Eric Edwards
Archive number: 1538
Date interviewed: 05 March, 2004

Served with:

2/24th Battalion

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Eric Edwards 1538

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Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:36:00

Hi Eric, if you could you just give us that life summary?
Well I was born at Mordialloc on the 3rd of August 1916 and after about three years my father was persuaded to go on a farm and we went to Bunyip, on the Bunyip and was there for about three years. He only had a 20 acre farm but ever since he went on a farm bad luck

01:01:00:00

seemed to follow him. And like the first year the haystack was burnt down and a caterpillar plague and that type of thing, he got kicked by a horse. And then so anyway he went down to Koo-wee-rup then further down the river about a mile and a half from Koo-wee-rup itself and we were there until he had an accident and was killed. So we were there from about 1923 to 1928. Well I was one of five, I was the fifth of

01:01:30:00

six children born to them. And we none of us wanted to carry on with the farm. I was 12 when he died so we came, me Mum brought us down to Malvern and then from there, lived there for a little while then went to Noble Park and then only there for a few months and then we got to Springvale. And I was at Springvale then until I joined up in 1940. Nothing spectacular then. I had a girlfriend

01:02:00:00

for a couple of years in the middle of 1930s and then she broke it off. But I joined up as I said on 17th of June 1940. And the reason why I joined up I suppose was two or three reasons, first of all I didn’t take much notice because it was a war on the other side of the world, it would be over by Christmas sort of thing. But of course it wasn’t and when the retreat from Dunkirk was

01:02:30:00

pretty bad and they were getting suffered very badly and the government was pleading for people, for us volunteers to go and serve. So I thought I better go and do something about it. And I had three older brothers and they were all married. Well I thought my mother having four sons she would want one of them to go overseas or join up. So I was the logical one to go because I was single. So I joined. And I was in the army.

01:03:00:00

I went to Colac for a start and from Colac I was there for a few months and then I went to Ropbi, now Ropbi is not a town or a place it is a name of a farm, somewhere near Tallarook south of Seymour and from there. We were doing a bit of training there and went up to Bonegilla or Wangaratta first, went to Wangaratta first and that’s where we the battalion the 2/24 Battalion

01:03:30:00

was formed at Wangaratta. And then we marched from there up to Bonegilla, up near Albury until I went overseas. Well then I was sent up to the Middle East I was in a camp near Dimra, near Gaza about three miles from Gaza and I was there for oh several three or four months then. And about the middle of March 1941 we were sent up to the

01:04:00:00

the desert and I was taken a prisoner of war at Tobruk and from there into, four years I was a prisoner of war up to Tripoli and across to Italy. And in Italy when the Italians surrendered the Germans surrounded the camp and I was whipped off to Austria and I was working on a railway job there. And then two days partisans took most of those people and I was left

01:04:30:00

behind because I was doing I was asked to do some paper work. And so I got left behind. From then I was sent onto a farm in South East Austria not far from Graz and I was there until about a month or so before the war ended. The Russians were coming in from the east from Romania part so the Germans didn’t want us to get caught. We didn’t see eye to eye with them in that matter so they marched us across to Austria. I finished up in the Kasberg Mountains in about the middle of Austria.

01:05:00:00

And I was there when the war ended. And I came home from there, back via England. And I was allowed to go back to the company that I was working for before the war they took me back, I was there before the war and afterwards. I was learning accountancy. And I finished me accountancy course, became an accountant company secretary. And I was with that company Cameron and Sutherland until about 1954

01:05:30:00

and they were taken over by Freighters Limited so I joined HB Merchant Company, timber merchants, they were on the corner of Lonsdale Street and Spencer Street where the Age office is now. And after about ten years they were taken over by James Wright also timber merchants and they moved over to the other side of Melbourne from (UNCLEAR) they moved over to Spotswood and I didn’t want to go over to that area anyway and so I left there and I

