Eric Halden
Archive number: 1492
Date interviewed: 03 February, 2004

Served with:

2/23rd Battalion

Other images:

Eric Halden 1492


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

You are listening to the interview audio


Tape 01


Alright we’re recording now. So if I could ask you to give us that brief summary.
Yeah. OK. I was born on Wednesday the 22nd of January 1919 on my parents’ farm, approximately 14 miles north north-west of Nathalia.


I grew up there. I attend the Yillama North [?] School, the first two years I had to walk two mile each way until the parents bought more land and built a new home. Made it a mile walk there. I passed the certificates, the Qualifying Certificates, 6th Grade and


the Merit Certificate, 8th Grade, without a problem. Had a few funny turns at school too but. From then on as I turned about 16, I used to work, grab work anywhere round the district from the different farmers, it was the only way you could get any pocket money. First job I took I think I was 16, at a pound a week and my


keep. I kept that going right through. I played tennis cricket and football for the Yockanorth Football Club [?]. In 1939 when the war broke out I was working as a rouseabout in the shearing shed, didn’t think much of it as far as the war was concerned. But the next year,


1940, a few of us were havin’ a bit of a yarn one night and we decided we’d join the army. And I was accepted into the army on the 8th of August 1940. We trained in Caulfield Racecourse for sometime. Then out to Mount Martha where we received all our inoculations and needles etc. And then


we went to Albury and we were reinforcements for the 2/23rd Infantry Battalion. We stayed at Albury for some four or five months and then we were shifted to Darley, just outside Bacchus Marsh, and from there we embarked to Sydney. Went to Sydney and embarked on the Queen Mary for the Middle East. Served in the Middle East in Tobruk


then later when we come out of there, we did guard duty up in Syria and then when Japan come into the war they were bringing home the 6th ,7th and 9th Divisions. The 6th and 7th ,or part of the 7th, were successful in getting home. But we missed out because [German commander Field Marshall] Rommel played up in the desert and


we had to go back up there. And we fought at [El] Alamein from July through till October until the last battle. Then we came home had leave and went to Queensland, the Atherton Tablelands to do jungle training. While there I was sent to a junior leader school just out of


Brisbane and while I was there the unit went over to New Guinea, to Milne Bay. I joined them at Milne Bay a bit later, from there we went and did the attack on Lae and then again on Finschhafen and the worst battle we had in the campaign in New Guinea on Sattelberg. We came home in February 1944


and when we came home my mother was a bit worried. The younger brother was in the army too and she asked would one of us try and get out of the army. Because at that time they were… if you had good service and you had a good reason to come out they would let you go. Ken my brother decided he wouldn’t. He was younger than me. So I said, “Oh yes. I’ll come.” Never thought any


more about it until October 1944 was called up before the colonel and thought I’d done something wrong but he said, “You’ve got a chance of getting out of the army if you want to. Either go or stay?” So I resigned from the army and was sent out and I was discharged from the army in October. From there I went to the Kiewa Valley where my brother was milking cows on a dairy farm there. I stayed in that area


for four years. Not milking cows. I only done that for 12 months and I didn’t like it I worked in the forest up there at the foot of Mount Bogong. Then I met my wife up there and we were married in 1948. Wanting a good, secure job I joined the Victorian Police Force, went to Melbourne served there for four years, didn’t like it and resigned. Then came back here to Nathalia


and worked in the Barma Forest until I was 60 and I was forced to retired and since then I’ve lived here in Nathalia and settled in quite good. I’m 85 and dunno how much long left to go.
I think you’ve got a few more years left in you.
You reckon?
I dunno.


I’ve had a lot a health problems but. That enough?
That’s absolutely perfect. Alright I’d like to go back to the beginning now and now we can afford to go into a lot more detail. Can you tell me a bit about your early childhood?
Well it was pretty primitive. The farm Mum and Dad had the house was built of red gum


slabs. There was no electricity. Heating you had to have the big open fireplace and the stove. A kerosene lamp on the table. That’s all you had to read by and that was a bit of a struggle. But I started school when I turned five and I fell foul of the teacher the first day apparently. I can’t remember it.


It was a lady teacher and I was in a, she put me in a desk and then she decided she’d shift me from that one to another one and I objected. And when she took hold of me arm to shift me out of the, they told me I bit her. But anyway I got on alright. But I had no problems with the schoolwork but when I was


about 13 at school, the younger brother Ken was with us and the rest of the kids all, I dunno why, but christened us Ned and Dan Kelly. Went a full week wouldn’t talk wouldn’t play wouldn’t do anything. We were outcasts. It went into the following week


and we were getting a bit jack of it so I think the teacher, a man teacher woke up something was cooking cause he went outside. We thought he was going to the toilet but he went out and was watching through the window and the boy a little older than me was one of the ring leaders of the gang against us we had a bit of a scuffle in the desk


and got caught. He came in and said, “Right, you two stay in after school and write out I will not fight in school a hundred times.” This we did. I wrote a bit quicker than him and I got out first and when I come out all the other kids had gone home so I thought, ‘This is my chance.’ So I went across the road and stood behind a big tree on the path he had to go home and I waited for him. He came across


the road singin’ away to himself and I stepped out from behind the tree and then he tried to run away but I caught him and got him down and give him a good beltin’ until he said there’d be no more Ned and Dan Kelly. Next mornin’ back to school and everything was back to normal. They were some of the funny days. But after school the one mistake I did make before I left school was


wanting to learn to milk a cow and it ended up that I had used to have to get up early in the morning to milk three or four cows before I went to school and then again at night. When I got out I was milking cows for a couple a years until I got big and strong enough to go out to work. And then I started odd-jobbing round all the different farmers. All round. That was the only work you could get. Money was scarce.


You couldn’t go to the back and say I’m gonna to get some out because there was never any there. I started off at 16 a pound a week and my keep loading bags of wheat onto a kicker to kick it up onto the wagon. Then during the winter months there wasn’t much work around


but there was plenty, well thousands of rabbits and foxes. So that was our job in the wintertime. Every the brother, elder brother had a mail run for Yillama Post Office, to Nathalia Monday, Wednesday, Friday. So on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday we would load 40 pair a rabbits


onto the gig and take it and sent it to Melbourne. And for them we used to get the big price of ninepence a pair. Foxes were pretty plentiful. We used to get them at three and four shillings a skin. This was our pocket money. As I got a bit older and stronger I


used to then go on to the hay in October. Because there was all horses then there were no tractors and then from the hay onto the sewing bags of wheat. Bags a wheat then I used to get 12 shillings and sixpence per hundred and I built meself that I should be able to do 200 a day. When I said a day it was from


sunrise till sunset. Through the summer which was good money in those days. Also worked in shearing sheds as a rouseabout on the shearing season. Played football with the Yockanorth Football Club. We were premiers in the Pacola League in 1939. Played


some cricket not as much cricket as I did tennis. I liked tennis. And from there, well we used to look forward to the end of the week coming because there was never much on in those days like there is now. You get one dance every month, six weeks and Saturday was the only day we’d get out playing sport or in the summertime you’d go swimming. You’d go swimming out


in the Murray [River]. Yeah, we was at a… in a shearing shed the night war broke out, September 1940, but didn’t think much of it. Didn’t think. Well, it’s on the other side of the world, it won’t affect us.
I don’t want to get too far ahead just yet. We’ll get onto the war in a bit. Tell me a bit about your


Dad was a hard old bugger. Everything he said was law. You had to do it or else got a hiding [beating]. Mum was just the opposite, she was a kind gentle lady. But they did it the hard way. I can remember Mum, every Thursday was town day.


Used to drive in the horse and buggy those days to Nathalia here to get the supplies. I can remember her writing out the list and in those days the price didn’t go up and down, up and down, it was nearly always the same and she’d work out how much it cost and if it come to over a pound, that’s the equivalent to two dollars, she’d say “I’ll cross that off. I’ll get that next week.” It had to stay under the


pound. That’s the way it worked. As I said Dad was a real hard man to work. It had to be his way or not at all. Had brothers and one sister and they found it just as hard. I can remember as well as anything the sister, when she turned 21


the old man said to her, “Just because you’re 21 don’t think you’re the boss round here!’ So other than that, he was keen on football the old man. He used to always take us to football. He bought a car in about 1928, a Rugby, and he was the world’s worst driver. We had some narrow escapes in that I tell ya.


But other than that there wasn’t much I could tell ya, I don’t think.
Were they religious at all?
No. Well they used to send me to Sunday School. Make me ride a horse about four mile to Sunday School which I didn’t like. But no, they never ever attended the church or anything.
What sort of Sunday School did you go to?


Methodists in those days, Uniting Church now.
What was their background, where did they come from?
Well they were… Mum I think was born in St Arnott and Dad was born up at Bearii. That’s a little country place up the Hume Highway and I think he lived there all his life apparently practically. That’s


where they lived when they first got married in Bearii. That’s about 12 mile up from where we they had the farm and then they shifted down onto the farm. But the farm was only 160 acres and pretty rough country until he bought the 340 acres adjoined and that was quite good land and then


they built the new house about 1929-1930 and that’s where we lived for the, until I joined the army.
Well this is a very small area, small town at the moment, what was it like back then?
It was even smaller. One grocery shop. One café and very, very primitive


in 1918. 1917 or 1918 it was before my time it was flooded from the railway line just down here up to the bridge was up to knees in water and that happened again in 1939, about a mile out there’s a bit of a dip in the road and the only


way you could get into town then was in a horse and gig or a dray because it was too deep. No car or anything’d go through it. 1956 we had more floods water everywhere. I was living in a house just over the back here at that time and we had sandbagged right round the creek and across over


here onto the railway line and I came home for lunch and the bank broke up there and came down and was coming down inside the railway line which would’ve flooded all this country round here. So I rang the Shire and got onto a bloke who’s a member of Parliament in Melbourne now and said


we wanted sandbags. “Oh no,” he says “You don’t want sandbags there,” he said “that’s dry.” So I done the bun a bit [became angry] and I went up and we had a few words and the girls that were in the office could see I was pretty savage so they cleared out and he still tried to tell me there was no water there. And I’d just come from and it was up to my knee. And


I told him to get off his fat so and so and come down and have a look. Which he did and they supplied bags then and we stopped the water from coming down flooding all this area behind us. 1974 or 1975 was floods again but they had but the big bank right round the town by then. And then again in 1993 was more floods. So we get our share of floods round this area.


Don’t think there’s much else I can...
Well the Depression was very hard on a lot of families, how did your family cope and how did you get by?
Well, it was a struggle to cope because as I say, there was no money. When I left school my job was


from Monday till Friday to get either rabbits or ducks and that’s what we lived on as far as the meat was concerned. I can always remember the Thursday when they went to the town they’d come home with sausages. You’d have sausages for tea and they’d get either a forequarter or leg a mutton for Sunday. But other than that you only had, you didn’t have potatoes


and vegetables and pumpkin and all that. You just had potatoes and meat. That’s all you got. Most of our midday meals would be a bit of bread and jam and something like that through those years. Very, very hard indeed.
Where did you get the ducks?
Well the floodwater used to come up and there’s big creeks out


in the Barma Forest and they used to stay there right through because they were plentiful in those times. So I remember one morning getting up and early in the morning and going and getting some ducks and come home cleaned them. They were ready for cooking and we looked across the road there were a clump of trees over there and we could see a motorbike in this clump of trees.


They were half a mile away and we found out that they were the police. They wanted to but they arrived too late. We’d already been and home. Another day I can remember they called in on the motorbike and sidecar, two policemen came in and asked Dad for a cool drink. So we had the old water bag in those days. Give em a drink and one of em’s walkin’ round and this black duck’s wing on the floor


and he’s... on the ground and he’d kickin’ it round with his toe like this. I can remember that as well as anything. Never said a word. They were some of the funny things that used to happen in those days.
So was it not legal to shoot ducks?
Oh no. Oh no. No they were always tryin’ to catch you to shoot ducks.


Now do you remember any swagmen or men coming up from the city for work?
Oh yes. When we shifted up to the second house there was a… we were about a quarter of a mile from a main road going east and west


and they’d often come there and camp on the corner and they’d come down and offer to cut a bit of wood or something as long as you give em something to eat and usually it was bread and jam or something like that and they’d go off with a smile on their face and that used to occur often. They’d just wander round the country lookin’ for something to do and to get a feed. It wasn’t easy, I can tell ya that.


Fishing was another real craze of mine. Go out and sit on the bank. We used to have boats up there and row up and down in the boat and catch plenty of cod in those days. But those days are gone too I think.
Tell us about the school that you went to and how many kids were there and what sort of kids


were there?
Well I suppose at the most there’d only be about 15 there. Generally about 10 to 12, and some of them weren’t over bright but there were some good kids there too, they went on. Teachers used to come, change pretty regular. They’d only be there for a little while. We had one lady


teacher and we used to watch up the road for her coming to work, to school and if she had a red jumper on, look out. I remember one day she was thumping the blackboard and screamin’ and goin’ on at the kids and there was a knock at the door. She opened the door and it was the inspector. They used to come round those days and not tell anybody and they used to blow in on any old time.


She was very embarrassed that day. Not that we minded but. Most of the other teachers were very good.
Why do you think she was so grumpy and what did the red jumper mean?
I don’t know. But she certainly was. She used to fly off the handle very quick and look out.
About how often did she wear the red jumper?


Pretty often. I think she might’ve had three or three of em somehow. She married a fella from here and had a family round here but we were glad to see her go.
Tell me what did you learn about World War I when you were at school?
Very little at all. It was…


you weren’t allowed talk or do anything at school. You had to just sit in and work or else. It was not like nowadays. We’ve got a grand-daughter going to Numukah School down there. She’s only 12 and the last two years her team has won the talking contest up in front of everybody and that’s something we couldn’t


do. You wasn’t allowed to. It wasn’t easy. The strap was pretty regular. If you misbehaved couple a cuts of the. I don’t think it does any harm but they get away with a bit too much now days I think.
Did they teach you anything about the First War?
No very. Knew practically nothing about it at all. The only thing,


the only way I ever knew anything about it I had an uncle that went and he used to, but he didn’t tell me much either. But he when we joined the army he said, “Take my advice, volunteer for nothing. Just take things as they come.” And that’s what we did.
Were there any other veterans in the area?
Of the First World War? Oh yes, there were a lot,


quite a few killed and went from here but there was never much publicity about it that they… in those days.
What did your father do during the First War?
Well he didn’t go to the war anyway, that’s for sure. He was just working and lookin’ after the family.
What did Empire mean to you when you were


young and going to school? Did they teach you much about the British Empire?
Not a great lot. The only in geography we used to learn what was the capital of this and that and what they did and all that sort of thing. But no it didn’t mean much to us at all. It seemed as though it was a far, far away and wouldn’t affect us. But I think it did in the finish.
Did you sing God Save the King and salute the flag?
Oh yes, yes, every


Monday the flag used to fly and we had to sing that before we went into school. That was about the only thing in referral to the throne and that.
Do you remember Empire Day?
In those days? Very seldom. Didn’t mean much at all really.
In this area were there any different races or


There were different religions but not many other races at all. It was as I say you could come into Nathalia and you knew everybody. From one end of the town to the other you’d know them all. But that changed after World War II. They’re all, you hardly know anybody up the street now. Only the one’s that you know been livin’ close to ya.


Were there any Aborigines or Chinese?
Yes, the Chinese had a garden, a market garden just over the railway line down here and they used to grow vegetables and sell em pretty cheap. There was plenty of Aborigines, they were down at Cumragunga down the Barma way. They had a football team that played in the Pocola League


for a good many years and they were good I tell ya, unreal. They’d go out on the ground with their socks up and boots on and five minutes and they’d take the boots off and throw em away and they could kick it further than what anyone else could with boots. There were some good ones amongst them.
Did you mix with any of them?
Yes, I knew quite a few of them. Like, not at that stage because I was too young when they were


playin’ football, but in later years they used to do shearing round here and I knew quite a few of them and they were all pretty good blokes. The majority of them. You get that odd, like the whites too, that odd snag here and there. I can remember, it’d be about before I started football. It’d be in the early 1930’s they played,


Nathalia couldn’t afford to go in the Murray League so they came out into the Pocola League and they were a bit above the standard out there. And they were beating all the other teams by 15 to 20 goals you know. So Cumera got their head together and they brought all these Aborigines from all over Australia


and boy, could they play football. They played out at Pocola in the preliminary final and Nathalia won by one goal. And as soon as they finished their skipper walked over to the Nathalia skipper shook hands with him and he said, “We’ll play you again next Saturday.” There was minor premiers in those days. “We’ll play you again next Saturdee,” and he said, “What’s more we’ll play you on your own ground.”


And they came in here to Nathalia and they belted Nathalia. They were playing with them the Saturday before. And there was one fella, a Sally Briggs, he was a big bloke, six foot two and 13 or 14 stone I spose, and there was a policeman here named Phelan and he was playing with Nathalia and he came running round the boundary bouncing the ball and he didn’t see Briggs comin’


and Briggs downed him and the umpire give a free kick against him for chargin’ the fella. And I can still see Sally Briggs standing on the thing with his hands on his hips laughing his head off cause he’d knocked the policeman over. And the other old fellow, what was his name? Just can’t think of it. He was playin’ fullback and one of them pushed him into a goalpost. So


next time the ball come, he grabbed it at full back he went the full length of the ground and kicked a goal at the other end of the ground and nobody touched him. I can tell ya, they were good.
Were did the aborigines around here live? Did they have a camp outside town?
No, down. You know where Barma is?
No, not really.
It’s about 18 to 20 mile west here on the Murray and they’ve got a station on the other side Cumragunga. They


lived most of them lived there. Some of them didn’t. Some camped out around the river and they used to be everywhere.
Did any of them go to school at all?
Well I don’t know. I don’t know at that stage. We didn’t travel much in those days. When I joined the army my, I’d been to Echuca, Finley, Corowa and Shepparton. That’s as far as I’d been. Never been on a train or anything.


I think she was a funny old life. .
What did you do for entertainment around here say on a Saturday night?
There was none. Come to the pictures [movies]. There was a picture show in here every Saturday night and we used to ride the bikes. That was 12 or 13 mile out, we used to ride them in and there’d be nothing for when time to go home there’d


be 15 to 20 all on pushbikes. That’s the main way you travelled.
Was there any trouble with the local blacks? Was there every any drunkeness


or problems like that?
Oh yes. Yeah, they at times, yeah at times. But no more than some of the whites were I don’t think. There was one fella named Henry Charles, he used to play centre half forward, he was a big bloke and my brother Ron used to play. No, Ron used to play centre half forward and Charles used to play centre half back, and they became


pretty good mates. And there was an old Aborigine bloke, I can’t just think of his name now but he done a fair bit of boxing and for some reason he picked on the brother and he was gonna have him after the match and he was gonna do this and do that and do something else. And this Charles said to Ron he said, “Don’t worry,” he said “I’ll take of him.” And when the old fella come over Charles stepped in and


dropped him on the spot. So that ended his.
Were the blacks allowed to go into the local pub?
Well I dunno cause I never went to the pub. They, I think they like everywhere they used to buy a few bottles and that and get drunk pretty easy but no worse than


some of the whites, they were just as bad.
Was there any conflict here between Catholics and Protestants?
No, I don’t think so. They had their own church and they used to go to it and everybody used to mix with one another and never any problems at all.


Did you ever go into Melbourne?
I’d never been to Melbourne until I joined the army, never.
Did you have a wireless?
Yes, and it was with the wet battery was those days. Like a car battery that was what it was hooked up to. There was no electricity


and I can always remember the old man he’d sit beside it listenin’ to the news and immediately the news was finished off she went and she’d stay off. He controlled us. So we didn’t get much into music or anything else. Just the news.
No cricket?
Well I don’t think cricket was ever broadcast much in those days. This is goin’ back


70 odd years you know. A long time ago.
Now in the 1930s did you have much knowledge of events in Europe leading up to the World War?
No. Not a great lot. We used to get a paper I think once a week or twice a week or something and read a little bit


about it but being so far away we thought well it’ll never affect us you know and didn’t take much interest in it. Not until war broke out and after a month or two then and you started seein’ fellas in uniform and that you sort of got interested in it then.
Interviewee: Eric Haldon Archive ID 1492 Tape 02


Eric, can you tell us what you knew about Nazism before the war?
Very little. Very little. Wasn’t very interested in what was going on over there. Might see the headline but didn’t go into it in any detail.
Did you read the newspapers much at all?
Yes, but we used to only get a newspaper about twice a week.


And usually by the time you got to it, it was pretty stale, the news.
So what made you take an interest? I suppose I should put it this way. Can you tell me what you were doing the day the war started, the day the war was declared?
Yeah, I was a rouseabout in a shearing shed.
Shearing shed?
Shearing shed. They were shearing sheep, yeah.


Three pound a week and me keep, six 6 dollars. Yes, we were in the quarters they had for the shearers. They used to all go to the one shed around the district and we were all getting into bed when the boss come over and said, “Well, she’s on.” Took us a while to wake up to what he was talkin’ about. That was when war was declared.


What was the reaction for you and your mates?
Nothing really. We were, I know, I thought, well, thousands of miles away on the other side of the world. Won’t worry us. Didn’t think much about it until suddenly the fellas in uniform started appearing round the district and got a bit


interested in it then. Used to read up the papers and see what was doing.
Now you said fellas in uniform, do you mean recruitment soldiers?
Yes. AIF [Australian Imperial Force] 6th Division, they were the early ones.
So what were they doing exactly around Nathalia?
Well, they’d come on leave. Come on leave and home every now and again for a day or two and…
These were chaps who lived here?


Oh yes.
They’d joined the AIF?
Had joined the AIF yeah.
Were there many of them?
Oh yes, there’s quite a lot, quite a lot. Well the 6th Division was formed quickly after war broke out. That was the… I suppose a lot of them it was a job because work was hard to get. Money was scarce and I suppose there was a bit of adventure about it and travel.


But a lot, the travel didn’t turn out as we thought.
No holiday resorts?
So life in Nathalia was quite tough during the Depression?
Oh yeah very tough. Very tough. Well when you’re on a wage of a pound thirty. I was driving a 14 horse


team. There were no tractors in those days a 14 horse team for fellas out in the country there. Thirty-five shillings a week and me keep, so that’s $3.50 a week equivalent. So you can see how scarce money was.
Now, how did you come up in the ladder here? You had three brothers and a sister, where did you rank yourself there as far as age?


Clarrie was the eldest brother. Then Ron. Then Lila and then I was next.
Lila’s the sister. OK, yeah it’s the three brothers, that includes you? Three brothers one. Three boys one girl?
I had another brother died in; he was about 19 from pneumonia. So he’d a been elder than, he was older than me. Then I


I had another brother a lot younger, Colin, he was drowned when he was only two and a half. So we didn’t have a very good run there.
So you’re older brothers Ron and Clarrie how much older were they to you?
Well, Clarrie was born in 1910 and Ron I think in 1911


and I was 1919.
So what did they think about the war when it started?
I don’t think they... well, they were like the rest of us. They didn’t dream anything about it or read anything about it and I reckon you know, it was away on the other side of the world and let it go.
What was life like in Nathalia when the war was declared about that time?
Well, there


was never much at all. Like pictures of a Saturday night. You might get a ball, a dance once every six weeks. Something like that. There was only the sport of a Saturday afternoon, that was the main attraction. Cricket, tennis in summertime. Sometime we used to play golf and football in the wintertime.
So it was a pretty simple life?


