back to tac headquarters and see what they can get from it,” and he thought that was a pretty good idea. So they had to get hold of
an American Japanese who…
Interviewee: Mervyn Hill Archive ID 1487 Tape 06
You tap into the line and I hear the Japanese talking on it and I suggest to the office to see if we could get back to tac headquarters and might be able to get some information, which he said, “That’s a good idea.” So if you, remember earlier in the piece I told you about induction? That’s where on our line, I don’t ever know why we couldn’t hear the Japanese through induction, but in ours you could always hear
our artillery or another battalion or something talking, very faintly you could hear it. So if the Japs could hear anything on our line they’d wake up that we’ve tapped into their line. So we had to get all the phones, like the artillery and everybody that were using phones to be quiet. We had to get the interpreter, the Jap American, up to our tac headquarters and then it was all set up ready.
When we knew all the traffic was free of the lines they were listening at the other end. Anyhow, my phone rang which indicated that the Japs were using the line and they came onto the line and they were talking about where they were and various thing, which they got a lot of information out of, and also they were very concerned about 15 of these Japanese. There were a Japanese patrol of 15 and they were
missing. We could’ve told them what had happened if we’d had got on the phone and told them where they were. Our A company had struck it somewhere and were able to kill the whole 15. So that’s why they didn’t return. Now they listened a little bit longer and they had enough information. They found that to be very good to get a lot of information for the future.
So let me just go back over this.
You’ve tapped into the wire?
The Jap wire.
The Jap wire, heard the conversation and then had to communicate with attack headquarters?
So, what did you…?
On our line I phoned back to, well I told the officer first and told them what was happening. So he spoke to tac headquarters and they got an interpreter to get him to come up from
Torokina I suppose to, our tactical headquarters and he was an interpreter. He was able to sit there and listen to the conversation between the Japs talking.
So how long would that have taken?
Well I heard the phone ring in the early afternoon. It was evening before the phone rang. So it was quite a while. We had to not, no phone was used in that
So how then, who communicated with the other companies in the area that could’ve
See, before tac headquarters would do that because they’ve got, say I’m in one company, C Company somewhere, well they’d ring out to C Company and say, “Don’t use your phones for the next few hours,” or that sort of thing. They would phone back to the artillery and tell them not to use their phone. So there would be no
traffic at all on any of the lines.
So it must’ve been considered a real priority and very valuable to be able to tap into the line, given that the compromise was that you had these various companies that weren’t able to have any communication about their own operations for that length of time?
They thought it pretty good to have that information and they, a fellow came back from tactical headquarters and
said, “You’re recommended for a mention in despatches,” but I didn’t get a mention in despatches, but that didn’t worry me at all, but I mean that’s what they told me. But it wasn’t the only time I tapped into the phones either.
Well that’s what I was going to say, if you could do it that easily.
Well the next time that I, you know, of any importance, in this same area, Ratsua area, we were coming along another track and we came to a
track crossing. So the officer said, “OK, this will be a good place to set up a perimeter. They’re coming this way, they’re coming whatever way they’re coming we’ve got them.” So we all dug in here just on the crossroads of these tracks. They’re only little tracks mind you, only little pads, that’s all, and so we set up there and there was a yellow line running along and then the shelling started, the Japs started shelling.
And they were landing, you could tell they were landing a long way back behind us, but eventually they were getting closer and closer. I said to the officer, I said, I’d tapped into this phone, I said, “I can hear them”, what do they call it? “Ranging, talking to each other.” You’d hear them say something and the shell would come and then you’d hear another talk and then another shell would come. I said, “Will I cut this line?” He said, “Hang on for a while, hang on for a while.” I don’t know why he wanted to hang on for a while.
But one [shell] came just outside the perimeter. He said, “Cut the line,” so we cut the line and then the shelling stopped. See, they would know the area. They would have maps of the area and they would be able to range down that track and come to the crossroads. Their scouts might’ve spotted us there, I don’t know, but that’s where they were trying to get us, there.
Did you have maps?
Yes. They carried maps. I didn’t, but the officers carried maps. They were rough maps. They weren’t very good to be honest but they gave you an idea where you were going.
Was that also sort of what was going on at that stage, were they doing surveys of the area as well?
Well, they were there a good long time before us. The Japs, are you talking about?
No. I’m talking about the Australian (jaunt UNCLEAR)
That would’ve been, they would’ve got that from, they
wouldn’t have done the surveys at that stage. They must’ve got it from old maps before the war or something like that. They weren’t accurate.
What about, you’ve already mentioned the booby trapping of the dead Japanese people. What about other kinds of booby traps, did you have to be careful?
Yes. They did the same, similar sort of things to us, but we were I think were the experts in it in this booby trapping. Another in this same area another
time, which one? I’ll go to The Corpse Came COD [Cash on Delivery] first, that one. There was a book title, a novel titled The Corpse Came COD and we used to hand it around to each one to read. Anyhow, we were set up in a perimeter and one of our patrols had to go out. I wasn’t with them this time. One of our patrols had to go out, but they run
into real trouble. They were far outnumbered and they had to abandon their packs. This book was in one of the packs. They abandoned their packs and come back to the perimeter. Anyhow, a day later our Bren gunners had set up facing down the track and there were some Japs coming towards them and they spotted them, the Bren gunners, and they fired
and one of these Japs he was wounded. Must’ve been heaps of bullets into him but he kept running and firing and firing and just landing in front of the muzzle of the Bren gun, and it was, what I missed there was we had set a booby trap out further than that, and the booby trap was made by, we used to use a bully beef tin or one of tins, take the pin out of the grenade and the insert it inside the
tin, tie that tin to a tree across the track, a bit of wire across the other side onto another tree about so high with a very fine wire, so that when they were coming along they would hit this wire. It would dislodge the grenade which was set with an instantaneous fuse and it blew up straight away, so if anyone was handy they were bowled over by that.
And what had happened, they’d run into this booby trap but they’d also kept coming and as I said, this fellow, he might’ve been hit by the booby trap as well. We don’t know, but the Bren gunner got to him and he landed just right in front of the Bren gun, and anyhow, we killed about three or four in this little skirmish and when we went out, the dead ones, they had our packs, the packs of the fellows that
were abandoned a day or so before and inside the pack of one of the dead fellows was the book, The Corpse Came COD. So I thought that was a bit strange, but they, they were getting very resilient there, the Japs. They weren’t backing off. They were really starting to make it difficult for us.
It sound like the frequency at which you have
these skirmishes was
Oh yes, oh yes. Because I mean I’m only giving you the ones that had something in it. There were others without any worries.
So, just give me a sense of the time here. Would you say that in this, this is on your way to Ratsua for example?
All in that area.
And in that area.
That was our last campaign.
So every time you were out there as you were moving forward, you were under some kind of threat?
Well constantly, but you might get some without any problems. You can move a couple of mile without striking anybody, but then next time you might strike them every few hundred yards depending on where they were situated.
running the cable, your running the wire all this way?