01:06:00:00

went to Woodalduck Limited, they were construction engineers around the corner. They were a branch of an English company, Woodalduck in England and they were taken after about nine years by Babcock and Wilcocks engineers. I was made redundant. So I got a job then with BDH, BDH Chemicals, it is a British Drug Houses but I was only there for a couple of years because they really wanted a cost accountant and I was a

01:06:30:00

financial accountant not a cost accountant. So I left there and then I went to David Lavery & Sons in St Kilda Road they were then, they are in Punt Road now and they were mostly in the exporting of cheese and other dairy products like skim milk powders and that sort of thing. And when I started there they were also importing New Zealand cheese and they were selling lots of other foodstuffs, orange juices and all that sort of thing.

01:07:00:00

But they ceased that side of the business and kept only onto the outside for a few years. Anyway I retired in 1985 and well I haven’t done much since then except writing up a history, a diary of my life sort of thing and so on, I live on my own, my wife died about 20 odd years ago. And that is about it as far, that is a broad outline summary but I can

01:07:30:00

summarise or give you more details.
No that is great, that is fantastic, that is exactly what we’re after, you did a great job. Now we go back, so now we’ve done, let’s just, we’ll just go back to the beginning, can you describe your father and your mother?
There is a big picture on the wall out there. My father was is a fairly shortish man, would be about 5 foot 3 I suppose. Used to have a moustache.

01:08:00:00

They were married on the 2nd of November 1904 at the Toorak Presbyterian Church. And my father was for oh about two or three years there he was the church officer, which meant he had to be on duty to open up the doors if there was a funeral or that type of thing, special weddings and things like that. But then also, when he wasn’t there and as I say we were living
Sorry Eric, right Eric sorry about the interruption with the garbage trucks. But

01:08:30:00

back to the start and if you could continue describing your father and your mother, what type of people they were?
Well they were good living people put it that way. My father was Mordialloc he was the superintendent of the Sunday School and he looked after the library there, he always went to church and I was always taught to go to church and we used to have bible readings around the table of a night time when he was there. But he used to work

01:09:00:00

with the Guest’s Bakery in South Yarra. I think it is connected Guest Biscuits. And they were of course taken over by Arnott’s Biscuits many many years ago. He was in charge of the bakers’ cart drivers that go out. They all had their rounds of course in the old cart and that sort of thing. And but if one of the drivers was away ill or for some other reason well me father would take over that round and do it. But otherwise he’d sort them out for the day and then

01:09:30:00

as I said before he was persuaded to go on a farm and ever since he went on a farm he had bad luck. We left the, we left Mordialloc in 1919 when I was three years old. And I can still remember, it is about the only recollection I have of Mordialloc was some, it must have been cockroach, I didn’t know then at the time, it ran across the floor and I said, “Oh beastie beastie” sort of thing. And then we went to Bunyip in a buggy,

01:10:00:00

and I can remember after a long ride I said, “Are we nearly home now,” and it is funny how some things will stick in your mind all these years and others like last week you probably don’t forget, you forget it. But anyway we went to Bunyip and we had a only 20 acre farm at Bunyip. Well you can’t make much of a living on 20 acres. We were on the Bunyip River I suppose we would have been only about a mile or two from the Bunyip town. And we were there for three years. Well

01:10:30:00

part of the purchase price of the farm was a haystack, it was hay it had already been done and it was all lining the property and that caught fire before, before we could get it sold. And that was a bad, a bad loss, and then caterpillars, there was a caterpillar plague that first year and they came from the property across the road, and there was so many of them, Dad dug trenches about two feet wide and two feet deep or something

01:11:00:00

but they soon filled up the trenches and the other ones walked across their backs and into the maize and ate the maize. And that was a big loss of course. And then he had a horse, he was a, a broken down I think they call it, a racehorse. Not that there was anything wrong with it as far as that goes but putting it out to pastures and too old for racing. But of course when Dad was driving it along the road