Oh yeah very simple. Very simple. As I said earlier, the furthest I’d travelled was Echuca, Finley, Corowa and Shepparton. I’d never been any further. Never been on the train. So used to have to ride the bike wherever we went.
So the army offered you something? When you came. I mean for instance when you were in Nathalia and you spoke to soldiers what would they say about the


AIF, the guys who had joined up locally?
They reckoned it was alright. Discipline was pretty tough but they reckoned it was alright. A chance to see the world and that. They didn’t seem to be worried much about it at that stage. I think most of us when joined up thought it was just gonna be one big bit of fun you know. But it turned out different to that.
Were there any recruitment officials going round


this area?
No, I don’t… well they may have. They may have had some from the Light Horse. The Light Horse trained on horses pre-war so there could’ve been something there, but I don’t know. When I was 19 I wanted to join the Light Horse and the fella I was working for give me a horse and


saddle and everything but my old man said, “No, you better not go.” So I didn’t. It would been handy had I have because anybody with Light Horse experience was promoted as soon as they went into the army; whether they were any good or not was another matter.
So Light Horse was considered to be sort of like an elite unit?
Well it was a sort of a training and they had discipline


and in it and but that’s what it was all about.
Was the Light Horse more respected or… ?
…than the normal infantry?
Well, because of what the Light Horse did in the First World War over in Egypt. It was unreal what they did. So they were sort a looked up to all the time.
You knew a few veterans that went over in the First World War


from Nathalia?
No, no, not really. I was too young then. Well, I wasn’t born until after the war.
But I mean yeah, the ones like in the 1930s when you were old enough to know.
Oh yeah, when they came back? Yes, but we didn’t seem to take much interest in ‘em then. We knew they were in it and we knew there was some did a bit a braggin’ about it and then others said well that wasn’t right, so. That’s the way it goes.


Did you come from a very religious sort of background- upbringing?
No, no.
What is your background religiously? Baptised?
Well I went to Church to Sunday School when I was a kid; I was forced to go there but I never had much to do with the church at all. Still don’t go but.
You a Catholic or Protestant?
Uniting or


Uniting they are now. Uniting Church. That’s what I would go under but as I say I don’t have much to do with them.
This area Nathalia, what was its religious breakdown? I mean was it mainly Catholic, Protestant?
Mixed. It was mixed. It was a bit of everything and there was a Presbyterian Church here as well. They had three; Uniting Church, Catholic and Presbyterian. So


they were well mixed up. But I don’t think anybody worried about their religion in those days. As far as mixing with people.
What about the Catholics and Protestants, they had a bit of a tension going on then?
I wouldn’t think so, no.
You don’t think so?
No. I knew a lot of Catholics and they treated us no different to what we treated them and they were all pretty good.
There was no animosity from other you know a lot of people talk about


this sort of you know, Protestants employing their own people and having that sort of tension?
No I don’t think that were here. If there was a job goin’ if you got it well, you were lucky and it didn’t matter who you were or what you were as long as you were able to work.
Can you remember any time in Nathalia recruitment


posters coming up?
No, no. No I can’t, they could’ve but those days see, we were way out, 12 mile out in the country and only coming in about once a week and the only time you hear any yakkin’, talking, when you had a ball or something like that and you all got together a lot a young fellas and see what was happening.
How long after


the actual war was declared did you decide to go?
Well, war was declared in September 1940 and it was in July, was at a dance out at Yocka Hall one night. Few of us there talkin’ and somebody said, “Well, what about joinin’ the army?” So a mate a mine said, “Yeah, we’ll be in it”. Four said, “Yeah, I’ll be in it. I’ll be in it.”


So we had to come the next day to the local doctor to have a medical and only two of us turned up. But as fate has it, one fella was only 19 and his father objected to him joining the army. He later joined the air force, was trained in Canada and was shot down and killed over Berlin in the later part of the war. The other fella


never joined up anything. Never got in the army at all. Wasn’t interested.
But he’d promised to join up with you?
Yeah, he’d promised to come with us but he didn’t.
Who’d you join up with?
A fella named Bill Lindsay. Him and I joined the same day and we were discharged the same day.
Tell us about the process of enlisting into the AIF. Where did you have to go from Nathalia?


Racecourse in Melbourne.
That’s a fair hike.
Went down by train and walked through the gates and the old saying there, “You’ll be sorry. You’ll be sorry.” You hear it goin’, ringin’ in your ears. And we were in there for six weeks I spose or more. But it was a shambles I tell you. They would call you


on parade of a morning and they’d call your name and as long as someone said yep, you were right. They never checked the numbers and the fellas that had been around a bit and knew what to do they’d say, “If they call my name today ,will ya yell out yeah? I’m goin’ home for a couple a days.” and they used to go home for a couple a days and come back and they weren’t even missed. It was strange I’ll tell ya.


That’s pretty good isn’t it? I’m impressed. How did your father react to you joining up?
He didn’t say anything. I suppose he couldn’t. I was 21 and…
He didn’t say anything? Didn’t disapprove?
No, no, no.
No. Didn’t say anything. Mum used to worry I know that, but I don’t think Dad worried


What was your father’s… did he have any involvement in the First World War at all?
No, no.
How did your mum react?
She didn’t want us to go I don’t think, but she accepted it after we once got into the uniform, well, not much she could do about it really.
So she didn’t say anything


No. No, just said to look after ourselves and just be careful and see you when you get back. But…
What was her memory of the First World War?
They didn’t discuss it at all hardly. The only, although they could’ve; in my name you’ll see Birdwood there. Well I think I was named after General


Birdwood in the First World War. That’s where it had to come from, there was nowhere else. So they might a been thinking something about it at that stage.
Looking back now do you think that it did affect them?
It, well, it did affect Mum that’s for sure.
Why’s that?
Well, cause she was worried that we mightn’t come back.
Actually I was meaning the First World War?
No. No they didn’t mention the First


World War much at all. There were a couple of uncles of mine, of Mum’s, brother-in-law went to the war and another brother-in-law went but he was well, they said he was dressed up as a woman in Paris away from the front line. So we didn’t take much notice of him. But


the other one was a fair dinkum fella and he said, “Volunteer for nothing. Just let things go as they take their course.” So that’s what we did.
So you have an uncle that used to dress up as a woman in Paris?
So they say.
So that he could get away from the front?
So they say, I don’t know whether that was right or not.
That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that. Very ingenious. You had two older brothers,


did they join up with you or…
No, no.
What were their impressions?
No,they were both married and one was, he was on a share farming on a dairy farm up in the Kiewa Valley and the other fella Ron was cutting sleepers for the railways out in the forest. And if you were on that they wouldn’t let you go.


What, they in protected industries?
Well they were, but I mean, you could if you volunteered to go but later when the conscription part come in they wouldn’t consider those fellows at all because they wanted them to cutting the sleepers for the railway.
So in the end they never served at all?
No, no.
So we were at the Caulfield Racecourse, did you take


a few days off?
No, well I wasn’t wide enough awake in those days I don’t think to know what to do and how to go about it. But we had some rather funny episodes there I tell you.
Well, tell us about them.
If you had Light Horse service or had a bit of age say in your thirties, you get promotion. We had an Englishman he was well in his thirties,


a little short fellow and they give him two stripes [made him a corporal]. Well of a morning, they’d line you up out on the front and call the roll and then they’d come along and there was thousands of troops there and they’d come along so far, perhaps to about 20 fellas, and they’d say, “Right, down to the cookhouse to peel potatoes.” Well they called him this morning. He picked off his


20 and got out in front and about turn and got out in front and away he went. ‘Left, right, left, right, left, right’, till he got to the cookhouse. ‘Halt and about turn.’ When he about turned he had nobody, they’d all gone. They’d all shot through on him. We were all laughin’ but we soon got for our life because they’d just grab anybody and send you down to the cookhouse. The same fellow a while after had us up out on the… in front of the park


at the front of the racecourse, the main entrance. We were marching parallel with the road and he should’ve given a right wheel instead of that he give a left wheel. We left wheeled over a seat and out across the road. And by the time he halted it we had the road blocked off. Cars were stopped. The trams were stopped. The people were roarin’ laughin’. Anyway we eventually got off and he gave us a lecture then. He said, “You give


me a go and I’ll give you a go.” But he didn’t last long. About another week he was gone, I dunno what happened to him. We never seen him again. But it was rather funny.
Did you find the life of military discipline difficult at the start?
Yes. When we first joined you go there and there’s people from every walk of life. Bank mangers,


bank clerks, teachers, everybody. And how they ever got them to work as a unit had me tossed. Because they, we had no idea of what was we were supposed to do with the marching and all these exercises and that you know. But eventually they did. We used to be abused a lot because as soon as you come out of action you were back to the old arms


drill marching and all this sort a caper and when you went backwards and we used to be very crooked on them. But realised later that if you could get the whole unit to act as one it’d save many lives. Cause as soon as something went wrong you knew what you had to do and you did it. That’s about... In Caulfield


I met up with a fella called Roy Sellick, he played football with Camberwell and if you played football you could get out of any duty that you liked. So we played football three days a week and they’d detail ya for a kitchen or cleanin’ up this that and something. Say ,“No, I’m a footballer.” “Oh, alright go.” And they’d leave ya. So that’s the way we put in.


They called for volunteers at times they were a bit smarter than what we were I think. Truck drivers. Want truck drivers. They’d rush out volunteer for truck drivers and for the next week you’d see em wheeling wheelbarrows round collectin’ all the rubbish around the barracks.
Is that when you first learned not to volunteer?
Well, the uncle said don’t volunteer for anything so we reckoned


it worked alright. Yes.
So how long were you at Caulfield Racecourse?
I‘d say about six weeks, six weeks there and then we went out to Mount Martha. That was there we got all our needles vaccination and etc. And we were there about a fortnight


recovering from them and then we went to Albury, into the Albury Showgrounds. Our battalion was training at Bandiana. That’s just out of Albury.
Now you weren’t put in any battalion yet were you? You were just reinforcements ?
No we were reinforcements for that battalion.
Which one?
2/23rd Infantry.
So you had two weeks off after the initial six weeks


training? Is that what you said you had leave?
No, we went to Mount Martha for these needles and injections
Right yes, yes.
And then when we finished them then we went to Albury, were taken to Albury.
Now what were these needles and injections they were giving you?
Against all diseases. We had the vaccination and the other one, what’s that for, they cut you and dab stuff on it? You had needles in this arm and that arm and you could more or less had nearly a fortnight lyin’ on your back. It was too sore to


lie on your side. Anything that you could pick up overseas.
Now you were still with your mate weren’t you?
Yeah, yeah.
The chap you joined up with?
We went right through together.
2/23rd all the way through? What was training like in Albury?
It was quite good there. We were issued with rifles there and we really thought then that we were soldiers. Then


do a 40 mile march and 20 mile march and all this. And arms left and how to slope arms and guard duty and all that sort of thing. And it was good in Albury because the Albury people were exceptionally good to us.
You said you did a 40 mile march?
One day you were expected to do that?
No, not one day. You’d march out so far and then have a bit of a rest and then you’d go


the rest of it but.
Over how long would they let you march that distance, two days sort a thing?
Yeah. Two days would cover it. When we went to the Middle East, our training there, once we weren’t in action, every Saturday was a 25 mile route march. We’d march 25 mile of a Saturday and play football of a Sunday. That’s how fit we were.


25 mile route march.
Yeah, through the sand.
Find that tiring? Initially you would have?
No, by the time we got onto that we were pretty fit and you had to get up six o’clock every morning and you had exercises and sport of a Wednesday afternoon, play football or something like that and we were young and fit those days.


Did you have any background in rifles before? Did you shoot rabbits and things like that?
Yeah, yeah. When we were… used to go shoot this 40 pair to send every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to Melbourne. We used to have the ordinary rifle and the elder brother Clarrie he was the boss of it really and we were only started


from 15 and that and if we missed a shot, look out. He’d go crook [get angry]. You had to shoot em through the head, the rabbit through the head, so we were pretty good shots. There was no doubt there.
Could you hit a moving target?
Yes, well we used to shoot foxes on the run without any problem.
What sort of guns?
We had a shotgun for them.
Including rabbits as well, shotguns?


No, no. Pea rifle, the little 22.
When you went to Albury you would’ve been using .303’s [.303 calibre rifles]?
Yeah, yeah. Yes, we used to get up to all sorts of pranks and we had one chap out on the rifle range and I think he’d a been still shootin’ at his target 300-yards and wouldn’t hit it.


The officer was givin’ him a pretty hard time so we had a bit of a conference and we got one each side of him then and instead of shootin’ at our target, and me mate over the other side he’d shoot a this fella’s target and next time I’d shoot at it. He got a pass and the officer got off his back then. There were some funny things


I tell ya.
So if you couldn’t shoot properly what would happen?
Well, I don’t know. I’ve often thought afterwards what happened when he got into action and he had to make sure he got a hit. He was an awful shot. But we got the officer off his back anyway.
What was it like to train with .303 rifles?


Quite good, quite good, good. The majority of them they’d kick a little bit you know, but not much. Jumpin’ the gun a bit, when I was over the Middle East I’d been in hospital and I came out and they gave me another gun, another rifle, and we had to do a bit of target practice and lyin’ on the ground and


firing and I fired this thing and it lifted me about that far off the ground.
This a .303?
303 yeah, and I fired two shots and it wouldn’t fire anymore. The sergeant said, “You’re not holdin’ it right.” And I said, “Well, you have a go.” So he got down and he fired one. He wouldn’t fire anymore. I don’t know what was wrong with it but talk about kick. Lift ya off the


ground. But I got rid of it pretty quick.
A bit faulty was it?
Something wrong with it somewhere. It was no good at all.
Did they train you in bayonet drill?
Oh yeah, yeah.
Can you tell us more about that?
Well, you were lined up with your bayonet on and shown how to go about it.


How you’re to... if somebody come at you what you did. When you get yours on top of his and another one and then you butt stroked him and we only did one bayonet charge and that was at Tobruk. But luckily we didn’t have to bayonet anybody.
What was your impression of close combat in that sense, I mean, before you went, when you were training? Before you had battle experience?


Well, it was all a sort of a game I would say, when we were training, because we’d never experienced what would happen when you went into action, fair dinkum [real] action. This was just a sort a bit of fun really. To be quite clear. But it paid to learn exactly what to do and once you’d learnt it well, you didn’t forget it then.
Was it difficult to


master bayonet fighting?
No, not really. No, not really. It was a method in it they’d worked out and what they reckoned was the best one and I spose it would be too.
Can you walk us through the drill again? So if you had the .303 with a bayonet on facing the other person in training.
Yeah, well you hold your arm up like that. If I got on this side of you, if you were coming at


me I’d force that right down like that and then I’d have the other hand on the butt of the rifle and I’d come up and I’d hit you on the head with the butt of the rifle and then when you fell over I’d stab ya.
Right, I hope you don’t do that to me.
On the other side if you came this way you had to be quick and when you got there you’d quick thrust and you’d have him before he knew what was happening. Unless he was trained better than you.


But luckily we didn’t have to use it.
What about conditions at Albury, can you tell us about?
In the showgrounds they were quite good. There was one thing I could tell ya about. We were in pavilions right round, they made it into quarters and we had one fella come to us and I’m pretty


sure he hadn’t had a wash for 12 months. He was absolutely filthy and you could smell him a mile away. So we told him he better have a shower. He just grinned, didn’t take any notice. Couple a days later we decided we’d do something about it. So we grabbed him pulled all his clothes off and took him over into the horse trough in the showground,


two scrubbin’ brushes and plenty of soap and we held him down and scrubbed him up. He was lovely pink when we finished. But it cured him. He used to have a shower. But oh gee, he was horrible.
Was there any particular reason why he didn’t want to bathe?
I don’t know. Apparently the way he lived or something it was just. He was shockin’. But


we cured it anyway.
So the camp conditions were good. What sort of food were you given there?
Good. Good food.
What sort?
A bit of everything. Everything. We had an officer, he was very strict, we had big long tables and if you was on mess orderly you had to line the bottles of sauce or whatever there was up. You had to line the cups up. You had to line the knives and


forks and spoons. It all had to be exact or else look out. But it was it was real excellent.
Is this when you got introduced to bully beef and biscuits?
No. No, you didn’t see bully beef or biscuits. We didn’t get that till we got over the Middle East.
What about sleeping conditions in Albury?
We had palliasse, straw.


What were they like?
They a bit hard but you soon got used to ‘em.
How long did you actually stay in Albury for altogether?
Well, we went there in early September I think it was. Yeah, it would be in September, and we left about March. Went from there to Bacchus


Marsh. Darley, the army camp at Darley, just out of Bacchus Marsh.
So you had six months training there?
Oh yeah.
That’s a fair amount of training.
Yeah, well you had to do it. There’s no good a goin’ in raw because if you went in raw well, you were in big trouble.
Did you feel confident about your ability by that stage?
Oh yeah, yeah. We were quite cocky in fact.
I understand the 2/23rd is called Albury’s


That’s right.
Why is that?
Well, the battalion trained there and all the reinforcements trained there and the Albury people were absolutely marvellous to us. It was as good as home there. Often got asked out for tea and all that sort of thing and in repayment we still support Albury’s Children’s Ward in the Albury Hospital. Even up to date now,


there’s always money sent to them.
So it’s a very affectionate sort of term?
Yeah. Oh yes, it was absolutely marvellous in Albury.
Were most of the people from the 2/23rd regional sort of people from you know, like yourself, regional Victoria?
Yeah, yeah round here Albury. All round this part. Some from New South Wales but different battalions had different places. See the battalion, the 2/24th, our sister battalion, they trained at Wangaratta


and they were mostly from round there. All that from there got sent there. So it was quite good.
After Albury you went to Darley you said?
Tell us about the training then, what happened?
It was similar. Still route marches and drill. Slope arms and carry on. Bit of everything just the same old thing over and over and over again.
What was the purpose of your transfer


from there from Albury to Darley?
To get ready to go overseas. We were only in Darley, we went there in March and we left in April.
After that?
After Darley? We


entrained there one afternoon and crowded in like sardines in a tin. Had to change trains at Albury. We got to Sydney next morning early. Freezing cold and then we were taken down to the jettyies and put on barges and boats and up


the harbour then lookin’ for this boat. It was a bit of a fog that we were gonna get on the… suddenly, this, well it looked like a tower to me, loomed up out of the fog and someone said, “It might be the Queen Mary.” Said “Don’t be silly.” And sure enough, it was the Queen Mary. It was soon as we put into the doors where we could unload there’s a wild scramble to


get yourself a bed. Four of us got into a room in on D deck, about the middle of the ship. The worst thing we could a done. We thought it was alright. It was alright until we got into the Equator and the heat. We only had one vent air vent in the cabin. Whoever got into bed first’d grab the air


vent but he’d wake up in a lather of perspiration somebody else had come along and taken it. Wasn’t funny.
Huge ship isn’t it?
Unreal. It was all the quarters of it. See had they been torpedoed, they had a button up on the bridge to shut all these doors, watertight doors, and if you was in that section


and the doors went bang you had to find a way up top or you’d drown. And it took quite a while to learn which stairs you had to go to get up to the top. Boat drill was shocking. Had 6,000-troops on the Queen Mary and they had so many boats along the life boats and your platoon would be given a certain lifeboat


and you had to find it. Well, talk about mix ups, for quite a few days before we got it down to we knew where to go and what to do. But when we left Sydney one morning out through the Heads and came down to Jervis Bay.


We were there for a couple of days and they up anchor again and we went out and we joined the convoy. There was the Queen Elizabeth, Mauritania, Aquitania and another one I can’t think of the name of it, all loaded with troops and the cruiser [HMAS] Sydney was escort


and we set off from there to go to Fremantle.
Interviewee: Eric Haldon Archive ID 1492 Tape 03


Eric I was wondering, could you tell us a bit about your brother?
Which, the younger one?
Your brother that joined up in the AIF?
Well, he’s about three years younger than me so he’d only be 18 when I joined up. I’m not sure what date he joined,


but just near the finish of Alamein I got a letter from home and Dad said, “You’ll see Ken soon.” And of course, we were under the impression that we were to come home instead of goin’ to Alamein. And I thought, oh well, got another thing comin’, we’ll be awhile. But then I got a letter from the brother. He was in the Middle East come over as reinforcements for the 2/43rd


and we had a big parade in Palestine, the whole division all lined up and he was there and I met him there.
Was it good to see him or were you worried about him?
Oh no, no I wasn’t. Not much good a worrying about anybody really. You just got to you know, go along. I hadn’t seen him. I’d been over there nearly two years and was glad to see


him and get all the news from home. But he, at that stage he suggested that I claim him into our battalion which you could do. Brothers could transfer and I said, “No, stay where you are. You’ve got enough worries lookin’ after your blokes round you without havin’ a brother there.” That made it a damn sight harder.


So he stayed in the 43rd.
What do you mean? Why is it harder?
Well, if you got into action you’d probably put yourself out a bit more if you thought your brother was out there wounded or something than one of the other. Although we did have several sets of brothers in it but I didn’t like the idea of it.


What sort of bloke was your brother?
He was he was a good bloke. Good bloke.
Of course. But apart from that?
Well, he was not much different to the rest of us, the way they were brought up and helped here, helped there and I think he enjoyed his stay in the army. Got through it alright. But


he was like me, he didn’t drink, so that made a big difference to some of ‘em in the army I can tell you that. I didn’t drink and a lot of them in my section and in the platoon got to know me pretty well and come beer day every now and again they’d have so much beer


they’d come flockin’ round lookin’ to borrow some money to buy their beer and then the pay day they’d come back and pay me back again. But the day or two afterwards they’d be back borrowin’ again. Yeah, the drink was pretty crook on some of them I tell ya. Drowned their sorrows.
Did you drink at all?
No. Well, when I


say no, that’s not quite right. I only ever got drunk once, that was when I was in the army. I never touched it at all until we were on leave in Melbourne goin’ back to Queensland. We were delayed a day and, “C’mon, we’ll go down to the pub!’ Went down to the pub and they kidded me to have one drink and I had two and then three and then four and then five and by five o’clock


I was out like a light and I didn’t know anything until ten o’clock I woke up and I’m in this nice bed with nice white sheets and everything looked lovely all around and couldn’t work it out but I wanted to go to the toilet. I didn’t know where I was or anything. And just then a knock come at the door and a young lady come in. One a me mates had taken me home to his


place put me to bed. And that was the after that I might have one beer two beers but after I got malaria when I come home from New Guinea if I had two beers it’d hit me. And I’d be crook for a week or two. So I knocked it off altogether. Haven’t had a beer for ages and ages.