All the time. You’d get caught underneath the vines and things sticking out and all this sort of thing. It wasn’t easy. Getting onto this booby trap business again, it was the same old pattern all the time to move along a track, set up a perimeter. We set up quite a big perimeter this particular time
and the fellows went out and set their booby traps on the track. We’re just sort of skirting it [the track], and we had what they call a stand-to just before dark. They used to attack around about that time so everybody was ready and in readiness if something happened, and we were all just sitting their waiting and all of a sudden you’d hear the booby trap go off and there was debris falling and running feet, everything. You could hear all this. So we thought
well we’re going to be attacked tonight. They’ll get back and they’ll come us again. So anyhow, it went on for quite a while, half an hour or so, not a sound, nothing, and then all of a sudden in one of the outer pits, see, they were in a circle, one of the outer pits one of the big Queenslander fellows, he could hear someone walking towards him and he thought it must’ve been one of our own blokes gone out to the toilet or something
and was coming back, and he spoke to him and he got no answer, and when this fellow was nearly up to his pit, he realised it wasn’t one of our blokes. It was a Jap, so he grabbed him and wrestled him into the pit, and then they said, “OK, take him into the sig,” me, “Take him in and tell the sig to tie him up.” So I cut off a bit of wire, sig wire and I
tied him up like that, you know, and they said, “This could be a trick.” They said, “They will let one of their own die but they will kill more,” that sort of thing. So they brought him into me, I tied him up with this sig wire, and they said, “He’s probably there to give our position away.” You know, later on when the force comes he’ll yell out or scream or something. Anyhow, when he, I tied him up, he either pretended to go
sleep or he was stunned or something, I don’t know, but he was just lying there with his eyes closed just on the edge of my pit and about 3.00 o’clock in the morning the moon had gone up and it was fairly bright, and I thought this would be the time when they could see a bit, but nothing happened, we went right through the night. He woke this fellow and he was groaning a bit, this chap, and I had to give him a couple of pushes to, I thought about any time he’s going to yell or
something, just with the butt of the rifle just push him a little bit to tell him I was still there. But dawn came, nothing in the morning, no fight, nothing. So alright, we decided that OK, it’s fairly safe. So our blokes did a bit of a patrol around and they come out onto the track there’s another dead Jap, sorry, a wounded Jap, badly wounded. He was laying on the track and bleeding from up around the shoulder pretty badly. So they brought him
in, they patched up his wound. They examined the fellow that I’d had. Nothing wrong with him, but unfortunately his hands were all swollen. I didn’t intend to do it, but I must’ve tied the wire too tight. I suppose that’s why he was groaning. You could imagine circulation, the blood wouldn’t be getting down as it should be, but anyhow, we undid that and fed them.
The other bloke, had to stretcher him away so they took them both away. They wanted prisoners at that time because they didn’t know what was going on up north and if they could get prisoners they might be able to find out what the strength is and so on. But they went back so I don’t know what happened there from there on. But the thing was, this great big, he was a big Queenslander and the Jap wasn’t a very big one, but he just grabbed him and wrestled him into the
pit single handed, but I don’t know his name and I’ve asked a few. I’ve asked Bob Gaudion and a few of these fellows. They don’t know who he was either. See, one company could be a couple of kilometres away from you. We don’t know what they’re doing and they don’t know what we’re doing. So it would have to be someone who was in that particular patrol and I haven’t stuck anybody because as I said, most of them are Queenslanders.
And it’s interesting that he brought the prisoner to the sig. Is it because you had wire?
Yes. Well I was the only one that could tie him up. Yeah, but then I had to guard all night. There was a sig and there must’ve been a medical bloke with me. We guarded him. We had a bit of a sleep. He’d guard for a while and then I’d guard. So we had to guard him all night. So we got our prisoner and he wasn’t
Did you talk to him? I mean I know you wouldn’t share a language.
I tried to but he could only grunt. When we tried to give him, he liked the food. It was only old M & V, he loved it.
Did you search him?
They searched him. They searched all them because a lot of them carried papers and we got a lot of information when we did take prisoners. They’d give their troop movements and all
this sort of thing, or the amounts of troops. We got a lot of information out of the few prisoners we did take.
Right, OK. I was just going to ask you like deciding on where you’re going to put your perimeter and what sort of I guess
landmarks or how would the terrain influence where you put your perimeter?
Yes. You’d have to pick your position like on a track. It was nearly always on a track, but you would pick a position where your line of fire was like on a rise, possibly down or whichever way you think they’re coming. A little bit of thought went into that, but sometimes you just had to, if you came across somebody and they were attacking you,
well you just dug in where you were. But generally speaking they would move along a track and maybe the forward scouts might see someone ahead and they would say, “There’s a concentration of Japs ahead,” so we would probably dig in there so we could patrol from there.
OK. So, now you haven’t actually reached Ratsua yet, have you?
Our company really didn’t get to Ratsua, but in this same area we had to go along, we were moving the whole platoon along and we had to, wanted to cross a river. I can’t remember the name of the river, and we were following this track along and I must’ve had a reel of wire that must’ve been old wire wound onto a reel and as I said, you’ve got your three
sigs, three scouts, the sig and an officer and then the rest of the platoon or who it might be. But every now and again this cable would tangle and I’d have to get down and work on that, and the officer said, “Look, we can’t be waiting here, we’ll be sitting ducks.” I can understand that, the whole mob’s waiting for me. So each one would sort of pass. There’d be four or five paces between each one and they’d pass until, I had to also
join a wire so we’re getting, one fellow stayed with me, the last bloke stayed with me. He said, “I’ll keep a watch out while you’re doing this.” So I got the wire joined together and away we took off again and when we get up there’s two tracks. It’s a fork, one going this way, one going that way and both of them have got, our army boots made a much bigger
imprint that the Japanese little toe boot. I said, “Well which way are they going? Are they going this way or that way?” We weren’t certain which way, and I said, “Look, the only thing I can think of is we’re supposed to be going to cross this river,” and I said, “We’ll go this way.” We were fortunate because we eventually caught up to our, the rest of our platoon and then they dug in around the bank of the river, but we found out that on that track we would’ve run into a heavily
fortified, just the two of us, a heavily fortified Jap position. So luck’s got a big thing to do with it.
Instinct, do you reckon?
Yes. I think…
Do you think your instincts were very finely tuned?
it’s luck. Then another occasion we were up on a high ridge somewhere. I can’t remember where it was but we were up on a ridge and we were pinned down there, and I
was sharing a pit with a young fellow called, his name was Sorensen, and I was sharing this pit with him and all of a sudden there was a burst of machine gun fire. Actually I’d put my pack on the top of the pit at the side of the pit and I had an old green shirt that was stinking with perspiration and so on, so I hang it out on a branch to dry the perspiration
out of it, and all of a sudden this burst of gunfire come right over, it must’ve been right over our heads because when I recovered my shirt there was bullet holes right through the shirt, and in the pack, I undid the pack the get the dixies out for a meal and right inside, they were fairly heavy metal, right inside there was a bullet inside the mess tins. Anyhow, we must’ve been right in that line of fire.
Then they decided that there would be a patrol go out and this young fellow, Sorensen, was the last man on this patrol. He was the last man to, they were about four or five paces. They go and then you go and so on, last man. He just got up out of the pit and he was mown down, just died straight in front of me. Then later on when we
proceeded from there here was a very heavy fortified position and we captured a woodpecker. It was a woodpecker machine gun that they used. So their line of fire must’ve been straight over where we were in this area. So luck has got a lot to do with these things I think. But he was a nice young fellow.
Did Bob Gaudion mention him at all, do you remember?
I can’t remember.
No, I don’t think he, he wasn’t in A Company so I don’t think he would know about, he’d know about Sorensen being killed but he wouldn’t know of the circumstances.
I sort of recall a story, similar story, but I’m not sure whether it was from Bob about a soldier being killed just outside the pit. I’ll have to think about that.
But that’s, how did you react? I mean what did you do?
It shook me a great deal I must admit because it could’ve been me that stood up there. I didn’t have to go on that patrol and I was damn lucky I didn’t have to go on that patrol. Sometimes they’d send a patrol out without any signaller, just have a look around and see closely to see if there was anything around. I didn’t go on that one.