01:11:30:00

he had to hold it back it wanted to pass everything else on the road. But their horse was bad at shying and see a bit of paper on the road it would shy and do that sort of thing. So Dad, I can remember him going up to it one day with a piece of newspaper under his arm rolled up and trying to get the horse used to paper, but the horse lashed out with its foot and hit him on his leg and oh pretty bad, a bad gash, he didn’t break anything. But he had to have many many stitches until he was

01:12:00:00

had to be in bed for about six weeks or so. So anyway from there we sold out after about three years and we went further down the river on the other side of the river but on the same side of Koo-wee-rup, about a mile and a half from Koo-wee-rup.
Before we get to that, was your father a good man?
Oh he was a good man. I didn’t see a great deal of him, well I was too young at that stage I suppose, he was a good man. I can’t

01:12:30:00

I don’t know how I can describe it any better.
Was he strong?
Well for his size, for his age, for his size. He, I said he was a smallish man, as I said about 5 foot 3 I suppose maximum, but he had a, he got a pair of he got a bicycle with 26 inch wheels instead of 28 inch wheels. He used to have to get a little stump or post or something to get on the bike, put one leg on that then hop on over the bike.

01:13:00:00

And I think he used to ride the bike to Mordialloc, he used to ride to the station and then catch the train from there and then go down to South Yarra. But when he, when he got the, we were at Koo-wee-rup then when he got this 26 inch wheel one, but it was a fixed wheel he didn’t have the brakes or what do you call, not the free wheeling on the brake sort of thing, so he went about 100 yards past the place before he could stop, he had to step back onto the pedals to make it stop

01:13:30:00

anyway that was alright.
Was he a character?
Oh just, just normal I think. Nothing special, I can’t think of anything special about him. He was stern, he was strict but he was fair, I don’t remember getting a bashing from him or anything like that but I think no he was alright, my mother of course was very good the same and I think they were happy together.

01:14:00:00

But I can tell you now how my father died.
We’ll come to that later. But your mother how was she, what was she like?
Well she was tallish, she was, she was one of about well four originally, she had a brother but he died when the brother was about two years old, I think about the same time as when my mother was born, she was the same age as my father only just a few months older. And she had two she had an older half sister and then she had two sisters younger than

01:14:30:00

her. But one of those died at age 40 well age 39. That is about all, she was hard working of course, in those days it was hard working. There was no electric, there was not a lot of electricity at all at Koo-wee-rup. I remember it coming as far as the school, which was just at the edge of the town in 1927. But nowhere near us we had to use lamp kerosene lamps and I don’t think we even had the mantles

01:15:00:00

in those days just a wick lamp, kerosene, hurricane lamp for outside perhaps. When we were at Koo-wee-rup the house wasn’t big enough for my three brothers and sister and me elder sister was inside and we four boys were out in the shed well about 25 yards from the house I suppose. And we slept out there and on half of the shed and the other half was

01:15:30:00

farm equipment, farm tools and things. And as I said before me father worked for Guests and occasionally he would bring home a sugar bag or a potato bag of broken biscuits and we had we used to have some midnight feasts with those in the shed, which was quite enjoyable until they went. And that was a real problem of course as they often are in the farm, and they’d [wild rabbits] chew the fruit trees. We had a four acre orchard and I got sick of plums because we had

01:16:00:00

plum jam, plum sauce and plum stewed and that sort of thing for quite a while. But I got sick of them after a while. But the rabbits would chew the bark off and Dad mixed up some sort of a concoction, I think it, it was awful smelling stuff, I think it was manure or something like that in it, and I got threepence a week if I could spray this or put this onto the bark where they’d been chewed off, which I did. But I can remember I said about the plums was we had about four or five large

01:16:30:00

cherry plum trees they were large trees and they were loaded with fruit in the summertime and Sunday afternoon we would lie back on our backs, this was before we got sick of them, and you’d just reach out your hands and pick up a plum, they were ripe ones then, not like they are in the shops nowadays where they are picked before they are properly ripe. They were lovely.
What was it like being apart of such a big family?
Oh it was alright because but the, they were older than I was. My the,