Alright, tell me about when you were younger, how did you get on with your brother then before the war?
We all got on fairly well. Yeah, pretty good in fact. We were about the same build and as I said money was pretty scarce so some times if he was out away doin’ something and I wanted to do something, I’d pinch some of his clothes and put on. And he was a bit fussy then. When he’d


found out I’d worn ‘em he wouldn’t wear them again. So other than that, we got on really well.
Did you look after him, teach him things?
No not really. Because as I say he was 18 when I joined the army. Well I’d only see him on leave from then till when I joined the police force in 1948.
But when you


were younger, growing up together?
Yeah, when we were goin’ to school. As I say I think I told you about getting’ the bloke and givin’ him a trouncin’ for callin’ us Ned and Dan Kelly. And he was a bit young for that then. But no, we always got on pretty good.
Now when you joined up and you


travelled down to Caulfield you said that you’d never been outside of this area at all and you’d never been on a train it must’ve been a bit of a shock and a bit of excitement for you?
Well yeah. Yes, but I dunno whether I was wise or what but things were happening all around I thought you know, I’ve got to watch what I do and when I do it and how I do it. Otherwise


I’d be in trouble. When we got to Melbourne. Hope the wife’s not listenin’. We met a fella from Finley and he’d been in the Light Horse and he’d been about and knew what he was about and where he’d been and what he’d done. So when we got down there he said, this is when we went down for our first medical in Melbourne. He said, “When it’s over…” We were too late to catch the train home that day so we stayed at the, what they called the People’s


Palace, a very cheap place. He said, “I’ll take youse out tonight to show you a few things round the city.” So “Yeah, alright.” We decided we’d go with him. But where did he go? He went straight to a hotel in Exhibition [Street]. Little Lonsdale or one of those little streets anyway. Hotel and upstairs and it was where the prostitutes were.


So we walked into the room. Sat down and he ordered a beer all round and I had a soft one and he before we were there two minutes three women sorted ‘emselves out and come over and joined the throng. But Bill and I weren’t interested in ‘em and they soon learnt that and two of them walked off and the other one stayed with ‘Old Rupus’ we called him.


And anyway he arranged to spend the night with her. So he said to me, he said to her, “You go downstairs,” he said, “I’ll meet you at the foot a the stairs in a minute.” And away she went and he pulled out his wallet and he had it loaded with money. I don’t know where he got it from. Took a bit out of it and he said, “Here, look after this.” he said, “I might get hit over the head where I’m goin’.” And away he went. And I looked after his money till the next mornin’. He came back in time to catch the train


home. But all those little things catch in your mind pretty quick and you as I say, you gotta look out what you’re doin’ and what you’re not gonna do. Yeah.
What was your impression of Melbourne at that time?
Well I didn’t know much about it actually cause we went through at night to the Caulfield Racecourse


that time and then we went to this Palace and then we come home. Hadn’t seen much of it at all. But when we went back a fortnight later there, we used to do route marches all round through different suburbs and the fruiterers were our favourite fellas. They’d come out with a case a oranges or a case a something and throw ‘em, few’d get ‘em and a few wouldn’t. Saturday,


Sunday, we soon learnt that don’t just hang round the quarters in the racecourse, get away. I had relatives in Melbourne and we used to go to the football, watch Essendon play and out to the relatives. Cause if you stayed in the racecourse somebody’d grab you for a job. You had to do this, do that, do something else. So it was quite


So did you go into the city on leave?
Not a great lot. Not a great lot at all. Not into the actual city itself. I used to go out Port Melbourne. I had an aunt that lived out there and I used to go out there for them to see them. But no, we didn’t go into the city much at all. Didn’t like the city, it was a bit strange to us.


What struck you as different about the big city?
Well, people everywhere and more or less ignore you and some of them offered you cigarettes and all that sort of thing and pattin’ you on the back, but others just walk over the top of you and it was all so


strange to me that I was busy thinkin’ how to how I could handle it all. That was the funny part of it.
What did you find difficult to handle?
Well, find your way around and different things that would go on you know. Blokes’d tell you certain stories and you’d shake your head. You wouldn’t know whether they were fair dinkum or whether they weren’t.


And it wasn’t easy. I mean Bill had been around a bit, me mate, but I hadn’t. I’d only been just locally around here and I knew all the ropes round here but when you got outside it was vastly different altogether.
What sort of stories did you hear?
All sorts. All sorts.


You never knew whether, well I didn’t know whether to believe them or not, some of them. But you’d always get the smart fellas there that had been around a bit more than you, they’d put it over you quick and lively if they could. If you believed what they said.
What sort of things?
All sorts. Where to get all these women and where to drink the best beer and all this caper.


Did you go to Young and Jackson’s [Hotel]?
I think I only ever went in there about once for a drink. But I don’t think that was in… no, that wasn’t while I was in the army, it was after, when I was livin’ down in Melbourne. But no, used to steer clear of most of those places.
Did you smoke at all?
No, no. Brother


Ron smoked and Ken and I used to, we were only pinchers, we used pinch some of his tobacco and duck down the paddock and have a smoke and come home and Mum’d say “Who’s been smoking?” “Not us.” But you could smell it all over us. But I didn’t take to it at all, that dry horrible taste in your mouth. Never smoked at all then.


Now I wonder, being as you were a small town boy and used to quite a lot of freedom and I guess you know, doing your own thing. How did you find it being in the army and all the ‘left right, left right’, being given orders and so little freedom?


The only freedom. Luckily when we went to Albury we had used to have freedom of a night. We’d finish at tea time, six o’clock at night and the night you could go down the town but you’re supposed to be back by ten. But we used to go till all hours and we’d climb over the fence and get in that way. But it was tough, but I mean we didn’t’ seem to mind. I think it done us good to get a bit a discipline of what


to do and when to do it and all that sort a thing. It made a bit difference.
What sort of things did you do down in the town when you climbed over the fence?
Only wander round the street and have a few ice creams and drinks. And there was one place they used to have those dodgem cars, electric ones you know, and we were there one night and there was a young fella, I suppose he’d only be 17 or 18 and he brought a girlfriend there


and he got in one and he thought he owned the place the way he was. He’d been in ‘em a fair bit and once you’d got in ‘em a while you knew which way you wanted to go you could work it out. So we ganged up on him. Soon as he’d appear four or five of us used to grab a car and they’d have him in the middle and we’d crunch him from one side then we’d crunch him from the other side. He’d be there and the time’d be up and he’d gone nowhere. He didn’t like it at all.


Just devilment. But we never got into any brawls or anything there at all. It was always pretty quiet.
How did you get on with the other blokes?
No problem at all, the majority of them. There was just an odd bloke here and there that’d… but they soon learnt too that the discipline come into it and behave yourself or else.


Well, I spose there was time some blokes came that you didn’t have much time for right through but you just had to accept it and do your best.
Did you make many friends?
Yes, yes, yes. There were lots of friends then.
Can you


tell us about some of them?
Well, when we used to go on leave we’d generally work it round so that we went with four or five of us’d go together, mates rather than go with strangers. Cause even in your own company which was what, 120 men, there was blokes you just knew who they were but that was all. You didn’t know


anything about them or anything. You mix with your own platoon mainly and we had no problems there. Much later on we were on leave in Tel Aviv and they used to get up to some pranks there. The drunks and fight and get locked up all sorts. And we were in a… went into a small shop


with souvenirs and all that that sort of thing and there was two girls, spose they’d be 20, perhaps a bit more, and for once we found that they weren’t out to take us down like most of them were. They were very friendly and they must’ve trusted us. There was three of us or four of us I think it was, and they gave us the equivalent of


10 pound Australian to go to our canteen and buy chocolate and tinned fruit. They couldn’t buy it over there. Well if we’d a been drunkards we’d a gone out and boozed their money and they’d a got nothing. But we did, we went and bought the chocolate and tinned fruit and took it back to em and they were really rapt with it. But there were some funny episodes


in the different things on leave. Some of em got up to awful pranks and…
What sort of pranks?
All sorts. All sorts. In Beirut the New Zealanders were there, the Maoris. Oh boy, don’t look sideways at them and they’d fight ya.


And they had a big square with all streets, small streets coming into it and that’s where they used to play two-up [betting game]. Of course illegal, and this day we were there havin’ a look. We didn’t play two-up much and a provo [military police] police sergeant comes down and tried to... on each, where each street come in they’d have a gang of about 10 or 12 men to stop anybody, the heads comin’


in. And they turned him back and told him to get off out of it. He went. Then about not long after a Jeep come along with three or four of them in it and a lieutenant. Now the lieutenant’s standin’ up in the back a the ute [utility truck] givin’ a lot a orders and a real smart alec and he came in the street where the Maoris were. The worst place


he could’ve come in. He started tellin’ em what they could do and what they couldn’t do. And they got a bit rough because they’d fight anything and he pulled his gun. And before he knew what was happenin’ they had him down, took the gun off him, broke his arm threw him in the back of the truck and said, “Get out and don’t come back.!” They were wild boys, I was glad they were on our side.


Alright, now when we left off earlier you were on the Queen Mary joining up with the convoy.
In the Pacific I presume? The Pacific? Out in the Pacific?
Well we started in the Pacific and then go and went round through the [Great Australian] Bight to


There was one little story I must tell you about that. There were 6,000 troops on the Queen Mary and they had a great big mess room where they used to dine and there was 2,000 sitting. You had your time when you could go there for your meal. And every morning for the first two or three mornings we had preserved eggs for breakfast.


They were preserved and every now and again one would be bad and the smell’d go right through the... So on about the third or fourth morning quite a few of us we were on mess orderly duty at the table servin’ it out and they mutinied, bangin’ their dixies on the table makin’ a hell of a row, 2,000 of em. And the officer rather foolishly


he ran in jumped up on the table. Then he started to say something. Before he got much out 2,000 eggs come flyin’ at him. I’ll never forget that. We laughed and run back into the kitchen out of the way. He called ‘em an ignorant lot of so and so’s over his shoulder as he was goin’ out the door. But we didn’t laugh when


we had to go out and clean up the mess. But eggs went off the menu. We never had em again, thank God. That happened before we got to Fremantle.
And you’d never been on a train before. How did you find it being on such an enormous ship?
We’re lost. Took you a week or more to find your way round it. It was just unreal. Unreal. With so many troops on you know, you’re


all wanderin’ round lookin’ where you go, what you could do. No she was a… it was a real good experience I spose. Even on that some of them got seasick. And a couple a times goin’ across the Bight it got pretty rough and the old Mary would roll more than go up and down this way and I found the only way, if I felt a bit crook I’d get up on the deck and walk round in the real fresh air


and I’d be alright. We got to Fremantle and anchored out in the harbour. No shore leave. Couldn’t get off. Only the Western Australians could get off if there was any on. We were there for about two or three days and then up anchor and away we went. That was the hardest part I think. When we went out past Rottnest Island and see Australia disappearin’ in the distance.


That made you stop and think for a while. But of course, the army didn’t let you think too long because you’re no sooner out there and we was onto PT [physical training] and exercisin’ and running round the decks and we used to have races round and round the Mary and then on the deck it’d soon fill in time. We had a good trip across the Indian Ocean. It was just like a big lake. Smooth as a thing. Beautiful. Then we got into


to Ceylon, into Trincomallee Harbour. When we left Fremantle the other ships were still with us. Then when we got up to the northwest tip of Western Australia something, they all vanished and we wondered what happened. They were all goin’ to Singapore. And we’re sayin,’ “Oh, lucky devils lucky devils. Fancy goin’ there and we’re goin’ to the Middle East!” But


we were the lucky ones. In Trincomallee for about only 24 hours and from there on one of the crew come to us and he said, “Well, we’re on our own. We’ve got no escort from here to the Red Sea.” And he said, “We’ll be flat tack all the way.” Well it used to do 38-knots the old Mary when she was full bore and you could tell she was vibratin’ like that right across the...


Changed course every nine minutes because they reckoned it took 10 minutes for a submarine to line ya up and fire its torpedo and they zig-zagged, zig-zagged all the way over the Red Sea. Got to the Red Sea and they said ‘Some land.’ Got out and had a look. What a desolate lookin’ place. Sand and rocks and nothin’ else. Got up to the mouth of the Suez [Canal], Port Tewfik and we were on the ship


for another 12 hours before we disembarked. Got onto the small boat, the City of London and went up the Suez Canal, up to El Kantara where there was a bridge over it and there they took us off there. Give us a meal and then loaded us into, well, they were just like our cattle trucks. And we went from there to Palestine.


Dust and sand. I’d never seen as much in all me life. One of the most amusing parts we seen on the way up was the Arabs. Dad’d be on a donkey or a camel ridin’ along. Poor old mum’d be walkin’ along behind with a great big basket thing on her head and two or three kids trailin’ along. They’d be walkin’ and he’d be ridin’ the camel or the donkey.


We wondered where we were. They seemed as though they were thousands of years behind us. Hopeless. We got to Maghazi [?] was the camp we went into and it was only a new camp. We only had a few tents up and it was loose sand. It was lousy. So we got busy puttin’ up more tents and gettin’ established and I was lookin’ in me diary the other day


and I said, ‘A bit hot today, temperatures ranging from 100 to 114.’ But it was a clear heat and we didn’t seem to notice it. So that’s where we were for quite a few weeks and months then before we headed for Tobruk.
OK. Before we move on I want to ask you a little bit more about your journey. Tell me what did you do for those


few days in Fremantle?
Stayed on board the ship. We weren’t allowed off.
I thought you said you went in?
No, no, the Queen Mary couldn’t get into the wharf, no way, because she was too big and that. We were out about a mile, mile and a half I spose from the shore. The only ones off were anybody that lived in Western Australia. They were allowed off, but nobody else.
So apart from the


PT and running around the ship, how did you keep yourselves entertained?
Well, we had a bit of everything. Tug-o-war and all that sort of. Used to have competitions with the tug-o-war and running was most of the... There was another thing I forgot to tell you about too, the boxing. They had the ring rigged up on the tail of the ship, on the stern of it


with 6,000 troops it was pretty hard to get a good spot where you could watch it. So we used to get there pretty early and climb up on the lifeboat and then you’re lookin’ down on it you see it all. Well we did this day and wasn’t there long and along came a provo, police, military police, ordered us down off it


and we didn’t take any notice and he got a bit annoyed and started givin’ orders and I’ve never seen anything happen so quick. Next thing three or four blokes grabbed him, sat him up on the rail of the Queen Mary and said, “Can you swim?” He went white very quickly. They said, “Now you can either go over there or get down and get away and keep quiet.”


So he got down and kept quiet, never said anymore. So we could climb up on the boats after that to watch the boxin’. They were some funny episodes. I dunno, I think they would’ve thrown him over if he had’ve objected.
It sounds to me just if I can generalise a bit, you didn’t mind a bit of a fight?
Well, a lot a the


Australians didn’t. I didn’t like fightin’. No, no that was.
Well, you took on this kid when he called you Ned and Dan Kelly.
Yeah, but that was only when we were kids. I mean, that’s there but when you got out into the world it was a vastly different thing. It was.
Wel, do you think you hung, do you think you moved with a rougher crowd than the main


No. No I didn’t. We were, most of our group that used to get round together didn’t drink much and you know, didn’t do anything foolish. Like a lot of them did.


Now I wonder, on board did you get any, did the army give you any kind of lectures or anything else?
Yeah. Yeah, yeah you’d get lectured in guns and all sorts. But the one thing we didn’t get lectures on was the light machine gun, the Bren gun. We’d never seen one of them until we went into Tobruk.
So what sort of guns were you training on?
Only on ordinary rifles.


We had Lewis machine guns they were the old ones from the First World War and they were horrible things. They were. You could pull em apart but they took gettin’ back together again in firing order.
What about the Vickers?
No, the Vickers were, they were a separate unit the Vickers, yeah. They were pretty good and 250 rounds and water cooled and


I wouldn’t like to been facin’ one of em.
What sort of, other than the gun training and breaking down machine guns and so on breaking down guns what other kind of lectures did you get?
Well, it was mostly connected to the army. What you could do and what you couldn’t do and they’d go over and over and over


all those things time and time again and it’d take probably a lot of lectures and that for some blokes to catch on. They wouldn’t care you know, or wouldn’t listen, but they’d generally pay the price in the long run.
What sort of things, like who to salute and who not to salute?
Yeah well, that was a bit of a touchy subject. If you ran into any officer face on you had to


salute him but towards the finish, especially when we were on leave, if we sighted an officer comin’ we’d turn our backs and be lookin’ in the window and keep lookin’ in the window till he went past. Wouldn’t salute him. Mostly officers were pretty good they were just the same, but you’d strike the odd snag now and again and he was the one that you’d try and


do everything to annoy him.
But other than that what was in these lectures what sort of things did they teach you about army life?
Well, mainly discipline. Health, look after yourself and all that. Cleanliness. There wasn’t much other than what was connected to the army. It was more or less had


to be connected to the army or they didn’t talk about it. They’d tell ya to behave and because you’d pay the penalty if you didn’t which was pretty right too. Anybody with any common sense could soon see that.
What type of penalties were they talking about?
Well if you’re an NCO [non commissioned officer] demotion, or mostly fined. Those days five bob a day it wasn’t, you didn’t have much money


in your pocket. So if you got fined or chase the bugle. On the bugle you’d have to, when the bugle sounded you had to race there and be checked out on a roll. If you didn’t, look out. You got a bit more. Yes, funny old life.
Now did they give you any lectures about venereal disease ?


Yeah. Yea,h but well, the worst offenders I think were the married blokes.
What did they tell you about it?
Well, you’re supposed to be with a little, the rubber have that, always use that if you have to, but we didn’t bother the women over there.


There was too much disease about then.
Did they give you any other preventatives?
No, no. No you just had to use common sense. There was two hospitals in Palestine. One was for the casualties and the other was the for the diseased ones and in the


casualty one you had to wear a blue track pants if you were walkin’ around and a red tie and we used to generally have the red tie tied round the tummy but when we seen matron comin’ we’d quickly tie a bit of a knot and she’d come up and pat ya, “You’re good boys.”


You said that as you watch Australia disappear from view it made you think a bit. Did you feel homesick, lonely?
Well yes. Just for the half hour or so till it disappeared I thought, well you know, you’re lookin’ back and you’re wondering if you’ll ever see it again. But we hadn’t been in action or anything then but we


had a uniform on. We knew what could happen.
Did you write home at all?
Write? Yeah, yeah regularly. And we were always getting mail from home which used to be great.
Now tell me about Trincommallee, you were only there very


24 hours more or less. Just I think they were taking on water and a few supplies. It was a very narrow harbour, very narrow and then it opened out into a big bay and all the palm trees or whatever they were round with red roofed houses. It looked really beautiful. But as I say we only seen it for 24 hours and was gone.
Interviewee: Eric Haldon Archive ID 1492 Tape 04


OK. Tell us about the camp you went to, what was the purpose of your transfer there? In Palestine?
Well that’s when we first arrived there. Training more training. The usual training; rifle drill, squad drill, route marches all the… with an infantry platoon only it was very, very hot - up to 114 [degrees].


We didn’t have many tents up. This was only just a new camp and we were pretty busy puttin’ them up and chasin’ the Arabs out so they wouldn’t pinch anything.
So what was happening there with the Arabs?
They’ steal the hat of your head if you didn’t watch out. They were even coming in at night, you was asleep in the tent, they’d knock something off.


What would they take? What sort of things were they particularly after?
Well, only army stuff. Army uniforms, clothes and anything like that. But then we had to put guards on to encircle the camp. And you only had to lift the rifle bolt and click it once and they’d freeze. They wouldn’t move. Until you told them to nick off.
Have you been on guard duty at all?
Yeah, everybody had to take their turn, yeah.


You’d be in pairs go that way and another pair’d come this way. You’d meet and then you’d go back the other way and pretty constant.
All night?
Well you wouldn’t be on all night, you’d be on shifts.
How would the shift system work for guard duty?
Well two hours on and four off or six off. Just depends how many were on. Wasn’t bad, it was pretty good.
Did you encounter Arabs tyring to come into the camp?


No, not trying to come in. They had a camel track used to go just past the outskirts where we used to guard and they’d come along all hours of the night singin’ away and might have 10 or a dozen camels, and just for a bit of annoyment we used to lift the rifle bolt and they’d stop and they’d stay there for half an hour for unless you told ‘em to keep goin’.


Were any shot in that way? Do you know of any being shot?
There was one that was wounded. It must a been in the daytime, he pinched something and took off and bloke had to shoot him, hit him in the leg. Got him too. They were they weren’t bad to handle really. As long as you showed em the gun, look out, they’d skirted pretty wide.
How long did


you stay in Maghazi for?
We were there for I would say six weeks. We left there about the 16th of June roughly, and then from there to Amyria a training camp outside Alexandria.
Amyria yeah.
And you were entrained to Amyria


from Maghazi?
Trucks. Went by trucks to Amyria.
Before you left for Amyria did you have any leave in Palestine?
Yes. Went to Tel Aviv and trips all round Beersheba and all those sort a places. Just two three days.
What was Tel Aviv like?
It was better than Jerusalem I thought,


or we all thought. It was cleaner. But there wasn’t much in there to amuse you really. You just walked round the shops and down to the beach and that sort of thing. But in Jerusalem they had, well the... as I told you before, what we used to call all the Arabs ‘George’. Everybody was ‘George’. They used to have shops and


they’d have very pretty lookin’ girls on the door to encourage you to go in. And then when you got in there you had to learn to bargain with him. He put a price on something you wanted and no, you’d beat him down, beat him down. And we got that way in the finish we’d beat him down to what we reckoned was a reasonable price and say, “No George, we’re goin’.” and we’d go to walk out the door and then he’d come and he’d drop further. But we were still payin’ too much for em.
Sounds like India.


All pretty cunning.
That’s what happened to me as well there, but that’s another story. Was this universal? Was this what you found in Palestine altogether?
Yeah. Yeah.
Can you tell us any other stories that were sort of humorous in that sort of nature?
Up to that stage there wasn’t that much really. Well, we were there six weeks and then we shifted to Amyria. We were there, that’s where we saw our first air raids.


In Amyria?
They were raiding Alexandria. See, Amyria was just a few kilometres out of Alexandria. Used to raid it nearly every night, bomb it. From there we got on a train to go up to Mersa Matruh. About half way up to Tobruk and there was an Arab there. This is rather a funny one. Sellin’ packets


of dates, or that’s what he had in his hand anyway. And a fella in ours said, “You like those?” So he bought em. Got on the train and just as the train went to start off he opened these dates. They were full of dirt and weevils. So, Tommy was the blokes name, got a bit angry, so he got at the door and with ‘em in his hand and the


Arab that sold him… the platforms were only a few feet wide and he’s standin’ up against the rail and he’s laughin’ his head off and Tommy up and let fly with em and hit him right in the mouth. And they went everywhere all over the ground and when we look back here he is scratchin’ round picking them all up and puttin’ em back in another bag. That sort of put us off buying anything off em like that. There we went to Amyria. Not Amyria, Mersa Matruh
Was Mersa Matruh a front line outpost or was


it still being…?
No, no. It was about half way up to Tobruk and it was a port and there we held up there for, must a been three weeks before we could get a boat up to Tobruk.
Now before you go on past Mersa Matruh can you tell us about Alexandria? Well, you were at Amyria which is basically outskirts of Alexandria is it?
Did you get a chance to visit Alexandria?


yeah we got leave and…
Tell us about the difference between Palestine and Alexandria?
Well, it was a lot cleaner. A cleaner place but still a lot of Arab descent and take you down for your boots if they could.
So you’re saying essentially it was a similar culture altogether?
Well it was a cleaner culture I’d say. But there they had a lot of it was out of bounds. There was


sort of the slum area and they had Red Caps, the English provos there, and they were told and that. One day about a half a dozen reckoned well, we’ll give em something to do, and low barriers about that high. We waited until he was away up that end and we jumped it and run away down through this out of bounds. But he found us. We got away down there and this woman opened the door and drug us all in.


But he apparently knew where to come because he come round to the door and… “Can’t you blokes! What are you blokes doin’ here? Don’t you read?” And one bloke said, “No, I never went to school.” So we had to get out again. Just was devilment.
Did you have a lot of problems with the provos in Alexandria or Palestine?
No, we never had much trouble with ‘em at all cause they seemed to be a bit frightened of us and the New Zealanders.