So did you stay down in the pit or did you
Yes. I stayed in the pit there. Well you had to duck your head because the machine gun bullets were flying around that area, and at that time an observer came up. This must’ve been before Sorensen was killed because both Sorensen and myself and were in this pit and the Japs opened up from where they
were and this observer, he jumped. He must’ve jumped six feet into our pit and we crouched down like this. Well he jumped in feet first with boots on, you know big army boots, hit me in the centre of the back. It was like being hit by shrapnel it was so hard, hurt me in the back, and every time there was a burst of gunfire he would wriggle and eventually he got to the bottom and we were on the top. Anyhow, next day he left.
He didn’t stay observer very long I must admit.
What’s the role of an observer?
I suppose they just come back and report how, what, how it works and that sort of thing, but that was his job to just observe and see what was happening. We were in that front area for 46 days, the longest of any of those battalions in our area
on the island.
That’s a very long time.
It was a long time, 46 days of being close to it. Got any more?
Yes, the tangled signal wire.
That’s the one where, the forked track. That’s where I got caught, you know we had to repair the wire and
we took the right track. So I think that’s about it in that area.
So you didn’t get as far as Ratsua?
So tell me what happened?
We would’ve been relieved there.
Do you remember, can you give that a name, where you got to or the area?
No. Might’ve been
the name of the river but I can’t remember the name of the river. We got about as far as there and then it was time to be relieved by another battalion and we went back to Torokina, but I just remembered something about Soraken Peninsula rest period.
Yeah, go ahead.
There were two islands, a little one called Saposa?
Saposa, Saposa or Saposa or whatever you like to say and Taiof which was a bit bigger island just a few miles off the beach, and I had a little bit of a twinge in one of my teeth and there was a dental clinic set up, dentist over on the island, army dentist. So I decided to go over and see what this trouble was with my teeth. I get over and the dentist said, “You need a couple of fillings,” and all he had was a treadle machine and I felt every little
turn of that drill in my, I was sorry I went over there. But I had a better experience at Taiof. Now Taiof, the Japs had that and one of our platoons captured that, but it wasn’t bombed or shelled or anything like that. It was still in perfect condition, the island, pristine condition. Now a mate and I conned our way across on a barge that was taking supplies over. So we got over there. When we got there the natives were all waiting for us
and they put leis around our necks and they, we’d give them cigarettes and they’d give us little artefacts and all this sort of thing. They’d give us a tropical fruit lunch. It was absolutely glorious, just for the day and we had to come back that evening. So the Soraken rest wasn’t all that bad.
That would’ve been an unusual opportunity to mix with the local people.
The only time in all that campaign
that we mixed with them. There were only the fellows that took the supplies over my mate and myself that conned our way over. But the first time back in Torokina we were in a truck being transported to somewhere and I could see these great big red splotches on the ground. I said, “Someone must’ve cut their foot and it’s bleeding.” Anyway, we caught up to the fellow and
he had a great big foot print, you know. He was a native, little stocky fellow, but he was chewing beetle nut and every now and again he’d have a spit and that’s what it was. Wasn’t blood, it was the red juice of the beetle nut, and that happened again when we were over in Rabaul when the war finished. There was one old fellow used to come, he told us that he used to
drive for an Australian planter before the war and he could speak reasonably good English. We used to call him Colgate because when he smiled his teeth were absolutely black through chewing beetle nut.
So you get back to Torokina for a rest? Well, you’re relieved?
Well after Ratsua we bypassed Soraken. We went straight back to Torokina and not long after
that the war was over.
So tell me about that, like hearing about the war being over?
Well, I can’t remember how long before but we were back during the rest period and again we were being equipped with new equipment, new material, and they were talking about us going down south because south, we’d pushed them pretty much up to where they wanted to in the north, but south were having a pretty torrid
time down there. So it looked as though we were going to go down there, but there was going to be, Gracie Fields arrived on the island and she was going to entertain the troops, and there was a certain amount selected and I was fortunate I was selected, and we get in there there’s thousands of troops at this, where she was gonna have this concert. Anyway, she came out and between whoever, the compare, they announced
that the war was over. So Gracie Fields sung the Lord’s Prayer and with all those thousands you could not hear a word. I mean she was fantastic and after that she sang a lot of songs, and she came out of sort of the wings of the place doing cartwheels at one time. She said she was over 50, but it was very good entertainment.
So you were told in the middle of a Gracie Fields concert
that the war was over?
Was over. But at that time a lot of them used to say, alright, we’d heard about the atomic bomb and all this sort of thing, let them go on and finish off Russia. I don’t know why, but Russia was on our side. A lot of people used to say go and finish off Russia. I don’t think I would’ve been happy about that.
So you were aware that the atomic bomb
had been dropped?
Oh yes, yes. That’s why we were a bit upset with all the things because there was no need for us to be fighting there really because all they needed to do on Bougainville was to hold that perimeter of where the Yanks were, just hold it so the Japs couldn’t take it back and put a counter attack and so on, and there were a lot of lives lost there, they’re unnecessary lives.
You know, we certainly did our job. We had to fight and all that sort of thing but everybody begrudged the life of one of our own men. They called it a mopping up operation and there was no reason for it because they couldn’t do anything. They couldn’t get off the island, their food was running out. All we needed to do was sit there and just hold
I mean that’s certainly come out in later years, hasn’t it, in retrospect?
Yes. We had a fair idea of it then.
Yeah. You know, we said, “Let’s get back to Torokina.” We all wanted to get back there because that was, you know, out of the war and we knew the atomic bomb, see, they were landing at Iwo Jima and places like that so it wasn’t going to be long, and yet they
were still trying to, you know, push us up against the Japs.
So did you feel resentful when you were going out on patrols?
I did, and getting to that last stages of it, the sig platoon was down to very, very few and the sig sergeant was in control of it then. The officer wasn’t there at that stage, and
I went out on a patrol in the morning. Fortunately we didn’t make any contact. When we got back he said, “Hilly, I’ll have to get you to go out again.” I said, “I’ve just been out.” He said, “Well one of the other sigs has broken his denture and he can’t go.” I started to think then, he was a Queenslander, and I was thinking that maybe, you know, they would use all the southern
state blokes. It just gave me that feeling that they were starting to look after their own crowd. Anyhow, I went out and fortunately again we didn’t strike anybody, but I mean two patrols and I could’ve struck more trouble when this fellow, I did say to him, “What’s he gonna do? Is he gonna bite him [the Japanese] to death?” All he did was broke his denture.
So you went out on the patrol?
I went out on the second patrol. As I said fortunately we made no contact.
That division between the Queenslanders and the southerners, was that something you were conscious of a lot?
Well it hadn’t been up until then. I was very, very pleased with them. I thought we developed into a very good fighting unit, you know, early in the piece, but towards the end when that happened I thought to myself, God, you know,
I know he’s a mate. He’d been in the sig platoon for years with the sergeant. I thought to send me out on a second one straight after I’d already, I’d been in and just had something to eat and had to go out again, so I was very glad to get back to Torokina.
Those sorts of patrols, how long would they be fore?
They could take any time. I mean they’d be out a couple of hours, sometimes even more depending on
what you struck, what the territory was like. One area where we were doing a lot of patrols there were a lot of banana plantations and if you tossed a grenade and it hit the banana fronds and exploded half way from where you wanted it to go, so fortunately they brought up, you put them on the muzzle of a rifle and then when you fired it, it’d
send it straight through the banana leaves and all that sort of thing. So that was a great help when they brought them up. They brought some flamethrowers up, flamethrowers. They were vicious things.
How did they work, the flamethrowers?