01:17:00:00

my sister eldest sister she was born in 1905 and then the eldest brother was 1907 then the next one 1909 and the next one 1911 and I was 1916. So there was a big gap between there. I had a younger sister four years younger than I. So it was a big difference there, but we used to have fun. As I said we were on the Bunyip River and I can remember this more towards the end of the 20s about 26, 27 two of my brothers made canoes out of flattened

01:17:30:00

galvanised iron. They didn’t seal it properly, just riveted it together and of course they leaked a bit. And of course the Bunyip River was about twice as wide as it is now, there is plenty of water in it I think it would take a lot of it away from it up stream a bit and used it for irrigation or something but we had plenty there and many of the cuts me brothers got on these canoes they used to sink after a while and they used to try to keep them afloat but we had a lot of fun anyway.

01:18:00:00

That was that.
Were they, was it very supportive having such a big family?
Oh yes it was,
Did you support each other?
Well yeah because because the age difference was a bit there was only [one] brother I think went to school with me there. And that wasn’t for very long, the other ones went out to work. The elder one was working in the garage, Keith was working in a garage, the next one his first job was

01:18:30:00

working for a doctor there washing medicine bottles and things. I don’t suppose they do that now they throw them away but he was washing those and he got the nickname Doc and it stuck with him for the rest of his life. And then the next brother Bill oh he had one or two jobs he worked in a bit of a garage and then he worked in a grocer shop and serving there. So when they went to work I didn’t see a great deal of them.

01:19:00:00

And I just went to school and I finished my schooling there.
So were you closer to one or two of them than the others?
Probably I was closer to Norvel that is the middle one N O R V E L, than Bill and Keith, they were more, they were more alike each other, they were more interested in motor bikes and that sort of thing when they got older and Norvel wasn’t interested in that and never ever learnt to drive. So that answers your question I think.

01:19:30:00

Did you get up to shenanigans together you know as young boys?
Not a great deal we used to go and rob the birds’ nest and that sort of thing and keep, blow the eggs out, put two holes one end each and blow the centre out and saved them, I don’t know what they saved them for because they weren’t much use only sparrows and starlings and they were only in the hedgerows. The well you asked me that question I will give you one instance, in those days

01:20:00:00

you could have fireworks for Guy Fawkes night and I think about 1927 we went around for weeks ahead getting a lot of rubbish and motor tyres and to make a jolly good bonfire. And Dad brought up some fireworks for us. And my brother Bill he was more the shenanigan type as you call it. He tied a jumping jack to the cat’s tail. Now a jumping jack is nine bangs

01:20:30:00

and it would go one bang and stop and the cat would give a jump then run off and then it would stop and then another bang would go and it would give another jump and off until the whole nine had gone. We never saw the cat for a week afterwards. So that’s the sort of thing yes. I can’t think of anything else at the moment.
Mordialloc back then was that regarded the bush?
It was in those days there was scrub and that there. The house was

01:21:00:00

near the Nepean Highway and if you were ever to go down there, if you see Keith Street that is near there and Olive Grove is also near there and they were named after my sister and brother Keith. They weren’t there at the time and that’s somewhere near where the Parkdale Station is now, which wasn’t there of course that was built later.
You were only there for?
I was only there for three years. Dad went there, I am not sure when he went there about 1906 or 7 or something like that.

01:21:30:00

But we left in 1919.
So how much of a change was it from Mordialloc to Bunyip?
Well of course I was too young to know, I think it was about 11 acres at Mordialloc but it wasn’t actually farmed as far as I know. He did it at one stage to go in for pigeons or some sort of a thing about breeding pigeons and he’d sell the meat or something like that and the eggs. Something like what they had for the emus a few years ago but that didn’t work out.
So Mordialloc