The British provos?
Yeah. They didn’t throw their weight around at all.
Why’s that?
Well, they thought perhaps they thought they might get a smack in the mouth or something.
So the Aussies would fight back?
Oh yeah. Yeah, depends how many was there. Well, we were on leave there and in Alexandria they had cafes and drink places, officers only, sergeants only.


If you wasn’t a sergeant you couldn’t go in. So one night we reckoned it was pretty quiet, so we thought well, we’d stir up a bit of strife. So we went round to a sergeants’, only about six of us, and marched in. Lined up at the counter “Give us a drink George.” “No no. Only sergeants. Only sergeants.” And we’re watching the telephone and by the time he served us a drink you see the other bloke run over and get on the phone and ring the provos.


So we downed the drink very quick. Out the door and up the street a hundred yards and stand watching. The provos would fly down and fly inside but we were gone. We used to just stir ‘em up. They had gharries there, no taxis, gharries, that was a horse drawn vehicle and he’d sit up in front and about four of you could sit in the back on the seat. So we thought we’d better


liven it up a bit and so when we get on it we’d grab George as we called ‘em all, plonk him in the back and we’d take over drivin’ round and round the town flat tack [fast] till the horse knocked up [was exhausted]. We had our bit of fun.
What about the locals? Were there any fights between the Aussies and the locals?
No. There were more fights amongst the uniformed blokes themselves. There were two. There was Music Hall and Top Hat.


They were two nightclubs right close together and I don’t think there was a night went past what there wouldn’t be a brawl in there. And it was blackout, a big thing over the doorway so no light’d come out. And if we were in there as soon as an argument started we’d get out the door because you’d end up two or three’d go wait at the blackout and whoever come out they’d plonk. She were a wild time.


Was these amongst Aussies? These fights?
Mostly against English or Americans.
Even against Americans?
Yeah, yeah. The Maoris, if a Maori come into a place and had a look round and he didn’t like the look of you sittin’ over there, as long as you was an Australian you were alright. But you were anybody else he used to go over and pick a fight.
You’ve seen this?
Yeah, yeah.
Can you tell us about it?
They were just wild boys. They’d rather…


if you lined up the best feed in the world and a fight they’d have the fight. And they could fight too, cause they were solid built you know, and they were rough and ready. But they were good blokes. I’m glad they were on our side.
So they wouldn’t pick a fight with Aussies, the Maoris?
No, no I never knew of any, they could’ve had some odd one perhaps, if someone was half full or something and give em a bit of cheek but no, they were very good.
No problems with the Kiwis the white Kiwi soldiers?


Well they’d talk about was the wonderful country they had. Which was pretty right cause we went back over there in 1984, we went for a trip over to New Zealand and all round they were quite good.
Now, you did mention before that you scooted off into an out of bounds area. Was this a red light district of Alexandria?
It would be yeah. It be the sort of the slum area really. I spose you could get crook drink and all that sort a stuff, and women and…


but we only went for mischief.
What was the entertainment scene like there so to speak. in regard to brothels in Egypt?
We weren’t there long enough. We only jumped the fence and run down there and was only there a few minutes and a couple of them came in. “C’mon, you better go with us.”
What about Palestine?
Yeah well, we just used to wander round the streets. Most a the ones I used to


knock around with we didn’t drink, and when you stay sober, well, you don’t get into mischief like the other bloke do. You get a bloke half full and he goes lookin’ for trouble and he gets into it nine times out a ten. That’s for sure.
Were you given any advice or lectures by officers regarding sexually transmitted diseases?
Yes, yes, yes. They issued with a French letter [condom] but


that was just your own choice really. If you had any brains you’d keep away from them because there was plenty of it.
You must’ve known quite a lot of Aussies got gonorrheae, that was quite rampant?
Yeah, yeah
Did you know a lot of chaps who did?
Yeah. One of my mates he was a corporal and we were up in Beirut. He was up in Beirut on leave come back and we were going the next lot. And he comes to us and he says


this lovely girl he met. Give us her address and all that. Beautiful there, beautiful there. We went and we had a look at the unit where she was but it didn’t look too crash hot so we kept away. And within a fortnight he was in hospital with gonorrheae. So it wasn’t so good after all.
A lot of chaps I heard guys got gonorrheae more than once.
Yes, yeah, yeah. The


married blokes were the worst.
The married blokes?
Married yeah.
They were the worst?
They were the worst yeah. They’d go round lookin’ for it.
At this time as well were you given any lectures on the Germans, the Italians, in North Africa?
No, no.


All we knew Rommell was leadin’ ‘em and he was a pretty good leader and we didn’t get much at all. We hadn’t even handled machine guns.
With all that training, no machine guns?
No machine guns. Never seen a Bren gun until we went into Tobruk.
Just .303s that’s it?
A Bren gun was a light machine gun.
But you only had .303 training
That’s all.
up until then?
OK so you got from Mersa Matruh from Amyria what


happened? Is that where you received your training, Mersa Matruh, with Bren guns?
No, no. We got to Mersa Matruh and we were there for about three weeks, apparently I think the big hold up was it was bright moonlight. The moon was very bright and that’s when the ships run big risks of going up at night and they waited till it got dark before they took us up. But while at Mersa Matruh there were a lot of


Egyptian mines. They were a mine with five pound of jelly [gelignite] and was all this. Mersa Matruh was one of the whitest beaches in the world. Snow white it was, and you could see these big black patches comin’ that were fish. So we clever boys of course go out and lift an Egyptian mine and get the jelly out of it. Go back,


and there was a mate from here from Nathalia was in the engineers and they had the fuses and dets [detonators]. So he give us the fuses and the detonators and said be careful. We didn’t know a thing about ‘em. We got down to the beach waitin’ for these shoals to come round. We put three sticks of jelly together, put a det in it and a fuse about this long, wait till they come. Lit her up. Threw her in. We thought we’d blown the world up. There was bits a fish


everywhere. Blokes come runnin’ from all directions. I heard one say, “These bastards are mad!” But anyway we worked on it worked on it and we ended up with about that much jelly was enough. Throw it in and stun the fish and get in after em and get em and had fish for a meal. Change quite a change from bully beef.
So when you got to the Middle East it was just straight bully beef and biscuits?


That’s when on the way up there. But when we were at Maghazi there was meat but we never knew whether it was camel or horse. It was ropey, horrible lookin’ stuff. Fatty and ropey but it was eat it or go without. Whichever you like.
What was bully beef like to eat in the Middle East?
Horrible. Because it’s oily you know, a lot of fat in it. You’d open it and at a time the


fat’d be runnin’ out of it. No good. We got that in Tobruk though and practically every meal was bully beef done a bit different. Bit a vegetables, tinned vegetables mixed with it or something else. It wasn’t very good at all, but you had to eat it or go without.
Did some guys get sick from this stuff?
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, had all chances of gettin’ a bit of everything there. But the climate was one of the biggest things in Tobruk.


The sand, hot in the daytime. Sand. Flies and fleas. Fleas were by the million and we used to have to be up all night and try to sleep in the day time and the fleas’d nearly eat you alive.
Why would you be up all night?
On guard. Doin’ patrols and guard duty cause that was when any attack was likely was more likely to come. In the daylight they had observation posts


there and they could see them comin’ miles away to warn you. That’s the way it used to work.
Now you got shipped from Mersa Matruh to Tobruk?
Yes on the [HMS] Hotspur. [HMS] Heroic and Hotspur, they were the two destroyers that took us up.
How long did the journey take?
We left at three o’clock in the afternoon and we tied up about midnight in Tobruk.
Good memory you’ve got. You know the times and that.
On our boat the


landmines were up on top. Hundreds of em. Stacks and stacks and stacks of em. And we were a bit toey that if they got a direct hit, but they often said we’d be the first to land on the moon. But luckily the night we went up a wind sprang up and there were showers, misty showers. So the planes couldn’t… They used to see the wake of a ship when it was calm


and that’s what they’d bomb. But we got up half way up and it was freezin’ cold at night and the sailors invited us down below but we only got about halfway down the ladder and I reckon the temperature’d be about 130 comin’ up out of those destroyers. It was shocking. So we back up on top and sat on the mines till we got there.
Could you smoke cigarettes on top there?
Well some of em’d


be smokin’ but they’d move over to the where there was none. But they had to have a pressure of 80 pound to set em off. Once they were set. But they probably wouldn’t be set till they got up and put in the ground.
When you got to Tobruk you must’ve been clearly well anxious certainly cause you know…?
To see what was happenin’, yeah.
Well we got off the boat a bit after midnight


and trucks took us out about two mile and old Colonel Bernie Evans, he ended up the Lord Mayor of Melbourne at one stage. He give us an address and about nine o’clock in the morning and the next thing over the dive bombers come and that was a scary part because when they went into their dive they just looked as though they were comin’ straight at you, you know. But luckily they were fallin’ half


a mile away, the bombs. That’s when we learnt the Bren gun and the Thompson sub machine gun.
All at Tobruk?
In Tobruk. Yeah we were about three four days on em all the time. Pullin’ em down. Puttin’ em together again and workin’ on em. About three days after that they said, “Right. You’re goin’ up to 33.” So that’s where we ended up at 33.
And was this the how many


battalions of the 9th Div were there? Was this the whole 9th Div or parts of it?
No, the whole 9th Div. About 22,000 troops in there at that time. There was English artillery. Anti-aircraft and that sort of thing and a few Indians. But it was a mixed crowd but mostly Australian. English were on the artillery and they were excellent on the artillery, accurate, very accurate.


We were only there, in the Post 33 three days I think and it came up a horrible dust storm. When it came up big you could only see 50 or 60 yards and the sand’d sting ya face when you got down in it. It was blowing when we got up. You had to stand to at dawn, until it got light and then you could go back down and have a sleep. Everybody was getting’ round


with a handkerchief over their face or a bit a cloth. Midday the phone goes, Battalion Headquarters. We had to go out on a fighting patrol, thirteen, twelve of us and an officer. We had to go out three mile and attack an Italian main post and destroy everything we could and get two prisoners and bring ‘em back.


When we went out we were all raw, the whole lot of us, even the officer, and you’d get an extended line headin’ that way you know, well apart. We got out about two mile, a bit better than two mile I spose, suddenly walked out of the dust storm as though you’d just opened the door into bright sunshine. We thought, ‘Now we’re in trouble.’ Big enough trouble


before but that was gonna be worse and we’d only gone about another quarter of a mile I suppose and a machine gun and several rifles opened fire on us. Knowin’ it wasn’t the main line we all went to ground and then they passed word down the line yellin’ one from another ,“Fix bayonets and be ready to charge!” And that’s what we did,


we fixed bayonets and before you could think much about it he said, “Charge!” And we over run the position where he was in. And one Italian decided he wasn’t gonna be taken prisoner. He had his cap in his hand and he had run up a slope about 400 yards and over a little bit of a rise and three of us went to ground and we opened fire on him. And we had bullets are kickin’ up all around him you know and he went over the hill and got away and


one of our blokes said, “Oh dear,” he said “that’s a big loss that.” And, “Why, what do ya mean?” “Well,” he said, “we’re down to him, we could a won any Stawell Gift [professional foot race] from scratch!” Yeah. But we lost two men that day.
In that bayonet attack?
Yeah. We had what they call a getaway man. Your line is there and your get away man is about 200 ards behind and he’s to observe if you got into trouble and go back report back.


But apparently he got caught in the first burst of machine gun fire over the top of us. And we were a bit inexperienced and we got our two prisoners and we headed back and another fella,instead of staying close to us he got out on the side and the artillery took to him and he ended up goin’ the big half circle. Instead of comin’ to our lines he went back to the Italian lines and got taken prisoner. When we got back


to the our perimeter and counted we discovered our getaway man was missing and we heard later that he died the next day. Wounded badly and died the next day.
This is just a platoon attack?
Well it was only 12 men and an officer. That’s only half a platoon.
Would you refer to that as a section?
Well a section. In a platoon there’s three sections, 10 men in each. Supposed to


be 10 in each section, 30 men in the platoon.
So just a small skirmish action basically?
Yeah, a fighting patrol they used to call em. They had three types of patrols. A standing patrol which one you went out just outside the wire and kept guard at night. A reconnaissance patrol which you went out and got in as close as you could to see what they were doing. And then the fighting patrol. So there was three different.
This was the first time you’d been in combat?


it was the first time.
What was your impression of the Italians?
They were pretty weak. Well two days later, that was on the 6th of August. On the 8th of August they had an observation post out right out near the Italian line. They had built a sanger [barrier] of stones about that high and they used to lie in that looking through the holes watching to see what they were doing. Day before


three of our blokes were there and the next thing three Italians walked up unarmed. Walked up to have a look, there used to be an old well there. Course they took ‘em prisoner and brought em back. Well then the next night they went out and foolishly manned the thing again. And there was an officer and two of our blokes in the sanger and there was five of us put about 300 or 400 yards away in separate


trenches and we were to cover them. If they got into trouble they were supposed to come out via us. But anyway about three o’clock in the afternoon out come 21 Italians. And I think they thought they were only up against three. They didn’t know that we were there. They split half come from the frontal attack and half walked round between us and them and to cut em off so they couldn’t retreat. But we had them


covered and the others had the others covered. We ended up with the lot, only one survived from the Italians. When the officer and the blokes about four o’clock or after they were. Orders were given to us that they were to come out via us and all go back together. But they just took off and went straight back. So we decided we’d wait till dark. Thought we’d make our


retreat. The sun was almost setting when the bloke with us that was in charge of us looked up and he said, “Oh we’re in trouble now!” and we look up and there’s bout 40 Italians comin’ from there and then another 40 comin’ from there. Cause they were 40 in em each of them and they’d be heavily armed. There was 80 of them and five of us and only one machine gun. So we reckoned they were a bit too many,


outnumber us. So we had a quick conference and reckoned they’d be lookin’ into the sun, give us a bit of cover, so we took off for home flat tack. Just before we did, we had an Englishman, McGrady. He’d be 36-37, perhaps a bit older than that. He looked over the top “Huh,” he says “so and so spaghetti for tea.” and he says, “I hate the bloody stuff.” Anyway we took off


for home and they machine gunned us for half a mile or more and McGrady was fallin’ behind a bit and me mate Bill said to him “C’mon Mack,” he says “You’re slowin’ up.” “Yes,” he said “I know that. Now Bill, the bullets are passin’ me noow.” He had real Pommy humour. But anyhow we were lucky. We got out of it without a scratch.
What was your nickname for the Italians?


I-ties [eyeties].
I-ties yeah I-ties. Well, they were poor soldiers. They were very poor. They were different to the Germans.
Did you ever come up against Italians who were good, disciplined soldiers?
No we didn’t. We didn’t. Though they’d throw everything possible at you while you were 200 or 300 yards away


but soon as you got close they all seemed to have a little piece of cloth about that big white and they’d, “Mercy comrade, mercy comrade!” But we weren’t you know, we could handle four or five to one quite easy in the Italians but not the Germans, different bloke altogether.
I’ll just have to ask you to be careful of that mike.


I’d forgotten about that.
When you were in Tobruk, before you had your first combat experience, were you told anything about the Italians and Germans before you went into combat?
No not really. Not really no. When we went in there was 80 odd of us went up that night and when the colonel addressed us next morning, usually


when reinforcements come they’re split up everywhere all through the battalion in all directions. But he said, “I got good news for ya. You’re all staying together.” B Company for the 2/23rd had been practically wiped out in earlier fighting. So we reformed B Company so we all stayed together. Which was quite good.
What was daily life


like in Tobruk for you?
Give us the sort of a, like a daily sort of a routine. What would you do?
Well, you’d be stand to all night and you’d stand to till morning come and it got light. The meals were, well you got one meal a day, that was the night meal. The other was bully beef and biscuits. Well you might as well chew


a piece a wood as the biscuits they were that hard. And the bully beef would get greasy and horrible. Water was scarce. We were quarter a [pint of] water a day per man up in the front line. Tea’d come up and you’d get a hot tea. Bully beef and something all mixed with it. Rice and prunes. They used to get big tins of prunes and cook them and put em in the rice. But that was the meal,


they weren’t the best that’s for sure.
So if you didn’t do guard duty in the night what would you do in the daytime?
Sleep. Try to sleep. It’d be the… once daylight come they’ve got the observation post back inland a bit and they could see for miles and if anything was comin’ well. you’d be notified straight away.
So apart from that. daytime


generally sleeping?
Tryin’ to sleep. But the fleas. Fleas nearly eat ya. They were in their thousands.
So it sounds pretty boring in the daytime.
Yes it did. It’d be hot in the daytime. You’d be stripped down just to a pair a shorts. Nothing else and at night you’d be freezing.
Would you be in a foxhole in the day time?
Yeah. Well in ’33 we used to be down below in the concrete. And in all the others you’d lie down in your


trenches and rest there. Cause if you were out on the other side of Tobruk where the Germans were, if you poked your head up, well, you’d get it shot off.
Tell us about the Germans.
Well, we never struck them until we went round to round near Forbes’ Round. There they had sort of a truce from


dark until 10 o’clock. Of a real bright moonlight night we could see them walkin’ round and they could see us walkin’ and there wouldn’t be a shot fired.
How far would their lines be?
300-400 yards apart. And once 10 o’clock come get below the ground or look out. You’re in trouble.
So how did this truce get formed?


I dunno. It just automatically I think, because they were in the same position as us. They had to get supplies, water and food up and we did too and I spose you just sort of come a bit of an understanding that they’d hold that truce at that time.
But in the daytime it was different?
Daytime you was down below ground all the day, cause as I say, if ya put


ya head up you might have a sniper on ya.
Did you have any near misses?
No, I always kept pretty low in the daytime. Didn’t give em the chance at havin’ a smack at ya.
So snipers were a real concern?
Well yes, they shot quite a few I would say. Luckily we didn’t because we’d been warned about them and missed out that way. After


behind Forbes’ Mound we came out a few days back to the blue line. Wasn’t there I think 2 or 3 days and then we went up to R-9 that was we were in R-9 and the next post the Germans had it. That was where that curve round behind Forbes Mound come. And there we were given orders not to shoot unless we were attacked. But they didn’t stop the Jerries [Germans]. They knew we were there and


they’d blast us from put the machine gun along the top a the sandbags and you had to keep your head down all day. One night me mate was on duty at night and I had a bit of a job to stay awake from 10 o’clock till two o’clock unless something was cookin’ and I was lying on the bottom of the trench wrapped up in me greatcoat and that, and he thought he heard something out on the wire just in front of us.


And he tried to wake me, but comin’ out of a deep sleep. I made that much noise that after a few minutes he says “Oh well,” he says “go back to sleep,” he says “they’ll be up round Benghazi now.” He said “That’d frighten em.” But then we came out from there. While we were there we saw the big raid on the harbour. Over a hundred planes.


Dive bombin’ the harbour. We could look down on it the whole way. But luckily they never come out our way.
You could see huge explosions and…?
Yeah, you could see the dust goin’ up and the explosion and they used to frighten, the old Stukas [dive bomber aeroplanes], they’d scream at ya when they’re coming down you know and you’d swear they’re gonna pointin’ you but they might be half a mile away. You got used to them after a while.
So tell us about the experiences you had with the Stukas? Were they bombing Tobruk practically every day?


Nearly every day there would be attacks on it, yeah. Yeah, sometimes only a few and other times there would be big lots of em. But after the ack-ack [anti-aircraft fire] and the artillery and that sort a thing mainly. They didn’t bother us out the front.
You had any close shaves though?
Not out the front no. No, the closest I had was those first two I told ya about, when the, on the other side. We had enough information


to keep our head down against the Germans and used to operate at night and be careful then because they’d every now and again they’d open fire across the with at night. Cause we used to do the same to them so I spose it was fair go.
So the Germans and you would still fire at each other at night occasionally?
Well, you’d have that area and you’d line your gun up so you knew you was shootin’ their area and you’d let fly a few shots then then duck for cover cause you’d get an answer.


that’s for sure.
Interviewee: Eric Haldon Archive ID 1492 Tape 05


OK Eric I’d like to just ask you a little bit about the Bren gun. Now how did it come to be that you were chosen to operate the Bren gun?
Well when we were being taught it those that could pull it down and put it back together the quickest got the honour of it.


So you were pretty quick at it?
Yes. And that mate Bill Lindsay, he used to be second to me and even the old Lewis gun that was in the First World War they were a curse of a thing. We were the quickest on them to puttin’ back together. Just a knack I think. They were very accurate the old Bren gun.
Did you like it?


The Bren gun? Oh yeah, yeah. She’s a you had two barrels and you could fire quite a few magazines and the barrel’d get too hot and you used to change the barrel but that only takes about two seconds and have another go then.
Were you a pretty accurate shot?
You’re accurate with Bren guns cause they’re a very accurate machine gun.


If you were good with a rifle you were good with them.
Were you a good shot?
Yeah well I thought I was. After Alamein I got a, I was tellin’ you about that rifle that lifted me off the ground didn’t I? Yeah.
Tell us about it.
I had a rifle given to me and I fired two or three shots out of it and lift ya that high off the ground had that much kick in it. Sergeant reckoned I was silly and


he had one shot that was enough for him. But I got an old lookin’ gun then that’s right and went to this was after Tobruk went to a 300 yard range. This old gun it looked as though it had come out of the scrap heap. It was black and chipped wood and all that and we had 10 shots in


a minute. That’s you’d fire five in one mag and then you had to unload that and load the other one, 10 shots in a minute. I got nine bullets in an inner at 300 yards. And the sergeant anyhow said, “Somebody else is firin’ at your target.” So I give him a go and he had. He got eight bulls and two inner. Gee she was accurate and you wouldn’t know you fired her. It was just like firin’ an ordinary .22 rifle


which was that was good. But anyway when we came out of Tobruk on the what date was it? Not sure of that, October 23rd or 24th I think it might a been. I’m not sure of that date. But on the Jaguar.


A ship called the Jaguar. When we got on board they said they told us to be careful that if they were dive bombed or they got after a submarine as soon as they opened full throttle and started weavin’ round that the water would go two foot back along the deck and it was only a peg here and there and a one wire to stop you from goin’ overboard. But we run into the


Mediterranean fleet about half way back to Alexandria. Battleships cruisers and God knows what. They reckoned they found a submarine and ours was the one that was gonna throw a depth charge. So they made about three runs over this object and they decided it was a sandbank and didn’t throw it. But about three or four nights later the 2/24th were coming out, they struck trouble with bombers and


they lost about eight or nine overboard and I think they only got two or three and the rest were drowned. So you had to be careful where you got on those boats cause the way the water, they heel right over like that the destroyer and half of it goes under water when they turn em.
Let’s just go back a little bit to Tobruk I wanted to ask you about


what you knew about the Germans and Italians before you went there.
We didn’t know anything really. We knew the Germans were good soldiers and the Italians weren’t so good. But we weren’t told a great lot.
You must’ve heard about Germany’s great victories so far or…?
Oh yeah, yeah.


But Tobruk sort of brought all that to an end. See up until then once the tanks had rolled through the troops they’d past give up they surrendered cause they thought, oh well, got no hope. But Morshead [General L J Morshead] said stay down cause they’ll shoot at anything that moves. Let the tanks go through and stop their back ups that’s coming up, machine gunners and air craft


anti-aircraft ones, mortars and all those sort a things that didn’t have the range, but they used to bring them up and that’s what happened in Tobruk. Although that was before I got there.
So did you hear about this before you got there?
Yes, yes we’d heard that. We’d heard that.
Did that raise the morale of the men?
Well I think it would because


they, see up the front they never had enough anti-tank guns and that to bring them up the front to us, they put em back on the blue line and beyond. So we had nothing to stop a tank. A tank could come in and you would get you were gone. If you moved or poked your head up they’d pop you off and that was the only way you could beat them is let em go in and let em run into the artillery and the anti-tank guns.