I don’t know where they come from but they might’ve been American. I didn’t use them but there were other fellows who were specialists in them had come up. They would probably fire
about, the flame, for about 50 yards I’d imagine or 20 to 30 yards at least. So if there was pill box with Japs in it they would put them down into the pill box. We were starting to, they even brought out a new rifle for us. The war was just about over as you realise. The rifle, the 303 rifle’s about this long and you’d be
walking along and caught in the vines and so on. So they brought out a shorter version about this long which were a some help because they didn’t get caught. And the Owen gun, you’ve probably heard about the Owen gun, it was invented by an Australian. That was a wonderful little machine gun. It could go in the mud and the water and that sort of thing. Other guns would jam and stop. This little Owen gun would fire
any time. There was only one thing wrong with it, if they ever had it on parade and if the fellow dumped the Owen down a bit hard the recoil could send a bullet up. So a few accidents that way. Other than that they were a lovely little gun. I used to like carrying one.
Yeah, I’ve heard a few people talk about how much they liked the Owen gun.
That’s why if I had to go on a patrol, there’s
only a certain number in a platoon. I’d try and get as many as I could to come with me with their Owens because they were a wonderful little gun.
Did you have an Owen?
I had a rifle at the start and at the finish I did have an Owen.
So how did you get to come by an Owen? I mean did you request it?
I was after them all the time, but obviously see, it might’ve been a fellow go back sick or something like that, wounded, and you could get a
better, like a Owen or, must be a few Brens and so on, but Brens were too big for me. You couldn’t carry a Bren as well as the gear I carried. That’s another thing, the Owen gun was much lighter than the heavy .303.
So given the work that you’re doing, you’re on patrol, you’ve got the reel?
You want as less to carry as you can, ‘cause we used to carry over about 60 pound, over 60 pound of gear
plus a phone and the wire.
Did you have a special pack to carry that gear?
No, just an ordinary, just an ordinary pack with your blanket and boots, spare boots, and your mess tins and your ground sheet. It was a very primitive way that we used this wire. As I said, it was just the reels with the stick through it
as a spindle and just pull it along as you walked.
What system did the Japanese have for laying their wire, do you know?
I don’t know, I don’t know. They were already laid. See they were there a lot longer before us. I did, have seen a documentary on the sigs down south. They used to have two fellows. They had a stick through the reel and two fellows would be walking along.
Whether we, I certainly didn’t use it. Whether any of our battalion used it I don’t know, but they certainly did that down the south, down south of the island.
Interviewee: Mervyn Hill Archive ID 1487 Tape 07
I’m just wondering before we sort of, I guess we’ve almost wrapped up on the Bougainville Campaign, is there anything else from those campaigns, Ratsua and so on, that you think is worth discussing? Do you think we’ve covered just about all of it there?
Pretty well covered all of that. There would be others but the memory is not so good these days. The trip back from Ratsua back to Torokina was interesting.
Some strange looking sort of a tub, it seemed to be a square sort of a thing, that’s what we went back, or some of us went back on, and we all boarded this craft and we were given a tin of M & V and I was pretty hungry and I thought around about lunch time I’ll try and have something to eat. I opened the tin, had a few mouthfuls, and
this thing, being square it was rocking this way and up and down, ‘cause we were coming along the coast with the, you know, waves coming in, and I was seasick all the way back. So that wasn’t very pleasant. There might be something I can tell you about Porton. While we were in that area, the Soraken area, the 31st Battalion
made a landing, tried to make a landing on this Porton Plantation I think it was called. They were landing by barges and unfortunately as they were coming in the barges got stuck on the coral reefs and the Japanese were all fortified on the beach. They had machine guns, they had everything there and they gave them a very torrid time, those blokes on the barges because they can’t get
off, you know. Quite a lot, lost a lot of casualties there, and they had to call in the 25 pounders to bomb and shell them, and also the New Zealand Air Force had to come and bomb because they’d made the landing, some of them had made the landing but they had to get back onto the craft and try and get away, but they were stuck there for quite a while, and we come across one
fellow that had survived that. We struck him back along the beach and he swam back. While we were talking to him he said, “I could hardly swim before that.” He swam quite a long way back along the beach to get away from them, but there were even sharks swimming around so some of the fellows that might’ve jumped over might’ve been taken by sharks. The Japs were swimming around and they were throwing grenades into these
barges. You know, they’re an open thing that they land with. So they had a pretty tough time there and we heard all about that.
Was that the 31/51st, was it?
No. 31/51st I think it was, that battalion. So that’s about all I can recall in that area.
You know how you said it was 46 days of constant activity in Ratsua?
In the forward areas.
Yeah. What is it that keeps you
going when it’s just constant, you know, sort of tension? How do you sort of maintain your wits?
I just don’t know how, but you know, you’re probably as frightened as hell but you’ve just gotta keep going. I mean you’re in the army. That’s what they want you to do so you just determine to do it. You’d rather not. I’d rather be back at Torokina
or somewhere where it’s a bit more pleasant, but still you had to put up with it.
So how much of your time would you have spent purely on sigs and how much would’ve been as infantry or were you sort of doing the roles concurrently?
The only time I was sort of doing a rifleman’s job was on the Numa Numa Trail where I didn’t leave the perimeter. The rest of the time was signal work, all signal
So was there ever any need to fire a shot in anger though?
Yes there were times, but I mean most of my work was to get back the signals so the mortars could do their job. The forward scouts were the ones that really came into most of it because they were the first blokes to contact the enemy, and as I said earlier in the day, that
being a signaller or a first aid fellow they were generally in the centre of the perimeter and you couldn’t, you know, fire out because you’d be hitting your own people. It was only where you knew there was a line of fire that you could fire without any problems. So our job wasn’t so much as the riflemen. They did all the
real work with using the ammunition, using the guns and that sort of thing.
You talked earlier about, you gave us your opinion of the Japanese soldier and how the Japanese marines, the taller ones were fine soldiers and then there were not so good ones. Can you give us some examples? I’m just wondering if you could give us some more examples of times when Japanese, you know, their
ingenuity or their determination was sort of exemplified? You told us one or two stories about some of the sillier things that they did.
Well it was pretty straight forward that when they attacked they were relentless in shelling or mortaring. They had mortars the same as we had of course, and they,
you could tell that they knew what they were doing when we got up north. It took longer for us to advance against the marines as it did against the ordinary soldier when we struck them. They fought a lot longer. The others would, after you probably gave a bit of curry they would then, but the others would stay
and fight it out. Some fought out to the death until they were, that’s typical of the Japanese. They never believed in surrendering either. That’s another thing. I suppose that’s why we never took many prisoners. I can remember one time on a patrol there was a scout up in a tree and as soon as our scouts, our forward scouts saw him they
fired at him and hit him and he just fell with the rope hanging in the tree because he’d bee tied up into the tree, but I think that time he had his hand up to surrender, but some of the times they didn’t bother taking prisoners.
That was an instruction, was it, pretty much?
I don’t think it was an instruction. They were a bit of a hindrance to take. I don’t think it was really an instruction to
do that but they did it. Rightly or wrongly I don’t know, but that’s what they did.
You were telling before about Bougainville and it being a mop up, mopping up sort of campaign. At the end of that 46 days, where do you think the war would’ve gone if those bombs hadn’t been dropped
and the Japanese hadn’t surrendered? Where do you see Bougainville?
Well I think in our case, as I said, another brigade went, took over from us and they were going to push right up to a place called Buka which was fairly, it was an island off Bougainville and it was fairly well fortified. So I think that’s where they would’ve headed. As I mentioned earlier, down south they were running
into a lot of strife. There was more concentration down south than there was up north, so they needed more. So that’s where we were preparing to go when the war was ending and fortunately the war ended so we didn’t go there.