01:22:00:00

Mordialloc was farmland back then?
Well mostly yes and a bit of market gardens and that around. It certainly wasn’t what it is today and this was near where Parkdale Station is.
And when you get to Mord [Mordialloc], get to Bunyip what were your first impressions of that?
Well I just took it as it was because I was only three when I got there. It was only in the last year that I was there that I went to school. And I had about nearly two miles to walk to

01:22:30:00

school. It was a Vervale School we didn’t go to Bunyip, it was Vervale V E R V A L E, it was further down the river. My brothers always had the idea that they’d make a flat bottom boat for me and I’d go down in that but it never ever came to anything. They had ideas but they never always come to anything. With the all of us at the table, quite a number of us, I think Keith had the idea that you ought to have a loose place in the middle of the table and revolving around

01:23:00:00

somehow or other so you didn’t have to ask for the salt and pepper or sugar to be passed it would come round to you on a slow thing, but that never ever came to anything, I think there is hard to get a motor slow enough for it to do it for you.
I think they are called lazy Susan’s now.
Well probably it is something like that now yes.
Was there a sense of community in Mordialloc and in Bunyip?
Well I was too young to know and I never thought to ask, Bunyip the same way. We weren’t actually in Bunyip I suppose as I say

01:23:30:00

I don’t know how, probably a couple of miles probably down the river from Bunyip, but on the Bunyip River. We didn’t go to anything in Bunyip. We went to church, we used to go to church every Sunday but we got the buggy out and went down towards the school at Iona, I O N A, and we went to church there, leave the buggy under the shade of the thing. And I’d go to Sunday school and they’d go to the service. And

01:24:00:00

later on when Keith left school, he didn’t go to that school very long because he was old enough, he went to the Iona cheese factory and he was working in the cheese factory. I remember going in there, and it was jolly cold of course and he had the big cheeses, big round cheeses, I suppose they’d be about 15 inches in diameter and about 12 or 15 inches wide oh deep and they were stacked there.
Was church a big part of life back then?
Well it was a Sunday thing yes.

01:24:30:00

I can’t remember ever going to any other organisations in those early days, like weekly organisations. It was just the church on Sunday, and it was usually church in the morning and sometimes Sunday school well if, enough sometimes Sunday school in the afternoon. I’ve still got me Sunday school, first Sunday school prize here. But that was it. And it was my job to polish me father’s boots on Saturday so I would have to do it on Sunday,

01:25:00:00

ready for Sunday morning.
Do you think your family was very religious?
Not over, not what we call it, not over, what do we call it, I’m not quite sure how you put that. They were, they were happy, we liked the church but we weren’t fanatical about it put it that way, it was just a normal church going thing, it was a life with them and they enjoyed it, as I said we had bible readings at night, and me mother

01:25:30:00

used to put us to sleep with a bible story or something like that. And we were quite happy with it.
Do you think back then church was more a sense of getting together rather than the religious aspect?
Oh a bit of both I think. You went to church and then met the people, became friendly with the people. And I suppose it is much the same now in a sense. It was

01:26:00:00

considered the right thing to do as far as we were concerned. As I said me father was the, he was on the session I think at one stage. He was the Sunday School superintendent at Mordialloc but not at Koo-wee-rup. I don’t think he was on, I don’t think he had any office duty at Koo-wee-rup, he had the family duties more to look after.
You enjoyed going to church?
I still go to church every Sunday yes. I’m the only person,

01:26:30:00

I think I’m the only person that goes to the Ashburt Presbyterian Church when it opened 50 years ago and I did the history for the Ashburt Church for the 50th Anniversary in 2002.
With at that time god and the country, sorry King and Country was very high on the agenda was it?
Yeah oh yes.