Now before you went out, I think it was the 6th of August you went out on your first sort of combat mission, fighting patrol. How did you feel about the possibility of having to kill somebody and the possibility of being killed yourself?
Well I don’t think you got time to worry about that really.
You must’ve had plenty a time on the journey over and…


Yeah. Well I mean you knew when you was goin’ to war it was either kill or be killed. If you didn’t kill him he’d kill you. So it’s a bit of a bonus your way you know, if you get the chance to bump him off you will. It affected some but others it didn’t. You was trained that way you just took it as an everyday occurrence. We had some young fellas come into Tobruk


16 year old. One went right through. He was quite good. But the others only lasted about a day, day and a half and they had to take em out. They couldn’t stand up to it.
Did he break down?
Yeah, they two or three of them did, they broke down you know. Didn’t know what to do or just into something that was beyond them.
How did you feel


about it?
Well it didn’t worry me at all, never did. I was trained to do that and I did it and thought nothing of it. Used to get a bit of the shakes after have a scrape you know, and come in and you’d get a bit of a shake for a day or two but after that you’d be right again.
Did it ever stop you from being able to get


to sleep?
No, no, no. No well after those, they were pretty strenuous up all night and then suddenly be sent off all day and come home you’re that tired that you’d soon rock off to sleep. Or wouldn’t rock off, I’m lying on the concrete slab havin’ a sleep.
How did it affect you when


some of the other blokes got caught?
Well that used to upset us yeah, especially if they were a close mate but I dunno. You always think well, it was the other bloke it wasn’t me sort of. But it used to upset you when your close mates got hit. That’s for sure. Pretty funny sort of a bloke if you weren’t I think.


Did you lose anybody who you were particularly close to?
Yes. Oh yes we lost a lot a men. Well strangely as it may seem. When we were in Shell Happy Valley I was offered two stripes [the rank of corporal] and the officer give me 24 hours to think about it. Well come the next night when he come to see me again I said,


“No I don’t want it.” I didn’t think I was experienced enough to. See you got a lead eight, nine or10 men and be able to make decisions and that. But to me it was a very good decision cause the bloke that took ‘em, he was about six or eight years older than me.


He come through Tobruk alright and then when we went back to Alamein on the 16th of July he was killed with a shell exploded right at his feet. Well if I’d a taken the stripes that’s where I’d a been. But luckily I was somewhere else.
So you think that he caught it because he was inexperienced or was it just luck of the draw?
No, he’d had a fair bit of experience up until


then. Like he was in Tobruk and come out. And up in Syria and then come to Alamein. We’d all had a fair bit of experience the. Knew what to expect and what not to expect. But that was just the fate of things you know. The shell lands at your feet well, you don’t have much hope.


in between Post 33 and Shell Happy Valley you came back to the blue line for a while is that right?
Yeah. They pull ya out of 33 back to the blue line and from there they send three or four forward, up to where you got a take


over at Shell Happy Valley; they go up and mix with the blokes that’s there and find out all the ins and outs what’s going on and then the next night they come out and you go in. Or you go in and then they come out.
You mean you would replace your own blokes or you would replace the blokes who were…?
You would replace the fellas that were in there. Say the we had the 2/23rd, 2/24th or 2/ 48th was our


three battalions, 2/48th might a been there and we’d send four or five blokes up to take over their areas just to get the lay of it and then we’d go up the next night and as soon as we arrived the 2/48th would pull back and they’d go back to the blue line for a break.
Well tell us a bit more about Shell Happy Valley, what sort of place was it?
It was Shell Happy Valley. It was pretty rocky.


You could only get down that depth, strike rock, so the area where we went the trenches were only that deep but they were built up with sandbags along the side filled with sand and on one end there’d be a sheet of tin or timber that was just enough so two men could get underneath it and the sand’d be heaped up over the top. And it was there as


soon as you heard the gun fire you could hear em and you’d hear the shell immediately that’s when you dove up under the end and stayed there.
What was it like to be shelled?
A bloody horrible feeling cause there’s not much you can do about it. They scream at ya you know, they fairly scream through the air. But once you’ve been there for a while under fire for a while from them you can tell whether it’s gonna fall 50 yards out there or 50 yards there or


there or there you get to know it’s horribly close you know. That’s when you hold your breath.
What was the difference in sound?
Well, you could judge by the sound they were making how close they were gonna come, how close they were gonna be.
Just by the sheer volume of it?
Yeah the volume of it they really screamed through the air. You could hear em from when they left the gun that four or five mile away. You could hear em


right from when it left the gun till it hit. Mortars were the worst. They’re dropped in and explode then they go and you can’t hear them. And you just get a ‘swoooosh’ as it hits the ground alongside you.
Were many of the blokes caught out by shell or mortar fire?
Oh yeah. A lot a them were especially in Shell Happy Valley it was silly.


They couldn’t lay down in their trench all day and stay there they’d want to play cards and they’d all amalgamate over to one of these sangers you know and the Jerries’d sit and watch em until they got five or six there and then he’d opened up on it with artillery. We had several killed there and wounded but that was only their own fault really. We used to get in our hole and stay there all day. Only time you’d come out was


at night. Then you had to be careful cause he’d shell it at night too.
So would the Germans be able to see you when you moved around?
In the daytime yeah. Yes, they had it under observation because they wouldn’t fire any shots until there was four or five blokes in the one sanger and then they’d concentrate on that.
So what could you do in response?
Nothing. Couldn’t do anything. Just get up in the hole in the end and hope for the best.


No it wasn’t funny at all.
So what was your role there?
Just infantry. We were sort of in reserve there but on the blue line you could most of the time you could get out and walk around long as you didn’t get in too bigger numbers. But there they had it under observation and it was the worst place on in Tobruk I think.


Shell Happy Valley, they named it well.
Well what purpose did it serve? I mean, all you were doing really was attracting fire.
Yeah, but I mean you had to you’d go in stages. See you’d go to the blue line then you’d go there then you’d go up to the front. And you had to do your time somewhere in and around in different places. They couldn’t just put one battalion in there and leave em there. They’d have to shift em round.


So from Shell Valley you would sort of move out from there to the front?
We went up to behind Forbes Mound there and that was… we just dug in there and most of the shots were except at night when they used to rake us with gun fire and that they’d go over the top and down to the Shell Happy Valley and Tobruk itself.


So being as you were sort of lying or siting in holes in the ground most of the time how did you cope with things like insects and hygiene?
Well, when we were at Forbes Mound we’ve all dug in, but the trenches were only bout that deep and we struck rock and then there was sandbags put up. But you couldn’t walk round. We had


we used to call them a doova. You’d have one doova there’d hold two men another one here’d hold two and another bit further’d hold two more. The toilet used to be down round the end. Well, there unfortunately we all got the diarrhoea. And I can still remember it. Be one comin’, one goin’ and one sittin’ on the toilet. And you had to crawl from your


round to the toilet and back again. You had to keep down below that bout that height. But we survived.
What about washing?
Washing? You didn’t wash. We only had a quart a water plus a one a the old tin mugs so high with black tea at night. That’s all we got to drink. The ones back in Tobruk itself


I think they done a bit better. That’s the Army Service Corps because they were at the water and used to send it out. But that all we got was one bottle, a quart, and then if you’d been out on patrol you come back you’d be very thirsty but you couldn’t wash. There was no such thing as a wash.
Could you shave?
Yeah, we used to scratch it off but it used to be agony at times.


Didn’t have any hot water to scratch it off with, you just had the made the best you could. It was pretty primitive I can tell ya.
Well you weren’t too far from the sea, did you ever get to go down to the sea?
Yeah, I got down once. Went there in July and come out in October and had one swim and got bombed the night we did go too what’s more.
While you were in the water?
No, no. We had


little tents they put up just near there was a bit of a sort of a ledge stuck out and the Jerry must a spotted it and this night he come over and decided he’d drop some bombs on us. And they weren’t far away either but nobody got hurt thank goodness.
It must’ve been fantastic to get into the water though.
Beautiful. Beautiful. Beautiful. You can imagine what we all smelt like when we… Some


of them have even longer than that. Not everybody got for a swim. You were just one of the lucky ones that get down there. It was good to come out and get to Alexandria and out to Amyria, hot showers and plenty to drink. Oh, beautiful.
Did you have any problems with skin problems, tinea or anything like that?


I didn’t have any but a lot of them did have tinea. A lot of em had it and they used to have to be brought out and. It’s pretty easy to get if you don’t wash for about three months.
You mentioned there were a lot of fleas, did you have a lot of bites and did you get infested with them?
We used to in the daytime at 33 especially,


you used to, we used to go down into the concrete big room down below and spread a half our half towel out and you’d strip just to a pair a shorts on and lie down and within 10-minutes you’d hop up and there’d be a hundred fleas under there and you’d be itchy and scratchin’. Nothin’ you could do about it though.
Did you ever sit round and pick them off each other?
No. We never got round


to that. You had to look after yourself.
They’re good eating if the gorillas are anything to go by.
Yeah, we never thought of that really though I spose we felt like it at times; we didn’t get too much to eat.
Alright, so you were eventually pulled out of Tobruk. You’d spent what, four months there?
Yeah went up there in July and come out in near the end of October.


OK. So it’s about three months. You were did you come out by destroyer as well?
Yeah the Jaguar.
That’s right, and was that also by moonlight?
Yeah, at night. Yeah, yeah. All the shipping had to be at night. They used to arrive in Tobruk sometime between bout


12 at night and I think they used to pull out about one, then if you wasn’t on board or s’pose to be onboard and you wasn’t you’d get left behind. They had a real tight schedule to run. They had to get back towards Mersa Matruh so that they could get air cover if the Germans attacked em otherwise the airplanes couldn’t get to Tobruk. See we hardly seen a plane at Tobruk of ours. If you heard a plane you dove for a hole


and stayed there, it was a German.
And so you were taken to Alexandria?
Yep. Alexandria out to Amyria that’s the stagin’ camp out of Alexandria. Only overnight there and then we were taken back to Palestine to Julis. Camp called Julis.
But you got to freshen up at Alexandria?
Oh yeah.


Hot showers and plenty to drink. Plenty a water to drink, it was lovely. Especially the showers.
Must’ve been great to have fresh water though?
Oh yeah yeah. Really good. The other Tobruk and that you could only take a mouthful. You couldn’t take anymore because you’d have none left.


So you went to Amyria, is that right?
Yeah and then to Julis.
Julis, and what did you do there?
Arrived one night and back to normal training the next. The same old thing over and over and over again.
More training?
Training drill 25 mile of a Saturday walkin’. The only bit a fun we had there we was camped right alongside a big orange grove


and they were ripe and they had a fence round it and the Arabs were funny people. There’d be a dozen of them paradin’ up and down the fence. If you went through they all had these great big sticks and they’d take to you with these sticks. So we had to work out a plan, how do we get some oranges? So we had a fella named Atkins, he could run like the wind. He played football with Footscray second.


So when we’d get low on oranges we’d yell out to him and he’d come, get up the fence a bit from the Arabs jump the fence and taunt em and they’d chase him and instead a one or two goin’ the whole lot’d chase him. He’d be goin’ as soon as he went we’d hop through the fence fill our bags and back over to the camp again. They never ever woke up what was happenin’.
That’s a good trick.
Then there was another one. The was a bloke used to come round and he had a


donkey and he had a bag of oranges on each side and it was sewn along here, it was spread over, it was full of oranges. You’d get for about 10 mils. I think they were mils there it was only about a shilling or so you’d get six or eight great big oranges. They were beautiful oranges too. But if he didn’t come our way a bit I saw one bloke one day went round the other side. “I’ll fix


him” he said. He got hold a the bag on that side give it a heave and over it went. There was oranges strewn for 20 yards around. Walked off and left him and he was scratchin’ round picking them up. Yeah it was funny alright.
So how long were you there for?
Well we come out in October. It’d be November when we went there and we were there till about


after the Japs come into the war. About April I’d reckon and then we were packed up and sent to Syria for...
So that was like five months? Five months you spent there?
No. What’d I say? We come out in October that was the end of October. It’d been November, December, January, yeah February, March. Be a good four months anyway. And we were then packed up


and sent up to into Syria for occupational you know, cause the 7th Div took Syria and we had to do guard duty. There was tunnels going up the ocean road. Great big tunnels, 300-400 yards through great big rocky mountains. We had to do guard duty on them and then we were sent up to Tripoli. That’s well up in the north of it.


And we were into barracks there overlookin’ the town of Tripoli. It was a fairly big place too. And about eight or 10 mile out of Tripoli the hills went out and they dropped off onto flat ground and they were building a big defence line there. Concrete pill boxes up in the all round through the hills everywhere and we used to have to go out with a… get out there and we’d be given a squad of


Arabs and see that they did certain works. Anyway after was there for quite a while they decided they’d test it out and do a mock attack on this line and we were to do the mock attack. So they took us out about 10 mile up towards Turkey and tipped us out on a road and we had to walk back and attack that line just on dusk. It was


pitch black. You could hardly hold your hand up there and you could hardly see it. And you had to go up these hills. Anyway, there was blokes got lost everywhere. I think I had a section go in there and I got up the top and I had about three left and the rest were stragglin’ round somewhere. Ten o’clock they’d called it off and we went down to the road to wait for trucks to take us back to our barracks and I was standin’ on the side of the road and a bloke alongside a me


said, “Well, what’d you think of it?” I said, “Not much.” “Why?” he said. I said, “It was a bloody balls up from start to finish.” Somebody dig me in the ribs “Quiet, quiet, shhhh shhhh.” I didn’t know what he was coming at and I looked round next thing a match flared and here’s old Bernie Evans standin’ right alongside a me, the colonel. Never said a word. Next morning we were on parade and he got up and he said, “Well,” he said, “Last night we done that attack on that…” And he said,


“I heard one bright spark; he said it was a balls up from start to finish.” He said, “I’m glad he said that because at least he was interested in it.” he says. And they’re all saying, “Go on, step out Haldon. Step out Haldon!” No bloody fear. It was funny. But from there we were they’d shifted us out into the barracks then out into the countryside north of


Tripoli over towards Turkey and I had two episodes there of bein’ bitten. I know what one was, a scorpion about that long. We were out on 10 mile out and I sat down leanin’ against a rock and it was against me back and I thought, I’ll take that away. So I turned round a got hold of it and when I shifted it around here’s the female scorpion about that long


on the front of it and the bloke in front says, “I want to see it.” And I leant forward like this and when I lent back it fell down the back and he got me. I never felt so crook. Oh gee.
There was a male under there as well?
There was a male there and he bit. He was about that long. They were black, really big, black fellas. And I could feel the stuff goin’ down me legs and up me body like that and almost vomiting and 10 mile out


and the officer said, “Well I’ll leave two with ya. We got a go, we can’t do anything.” They left me there and oh about an hour, hour and a half before I could walk properly. And we staggered back to camp and I was crook for two or three days after that. And then about a month later we were doin’ manoeuvres out in the hills with Indian troops. They had donkeys and they were showin’ us how to load all these donkeys and this sort a thing on a real rocky side of a hill.


I lay down and about two o’clock I woke up in the morning with these pains shootin’ up me neck into me head and then all over me body. I must a been moanin’ a bit cause me blokes mates woke up and come over wanted to know what was wrong. I didn’t know what bit me and they still don’t know. But I was crook again and next mornin’, they’d no medics there. No medics, so they bunged me on the truck that brought the provisions out and sent me back to the camp.


And I was four days lying on the bed just lyin’ there. All they could do was drink. Drink water or tea or whatever the blokes liked to bring to me. And it took me about 10 days to get over that but I reckon it must a been another scorpion. They were pretty poisonous and they were huge over there. But anyway, that’s where we were when they suddenly decided that they’d do a big manoeuvre up towards Turkey.


We packed everything up or that’s what they told us, but the rumours were flying that we were coming home. The 6th and 7th had come home but we were still there. Anyway we get on the trucks and away we go head north from Tripoli. We only went north for a couple of hours and all of a sudden they switch right around way headin’ back down towards the Suez. Yeah, and the news was comin’ through, Rommell had


attacked and retaken Tobruk and so that’s where we reckoned we were goin’. But a few of them reckoned, oh no, we were goin’ home, we’re goin’ home. Was havin’ bets on when we crossed the Suez Canal turn right we were goin’ home. Straight on we were goin’ to Alamein. And all us that backed Alamein won. That’s where we ended up.
Well now before we get to Alamein tell me, was it a relief


to get out of Tobruk and to spend a bit of time in more peaceful occupation?
Oh yeah, yeah. You wasn’t under any strain at all up in there. You was it was quite good. Tobruk you had to be watchin’ all the time and careful what you done and when you done it and that’s the way it went.
Were you keen to get back into action?
No, I wouldn’t say that. I don’t think anybody was keen


to get back into action. But it would come along well, you had to do it and that was it.
Cause you were fairly keen at the beginning weren’t you?
Yeah, yes. I’d say the first time till we got under fire and could see what was happening and what would could happen and then when you get into a bad attack and you see what happens to some fellas well, you took a lot a the wind out a your sails.


Now you had better slighter better conditions a bit of fresh fruit and you had more water and so on did it affect your health?
Well I spose it did in one sense especially the water. But once you was out of those out of Tobruk itself or even Alamein was, the food wasn’t the best but it was better than Tobruk. Tobruk was lousy,


the food, as far as the food was concerned. But once you got out you know the most of the time you got good meals and it made a hell of a difference to ya. And you had freedom to walk around and do what you like and up to a point anyway.
When you were in Syria did you have any contact with other troops of other countries?


No, no, no. We done practically all the guard duty. The 7th Division had already taken Syria. We were there only doin’ guard duty really. We had a fair bit of contact with the people. When we were in the barracks the women used to congregate outside the gates and take your washing and they used to make a hell of a good job of it too. Your shirts and pants’d come back


with pleats and all there and you’d ask em how much. “What you think?” They were pretty cunnin’. “What you think?” But it saved us a lot of work anyway.
What did you do when you got leave?
I didn’t, we didn’t get leave in… I didn’t get leave up there. We were in a town see. We were sort of, we were livin’ right over the top of the town, you could


of a night you could go down the town without any problems at all. Had big picture theatres there and all that sort of thing. As well they had brothels but we got guard duty on that. The provos went for a start but our blokes didn’t like the provos so there’d be a fight. They reckoned the only way was to put some of their own fellas there. And we used to go down and


there’d be so many are detailed for guard duty down at the brothels to keep law and order.
So did you pull that job sometimes?
Yeah I had that several times but it was, some of them were hopeless you know, you’d get down there, they’d shut up at bout 10 o’clock at night and we’d have to stay there and clean everybody out and send em,


make sure they were gone back home. And then the head of the brothel’d come and and say, “You fellas want a lady? You can have one for free.” After about 40 others had been in before you. No thanks.
What were the brothels like? Can you describe what they looked like inside?
No, they were only just rooms. A big room and little rooms


off it and these girls used to come out into there and into that big room and blokes’d take a fancy to, you’ll do, and away they go.
How many women would be in there?
It depended on the size of the brothel. Some of them there might be 10 or a dozen and some of them might only be four or five. It was a place to keep out of I thought.
Were there ever fights in there?
Well yeah, that,


especially when the provos, military police, were doin’ the duty that’s when the fights used to be. That’s why they put our own fellas on guard there wouldn’t be near so many fights then.
Did you have to break up any fights?
No we were pretty lucky. You got round there was about eight or 10 of ya and if you fronted up and they’d clear off home and that was it.
Did the army provide a doctor


for the brothels?
I don’t know that there was a doctor there but they’d supply French letters etc [condoms] and that sort of thing and advice but it was up to you that whether you done the right thing or the wrong thing. But I’ll never forget, there was one there, the girl, I reckoned she’d only be 16 or17, there was 53 went in to see her in the one night.


Interviewee: Eric Haldon Archive ID 1492 Tape 06


Where was your company stationed in Syria when you were there as occupation troops?
At Tripoli in the north. Big barracks just above the city. The barracks were up on a mountain and the city was down below. Most a the time. Some of the time, towards the finish we were pushed out into tents out in round through orchards in North Syria.


But that wasn’t as long. It was in the barracks most of the time.
What was Tripoli like as a city?
It was alright. It was quite a nice little town. The people were pretty poor, the majority of em. I think I mentioned it before. The women used to come to the gate and plead for you to give them your washing to do and they used to do it and then they. And when they come back you’d say, “What do I owe ya?”


“Oh, what you think.” Cause they knew you’d give em a bit a little bit more. But we all had our favourite women that would do the washing but they’d do a magnificent job on em. Real good. Saved us a lot a work.
What were they like compared to the Palestinians or Egyptians?
Well, they seemed more civilised. The Arabs even in Palestine didn’t mix with us much at all. They seemed


to keep out of the way.
People were friendlier in Syria?
I think so yeah. Where the ones we struck they were mainly the women that used to come and do the washing and jobs for you like that. But we used to go to the picture theatres there. They had picture theatres there but couldn’t understand the language half the time but you could follow the picture alright.


I trust there would’ve been some French presence there?
I didn’t see much of them.
Free French they would’ve been I guess?
No I think they were mostly gone. Cause they fought the 7th Division, they were against the 7th Division and they’d occupied it for a while before we went up and took over. They come home then, or most of them come home.
Now as a garrison troops what were you doing exactly every day? What were daily routines?


The usual route marches and there was a… I mentioned it before, there was a defence line they built eight to 10 mile out north of Tripoli. Up on the side, the hills used to come like that and then drop down to the plain. They built concrete pill boxes and that all round through them and we used to have to go out and boss over 10 or a dozen of


the Syrians. They used to do a lot, all the digging and that. And then we had to do a mock attack on it but I explained all that a while ago.
In anticipation of a German invasion?
Yeah, yeah. We just sort a tried it out to see what how it’d pan out.
And they had a special ski unit in…?
Yeah. For the mountains.
Yes when we were. We could see the


snow on the mountains towards Turkey from our barracks and they took quite a few of our fellas went up there learning skiing and that.
You didn’t go though?
No, no, no. No mostly those that had come from an area that they had done skiing here in Australia and they were keen to go
I know Syria was notorious


for its brothels in a way almost as bad as Egypt. Can you tell us about the culture there and how the Aussie troops got on there?
The brothels at Tripoli, there was a lot a trouble there. They used to have the provos, military police, tryin’ to handle the situation there but it’d end up in a fight nearly every night. So they sacked them


and they used to pick out about 15 or 20 of ours and take up there and kept control pretty good. Cause our blokes like we went up to a bloke that was playing up a bit and told him to behave himself and they had to he had to take notice and get off out of it. So that’s the only way they could control em is by using their own men against them. Made a big difference.
What does the inside of brothel


look like in Syria?
They just have a big room and then they’d have all little rooms off it. Never took that much notice of ‘em really, cause they were occupied pretty often.
With Aussies?
I suppose they would’ve had French girls in there as well?
I dunno. I dunno. We’d only see the girls. They were paint and powder and that you wouldn’t know whether they were French or what they


I was also told that they had some aggressive strategies the women, that they… well I wouldn’t say aggressive necessarily, but they would come up to you and offer their services or they’d be standing outside.
Yeah, yes, no doubt they’d. We went to one nothing to do so. We had a fella, he was 34 he’d never been out to a women so he said. He said to


my mate and I, he said, “I want you blokes, don’t go, but I want you to take me in and show me how this brothel works.” So smart fellas we were, when we went in we told the head lady about him and she went and told all the girls. And as soon as he come in they tackled him. Held him down and took his pants off. I’ll never forget that. He did,


he abused us. “I’ll never go out with you pair a B’s again!” he said. Just devilment you know.
They tackled him?
Yeah, took him down onto the floor and took his shorts off.
The women did this?
Yeah the women did it. Laugh. That was rather a funny episode.
He must’ve been pretty cheap.