So you told us about Gracie Fields and the cartwheels and being told during that show, was there an opportunity then to celebrate in some way?
Oh yes. Just prior to the finish at Ratsua because our normal sig strength was down,
we were reinforced with some sigs from division, division sigs, 3rd Divvy sigs. They had no experience in battle but they just came to us at the finish. Anyhow, when the war ended they invited the other sigs, the battalion sigs to come back to Torokina with them to celebrate. When we arrived back at the headquarters
they’ve got trestle tables out with dozens of bottles of beer and food which we celebrated with but we didn’t have that. We used to get three bottles a week or something like that, so there wasn’t very much, but they had heaps of it there. Not that I drank a great deal but I had a few that night, enough to, I didn’t bother going back to the camp. I slept there in one of their barracks.
So what was the sort of predominant emotion at that time?
Relief, that was the main thing. It’s over, let’s get back home. That’s what I though would happen but, see the older sigs and older soldiers than I they had higher priority to go home so they were all, some of them pretty well went straight home. So then, the next thing was about, after the war finished about 10 days or so, we were told we were going to Rabaul.
So they put us onto one of those Liberty ships, called the Glenelg I think it was called, and we were to sail to Rabaul but about an hour out we struck a cyclone and this thing was bouncing around. I’d read stories in the paper, the cuttings sent up, that some of these Liberty ships were splitting in half and I thought this damn thing will split in half because it was so,
it pelted down, it blew like hell and we were all on the decks before that, but we all had to go down into the holds because of the wet. Anyhow, it survived that and half an hour later it was as calm as anything until we came, and next evening we came into Rabaul Harbour, and that was a lovely sight. Like the war’s over and coming into the harbour, it’s a bay and you come down and on this side there was these big hills or big mountains
and there was smoke pouring out of them and on the other side there’s a crater of a volcano called Vulcan which erupted in 1937 and spewed out all the lava into the bay and they pointed out an island or a big rock that had shot out when the eruption had shot out of the water. So we berthed right at Rabaul. There was nothing left of Rabaul,
nothing standing at all. Everything was flattened. The Americans had bombed and bombed. Even the trees, there was hardly any vegetation on the trees, and there used to be they tell us, there was a lovely big avenue of these trees, you know, along the main street. So we were then trucked out to a place called Talili Bay where we set up camp, which was right on the beach in a nice little
spot. But then we started to round up, still round up Japs, but some of them didn’t believe in surrender and we had to be careful. This is how I got the two swords. We went up into the jungle area and we came across some officers that were still living in this little area. They still had these Japanese swords and
we went to, one of them could speak perfect English and he was talking a bit about the war and so on and he got a little bit arrogant and he was showing us these swords, these samurai swords and he said, “I can cut that tree,” and there’ll be a tree about six or seven inches through in diameter and with one swipe he just swiped that tree off like that, cut it in half like that. Anyhow, they were coming over and they wanted to, one of the fellows had his
Bren and they wanted to have a look at that and they thought, this fellow is getting a bit too cocky and so he gave a burst of the Owen down on the ground and the Jap backed off a bit. Anyhow, then they came over and they were bowing and bowing, offered the swords. So I got two swords and two Zeiss Icon cameras, and some of those little photos you’ll see that I got, there only about, a bit
over a stamp size picture, and they were taken with a Zeiss Icon camera.
Do you still have the swords?
The swords, do you still have them?
No. As I said earlier we sold them in a garage sale when we moved. If I’d have kept them now they’re worth a lot of money.
So when you got to Rabaul were you still with the 26th?
Still with the 26th, and we were to do
like round up, and then we also, no one had been there before. We had to set up everything ourselves and we used the Japs because there were thousands and thousands more Japs there than what they told us, and to keep them from getting restless they decided to make them work. We wanted a parade ground and a football ground. So there was an area with a slight
incline and then it went up to a hill. So they lined up hundreds of these Japanese just with a shovel. That’s all sandy soil, and [each] one had the shovel, a pile of dirt to that one and he sent it on like that. It went right down until the width of a football field so that they got it fairly level. Then they got them to rake all this and they raked it all out until it was reasonably level. They left this little bit of a hill which became a sort of a
stand, a grandstand to be able to watch the parade and so on where the officers would stand and this sort of thing. So they raked it all level. They sent the Japs down to the coast to bring back a type of couch grass. There was hundreds of them, so you’d only have to plant a little bit in strips right across this ground that we’d levelled. Within a few weeks it was, because of the climate this couchy grass matted into a nice
turf, so we had a parade ground and a football ground. And we also had to keep them working because they could get into trouble if they weren’t working, so each tent was allocated a Jap to act as a batman type of fellow. He used to clean our boots, he used to do our washing. It was lovely, and that photo that I showed you there
is them reporting to go to work, and we wanted to put a tent there and there was stump of a coconut tree there so they had to dig this coconut tree out so we could put our tent there. But it kept them busy anyhow.
Do you recall occasions when they were unruly moments?
To my knowledge there was no riots or any trouble there. I think they were just as glad to
want to get home. But originally when we got there they didn’t realise the war was over. They were a little bit of trouble early but they soon calmed down. I met one old fellow, Japanese, he was a civilian and he got caught during the war and so he was in Rabaul, and he was a top artist in Japan they told me. He could speak pretty good English too, and we used to get a lot of silk. The
Japanese had tunnelled and tunnelled after tunnel in Rabaul and with all that bombing that the Americans did they never touched any of that, and we used to go after this silk and I used to get this fellow to paint geisha scenes. You know, you see a lot of Japanese typical scenes with the geisha girl and the fans and all this, and I had those for years. They’d be worth a lot of money but they got lost. I don’t know what ever happened to them. I brought back a lot of souvenirs but I’ve got nothing of it now.
But a few fellows got into strife. One fellow was, I think they were using their bayonets to try and get the silk out and it started a fire in the tunnels. There was torpedo shells and everything that they, ammunition that they had was in there and for a week you could hear these explosions going on in the tunnels but they couldn’t do any damage because they were inside the tunnels, but one fellow got killed
looking for something, one of our blokes. But Rabaul, every night there’d be rumbles and vibrations like earth tremors and so on. Not a night went without it, and I can understand why, maybe what, 10 years ago that big volcano erupted again and ruined Rabaul, flattened Rabaul, feet [two metre] high of ash that came down. I’ve never been back there since, but one
of the doctors that tended to me here goes over quite a bit and he said he went back after that and he said, “You wouldn’t believe it.” They’ve had to move the whole town to a place called Kokopo, just flattened the town.
So what were your specific duties on Rabaul?
I was, as the older sigs all went home I was the only bloke that could operate the battalion exchange
and so on like that, so I was kept there for a lot longer than I should’ve I think because the ships had come in, see the Manoora or the Manunda or the Kanimbla come in and they’d go. I had reasonably high points because I’d had so long. We got a lot more reinforcements of young fellows that hadn’t been in the army as long as I to do the job, but there were no sigs amongst them. So I had to do this job, and
anyhow, one of the days that had a bit of fun was we decided to go to the Rabaul Harbour. So I must’ve conned a fellow that was driving there, so a mate and I get into the back of his jeep and we were driving through, there was only tracks as you realise, not made roads or anything like that, and we were doing about 30 Ks an hour and we came to a very narrow jungly part and the driver said, “Look
out,” and we all ducked our head but what happened, have you ever heard of a vine called Wait A While? Well you wait a while, that’s why they call it Wait-a-While. It’s a vine, you’ll find it up in Queensland. It’s got great big long barbs, you know, six feet, eight feet long, whips they’d be with barbs on them, and if you walk into it you can’t walk through it. You’ve got to pull out and then walk back. Well what
had happened, one of these was hanging over this little road and I didn’t duck quick enough and it caught me here in the ear right across there, whipped me out of the jeep onto my neck outside the jeep, and my ear, like it took a little bit out of the ear here and this was bleeding, you know, blood spurting out of it and there was all these things stuck in my head. So the driver
had a first aid kit so he got the tweezers and pulled all of them out and put a big bandage on here. He said, “I’ll take you back.” I said, “No, let’s go where we want to go to, Rabaul.” So we finished up going to Rabaul and we had a swim. This volcano called Vulcan, a volcano called Vulcan, used to be hot water pouring out of it into the bay, boiling water, and if you got close enough to
that you’d have a lovely spa because it was such lovely warm water. So we had a good day apart from the spill out of the jeep.