01:27:00:00

What would that undertake, would you sing songs for the King or?
No we, we only do that on what they call Empire Day, which is I think Queen Victoria’s birthday in May, 24th of May Empire Day. And they had the flag and at the school we have a well brief well I suppose a sort of ceremony or service for that and we were taught about that

01:27:30:00

for that but not fanatically so no, just part of life.
It was just part of school life?
Yeah yeah.
What was it like going to school?
Well I never cared much for school there was always the threat of getting the strap for something or other. I got the cane for talking in school, but it was the woman next door to me, the girl next door to me who talked at school and she was yapping, she was a bit of a talker and I got the cuts for it. And I got the cuts for something else I think

01:28:00:00

because I couldn’t remember something quick enough or couldn’t work out something in mental arithmetic quickly enough, that was it. But otherwise it was something that we had to go and we went.
Was school very strict and harsh like that?
Well we had the the headmaster he was yes he was stern he was strict. But he was fair and honest. And actually he was well appreciated in the community because they’ve got gates in his memorial now outside the school.

01:28:30:00

But he was alright but he was in charge of the three or four top classes. And of course there was only just the two rooms in the school then and I just went from one class to another.
Which school was this?
Koo-wee-rup the one I remember mainly, tI went to the Vervale one as I said before firstly, but that was only a few months then of course we moved from Bunyip to Koo-wee-rup. But I remember the Vervale school I saw some boys eating

01:29:00:00

their lunches or something so I ate mine but that was only morning playtime, I didn’t have anything left for lunch then. But that was it, but I didn’t do that again, I don’t think there is much else I can tell you about Bunyip.
Was discipline a big part of life back then, was discipline a big part of life?
Well we did, Dad would have given us the strap or something if we were cheeky or rude or anything like that or did the wrong thing.

01:29:30:00

So we just accepted it and tried to do what was right. As I said me Mum was very, worked hard, Monday was always wash day, Tuesday was ironing day, and you had to use the old copper outside and I’d have to gather up some sticks or something for the copper for boiling the clothes, and of course you only had the wood stove, there was nothing else, wood burning stove for cooking and

01:30:00:00

heating and it was marvellous what they could cook and that on those without any thermostats to guide them or anything like that. Mum used to make good pies, we didn’t have anything fancy, mostly porridge she’d cook porridge through the year summer and winter, it wasn’t until later that we got some cereals and that as a change. But sometimes just bread and milk because the farm didn’t pay very well.

01:30:30:00

What was Koo-wee-rup like?
Koo-wee-rup, K O O with a hyphen W E E another hyphen R U P, Koo-wee-rup, it was a swampish area at that time, they had drainage to drain the swamp, it’s been done properly now. And potatoes were growing in those days. When we went there first we had 40 acres and we were told that, Dad was told that, he never had it queried I think when he bought it,

01:31:00:00

they said you’ll never get a flood here. And I think we got three floods in the first year, because we were right down the river, it come down from up the river, he had a hard time, he got set back you see, he got set back at Bunyip and that set him back there and then he’d grow potatoes, and there was a whole lot growing that year and then there was a slump and he only got cheap prices for it. He grew wheat later to have a try at that. We held my brother Keith, he was working

01:31:30:00

at one stage for Michells up in, they had a wheat farm up at Finley and learnt how to grow the wheat, so he tried wheat there but they got rust in the wheat somehow. So one thing after another went wrong. And then I can tell you how he died if you want to know.
Bit later, well what was that during the Depression you were in Koo-wee-rup?
No no no just before the Depression we were there until 28, it was 1928 that my father had an accident while

01:32:00:00

working. I can tell you about that now. He was asked to go out on the bakery, he used to do that occasionally to get a bit of money, he perhaps he’d go back to the Guests in South Yarra and do a bit of work there and get extra money because the farm wasn’t really paying. And also sometimes he would work for the local baker. Well the local baker was short of a man this particular day and asked Dad to come and work for him and do his

01:32:30:00

rounds for him. So Dad did it. It was the middle of July about the 21st of July I think from memory. It was a cold blustery windy day. And he was in the baker’s cart of course, a horse and cart and he was delivering the bread. He went to one farm he would be in a place about three miles from Koo-wee-rup itself on out towards the Pakenham area and he delivered the bread there and but then he left there and he put his foot on the step of the cart, to hop on the cart and