Are these the sort of pranks you’d sort of play on people?
Well you get up to all sorts of pranks in the army I’ll tell ya. Cause somebody’d be playing one on you all the time so you had to get a bit a your own back.
What were the other things about Syria as far regarding that?
We didn’t mix with em that much cause we were busy out at this defence line and that. We used to have to do guard


duty on the picture theatres. Keep our blokes in law and order there and that sort a thing.
You were sent from Syria by this stage they’d developed a problem at El Alamein; how long did you stay in Syria for?
We went up there I think, roughly about


September. No it’d be later. No it wasn’t September. We come out of Tobruk in October. We go up there in about it was after the Japs come into the war, be February, March I spose and we left up there in June.


that’s when things started to go.
That’s a fair stay.
Yes, it was garrison duty more or less.
By the way, did you have any problems with any sort of, like rebel elements in Syria or things like that, your soldiers?
No. Well not that they showed anyway. But on the way back to Alamein we travelled non-stop more or less, only two or three short breaks from Syria right down to Cairo.


As we approached Cairo, I dunno who thought of it, but orders went round that we were to pose as English. So we were to take off all Australian badges. We were tryin’ to talk Pommy. And we got into Cairo and every now and again it’d stop and


the Arabs, young fellas kids’d come up to ya “What you? What you?” “English, English.” “Ha, ha ha” they’d say “You not English. You Aussie.” Say “How do you know?” “English he has black boots. You got tan boots.” Yeah, they were pretty shrewd. And when we hit Cairo a course we were missin’ on a lot a news from up at


Alamein. Only get a bit at the wireless at night and when we hit the streets here’s all these kids sellin’ newspapers left right and centre they’re runnin’ along the convoy sellin’ em left right and centre. We bought a newspaper and thought, we’ll get all the latest now, but when we opened it up the paper was a week old. So we didn’t, weren’t much the wiser. But another thing as we was goin’ through Cairo


some of the people were cheerin’ and clappin’ hands but others you’d see them up on the balcony and thumbs down to us. We weren’t popular at all.
So the Aussies weren’t liked by the Egyptians you reckon?
Odd ones, there was a percentage of em. Percentage I’d say, but the main percentage I think was our way.
So what would the Aussie do when they see someone goin’ like this?


Laugh at em and take no notice of them. But out from between Cairo and Amyria again, we met a convoy going the opposite way, lot a trucks all loaded with stuff. And just as the one got level with us this big red-headed Australian, he’d been havin’ a sleep I think. He woke up and he’s blinkin’ and


lookin’ round and, “Where are you so and so’s been you lot a so and so’s!” he said. And we said to him, “Well you’re goin’ the wrong way, what about comin’ with us?” “No thanks.” he said. There they were air force comin’ back. Bein’ evacuated to somewhere round Cairo. But he didn’t want to come with us, that’s for sure.
This was on your way from Cairo to El Alamein?
Yeah. We went to Amyria for a


couple a days, two or three days and then from there we went up to Alamein.
What were you told about what was happening there?
We knew it was touch and go up there and that Rommell was concentratin’, they expect him to attack again. And when we got there they decided they’d do small counter attacks


from our side to stop him from congregating a big of his best troops in one area. We’d attack here today and somebody else’d attack away over there tomorrow and sort of kept him shiftin’ round and Rommell was supposed to have said when he heard we were there, “Those bloody Australians again.” But he tried to encircle


in, it was 30 mile across from the beach to a big depression which they couldn’t put vehicles through it. It was too soft and he went right over there and gonna come round and cut behind us but he walked into a trap. That’s where they reckoned he’d go and they went into this bit of a ridge and they dug the tanks in so they were just ground level and he didn’t know. He come waltzing up to em and they nearly wiped him out there. They forced


him back and that was the last attack he done.
So what part did you have in this battle?
Well, on the, as soon as we arrived there the 2/24th, that’s our sister battalion, they had attacked and they took the highest point, Trig 33. We called it the Hill of Jesus. They took that and the Germans were counter attacking tryin’ to


recapture it. But they held him off and our job was in. There was a big sort of a range of hills run in the Germans were on that side and we were we could move about here behind em and not be seen. And we were given the job of, if he’d a broke through anywhere it was our job then to stop him. But luckily he didn’t break through. 16th of July was our first


attack. It was what they called the Cutting. A railway cutting through a hill and there were a lot of Italians there and Italians and Germans out further and there was a point out there, 24 I think it was, that they wanted to capture too cause it was a bit a high ground. On the 10th of July, the 13th I think, it was had a go. They took it alright but couldn’t hold it. They lost too many men.


On the 16th we ended up takin’ it but we couldn’t’ hold it cause we’d lost too many men. We had to pull out again. And then about the 17th I think it was. No it was the 17th Battalion. A few days a week or two after we went in, anyway the German reckoned they’d had enough and they pulled back and they occupied those points that we wanted with


no opposition. When I went back over there in 1992 went up to the Cutting and this officer was blah-blah-blahin’ away about how so and so attacked this point they wanted on the 10th and couldn’t hold it and then so and so that was us attacked on the 16th and couldn’t hold it. And we took it on the, he give the


date a bit after. I said, “Now wait a minute,” I said “You’re talkin’ through the top of your hat.” And he got very annoyed. “Why, what do you know about it?” He said. I said “Well, I know you didn’t take it. The Germans had pulled back and you just walked in and took it.” He got the huff and away he went. He didn’t stay with us any longer. He was tellin’ fibs.
Was it a nasty battle?
That was yeah. We lost a lot a men that day, yeah. It was


there was one episode in the Cutting. They dug holes. The Cutting was sloped like that they dug holes in the side of it and they had these where they used to get in the Italians. And I didn’t see it but this is what I was told. There was one, the officer was goin’ along and liftin’ these blankets and tellin’ em to surrender, come out. He lifted this blanket and the bloke inside must a panicked and shot him. Shot him through the face. And


they said before you could say Jack Robinson there was two Australians one each side a the blanket, grenade in the hand, pulled the pin, lifted the thing and rolled the grenades in. That finished them off.
The whole lot?
Well there wouldn’t. There’d only be two or three in there probably but that fixed them. But when C Company of ours went through and took the Cutting and they left all these


prisoners there and then they went up the bank and on, and we were to come through and go through them and take the last little bit. But when we come to the edge of the Cutting these Italians were pickin’ up their rifles and havin’ pot-shots at our blokes in the back. So a lot of Italians died that day for nothin’.
So your company cleaned them up?
Well as soon as they seen what was happening the grenades come out and throw them and that was the finish.
How many


Italians there?
I think we took that day, there was only three companies of ours went in. D and C and us, that’s 300 men. We took over 1100 prisoners that day besides what was killed and wounded.
Did you know what units these Italians were from?
No, no. Just knew they were the infantry that was all.


A lot of them had German officers or German few Germans troops behind em and if they retreated when they shouldn’t have they’d fire at em. To keep em up to law and order.
You saw this happen?
No, we didn’t see it happen but it was reported. Well we went through C Company and the artillery and that was pretty light. It wasn’t bad. But when we went through


C Company that’s when they really opened up machine guns and we had blokes fallin’ everywhere and I got hit in the front a that leg, didn’t know it was there till I could feel something tricklin’ down me leg. It was blood. Our officer was a pretty good soldier and he kept urgin’ us on we kept goin’ and the next one I got was in the calf of the leg, got a blood vessel and she was bleedin’ like a


fountain. I had to hand the machine gun over to me off-sider and sat down and wrapped me leg up. But there would a been quite a few killed and wounded round us. Me mate Roy Sellick got bad wounds to the stomach and I tried to help him back to the Cutting but he said, “I’m too slow.” He says, “Go back and get the stretcher bearers and send em up.” And I contacted the stretcher bearers on the way out and they went up and got him.


But we lost quite a lot that day.
I suppose a lot of them would a been your mates as well?
Yeah, yeah. Well the fella that took. I was offered stripes in Tobruk and I knocked em back and he took em. A shell landed practically at his feet and that was the end of him too.
So your unit was advancing over open ground was it?
Yeah the desert. There’s nothin’ there there’s only…
I meant like the difference between say like a hill


or just straight flat ground?
Yeah just open, just you could see for miles yeah.
Wasn’t easy.
And that was basically the end of your service in North Africa?
No, no, no. I went back to into the 6th AGH [Australian General Hospital] in Palestine. They took the bit a shrapnel that was in the front a me leg out on the side left the other one. I was in hospital three weeks.


I had a funny episode while I was in there. I was up walkin’ round and some of the mates were goin’ over to the picture theatre. So they said, “C’mon, come to the pictures with us.” So I never thought a seein’ the sister and tellin’ her I was goin’. So I go off on me crutches and I hobble over to see the pictures and when I come back the old bloke met me at the door and he said, “You’re in trouble.” He says, “She’s down there at


your bed waitin’.” Sure enough she was. There she was standin’ with her hands on her hips and she gave me a dressin’ down I tell ya. Anyway gettin’ away ahead, 10 years later I was in the police force in Melbourne and there was an accident down at Port Melbourne and I had to attend it. Two women in a car, they’d gone up the wrong side a the road and hit another car. So


I was interviewing the driver and when I turned round and I seen this other woman thought, I’d seen you somewhere before, and it suddenly come to me. It was the sister that had ticked me off over in the hospital. And she’s lookin’ me up and down and I said, “You were in charge of Ward 23 in the 6th AGH.” “Yes,” she says “I know who you are too, now.” She said “You’re the one I ticked off.” That


was 10-years after. But anyway getting back to the other then we from hospital you had to go back via a training camp. And there were a lot of so and so’s at the head a that. We went back on the Monday, quite a batch of us and you had to do a 25 miler on the Saturday before you could go back.


So come Saturday we lined up and the old sergeant major said we were off our bloody head. We wouldn’t do it. But we did 25 miler and done it and got back to our unit then.
So you really wanted to get back to your unit?
Well it was better than there with them blokes. They were some of the nasty blokes in the army some of them. They were real standover merchants and you couldn’t look sideways.


Well then from then it was patrol, patrol, patrol at Alamein until that officer come up. They’d lost, what was it? I just forget how many officers now, a lot, and they were grabbin’ em from anywhere as long as they had pips and they brought this bloke up, he was from Corps Headquarters, that’s how far back he was. He come up one night and


we didn’t know and we were in reserve and in reserve you had to have one man awake all night just in case a paratroops or something on ya. Anyway one a my blokes had gone to sleep and there was nobody on guard and he come over at mornin’ and said, “A noise woke me up and I got up and abused him and I don’t know what the so and so he was doin’ standin’ round there.” And he informed me who he was. He was a lieutenant.


So he was gonna charge us anyway for neglected duty. “I’ll have ya demoted.” he said. I said, “Alright, fire ahead.” And anyway we never heard anymore of it and from the few things he done somebody said, “He’s as weak as piss.” And that’s what we christened him, Pissy.
Not to his face though


did you?
Yeah, we used to tell him, let him hear it. But anyway he went out one night. This is when we mutinied. He went out one night and he found a German outpost and he reckoned there was eight to 10 men in it. So he came back so the old colonel said, “Alright take out a party of 13.” They were great on this 13. The parties used to be two sections with a corporal in charge of each section and


the officer. He said, “Go out and do it over.” So he had to lead. The lieut had to lead us out there but he knew nothing about it at all. That afternoon it come a violent thunderstorm across the desert. And rained it poured and the sand was soft and sloppy. We picked our way through the minefield and got out and at the time we


should’ve reached it within an hour from when we left our own line and when we came to a telephone line lyin’ on the ground and all these fresh boot marks in the wet sand and we said to him, “That’s where the post is.” “No, no, no.” We tried to convince him. Luckily we didn’t. But no, he wouldn’t have it. Such and such a bearing so many paces and away we went again and we went for another hour. The German line was like that and we were like that and


that’s where we were goin’ round in between and we come to the tarred road that run up to Mersa Matruh. We knew well we knew beforehand but that was proof that he was lost. Didn’t know where he was and we were that close to the German main line that we could hear them talking. It was a pretty dark night and we could hear them talking just up the road. And after a few minutes he said, “Alright, bearing such and such.” He said to me, “You


lead off.” I said, “Where is it?” And he pointed straight up the road to where we could hear these voices. I said, “Not on your life. We’re not goin’ up there. That’s the main line.” Did he fly up in the air. I thought he was gonna pull out a gun and shoot me on the spot. He “You know,” he says, “the penalty for mutiny in the field? Shot at dawn.” I said, “Well better dawn than now.” And that stirred him up a bit more. He went to the other corporal and


he wouldn’t go either. So he went off over and sat on his own on a rock, so we got bout four of our other blokes that we knew were pretty staunch and knew what they were talkin’ about I said, “You stay here with us so as we’ve got plenty of witnesses if he does go on with this in the morning.” Anyway he came back after a while and he’s still tryin’ to get us to go there, but no. Went away again and he came back. That was gettin’ on towards one o’clock and we had to


be back in our own line or we were gone and it’d take us nearly three hours to get back. Anyway he come back and he said, “Alright,” he said, “I’ll have to admit,” in front of all of us, six of us there was, “have to admit that I think I’ve made a mistake.” And I said, “Yeah, we know damn well you’ve made a mistake.” “Oh well,” he said “let’s go back to our own lines,” he said, “you lead off.” And by this time I’m


ropable. So I said, “No, you’re so bloody smart you lead off!” And he couldn’t. He didn’t have the faintest idea how to go back. Anyway he went and sat on the rock again for about a quarter of an hour or so. At last he come over and apologised and said, “We’ve got to go back, you lead us back.” So we got back to our own lines just as it was breaking daylight. The very next night we were sent out again to do


this post over as they called it, and we walked into an ambush and we only lost one man but we were damn lucky to get out of it that night. There was about 30, we found after that the post held at least 30 men and there was 30 come at us from behind. Well we were in between the two of em and it was a dark night so somebody give the order every man for himself and


they were goin’ in all directions. I think the poor bugger that got killed, I think he only come up two nights before but I don’t think he’d ever been trained for infantry. And if they put a flare up and if he kept running when he got a flare, well he was gone. Soon as the flare went up you had to hit the ground and stay there until it went out. Then get up and go again and I think he kept movin’ and they got him anyway.


This was a German ambush?
Yeah. Well we done lots a those patrols right up until the last big battle started. We were in reserve when it started and we didn’t get any action until. It started on the 23rd, 10 o’clock at night or 9.40


And we didn’t get any action although we lost men from the shelling comin’ over till the 28th and they’d pushed a hole right up through the Germans and they were gonna cut across here to the coast and cut off all these Germans that were there and we got that job of cutting across to cut em off and we were riding in on tanks. Thirty odd tanks and a full section of men. Anything from eight nine or 10 men on the back


of a tank and they got caught in the minefield. And the tanks got stationery and he had an 88 artillery piece and they were dynamite they were. And he’s sittin’ up on a bit of a rise and he’s pickin’ the tank off, tank by tank. And a course most of the infantry on the back were goin’ too. He had three shots at ours and the shell


just went over the top. The wind of it nearly blew ya off the back of the tank. And then they brought in the heavy mortars and those things you can’t hear them comin’. Just a ‘swoosh’ as they hit the ground. I was sittin’ on the back of the tank with that leg hangin’ down and the boot nearly touchin’ the ground and it exploded there right under, within that far a me. If I’d a been that far forward there’d only be bits left. So one minute I was on the…I was thirteen and a half stone


one second I was on the back a the tank the next I was on the broad a me back on the ground. And out a the nine men we had on the tank only two survived that night without gettin’ wounded.
How many got killed?
No none got killed luckily. All got wounded.
That was a standard tactic for infantry to mount tanks and take up?
No not really. That was the first time ever we’d done it.
I see.
Cause they used to draw the crabs [attract enemy fire], the damn tanks, and they were handy


to have I spose if you was in a scrap but the first time we went with em they were…
Just for cover?
Yeah the it wasn’t fun at all. Especially if you got. If they’d hadn’t got caught in the minefield. They’d lifted a path through the minefield but Jerry must a. We called the Germans Jerry, he must a been watchin’ and when they went away he must a laid more mines. Front tank went in on the rest of em had to go round they’re in a minefield and boom boom


up they’re goin’.
These mines, were they anti-tank mines?
Yeah, they blow a track off. Bang, and perhaps kill the ones in the tank too cause they were pretty powerful.
So they could blow up a tank?
Yeah. Yeah they. Yes they weren’t funny.
What sort of tanks were you operating with then?
Grant, I think they were the Grant.
American tanks?
Or the Sherman. The Sherman was the last one we


had. There must a been a Sherman, they were a better tank. They’re longer range and…. but anyway our old colonel got off the tank, old Bernie Evans, and stood out in the open and lit a cigarette took a puff and said, “Get off those B tanks and follow me.” And they eventually took the place without the aid of the tanks. But


after that see our battalion’d be between a thousand and eleven hundred men and they had 400 left. All wounded and killed and. But that was the last into hospital and we had a funny episode in the hospital too.
Another one?
Yeah a real funny one this one. There was, I think there was five of us in the ambulance and we got back and where should we land


but in a Pommy hospital. Not an Australian one. Got there late at night. Put us to bed and next morning the head sister come in and bout nine o’clock she said, “Righto you fellas,” she said “those of you that can, walking wounded will stand up and stand to attention and the matron’s comin’. And those a you that are confined to your bed you’ll lie to attention in bed.”


And one of our fellas was a pretty foul-mouthed sort of a bloke and he up and say anything anytime. And he said to her, “If you think I’m gonna do all that for some old scraggy old so and so and so and so,” he says, “you’ve got another thing comin’.” and the poor old sister she didn’t know what to do. She went red and white all at once. I’ve never seen such a quick movement. Within a quarter of an hour we were in an ambulance and sent off to an


Australian hospital. Only part he reckoned we’d regret, seein’ the old bag as he called her. Cause the English were a bit like that. Even a lance corporal, when we were on leave one time before Alamein, went into the tent to hand our weapons in before we went into the town and he wanted us to stand to attention when we addressed him. A lance corporal!


We told him where he could go and what he could do with the rifles. And walked off out and he followed us out after a while and he said, “You better come in and do the right thing.” Yeah. There was some funny episodes I can tell ya.
What about on the battlefield with the Germans, I’m sure you must’ve had some funny instances as well. I mean you got this extremely serious tragic situation and at the same time these sort of


strange incidents happen.
Yeah, well the Germans were pretty good to handle. Once you took em prisoner that was it. The majority of ‘em, once you took em prisoner they’d give up, right you got me. And one time I was in the wounded, the first time I think it was. No it must a been the second time, he was in a ward alongside a me on the clearance station and he could talk a bit a broken English and


he was tellin’ me he had a wife and so many kids back in Berlin and he hadn’t heard from ‘em for six weeks and he was really worried about ‘em. But you know, he was quite good to talk to. And another one he was the captain. Did I tell ya about that fella on the…?
No, you haven’t, no.
He was taken prisoner at Alamein and he was sittin’ on the something and some of our blokes come along and course


they’re never backward in comin’ forward and it was adjectives about this long, “You un-so and so.” And he ended up sayin’, “If it hadn’t a been for you we’d a been home in Australia now.” And he sat there grinnin’ for a while and then he put his cap back a bit further and he says, “Yeah if it hadn’t a been for you.” He could speak perfect English. “If it hadn’t a been for you so and so bloody Australians we’d a been in Cairo.”


Dear. He could see the funny side of it.
How did the Aussies react?
Only laughed and walked off.
Did you have respect for the Germans?
Yeah definitely. Yeah they were alright. Once you took em prisoner that was it. There was an odd one that’d go a bit berserk but few and far between.
What do you mean go a bit berserk?
Well there was one bloke, I didn’t see it but one bloke’s supposed to be put in an ambulance and


he pulled a gun or something and shot somebody, a grenade or something, but they didn’t let him last, they pulled him out and shot him. But the majority of em they were same as what we were once you got taken prisoner, well that’s what it was. You had it.
Now clearly you had it difficult fighting against the Germans, they weren’t like the Italians in their professionalism.
Oh no, they were vastly different. At Alamein


they had, when we first started the big attacks they had what we called the football team. 18 Boston Bombers, they were on our side and they’d fly in formation like that over the German lines and they were what we called pattern bombing. If we were gonna attack a certain area they’d bomb there, another one’d bomb there. They’d just saturate that with bombs the whole area that we were gonna attack. The artillery’d open


up for two hours on that same area, for two hours on dusk and if we went in they’d come up and fight. They were good, there was no doubt about em.
So under all that they’d still fight?
Yep. They’d still fight.
And they’d fight well?
Yeah. Yeah course, once you dig in you’ve got to get more or less a direct hit in the trench to do much and if you did get a direct hit well you gone but they can land pretty close but the blast’ll go over the top a you and all


that and so we all learnt that pretty quick.
Did the Germans have any special units that you fought against?
Well they were all good, the Germans, there were no special about em. They were all good. Very good, they had the 88 artillery piece and that was a wizard that one. They had a longer range


than any of ours would have and they were very accurate and they’d use em either as artillery or air bursts. They’d fire em and they’d burst up over your head. Had one situation where they were doin’ that to us and we were losing men left right and centre wounded and our blokes did act pretty quickly. They brought up big sheets a tin and they handed


one round to every or half sheets round to every two men and put that on and heap the sand up over the top bout this high and the metal wouldn’t penetrate through then. So you get out of it alright unless you got up underneath the tin at the end.
Interviewee: Eric Haldon Archive ID 1492 Tape 07


I wanted to ask you when you, the first time you were wounded, can you tell me a bit more about your wounds? Exactly what damage was done?


Not that much but it handicapped ya. The one piece went in there and they took it out about there and then the other piece hit at the back a the thing and got the artery there. Before I could even hand the gun over and that me boot was full and it was everywhere and I just sat there and bound her up till I stopped it and then toddled out.
Was it painful?
No, sort of a numb feeling that


was all, yeah. And then we was up, get caught in the main, the second time when I got blown off the back of the tank I got a piece in the ankle a piece in there and a piece in there. They’re all still there. Still got them. Carry ‘em round with me as a souvenir.
After the first time how did you recover?


I was in hospital about three weeks and then I was right, fit as a fiddle ready to go back.
No permanent damage?
No, no, no. The one in the back a the leg came against me after I got out of the army. I was playing football up in the Kiewa Valley and I done… anything strenuous that leg would swell and then it’d be right by next week and play again


it’d swell again and I went to the doctor and he took it out. It was resting against a blood vessel, one of the main blood vessels. and any exertions used to make it bleed.
Did you have to prove yourself to prove that you were fit in order to get back to the front?
As I said earlier you come out of the hospital you go back to a training camp


and we went Monday, we had to do a 25 miler Saturday and we did. When you do that 25 miler they’d send you back to your battalion.
Okay, so that’s when you did the 25 mile march. So you had no trouble doing that with your leg?
No. No.
Were you keen to get back to the front?
Well, keen to get back away from the blokes in the trainin’ camp cause they’re all the nasty brutes there.