Was there any rounding up that had to be done or were all the prisoners (UNCLEAR)?
Yes, they were rounded up and put into compounds. That little book that I’ve got there shows you photos of them in compounds and every time you drove past they would have their own Jap sentries
outside their compound and they would stand up and bow as you drove past. So they got their officers to make certain that they weren’t going to be any trouble. But there was very little shipping so they were taking a long time to get back and there wasn’t much shipping for us to get back. But our General Sir Thomas Blamey came up to see us, visit us after the war. There was a big
parade, great big parade of Australian soldiers. Anyhow, he gets up on the dais and starts to talk to us and to a man they booed him, except the officers. We just booed him. He was talking about the food and all this sort of thing. The food up there was lousy, you know, no ships to bring it up and it was just shocking the food we were getting there and the war’s over. So they booed him off, but the officers
turned around, they couldn’t, there was no one they could say, “Hey you,” and charge because everyone to a man booed him.
Do you remember what he had to say?
They booed him off so I don’t know what, he was talking about the food.
How good it was supposed to be?
No, that we would be looked after and so on like that on the island, but that never come about.
What was your opinion, of course there were certain soldiers who had a very low opinion of him, like the 39th Battalion for example.
What was your opinion of the sort of powers that were?
Very poor. Our immediate CO, he was a fine soldier. His name was Callinan. He late became Sir Bernard Callinan. He was known as the Tiger of Timor. He wrote quite a few books about Timor as well and he was behind the lines
after the Japs and did a very big job there, and he became our CO and he was a very good soldier. His tactics were very very good, but the likes of the major at the Soraken Peninsula, I didn’t have a very high opinion of him of course, setting fire to the debris that had been there for a year.
Football, we used to play a lot of football on Rabaul and there used to be a lot of betting on the football. We had a full forward who played for Collingwood called Jack Pimm. He was in our team, and we had a pretty good team. We had South Australian blokes, West Australian blokes and so on, so we had a pretty good team and there used to be a lot of betting on it and I can remember coming off the ground and getting a £5 note slapped into my hand, ’cause they’d bet on it pretty big ‘cause
nothing else to spend your money on.
You played in that game?
Played in a lot of games?
What position were you?
Various positions I played. I played a game back in Torokina before we went into action and we played against one of the battalions. We’d been out and having a rest, we’d only been up to Numa Numa Trail so it wasn’t so savage, but they’d been up, must’ve been up around
Little George Hill somewhere and suffered a lot of casualties and they were pretty knocked around. So we played this Australian Rules game of football against them and half time 26 Battalion was nine goals up. But anyhow, they must’ve put money on. They always used to bet big money. They got up and won by nine points, but we found out later there was three VFL [Victorian Football League] players with them.
But I thought I played a good game that day, but didn’t win, didn’t do any good.
You scored a few of the goals, did you?
No. I played a halfback that day, but I did play a game of rugby in the same area. This is before we went into action and they used to use the, I told you about Penrith, they used to use the Vic blokes as fullbacks. Anyhow,
it was only one company against another company and a fellow had got through, was heading for the try line and they’re all singing out, “Stop him Hilly, stop him Hilly,” you know, I’m the last bloke being fullback. Well I rushed at him and he was a big bloke and he hit me and I put him down, but it felt like I had two broken ribs and a sore shoulder for about a fortnight.
It wasn’t worth it, but at least stopped him. But he often jokes about that. I’ve seen that bloke since, he comes from Victoria.
We heard from Bob, Bob Gaudion and (Warragul? UNCLEAR) about the horse racing cup, meet that was, (did you joy UNCLEAR) with that?
I didn’t have anything to do with the horse racing. Whether that was after I left but
I didn’t go to any of those race meetings, but yes, I had heard about them since of course.
Now you said you were like the only signal?
There were a couple of other sigs but they couldn’t operate the switchboard and so on.
So what were you doing most of the time? Were you operating a switchboard with the lines sort of all established?
Yeah, yeah, it was a switchboard set up so that phone to
the other, probably to brigade and probably to the other companies and so on. It wasn’t ringing all the time. It was just outside my tent so I didn’t have to sit there like they do normally. Talking about switchboards and so on, prior to leaving to, when I was on leave here in Melbourne, our final leave prior to the time I was ice skating where I had that skirmish with the fellow,
I used to ring this girlfriend of mine. She used to work in the bank on the corner of Collins and Elizabeth Street and she might be busy and the girl on the switch she got talking. She said, Marie, Marie Cummins, my memory’s going, she’s busy for a while and she’ll talk to me and she said, “Do you mind if I, could I write to you?” Well she did write to
me and she wrote while I was overseas. Never seen the girl and never met her before but she wrote to me, which was good to get letters and so on like that, but while I’m away she got very friendly with my mother and she used to come and visit my mother. Anyhow, I was still keen on Marie Cummins and when my 21st birthday my mother invited this other girl as well.
So it didn’t turn out too well, so I had to stay away from my party until about midnight and when I came to my 21st birthday party at that time this girl had cottoned onto some other fellow.
The switchboard operator?
Yeah. So I was glad that she’d got a fellow. Just one of those things that happen.
you been, you mentioned writing letters to your mum with your little code letting her know that you were in Bougainville. What about when you were in Rabaul for some, weren’t you?
No worry there, there was no censorship there and at that time my brother, he was in the air force and he’d returned to Melbourne. He played three games before he went up to Darwin and they brought him back to play with South Melbourne
and my mother used to send all the cutting about Frank Hill and one of the cuttings said that Frank Hill training was reminiscent of Bob Pratt at his best, all this sort of stuff, you know, all good. But in the meantime he got, it took [mail] two to three weeks to get up there, he got injured midway in the season and the early sigs, we used to go into these tunnels and we used to get
the Jap radios and eventually we got them working so we could pick up 3LO. Anyhow, grand final day we had a bit of trouble getting it for a start, and then I’m listening to the commentary on the match and I can’t hear my brother’s name mentioned. I said, “What’s wrong with him? He’s not getting a kick.” But anyhow, a few weeks later a letter came up from my mother saying that because he’d been injured they decided not to play
him because he hadn’t had match practise, but he was an emergency for the day and a young fellow called Ron Clegg took his place who turned out to be a very, very good footballer and won a Brownlow medal. So by then, see Frank played his first football, his first game of league football. He was 26 in 1940, so he retired after that match.
How long were you in Rabaul for?