01:33:00:00

as the horse knows that and feels that he starts to move off. And he started to move off, but as he started to move off the wind blew Dad’s overcoat open and it caught on the barbed wire fence and pulled him off the step and the wheel ran over his stomach and part of his leg and he the farm lady of the farm saw this happen and she brought him in and gave him a cup of tea and then Dad said, “Oh no

01:33:30:00

I must get and finish my round”. So he got back on the cart but after two hours he collapsed, he was in just too much pain he couldn’t carry on any longer and he was taken off down to Alfred hospital that night by the train at 6.30 that night and he was there and they were treating him for his stomach injuries and I think they were getting better to a certain extent and then they found out that he had, that his leg was bad, he had gangrene set in his leg and they took one of his legs off

01:34:00:00

but it was too late, he was poisoned and he died in October of that year. So we couldn’t carry on the farm then, none of, well I was too young then I was only 12 and no one else wanted to so we moved down to Malvern.
Was it a slow death?
Well it must have been a bit painful, he died, the gangrene it was poisonous, it just poisoned his body and he just died then. See the accident happened in July and this was October when he, when he died.

01:34:30:00

So August, September, October that is three months he was in hospital. The other, one of my brothers Norvel he had pneumonia at that time in the same hospital. But he couldn’t let Dad know because it may have had an adverse effect to him.
Do you remember visiting him in hospital?
No I was too young it was way down there we didn’t have much, my mother went I think.
How old were you at the time?
I was only 12, this

01:35:00:00

is 1928, that is about all I can tell you there I think.
How did, how did you find out what happened to him?
Oh the policeman came and told us. I still remember yeah the local policeman would have found out and he came and told my mother on the farm. And I think she, my sister, my mother couldn’t drive the horse or that, my sister could, we had a bug, a jinker, it was just

01:35:30:00

a single wheel, a buggy has got four wheels the jinker has two and took me mother down to and she went down to him in the train.
How did it affect you personally his passing?
Well of course we were terribly upset about it. And kiddies at school were asking me from time to time how he was getting on. We got reports that he was improving, improving and then we found out that this leg was bad as well and the gangrene was there, he well of course he died then.

01:36:00:00

It was terribly upsetting of course, we didn’t have a father, but probably not as bad as if I had been older, I’m not sure. He had a lot of time away from home again working in the South Yarra and that during the week and coming back for the weekends. So I never got really close to me father put it that way, never had a chance to I suppose.
Was that your first brush with death?

01:36:30:00

Yes. As far as I know yes, yes. It wasn’t a happy one of course no. So we went down then, before we went I was only 12 and I was at the highest grade in that school but there was an examination for well for a scholarship and I won the scholarship to go for a junior technical school so when we got I think it may have been one reason we went down to Malvern.

01:37:00:00

And we were living at Malvern. Well just a family issue my two aunties, they said they’d come with Mum and help her with the rent or whatever it is, pay board at this house in Malvern. But when we got there they both wanted the front room and there is only one front room available and they both left. They lived together themselves they never married the other two

01:37:30:00

for the rest of their lives. So Mum couldn’t carry on, it was a big place in Dixon Street. So we left there and went to Noble Park, we weren’t there very long and we moved from, we moved I’m not quite sure why, but we moved to Springvale and we were there at Springvale until I joined up.
How did your mother cope being a single mother?
Well I don’t know because she, there was a lot of difficulty she must have done because I don’t think there was a pension much in those days. My brothers and that we were

01:38:00:00

still living in Springvale together and one after the other, I remember, that was the Depression years as you say the 30s and it was hard to get a job then. Norvel he did get a job in Koo-wee-rup, he started to after the doctor business, he got a job with a local builder and he learnt carpentry and that seemed to be his work. So it took him a while to get a job when we got

01:38:30:00

into Mal, well into Armidale oh Malvern.
What was daily life like during the Depression, did you have food?
Well it was hard, I don’t know how me Mum survived really because I can remember seeing a two shilling piece in her hand and turning it over, wondering how she was going to make it last a long while. It was, it was, when we got this house in Springvale I think it only