They’re real standover merchants [bullies] you know.
So you’d rather get shot at than put up with blokes like that?
Yeah, yeah. Well back amongst your own mates too it makes a big made a big difference. Cause you were all pretty thick you know, all the infantry fellas.
So when you returned to the front at Alamein and you were doing patrols, were you still operating the Bren gun?
No. No.


No, a section leader never operates the Bren gun. You have your own Bren gunner and you just keep an eye on everything and give the orders and carry on that way.
Alright so you weren’t operating a Bren gun anymore and so you were a section commander did you say?
Leader yeah.


Yeah, I was only a lance corporal but after that one that took the stripes when I knocked em back was killed, they give us another one and we had problems with him. As soon as things got a bit tight he’d go out sick. And it’d cool down, he’d come back. This went on all the time and when he went I had to take over.


Now was this the same bloke that led you on the attack when…?
No, no this was only a corporal. That was a lieutenant on the other business. But this fella was he was the same right through Alamein, came home we trained for New Guinea, we went to New Guinea and he only lasted a few days and went out


sick again and the officer, a bloke named Cudlip, he was a hell of a good officer he come to me and said, “I want you to take two stripes.” And I said, “Not on your life, not if this fella’s comin’ back.” And he said, “Leave it with me. He’ll never get back to the battalion again.” and he didn’t either. He wouldn’t have him back.


Now what happened to the lieutenant?
He was killed on the 28th, the night we got blown off the tank. And believe it or not we threw our hats it the air and cheered. That’s what we thought of him. It was, he had no idea. No idea of leadin’ men. He couldn’t find his way out of a paper bag I don’t think.


That’s must’ve been very unpopular.
Well he was. He was the, not many of them are like it, but he thought he knew everything and he’d never been in action and he’d never been up the desert, anything at all. And he wouldn’t listen to us. No way. He just, his way was right and that’s the way you’ll do it.
Were there other incidents?


they were the two main. The first night he come up and our bloke had gone to sleep and then leadin’ that patrol. But we didn’t see a great lot of him, he never took us on a patrol again after that, we’d have perhaps another officer or a sergeant to take us and take us out.
To actually


cheer when he died though?
Yeah, they threw their hats and cheered.
That’s really drastic. Do you think there would’ve been many blokes there that would’ve got a cheer when they died?
No, no there would not. The majority of the officers were good. Well they had to be good there too or they soon get into trouble you know, as long as they were reasonable we


were reasonable.
Now after Alamein, where did you go to from there?
Home. Home here to Australia. Had a bit of leave in Tel Aviv and then home. We arrived home in end of January or early February. Tied up at Station Pier at Port Melbourne.


What did you do on leave in Tel Aviv?
Nothing much, just wandered the streets and bought a few presents to send home or bring home and there wasn’t much to do really.
Some of the blokes must’ve gone out and got drunk.
Some of them. But the group we were with there was about four or five of us and none of us did drink. One place, it was in Tel Aviv too, where we’d be goin’


round, and there used to be a place where they used to have strawberries and ice cream. And the old bloke that run it, when he seen us comin’ he’d say, “Here comes my strawberry and ice cream boys.” So that’s what we used to have instead a grog.
And so you returned to Australia at that point, what was it like to come back here?


nice. Very nice. We tied up at Station Pier and my favourite aunt lived only five minutes from Station Pier in Port Melbourne but they had about 20 or 30 provos [military police]. You had to open the big steel gates to get onto Station Pier. Some of them went down under the pier and climbed along and some stripped off and carried their clothes and swum out and went off. But we were handicapped


and I wanted to get up to the aunt’s place so we got in there about nine o’clock in the morning and about half past three when the train backed in to take the next lot a troops the provos used to get half and half each side at the gate. So there might a been 10 or 15 there and 10 or 15 over this side. And we were standin’ there watching and the train came in and there was only two provos on our side. And there was a lieutenant with us. I don’t know who he was but


he wasn’t one a ours. He might a been our battalion but he was in a different company and there was about 20 of us. So he said, “Have a look boys.” And we had a look and there was only two there and he said, “Right, let’s charge.” So we went straight at em. And they stepped aside and said, “Come back on time.” It was rather funny.
So you were supposed to stay on ship


the whole time?
On board yeah. We knew we weren’t getting off till nine o’clock so they give us our timetable we were leaving the ship at nine o’clock at night but we had all day to if we could get ashore to go and see something. But we eventually go there and went up to runnin’ round one a the streets up to the aunt’s place and I met the lot of them. The aunt and cousins and that all comin’ down they’d heard we were onboard. So went round to their place and had a


a meal and a great old yap yap yap and come back at nine o’clock ready to come off.
What was your top priority? What did you miss most about Australia, food or Australian life?
Wel,l the food was always better back here that’s for sure. And at least you had someone to besides your own mates to talk to. Over there a different language and you know, the


Arabs you couldn’t talk to ‘em and they weren’t no different in Syria much. They could say an odd word here and there and it was pretty hard.
Did you catch up on any news?
Not at that not the first. We came straight up by train to Seymour. The camp just out of


Seymour and then we were given a fortnight’s leave straight away. Went home on leave and caught up with everything there and back and then about another week or 10 days after we marched through Melbourne and about half a million people there and that much


noise goin’ on that you couldn’t even hear the bands. Going back to the train some a the blokes’d say, well I want a day off, carry me rifle. I carried three rifles back onto the train to go back to Seymour. But they all paid for it. There was a lieut, two three 3 corporals got demoted because they went AWL [Absent Without Leave]. So they were pretty


hard on ‘em.
What was it like to march in front of all those people?
Well as I say you couldn’t hear the bands so you had to get along and you hear someone say, “I can see the blood all on his bayonet!” and all this sort of crap they’d sing out. But it wasn’t so at all. But they estimated there was half a million there watchin’ it.
Did you feel like a


Well I spose we did stick out chests out a bit reckon we done alright.
So after you returned home and had bit of leave did you then go north for jungle training?
Yep. Right up onto the Tablelands and that was in about


What sort of jungle training did you do?
Well we’re a bit advantaged because they had blokes that had served in the jungle come there and was one allotted here there and everywhere through us just telling us what the Japs would get up to how they’d go about it and all this sort a caper. So we were sort a forewarned. Because the Japs had


bits a habits of you’d come along and suddenly a Jap’d jump out in front a you and run up around the corner. And if you was foolish enough to follow him you could get blown away cause they’d be… the others’d be sitting round the corner waitin’ for ya all that sort a caper. And we were warned about that so we just took it nice and quietly and. But you could smell the Japs they had a peculiar odour


and when you’d go along there’s only paths through the jungle. There wasn’t any big tracks come to a village and if there was no one in the village we’d have somebody runnin’ all round sniffin’ all round and if you sniffed ‘em you’d strike em within a hundred yards. I spose they could smell us too, but they were, had a funny odour about em.
What sort of smell, can you describe it?
No it’d be pretty hard. It’s sort of


a sour, I don’t know what you’d call it to tell ya the truth.
What other sort of techniques did you train in?
Well, the jungle fighting see was pretty hard after the desert. The desert you could see for miles but the jungle fighting they could be within


five six feet of ya and you wouldn’t see em until the last instant and you had to be aware the whole time. So therefore the forward scout would have to be changed regular. Like you’d only leave him there for five, perhaps 10 minutes and then another one’d go up and take over cause the strain was pretty hard. Cause they were, if they walked into an ambush well, you’re in big trouble.


But we had one fella Tom, what the hell was his name? He was a big, tall fella and when you said good morning to him it’d take him about five minutes to say good morning back. And one day I wasn’t there but they had him doin’ his share at forward scout and we were, had the Japs on the run and we were followin’ em up you know,


and the track was up there, the jungle was up there, and there was a track and that’s where the track was, it was a drop of about three feet and he’s getting along and the others are strung out behind him and suddenly two Japs must a been asleep, sposed to be on guard, they must a been asleep in a hole up on the side a the road. And he was only eight feet from him and they both up with their rifles and fired him and missed him.


And the sergeant, Danny Mulqueen, before they could do anything he cut ‘em both down with an Owen gun. But that’s how you know how close you could walk into an ambush. But the 2/24th walked into an ambush. That was towards the finish, it was Wairopi, and the track went from Wairopi up and it come right back round like that and there was


two sharp turns and the Jap was on the run and they got a bit careless and they went up there and along there, they had a machine gun there and a machine gun there, they killed 10 I think it was and wounded about 10 or 15. Walked right into the ambush. So you had to be on your toes the whole time.
Now when you were at Queensland were you introduced to the Owen gun?


No, not until we were just ready to go. Right at the last instant we were. Because it was like everything else they were short supplied you know. But they were good, they were only close range fightin’ though, but we did do a little bit a practice with ‘em, but the practice we did, we used to throw a tin out


there on the road fifteen twenty yards away and fire from the hip and bowl him along the ground from the hip. They were very accurate. But you could drop em in the mud, water, anything, pick em up, bang, and away they’d go. Still operate. They’re good for in close up fighting but once you got out a hundred yards well, they weren’t as accurate there.
Right, now you after you’d been trained


you then went to Port Moresby first?
No we went to Milne Bay.
Straight to Milne Bay?
Well, before we were training I was pulled out while we were in Queensland and went sent to a junior leaders’ school just out of Brisbane and while I was there the battalion went to Milne Bay. So when I finished the school I went back to Townsville and then we went from there to Milne Bay.


Only there about no more than a week and they were ready for the attack on Lae and that was our job.
So you rejoined your battalion at Milne Bay?
Yeah. Yeah and they came up with Infantry Landing Craft, they were the ones with the ramp down the side of it. And they picked us up at,


just down at a jetty down from Milne Bay, took us down to Buna and we got off there at Buna and had a good meal. And I met me brother there again. Ken, he was in the 2/43rd and they were there. And we had a yarn and then they loaded us back up again and we went out and was picked up by about five American destroyers and they escorted us up to where we were to land at Lae on the beach.


They stood in and blasted hell out a the area was to go in with guns the destroyer. We were the third row in and we were supposed to be in the middle, our company, B Company, but somehow we ended up on the left hand end. I dunno how, but that’s the way it happened. We had aircraft flyin’ round over the top of us all the time. Our aircraft, and we seen these


three bombers comin’ in and we thought they’re ours, and didn’t take any notice. Watching like that and suddenly opened come the bay doors and down come the bomb. And from experience we knew that they were gonna go over the top of us but they were gonna hit somebody further on. They hit headquarters company. Killed the colonel and eight or nine and wounded about 40. But it didn’t make any difference, we went straight into the shore and out into the jungle and


from there we were quite a while getting to Lae cause the rain held us up. When it rained there it rained bucketfuls. And the Busu River was about I spose, two three chain wide [66 feet] and if you went in up to your knees it’d wash you off your feet after this heavy rain. And you could hear the great big boulders, three foot, goin’ rumblin’ down the river.


That held us up for 36 hours before we could get across it. We got across that and they went on towards Lae and the next river was only a little short one and it was dry when we got there. There was no water running and the battalion was along the coast and we were on an inland track in a mile half a mile or so in different places


and we got pretty easy goin’ we didn’t strike any Japs but the battalion had along the coast and we didn’t have wireless contact at all. We had no contact when we got to this dry river, this Cudlip, the good officer, he said to m,e “Take one man and go down and make contact with the battalion at the mouth of the river.” So we went down alright and I couldn’t see any movement before we got there, so I thought we’d better go pretty scarce and


careful. We got there and there was our battalion wasn’t there. All that was there was Jap tracks. You could tell them because they had a boot covered those and then for the big toe. And here was all their tracks headin’ up towards where our battalion was. So I said to the bloke with me I said, “We better get out of this quick smart.” So we headed back got back to the company and I went to the captain and just started


to tell him what we’d seen and heard and the stand to order come. There was six Japs, what was left of what went up and attacked our battalion they got a pretty good sort a hidin’ and they’d followed round the exact track we’d come. If we’d a been 20 minutes later we’d a been two of us against six of them. But instead a comin’ in on the track they headed straight for the mountain and went up into the mountain somewhere and we never seen em again. Didn’t get a chance to shoot em. So


they got away. From there we went on into Lae and the 7th Division had come down from the Markham Valley that way and we were goin’ up the coast this way. They beat us there by a few hours. Only in there a day or two when we were sent back out about 10 mile back out where we’d come and from there they sent the 2/43rd , 2/28th and 2/32nd


I think they were, they were the three battalions up to attack Finschaffen further up the coast and we were to follow up in LSTs [Landing Ship Tank]they were the great big one and they had the front of it just used to go up on the beach and flop down and you could drive a tank or anything out onto it and all the supplies. We were to unload that and we went in about sunrise I spose and


knowin’ that the ammunition everything was shortage we worked like hell to get it all off and we’d just about finished at about one o’clock, a warning goes, ‘Jap planes are in the area.’ So the captain ordered us all aboard and they’d rather be to sea manoeuvring instead of locked up on the beach and away we went and when we got out there, there wasn’t


much stuff left. We’d unloaded most of it so they decided there was three of those big LSTs decided to come back to Lae and about one o’clock the siren goes and we rush up on deck lookin’ all round. Knowin’ we wasn’t supposed to, but lookin’ round couldn’t see anything. It all went quiet went down below again and next thing it’s goin’ again. We rush up again and when we get up on


deck the five American destroyers that were escortin’ us had about turned and they were goin’ back the way we came. And we looked and there they were. There was 15 planes. There was nine bombers, torpedo bombers comin’ in on the water and six fighter planes up above em. And the Yanks they held their fire until they dropped their torpedoes and


the instant. They watched and the instant they dropped the torpedoes all the ships changed course like this zig zagged you know. They missed the tail of ours by about 60 yards I suppose. You could see it goin’ across the water and the destroyers opened fire. And I’ve never seen planes fall. It was like shootin’ ducks. The Yanks they were droppin’ em left right and centre and they fell in front of us and nobody took any notice and then one or two


got past us and somebody said look up here and we looked and the Yankee comin’ in with the Lightnings [aircraft] they’re the twin tail things and the old Jap sitting up there. You could see him as plain as anything when he went past our ship and he’s lookin’ over at us like this and the Lightning come down and cut him in half with a burst a fire cut him in half and just flopped into the sea. There was one Jap got away. One Jap. I’ve never seen a bloke fly a plane like him. He’d be a way up there and


you’d say he’s gone this time he’s like this and he’d get down near the sea and then he’d whoosh and away he’d go. It was unreal.
The American bloke?
No he was a Jap. They never got him. They got the rest and they told us afterward there was 45 of them set out after us but they were the 15 that got through and they shot. That was the best sight I reckon ever I seen in the war. It was lovely to see cut them in half and puttin’ em into the


Why do you think they held their fire until they dropped their torpedos?
Well I spose that’s to make sure that they knew where the torpedoes were going see. Cause if they’d a started shootin’ at ‘em first and hittin’ ‘em, well they’re likely to go anywhere and they’d still let ‘em go. But once they dropped ‘em they reckoned they were on target but all the ships, they must a been watchin’ too and they all changed course. So it was a great experience that.
Now tell me a little bit more


more about the first landing that you made, it wasn’t at Lae it’s further?
No it was quite a few mile away at what they call Red Beach, it was a beach that had apparently been surveyed. They reckoned that was the best spot to get ashore to where you could get your supplies and everything and then you, well I spose we must a been ten twelve mile from Lae, perhaps more. Cause it was damned hard goin’ there.


Another thing on that, we had that meal at Buna I was tellin’ ya about. We… all we had was from then till Tuesday night was what they called the emergency ration. It was in a tin about that long and there wasn’t much in it. Only hard biscuits and a little bit a honey and this sort a thing and nothin’ worth eating really. And we got nothing more till Tuesday night.


And ever since we was all looking at one another and they said to my mate, he was a little, short, fat fella and they said, “By Christ you’re goin’ on the pan tonight if you don’t look out!” Kiddin’, but that’s how hungry they were.
Well you’d never done an amphibious landing before had you?
No, no, that oh well we’d done training at Cairns at comin’ ashore but wasn’t easy.


Did it go smoothly?
Yes it did. Like the first two got in. We were the only lots that got bombed. Cause they didn’t have any troops there the Japs, or artillery or anything. But our lot was the only one that got caught comin’ in.
But it didn’t actually catch the landing did it? I thought it went over the top and hit HQ [Headquarters]?
Well, the beach


was there and we were coming in a line here there. All those landing craft would be in a line and they went over us here and hit the one there but we were only fifty sixty yards from the shore.
I see, so it hit one of the other landing craft. Okay. Now given your quick jungle training did the jungle measure up to what you’d


been expecting?
Yes, it was damned hard because you could only see a few feet. They could be within six feet of you and you wouldn’t see ‘em until the last thing. It was not that we did but as I said we could always seemed to be able to smell them a bit and if you got that whiff you’d be very cautious then. At one stage we had Fuzzy Wuzzies [indigenous guides], those guides, and I


don’t know how they did it but they’d into the jungle and they’d go along a hundred yards and see a big black head come out. Have a look all round back into the jungle again. And they used to get through that jungle, of course we had packs and stuff all on us that use to get hooked up and that sort a thing made all the difference.
How did you find the actual terrain?
Pretty hard.


Lae wasn’t so bad but Finschaffen was bad. It was very hilly and you had it was wet you’d have mud half way up to your knees and you’d get to the top a the hill and you’d think thank god for that and the valley’d go down there and up on ya reccy [reconnoitre] you could nearly reach over and touch the next one and it’d be four mile away. And goin’ down was worse than goin’ up. You’d climb goin up


but goin’ down your feet’d be goin’ in all directions and wasn’t easy.
It was very different from the Tablelands in Queensland?
Yeah. Yeah.
Did they actually give you, these experienced blokes, did they give you any tips on surviving the terrain?
No, not much about the terrain, they just said it was hilly and muddy and it would be muddy when we got there. See it was up there in the tropical rains were on and


the rains were. Well you’d look up and they weren’t drops comin’ down they were just as though somebody was chuckin’ it out of a bucket big sheets of it. And at the Busu River it had held us up it was a fair slope from where we were down to the river but for 36 hours that was six inches of water and the only ever sleep you get a heap a sticks


and put there put ya bag on it then pull ya groundsheet over the top a ya head and lie down in the water. The water was nice and warm but that’s the only way you could get any sleep. She was wet alright.
Now by the way, before I go any further, before I forget, can I ask what happened to your finger?
That one? That’s just old age. I don’t know what happened probably done it playin’ football.
Okay. Thought it might a been a war injury.


But then there’s usually a story to one like that. Now from Lae, where did you go to from there?
Well as I said, we done the taking of supplies up to the other brigade and landed there then they got into trouble. The Japs tried to split em in half


come down a certain track and gonna split em in half they reckoned they could beat em then and we were rushed up there then to Finschaffen.
Finschaffen right. And what happened at Finschaffen once you actually got there?
It was patrol, patrol up hill and down dale and certain areas and


by this time the Japs tried to cut the units in half and come right to the beach. They had boats coming in from the beach too. But luckily a few days before they ambushed a Jap patrol and killed the lot and the officer had a map and everything on him showing where they were going to attack and when.


They were to light a big fire on Sattleberg. Sattleberg was the mountain that overlooked the lot and these troops were to come down this track and the boats were to come in from the sea. Well our blokes got the information. So they took two Vickers machine guns up this track and got a nice long spot, dug them well in, put infantry round em and waited. And sure enough they lit


a fire on Sattleberg. They come down this track I wasn’t there but they said they killed 500 Japs and the ones coming in from the sea run into the blokes on the beach, and one Yank, I think they said he was a Negro, he was on a 30mm or 28mm, something gun, and one come in right at him and he opened up on em and


knocked half of em but they eventually got him and killed him. But they knocked em about that much there was nothing of em left and that sort of ended the, as far as the Japs attack went, it was us attacking them then up on Sattleberg and that’s where we ran into trouble.


If you could tell us about the tracks there?
Well the main track up to the top a Sattleberg was, been cut in, I spose with bulldozers or something before. It was wide enough for a vehicle to get up although some, the tanks, had a bit a job trying to get up there. But the other tracks were only just ordinary


footpaths more or less you could say. They might a been eight or ten feet wide but just a bit of a track along the middle of it and they twisted and turned and up hill and down hill. A lot of rivers there especially. They’re rivers everywhere.
And what about the insects there?
Yes, mosquitoes and leeches.


Mosquitoes by the thousand and leeches by the thousand. Your night time was worst for the leeches. You’d lie down and the next thing they’d be crawlin’ all round ya and all over you and they weren’t fussy where they got hold of ya either. They’d get you in the ear or if you had your mouth open they’d get ya in the mouth or anywhere. They were bad. There nothin’ much you could do about em. Mosquitoes you couldn’t do anything about em.


They were just in millions.
Did you take Atebrin [anti-malarial medication]?
Yeah. Yeah you’re on at Atebrin all the time. But you go almost as yellow as the tablet by the time you’d finished.
Did you get sick at all?
Yes, later on I got what they reckoned was Dengue Fever. But that was right


at the finish. I knew we were coming home and I was four days with it up to 104 [degrees] and they wanted to put me in hospital but I wouldn’t go. I stayed cause we were comin’ home. I eventually got over it. Didn’t get malaria until I come home. I was home two or three months went up to Queensland and down with malaria.
Interviewee: Eric Haldon Archive ID 1492 Tape 08


Eric can you just back track a little regarding your battle experience in PNG [Papua and New Guinea]? Which are the major operations you were involved in again? I know you were involved in Finschhafen?
Lae was our first target and then Finschhafen. And we eventually pushed up the coast the northern coast as far as Sio S-I-O


S-I-O. Sio.
Where’s that exactly?
Well it’s opposite, you know where Rabaul is on the island of Rabaul is, well it comes down like that and the coast is there Sio’s over on the north starting at the north coast of New Guinea.
North coast? So is it before Madang or past Madang?
No, no before you get to Madang. Well down before you get to Madang.
And there was a battle at Sio as well?
No, no. That’s as far as


we got and then another crowd took over from us and we come home.
OK. Now you were involved in the battle of Sattleberg? Tell us the lead up to that battle where was that from Finschhafen?
Yeah, yeah well the main track went up and when you got near the top we were pushin’ the Jap back all the way. The top a the mountain was there. There was a side track went round like that. The 2/48th that’s where


Derek won his VC [Victoria Cross]. Goin’ up straight up the top there and we were to go round the side track and go in circle in round behind them. But we’d hardly left that track only 200 yards and we run into trouble. The bombers had bombed there a good while before hand and their bombs were that big that when they hit the jungle they just threw em up in big heaps from not as wide as this house


but six foot high and they were all dry and there’d be one here and one over there and clear ground in between. Well as soon as we left the main track the 2/48th were attacking that way and we were to go this way. We ran into this mob a Japs dug in under these, they apparently cut tracks in from the end like that so they could stand up and they had the advantage. They could stand up and look and we were comin’


slitherin’ along the ground. After one day that we sent out a patrol and he found a way of goin’ down a creek and round get behind where these Japs were dug in. And the next day we were ordered to go and wipe em out. We went round and cut the track


and my section was left to guard the rear track. The others were to attack up to the Japs and they were up there doin’ a bit of scrappin’. They were havin’ shots were bein’ fired and our job was to stop anybody from comin’ up the track behind. And there happened to be a sink hole about three foot or three foot six inches deep, perfect, so I put the Bren gun in there


and his off-sider plus one a the best shots we had, good shot. And they had a fifty or sixty yards straight down the track. We wasn’t there long and along come a Jap. Singing away to himself carryin’ his rifle over his shoulder and he got up to about six or 8 eight feet and he suddenly seen the rifle pointing up at him and that was the finish of him.