Well, we went over August, August, it might’ve been September, probably early September I suppose, September ’45 and I didn’t leave Rabaul until May ’46,
May ’46 and then I thought, oh well, I came back on the HMAS Kanimbla. It was run by the navy at that stage as a troop ship and I was able to get my two bags into my sea kit bag, two swords and the cameras. I slept on them because they were talking, asking for any souvenirs, you know, had to show them and all this
sort of thing. But I didn’t show them, I knew they’d be confiscated. Anyhow, I slept on them. But I remember this, the navy told us that at 7.25 we would see the first lights of Australia. So at 7.25 we were all up on deck. I’m the only bloke from my battalion that was on that ship. All the rest were other battalions and so on. Anyway, at 7.25 there was a
blinking of a light in the distance and everybody was cheering. Here we are back in Australia. It was Australian territory. It was the lighthouse at Byron Bay, and we didn’t see another light until we came into Sydney Harbour. So then because it took so long to get to home, I hadn’t had a chance to write a letter and tell my mother and parents, brothers were coming home. So when I
get to Spencer Street Station [meant Central Station in Sydney] I’m still on my own, no other mates with me, and I book a phone call, a trunk call as they called it in those days, to home, and I had to wait an hour or so for the call to be put through, and they twigged that it was me coming home. They didn’t know for sure but they all got, my brothers and mother got on the phone and they sang a welcoming home song on the phone. Anyhow,
I get down to the platform and I’m ushered into, I’m in uniform, ushered into a first class seat and I thought, this is not too bad, and a little while later and officer came past with red on the cap indicating that he was a major or someone and they said, “Sorry, this officer will have to have your seat.” I didn’t care because I was going home,
that train was going home. So they ushered me off down to a second class carriage which suited me down to the ground. So I was home the next day.
So what was that like, what was the homecoming?
Fantastic. I was the last of them to be home, all the rest were home. So that was good and it wasn’t long before they got me into the footy team, the
Sunday amateurs playing for the Golden Gate and I enjoyed that, but I’m not out of the army then.
No, you’re not.
Because when I came back I thought I’d be sent straight out to Royal Park to be discharged, but they said, “Oh no, you’re going to the Repat Hospital at Heidelberg on their strength
because you’re not,” you know, there’s many more before me to get out. So they put me on the Heidelberg Hospital strength and I became part of the AGH [Australian General Hospital] Hospital strength, but we were living in tents up in a corner of the hospital in the grounds and all they had us doing was gardening and cleaning and all this sort of thing, and fortunately it wasn’t all that far to go to
Albert Park, so I used to get the bus into Ivanhoe Station and then to home, and you always had to have a parade at 8.00 o’clock in the morning when you’d be allocated your jobs, but some of the times I overstayed, got there a bit late. I’d get back after the parade, be fined again for being AWL. The war was over. So I got fined many times. Then I was working in the grounds one day
and I felt very sick and I was shivering and so on like this, so I went to the medical section and they said they’d examine me ‘cause a doctor examined me, and they said, “You’re going up on the ward.” I had malaria. I took every Atebrin tablet that you could take but I finished up with malaria. So I was in the ward for a couple of weeks, fortunately it was called BT. I don’t know what that means. MT meant malignant, the other one BT.
The BT one was the one that killed most people if it wasn’t treated quickly but fortunately they treated me and I was OK, I was out again and at home one morning my mother came out to say it’s time to get up and have breakfast and go back to the hospital. I said, “I don’t feel like going back to the hospital,” because I was shivering and she soon saw what was wrong, so she rang the hospital. They sent an ambulance out and took me back to the hospital, another dose of malaria.
But I never had another dose of malaria after that. They put me on a tablet called Paludrine and I took that for six months. That must’ve cured me. But apart from losing a lot of weight I didn’t have a thing wrong with me.
So how long were you working at the Repat?
Well, we came back May ’46. I wasn’t discharged until the 15th of the 1st,
’47. So it’s a bit over six months, another six months there, and I’d go up and say, “Look, when am I gonna get my discharge?” They’d say, “Oh no, you’ve still got to wait.” Anyhow, I kept at them and at them, whether it had the influence or not I don’t know, but they came one day and said, “OK, you’re off to Royal Park for a discharge.” Happiest day of my life I think, at that period.
Sounds like you were being a little bit exploited there?
I think so. Cheap labour I’d say, because they would’ve had to pay civilians to do that work. Anyhow, it wasn’t too bad. I got out of the army and in this time my father came back to Kerferd Road, was there staying for a while.
I don’t know why, but he did, and he wanted to help some of the boys somehow, so he gave me £800 to help open a business and we, there was two businesses we were going to look at and I was interested in radio and knew how to repair radio and all that sort of thing. There was one in Mont Albert, one in Newport.
The Newport showed a better profit than the Mont Albert one did, so we decided I’d start up the business in Newport. It was good for the first twelve months, fantastic, because you couldn’t get refrigerators. People were coming and putting their name down to buy a fridge. Radiograms were selling, radios were selling, vacuum cleaners were selling so it was good. Then all of a sudden there was a strike.
Interviewee: Mervyn Hill Archive ID 1487 Tape 08
OK, we’re back on. So, Laurie, you were telling us about your business?
I started this business in Newport. As I said, it was going extremely well, but then when this railway strike that lasted 53 days, and Newport being a railway suburb, there was the railway yards, repair yards and most of the people some way derived their living out of the
railways. Of course when they strike for 53 days they weren’t getting paid and so on like that and the business started to go down, sales just faded away to nothing. So I thought I couldn’t keep going with this. So I thought, no, I’ll just cut costs, take, sell, take away the stock that I had and I’d sell at a later date which I did, and get out of the business. So that was the finish of that little business for a while.
So then one of the representatives was from Vealls, the company I used to work for, so eventually I got back to Vealls and became a store manager for Vealls for quite a few years. Had their top store in Preston, High Street, Preston. But the war was over about 1945. Late ’49, I went to a party
and was introduced to Jean, went on a few dates and it wasn’t long before we were engaged and we got married in 1950, 1951 I should say, 1951, and in ’52 we had our first girl baby. 16 months later we had a second one and then four years later, Bradley, the son you met today.
After the war, as I said earlier, I wasn’t interested in anything after the war, didn’t even know where my medals were or that sort of thing. Never went to any marches or that, and the kids used to, as they were growing a bit older, used to have Anzac Day at school and they used to say, “Dad, you’re a soldier, why don’t you march in Anzac Day,”
and I didn’t know of any other Victorians down in that area and I used to say to them, “Well look, I’d be the only one who’d be marching and I’d have to carry that big banner. It would be pretty hard,” and they said, “Oh well.” They thought that was rather funny, but it wasn’t until about the ’90’s, about ’93 I think it was that this officer wrote the history of the 26th Battalion
and they hunted around and found people so they could sell the book to and all this sort of thing and then in the year 2000 they wanted everybody to make an effort to march in Melbourne. They hadn’t marched in Melbourne before and nobody from the 26th, there was nothing ever about the 26th in Melbourne. So about 12 of us, 12 veterans turned up which surprised me, some came from, a couple from
New South Wales and a couple down, Bob Gaudion and a few, so there was about 12, and we had the first march in the year 2000 because of the centenary year and the, I took a tape of that and the commentator said, “Oh, here’s the 26th Battalion, they’re marching for their very first time,” and he went on and talked a little bit more about it because they’d given him a bit of a spiel to talk about, and at the finish he
said, “Now come back again next year you boys from the 26th.” So I’ve been back twice since. Whether I go this year is another matter.
So it took a good 55 years to get around to it?
Has it been worth it?
Oh yes, I’ve enjoyed it, once I got back and struck a few of the fellows. Out of the 12 there were only about two that I really knew from up there, because I knew most of the sigs. I still
phone and he phones me, one of the sigs from Warwick in Queensland. We phone every now and again, like the last few years. Since the, that history brought a few of us together and just recently Jean and I did a train trip over to Western Australia and there’s one fellow over there, only one fellow that we know of in the 26th Battalion and I got his address
and I thought I’d give him a phone call because he was a signaller and I gave him a phone call and he said, “Where are you staying?” This was about 4.00. “I’m coming in to see you.” So half an hour later he arrives at the hotel and we have a good old chat about everything like that and he said, “Look, I’ve got to go but I’ll contact you before you leave and go back home.” So a few days later he rang again. He said, “I’ll meet you,” he gave us the address of where
he’ll meet you, “and take you to a few places.” So he was very pleased to see us and drove us all around various parts, some of the country towns and Perth. But he said, “It’s a long way for anyone to come over here,” and he just loves for anybody that’s from the old 26th, he just loves to see them over there. So that was a good reunion.
So when you first came back did you keep in touch with anyone?
No one. Didn’t even know who was, and
there was an officer living in Mornington or he still lives here, didn’t even know that. But he lived here before the war and we met him again after this publication of the history. We also had a dedication to our fallen at the Shrine.
We were able to get a position where it’s the third tree down from the forecourt of the Shrine. There’s a plaque in there dedicated to the 26th Battalion and at the marches that’s our meeting point. We meet there. And they had Sir Bernard Callinan to come that day but he’d been in accident and he wasn’t
too well off at that stage and his wife was there, but she was able to communicate to him and tell him what was going on. It wasn’t long after that that he died, but he became a very important man in Melbourne. He was president of the Melbourne Cricket Club. In Who’s Who he had a list of so much, but he was a very good soldier as well.
So immediately post-war had the Queenslanders
stuck together or had they kept in touch or was it because of that distance?
Well see, they would’ve been spread around a lot too because Rockhampton was more or less where they hold the reunions, but Rockhampton is probably 1,000, nearly 1,000, 600 or 700 ks from Julia Creek and those areas around. We went around Australia, Jean and I went Australia in a caravan some years ago and
I said to Jean, there’s a photo of a captured gun and it’s sitting in Julia Creek, and I said, “This is where the Battalion that I was in was formed,” and we were driving in and I saw a couple of fellows my age walking along the road, working on the road, and I said, “Any chance you know of anybody from the 26th Battalion?” He said, “Yes, there is a bloke from the 26th Battalion. George Sills is his name and he runs the fruit shop.”
So Jean and I went up to the fruit shop and we had a little chat about everything. I didn’t know him up there because he was in a different company, but we had a good chat about it and he took us around and showed us highlights of Julia Creek. He took us out to the golf course and you can imagine what the golf course was like. It was just clay and there were cracks in the putting sand
about so big, but he was very proud of their golf course. But apparently his father ran the fruit shop before him and he said it was a big adventure for him to get out of Julia Creek to be in the army. He said, you know, you could imagine what Julia Creek’s like, it’s a pretty dead old hole and to get away from it would be something, a real challenger for him I would imagine.
So how did you look back, or how do you look back on your war service?
How do I look back on my war service?
If it was an adventure for him, but was it…
I must admit the first part of it was a thrill, you know, like we’re going to do something. We don’t know what but we’re going to do something. So it was a bit of an unknown, unknown certainty what it was going to be.
But I didn’t mind going. But I think I soon changed my mind after some time up there.
Don’t you feel you sort of came back a different person?
Oh yes, I think I did. I think I was a pretty wild young fellow. I think it might’ve cooled me down a bit.
But fortunately I think, see in those, today they have all this counselling and all this sort of thing after they come back. We had none of that, but I think fortunately my older brothers were a great help because as I said, they got me into the football team, we used to go away up to the Murray fishing for Murray Cod, did all that soon after the war, and I
think that got me away from it and forgot all about it. So I enjoyed all that just after, so I imagine that helped a lot.
Were those experiences something that you would share with your brothers or was it just an unspoken thing?
No, I never told them much. I’d tell them, might be something funny that happened. I might tell them something like that, you know, but no, they only told me a few things, like the, when he
was shooting buffalo and he was strafed and I think I told him about the time the fellow jumped in with his boots on top of me, a few little things like that but not very much.
That’s even in later years?
No. Three of them have died. Four of them have died really now, but three of the ones who were in the service have died, but no, we never used to talk about it. Never used to talk about
much of anything really, like apart from what we were doing, but nothing about our family. I don’t know why our parents split up. I asked my brother just recently did he know why our parents split up and he said, no, he didn’t know.
You said when your father actually came back, was that to stay or was that just to (UNCLEAR)
No, he came back, he went over to New South Wales
and became a bookmaker, an SP bookmaker, starting price. Do you know what they are? That’s illegal. So he started up SP bookmaking in the town of Moruya and had a very very good business there. Used to bet from Eden to Sydney and in those days in New South Wales you got fined 30 shillings and seven and sixpence
costs, and never the locals would pick him up. It would be somebody from Canberra or somebody like that would come down, a policeman would come down and pick him up. So he’d put his hat on and get his 30 shillings and his seven and six and go to the court, pay it out, and be back betting the same afternoon, and he wanted to do something for the boys. That’s what he said. He gave Keith a gold nugget about a couple of ounces, would be worth
quite a bit today. He put one of the elder brothers in a business. So he tried I think to make up for what happened years ago. He invited Keith and myself over to Moruya to see, with a view for us to take over the business.
During the day he won £3,000 in the day. He said, “Oh no, there’ll be more tonight,” and he won another £800 in the night on the trots and all that sort of thing. It was a lucrative business, but see in Melbourne here they were starting to, each fine would get higher and higher and to a stage where it became gaol. So
we decided no, it wouldn’t suit us, and we had, our children were growing up and we didn’t want to move them to there and so on.
Did you understand the game?
I wasn’t so keen, but Keith was like my father, as quick as lightning with figures. Actually he became a penciller for bookmakers legally, but my father could, he had all these
tricks with the figure 9. Like he’d ask you what’s your favourite number and he’d add up a few things and it would all finish, all these sorts of things, and he was as quick as lightning and Keith was the same with figures. So he would’ve made a good bookmaker but it was illegal so we weren’t interested in that. But by this time the old fellow was 82 year old and he wanted to get out of it.
And when you came back from the war your mum was still
working at the guest house there, was she?
Yes. We stayed there, I can’t remember the year but she sold out, it was a business and she sold that business out and she bought a block of land up at Montrose and had a house built there and we finished it all off. I did a lot of the wiring and all this sort of thing and she lived there until she died
I believe you’ve written some memoirs. Are they solely of your wartime experiences?
Just of my wartime experiences, from 14 year old until I got out of the army.
And what spurred that?
The grandchildren. They used to say, “What did you do?” So I thought I’ll write it down. So I wrote the memoirs
and they’ve each got a copy of the memoirs and just recently we had to do a few more and our grand daughter who’s doing that course I just mentioned, she’s just put it on, did it all again and cut out a few little mistakes and so on that were in it. So I’ve got to take a copy up to Winton because at Winton in Queensland
there’s a museum there and one of the rooms is set aside for the 26th Battalion and they’ve got all artefacts, all memoirs and things in this, I’ve got to take a few other things plus this memoir book up because we’re going to go to Darwin by the Ghan next July and we’ll drive home via that way.
Before we finish I just want to make sure all those stories
that are in your memoirs have we heard them today? Before we finish up is there anything we’ve missed? Chapter 7?
I don’t know. I can’t remember really whether there was any there. There might be a few other things.
At least they’re recorded somewhere.
Yes, the family, family.
Yeah. So yeah, before we wrap up is there anything more that you’d like to say just again to get down on the record for
your grandchildren (UNCLEAR)?
No, I think that we’ve covered everything pretty well and I’m glad that you’ve done a good job and kept me at it. Thank you very much.
Thank you Laurie.