Well I think it was three or four done that. We shot em and dragged em off the track. Then two cooks come with dixies, great big dixie thing. They were getting’ a bit suspicious by this shooting there. They come round the track, they were about 50 yards from us and I said to the Bren gunner, “Hold your fire. Don’t shoot. If they turn to go back let em have it.” They


stood there and they yap away for a good while then they decided they’d go back. So he cut em down then. But the others had gone up the track to attack this where they were dug in under the tree and they’d lost two or three men by the time then. And by that time we got word that they were bringin’ more troops off the top of the hill and they were coming round behind to cut us off.


So we had to go up to join those up on the where they were attacking and just as we got there they ordered this fair dinkum attack and we lost eight killed and about 20 wounded in about five minutes and the ones from behind were comin’ round to cut us off. So it was a matter of we had to withdraw and there was only one way out. That was out the


side. Now a good mate a mine, he was a real special friend, he was in a different platoon to me and he had a bullet hit him just there above the knee and broke his leg. His mates tried to drag him out but he pleaded with them to leave him cause it was too painful. So they left him and we didn’t know anything about it till we got nearly back to our own line.


All that night we were all pretty down in the dumps I can tell ya, losing so many and that, and next morning, about just not long after sunrise we could hear a voice callin’ out but we couldn’t understand what was bein’ said. And someone said yes, that it would be this mate a mine. But we wasn’t sure


and it went on for I spose an hour him callin’ out but we still couldn’t get the words he was sayin’. And then as though he was only 20 yards away it come through the jungle, “Haldon ya big bastard where are ya?” As clear as a... and several of us heard it so we knew then it was Lance. So I went straight to the


company commander and asked permission to take a patrol out to see if I could get to him. But he refused. “No,” he said, “we’ve had enough casualties yesterday. We’re not havin’ more today.” So he stirred the blood up my spine a bit so I turned round walked off and I went back to the others and I said, “I’m goin’ up to battalion headquarters.” It was only a hundred yards down the road.


I went down to the battalion headquarters got the colonel. And explained it all to him. And he said, “Well go back, pick 12 men and go out see what you can do.” So I went back and I think that officer that wouldn’t let us go I think he had me in the gun after that. Goin’ over the top of him. But anyway I got picked out 12 good blokes and


I said, “We’ll go out and see if we can get to him.” We went a bit different track and he kept calling out and that sort of guided us to where we had to go to the right spot and I reckoned that because I’d done the talkin’ to get the job in that I’d have to be the forward scout. So I got to the heap a logs and I reckoned his


voice was just on the other side and we hadn’t seen a Jap or heard a Jap or anything. And anyway I signalled to the other blokes that instead a goin’ round the end if there was anybody waitin’ that’s where they’d be pointin’. I was gonna go over the top. I went over the top and landed right beside him and I’ll never forget the look on his face. Called me all the b’s about the place. And anyway


his leg was... I asked him “Where’s the Japs?” He said “They’re gone.” They’d pulled out so we formed a perimeter round him put em all on guard round him and two of us went to him then to see if we could do anything with his leg. And it was puffed up and the bandage was cut into it and you’d touch it and he’d scream out. And they’d issued us with little tubes of


morphine about that long. Never give us any instruction on what to use em how to use em or anything. So I thought well. we’re not going to be able to bandage his leg or I was gonna put two sticks along the side of it so it couldn’t move. So I said oh well. Somebody said. “Give him a morphine.” So I had to be doctor. Got the tube out and stuck it in his arm.


He’s pleaded for water cause the Japs took his water bottle off him but they never killed him. Why I don’t know.
I’m quite surprised they didn’t kill him either.
Yeah. Well the Jap come to take the water bottle and he made out he was dead but I said he must’ve moved cause the Jap hit him then with the water bottle across the side of the face and opened him a great big gash up the side of his face. Anyway


I gave him the one tube and we didn’t wait long enough apparently. It hadn’t worked. So somebody said, “Give him another one.” So I got another one and I injected another one into him and in about five minutes his eyes started to roll out he went like a light. So we strapped his leg up and I went back and got a stretcher then and we carried him back to the clearing station and his mate come along, mate he had in the other


platoon he come along shook hands with him and said, “Hang in there mate.” But he survived; he lost his leg up here. But I never seen him again until 40 years later. I was in the house over just over there, the other one I owned and this strange car pulled into the drive and this bloke got out and he said to Pearl, “Oh the big bugger won’t know me.”


And I knew his voice straightaway and we had a great old yarn. But he died in the 1970’s eventually. But when we finished takin’ him back. We had to come back then we had to bury all our. We had eight to bury, we buried them and then went on to the... And there was two more died the next day. So we lost 10 men killed that against the Japs.
And this was just on one track you were going on


to outflank them?
Yeah yeah. Sattleberg. Well then we chased the Japs back and we come to another village; I can’t think a the name of it and we run into em there again and they tried to outsmart us. They sent a patrol out and cut the track behind us and we were isolated and we were given orders not to shoot unless they we were attacked. We were short on ammunition. Short on food. Short


on water. The only water was in a big bomb hole and you had to fill it with tablets so it was drinkable. And then we had to wait a day and a half for the 2/24th to come up and clear the track behind us. And then we went on to chase them on to Wairopi then. We thought that well, well, they’re on the run then properly and we thought oh well, we’ll get a rest here. The 2/24th


came through and they were to carry on from where we got to. And the track had gone out round and it come right back round on a ridge like that and the Japs ambushed them. A track straight there and straight there and they put a machine gun there and a machine gun there and they walked straight into the trap. They let the first section go here onto the... and they killed about eight or 10 that day and umpteen dozen wounded. And


we were just about to have our bully [beef] and biscuits for dinner and word come through and we were detailed to go out as quick as we could and help em out. And we got there about four o’clock in the afternoon, they were a long way out and when we got there they showed me the map and they detailed me with about the dozen, half a dozen men.


Instead of goin’ round the track to cut through the jungle up and there was a village up there and to get there and ambush the Japs when they come out. But darkness beat us got about half way you had to cut your way through the jungle. We got within 200 yards I suppose of the track and it was pitch dark you couldn’t see your hand in front a ya. We stayed there all night and got up to the village just on sunrise but the Japs had flown. They’d pulled


out again ahead of us. So we missed em. So that was a bit after that when old Tom I was telling you about, forward scout, and on a patrol and the two Japs jumped up out a the hole only about eight feet from him, aimed their rifles at him and missed him. Danny Mulqueen was the sergeant, he had the Owen gun and he cut em down with the Owen gun.


Cause we from then on, it was patrol, patrol, go for miles and miles and could never catch up to em they were clearin’ off ahead of ya all the time.
Why were they retreating so much, the Japanese?
Well we’d made a mess of em and there wasn’t they didn’t have much food or anything. They were cut off from their supplies and that. It was they used to get supplies come across. We were comin’ this way and their supplies come across here but they cut that track. They couldn’t get supplied.


And they were in a pretty bad way. They were starved. They were thin and miserable lookin’ and what we did see.
Was there any evidence of cannibalism?
Not that we seen. But we had orders when we went there, no prisoners, so we didn’t take any prisoners.
The High Command gave that order?
Well, I dunno where it come from but that’s what we brought down to us was no prisoners.


Why do you think that was the case that by the time you basically took no prisoners the Japanese did the same thing as well?
Well that’s right they did the same thing. But I mean if you took prisoners you had to detail men to take them back and you had to walk miles and miles and miles and miles. It wasn’t just a hop step and a jump or a helicopter or something to come along and pick you up. You were four or five days from the main depot and it wasn’t easy.


Yes, so there’s some serious problems associated with that?
Well the supplies was our biggest problem. They could never get anything to you when you wanted it and we held before we started in that we held meetings of representatives from all companies and that and trying to cut down on the weight we had to carry. Blankets were cut in half


and if you stripped a bloke off boots, pants, everything, the whole lot the ordinary infantry man with a rifle was carryin’ almost a hundred pound. The Bren gunner and Owen gunner was carryin’ more because they had to carry more ammunition. So that was the weight we had to carry up there and you had no hope of getting stuff to ya. They had to use the Fuzzy Wuzzies as they called ‘em [indigenous porters] to bring supplies up to us.
So your unit had Fuzzy Wuzzies helping you?


were bringing supplies up, yeah. Yeah, I went up there thirteen and a half stone, come home eleven. She certainly took the weight off ya.
What were the Japanese like in each of these battles? I mean were they six foot Japanese, there’s talk about you know, elite?
No. Yeah well my brother’ll tell ya he seen some and said they were six foot and could speak good English.


Can you tell us about the English part? I heard that they used to shout out things on the battlefield.
Well they had a silly habit, if ya bumped against them and you knew they were just up there when they were gonna attack they’d beat drums and they’d yell and holler for a quarter of an hour and then down the track they’d come. And you’d be waitin’ ready for em. So they were... that one I


told you about where they dug the two Vickers guns in, see they’re supposed to have killed 500 Japs there and they had the two Vickers guns, 250 rounds in each belt and they were water cooled and the infantry round them. And they knew that’s the track the Japs were takin’ and that’s what they did. But they said they’d come down and some of em would fall only feet from the guns and the officer’d walk back up the track get em back up there and after a while they’d start beatin’ the


drums again and down they’d come again. But we found, take the officer out and the Japs weren’t worth two bob. And you didn’t have much trouble pickin’ him out cause he had his thing and his great sword swingin’ by his side. He was the first one we’d look for. But you’ll hear all sorts a stories about up there.
But the


track they charged down, how wide was this track?
Only six or eight feet. It was only a narrow, just a track where they could walk up the hill. But if they hadn’t have ambushed this patrol a day or two before and got the information they’d have probably would’ve cut the Australians in half. They’d been half there and half here and be in a lot a trouble then.
Did you hear about the, I mean outside the drums you just told us they used to also say


things to the Australians to try and confuse them.
No, I never heard em say anything. But I often heard em yellin’ out. They’d be yellin’ out but I couldn’t understand what they were sayin’.
Nothing in English?
No, I never heard em say any English no, no. But they’d sacrifice their life for just for nothing you know. That village we were in where we got cut off no firing unless they attacked.


They’d run round like that and we were on pretty high ground then there was a big deep gully and they were on the other side. And quite often one would get up out of their trench and he’d walk round and he’d come over and lean against a tree and he’s lookin’ over to where we were to tryin’ to get us to fire and I spose the others had their guns lined up in that direction. But we weren’t to fire so we didn’t.
That’s pretty sneaky


and dangerous as well.
Yeah. Well they’d sacrifice. They didn’t care about dyin’, not the slightest, as long as they took you with em that was their attitude. If they killed you well they were quite happy.
How would you best describe the Japanese fighting ability from your experience?
Well, from the ones early you see they had the advantage. They had the numbers, the equipment. We didn’t have the equipment. Our first fellas went up there


got a bad deal because they didn’t have the proper equipment or experience or anything. But these Japs had it. Made all the difference. And as I say they sacrifice 10 or 15 men to gain two mile just for the sake of gettin’ there. But we found that take their officers out then they weren’t so good at all. They panicked a bit.
Were there any Japanese special forces


you came up against?
Well I don’t know what they were. We just took to em and drug em off the track and left em. That was it as far as we were concerned.
Any souvenirs?
No, no, no. Never bothered I never looked for souvenirs. You never know what’s on em.
Were the Japanese known for booby traps as well in PNG and in your experience?
Yes, they were pretty cunning. We were


told all this before we went up there like the one’s had been up there had the experience. They’d come to a straight part of a track with a bend in it and all of a sudden a Jap’d jump out of the scrub there near the corner and run round the corner. And for a start our blokes, he’s runnin’ away they’d run round too but straight into an ambush. So we were warned of all that so we didn’t run round the corner lookin’ for him too quick.


What other tricks would they use?
Well that’s all. Ambush is the only ones that we seen except that battle on, we had Sattleberg with em where they were funny.
Did the Japanese ever use natives, Papua New Guinea natives?
I think they well they weren’t popular with the natives. I think they


used em at times but not for carryin’ supplies and that I don’t think. Like the Fuzzy Wuzzies were too cunnin’ for that. If they’d a give em stuff they’d a nicked off into the jungle and they wouldn’t a seen em again. But that was the end of the action as far as I was concerned. I come home. Went back to Queensland and got malaria.


In hospital a couple a times with malaria until October 1944. While we’re home mother wanted us, one of us to... brother or I to get out of the army and at that time if somebody could claim you from the other. As long as good service and long service they’d let you go. See it was all swingin’ the Allies way see.
So you were certain the


war was going to end soon?
Well we knew there was an end but the Germans or the Japs weren’t gonna win so. Anyway Ken, the other brother, you’re gonna see at Yaboca, he was later joinin’ than me and he said, “No, I’m stayin’ in it.” So I said to Mum, “Alright, get somebody to claim me, I’ll come out.” And I never thought I would, would have to see. In October I was called up before the colonel and


thought I’d done something wrong. But he had a look at me record and that and he said, “You can take your pick.” He says, “You can stay or you can go.” So I left. Was out, come back and was discharged in 16th of October I think it was, 1944.
You didn’t want to fight anymore? Had enough of soldiering?
Yeah that’s for sure.


Been in the thick of everything right through and...
How did it affect you?
That didn’t affect me. The thing that affected me most when I come back home was to get back into civvy [civilian] clothes. I just felt undressed. I did, fair dinkum.
Well said.
You felt undressed. It was hard to adjust. But luckily I went into work up there on this dairy farm straight away and sort a settled down


pretty quick.
But to leave the army must’ve been a big thing for you?
Yes, I didn’t like leavin’ but I thought well, I’d done me share so there was a lot of us came out at that time. Quite a lot. Anyone with long service and that.
Your mates were leaving as well at the same period?
Yeah, the mate I joined up with. Him and I joined the same day and were discharged the same day. There was even sergeants,


they came out and got out at that same time.
Which war for you affected you more? Was it the Japanese one or the North Africa? Or were they different all together?
Well it affected me health wise, more up in the jungle.
What about psychologically?


Well no, neither worried me a great lot. I always thought well, I might get home and I might not. But you didn’t have time to think too much about that.
Which was harder for you though?
Well, I think the one up in the islands. There was a bigger strain on you there than what was in the Middle East.
What was the strain like in the islands compared to the Middle East?
Well a lot more because you didn’t he could a been within six or eight feet of ya and you wouldn’t know.


Over in the desert at least you did see him out half a mile three-quarters of a mile away and knew he was comin’.
Do you sympathise with the Vietnam vets that they fought a similar type of war?
Yes. In one sense I do because theirs was a lot harder than ours I think because they’d. During the day the Viets would be there all around amongst talkin’ to em and doin’ this and doin’ that and


helping this and helpin’. Come out at night and kill em. That made it very difficult. At least we knew the uniform that we were fighting against and that was it. It was a big difference I think.
What do you have to say like about the way some World War 11 Vets are quite indifferent about the Vietnam vets’ experience some of them have even said that they’re whingers? What do you have to say about this?


Oh well a lot a people. When we come home from the Middle East we heard people say, the day we marched through Melbourne there was half a million people there and every know and then you’d hear someone, “Wait till you meet the Japs. You haven’t been up against a good soldier yet.” And the Jap was nowhere near what the German was. Nowhere near it.
What do you mean by that?
Well the German was the better soldier of the two by far.
Why do you think they were better?
They fought better. They fought better.


And they were serious. Like when you took em prisoner they were, that’s it, and they took you prisoner they treated you alright. But the Japs, you’re in a cloud all the time that’s for sure.
Was that’s because there was a lack of understanding of the cultures? That they were really mysterious to the Australians?
Well no, I think if you read the Japanese history. I’ve read the history


right back to when they had what used they call em? The big head blokes. The head fellas of an area.
The samurai?
Samurais yeah. If you said the wrong thing to em he had his blokes there take him out chop his head off. Well they still thought that when they came into this war. See they killed a lot of our prisoners of war deliberate. But I think they’ve changed now but at that time they didn’t life as I


say as long as they killed you they didn’t care about dyin’ themselves. That was the way they went about it. But any war is horrible so better keep out of it.
Did you find that most of the chaps who came from North Africa and the Middle East came to New Guinea and fought did a lot of them actually transfer out of their units because of the high kill rate?


No, I don’t think so. I don’t think there was many you’d get an odd one or two that went through health problems or something like that. But no the average was they stayed there till they were able to get out on the normal way.
It seems from what you’re saying that New Guinea was a very dangerous place for Australians.
Definitely. Definitely.
A high casualty rate?
Yeah well not only the casualties but the sickness.


See there was the flu. There was the dengue fever and all that sort a thing and that took its toll as well as the actual fighting.
Did you find it extremely difficult to adapt to the jungle?
Yeah, yeah. That’s for sure. If you’d a perhaps been on level ground but it was all mountains like that. As I say you’d get to the top a this one and you could almost reach over and touch that one but it was four mile down and four mile


back up again. It really tested your stamina that’s for sure.
So being an experienced soldier from North Africa and when you came to PNG and was involved in combat there what did you find the adjustments were necessary? Like you were already used to the sound of gun firing in North Africa so that wouldn’t have shocked you?
No, no well here you had to be alert all the time. You couldn’t say well, they’re out two mile away from me or he’s just


fired a shell three mile away I can get into the hole and I’m safe. But New Guinea it was the strain was there the whole time. Particularly for the scouts, the leaders out in front. A lot a blokes, who was it, one bloke tryin’ to think of his name reckoned he was trained as a forward scout. We were all trained as forward scouts


the whole lot. You all took your turn up the front. So you couldn’t put it all on just one or two.
So after the war was over you said you found problems settling into civvy life? What about psychologically I mean?
No, I didn’t have any problems.
No dreams?
No problems. Yes, I used to have dreams then. I still have dreams at times but it doesn’t worry me.
What sort


of dreams?
Well it used to be when I was with the brother up there he often said, “You were dreamin’ last night.” I said, “No don’t think so.” “Yes you were,” he said, “You was, ‘Here the bastards come!’” And I’ve often had dreams of bein’ in amongst Japs and Germans too but I always seem to be able to get out of it. But it doesn’t worry me.


I don’t dwell on it.
Was there a period where it did worry you?
No not really no, no.
You didn’t have any anxiety as such?
No I don’t think so. I think you just well if you’re gonna go into battle, you think well I might get through it, I’ll see what happens. If you let that dwell on ya it interfered with what you could do I think. So you just sorta had to take everything as they come.


Did you ever speak to people about this, like your family, about your war experiences?
Different people used to ask us about ‘em and you just tell em a few of the funny ones and that sort a thing but not a great lot.
But not the serious ones the... ?
Well my own family they’ve heard it. My daughter and the grandkids they like to hear no matter how serious it is. They seem to like to know what was happenin’ and what


didn’t happen and.
And so you’d tell them deep things about certain things?
Well I’d just say we had a lot a casualties but I didn’t say how many or anything like that.
Did you find it difficult to discuss openly with people?
No, not really no.
What about your brother? Your brother was a vet himself, how would you relate to him about things like this memories experiences?
Which, the


one in Yamerca?
Yes. Is that the one in... the one who went to PNG and fought against the Japs?
Yeah, Ken, yeah.
Did you find it easier to relate to him in that regard?
Yeah, no worries at all. Him and I have often had a yarn since about it you know and what happened what didn’t happen. What could’ve been done and what wasn’t done and that’s the way it goes.
So you could talk to him about basically anything


about your war experiences?
Yeah, yeah. Yes it’s a... I think if you’ve the majority of blokes that have been there can. There’s some that an odd one or two that can’t and some of them I know there was some from the First World War, they’d come home here braggin’ this, they’d done that, done that, but they never fired a shot so. You


don’t know who to believe or not. And as I said before, there was two reports in the paper here, one bloke said he took on 22 Japs and killed the lot. Well I think he’s a liar. Straight out.
Did he win the VC by any chance?
He couldn’t beat 22 Japs if they were on the (UNCLEAR) no way. Another bloke said he could’ve saved Darwin in a boat and went through the mist and seen the Jap


fleet and come back and never said a word. So how the hell could you’ve saved Darwin? They should’ve come back and reported that straightaway. They might’ve given a show of makin’ it a bit of you know. Cause they got caught badly there. But that’s life. But there is a lot a blokes now, this corporal I was tellin’ you about that’d be with us and as soon as it got hot he’d go out. Come back. Out and back. Go to a reunion. He’s dead now, I spose you shouldn’t talk of the dead.


Go to a reunion and he’d be blahing what he’d done. He done this he done that he done something else. So he didn’t do much at all.
Did you go to reunions after you’d finished in the army?
Yeah, went to quite a few down in Melbourne and marched a couple a times on Anzac Day and got a bit too much in the finish. It’s too long a march and the legs started to go on me and not fun at all.
But how long after the actual war ended


did you go to your first reunion?
Three or four years I spose. I was up in the Kiewa Valley for four years and I didn’t go much there. But after we got married and went to Melbourne I went to nearly all of em then for a while.
Did married life settle you?
Yeah, yeah no problems.


That’s when I joined the police force to get a permanent job.
In retrospect now and at the time as well when you’d just finished when the war was over between Japan and Germany how did you think about your enemy the Germans and the Japanese then and now?


What’s your opinion?
Well I always admire the Germans. Then and I guess I would now if I met em too. In fact we did meet em we went back over in 1992 to the 50th Anniversary.
The Germans?
Yeah I flew back to Egypt for the 50th Anniversary. There was Germans; Italians, all mixed there the whole lot of us.
This is for Tobruk is it?
Tobruk and Alamein.


Yeah. Always we got on real well with em. They were just like one of us. The Japs I don’t know. I’ve never had much to do with Japs since. But like when we were fightin’ em they were just animals I thought at that time.
How do you feel about them now?
Well I think they have changed. America goin’ in and educating them and sortin’ everything. I think they have changed a lot but I’ve never had much to do with them really.
If there was a reunion with a certain unit that you may’ve fought against with the Japanese would you consider going to it?
I’d don’t’ think there ever will be.
But if there was, hypothetically I know it’s probably not gonna happen, but you never know? If it did happen would you consider it?
Well I don’t think. Well I spose a lot of em speak English now but previous


it was you couldn’t understand what they were saying anyway so I doubt it. I’d have to think long and hard about it.
Well we’re almost out of tape so if there’s anything you haven’t told us that you would like to say for the record this is your last chance basically before our tape runs out. I’ll hand it to you.
Well in 1948 I joined the police force.


I stayed in it four years, didn’t like it so I resigned came back and went to work out in the Barma Forest, had two kids, Darryl was born in 1949, the daughter was born in 1954. Everything went pretty well with me. I used to supply sleepers to the railways under contract and I was me own boss. I could work when I felt like it and stay home when I felt like it.


I had a bit of luck. I built a house over in Fraser Street in 1953 lived in it for 30 years. Sold it, doubled me money. I built this other brick one, flat roofed one, just over here in 1882 or 1983 lived in it for 12 years. Sold it. Doubled me money again. And built this one. So...


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