01:39:00:00

cost 12 and 6 a week, that is paying it off in interest as well. Because through the State Savings Bank, of course that wasn’t much in those days. I think like, I was just going to say, I got a job, I went to school at the Caulfield Tech which of course is Monash University now, and Caulfield campus, I was there for two years, I didn’t know what to do when I left, when I left Koo-wee-rup school. I had no idea what I wanted to be or

01:39:30:00

something like that. So me Mum had me enrolled as an electrical engineer, which was a popular thing in those days. Of course a technical school I got all sorts of lessons taught, I mean there is blacksmithing and fitting and turning and even modelling and drawing and arithmetic as well as English and history and so on. And I think I went into the field of, well my best subject I think seemed to be arithmetic but anyway

01:40:00:00

that is only by the way. But when the two years was up just before leaving and I was only 14 then. You could leave at 14 there was a notice coming around that they were sitting an exam for the Post Office. So I sat for that so early in January 1931 it would be I was sent for by the Post Office no I am sorry this is before Christmas, and they sent for me and this was the

01:40:30:00

well you wouldn’t remember but the old tin shed at the back of the GPO [General Post Office] in Little Burke Street and Elizabeth Street was there just near there there was sort of a telegraph office and Christmas Day was on the Thursday. And on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday before Christmas I was there and I was sent out to deliver telegrams around the city. Telephones weren’t as popular or weren’t as numerous as they are today of course and not everyone had a

01:41:00:00

phone and telegrams were used greatly and it taught me the city. I had no idea what the city was like at first but it soon taught me the names of the streets and so on and I spent those three days in that. And then
Did you feel lucky having a job at that time?
Well it was only three days and I wasn’t sure how long it was going to be. And then of course I was sent back in, asked to go back in January and I went to the Post Office the corner of Bourke Street and Spencer Street and that was to be a temporary job for three

01:41:30:00

months. And so I was there, I was quite satisfied with that, I didn’t quite have enough to do I was, I was clearing in-baskets and putting them in the out-baskets or clearing out-baskets and putting them in the in, I got it around the wrong way. But doing that sort of thing and writing up the time-cards and that sort of thing but there wasn’t a great deal to do but that was alright.
What was the city like back then?
Well I, I, a lot of cable trams I was travelling mostly in cable

01:42:00:00

trams. End of tape.
Interviewee: Eric Edwards Archive ID 1538 Tape 02

02:00:32:00

I’m very interested in what Melbourne city was like and being from the bush the country Bunyip and Mordialloc at the time of bush, what was it like going into the city?
Well it was certainly crowded, a lot of that but nowhere near as it is today. As I said we had cable trams then and I think the electric trams were just coming in on certain routes. When I, well I’ll carry on from where I was talking

02:01:00:00

after three months was up with the post office I was put off, so I was, it was Depression years as you say and I was trying to get a job and I was answering ads and that sort of thing and I couldn’t get anywhere. And me Mum had the idea to go back to the principal of the Caulfield Tech [Technical College]. So I went to see him and he said, “Oh I think I know someone who is looking for a boy”. So he gave me an introduction and Keith took me there and I got the job.

02:01:30:00

It was out in the store just well delivering messages and so on. That’s why I remember the cable trams I might have to go out to North Melbourne, West Melbourne. I was working for Cameron, Sutherland and Seward as it was then, Seward left afterwards. They were machinery merchants and a lot of their work was with mining machinery. Buying up second hand buying machinery because mining was still going in those days, and perhaps they’d repair it and fix it up.

02:02:00:00

And they’d also make, they had a blacksmithing section where they had these rails to go down in the mines to go down a gauge thing and it was all there. Part of my job was to make the tea for the workmen when it was time one of them would say, have a bit of tea in his pocket, left hand pocket and someone would have it somewhere else, and I used to do that. I’d boil up the Billy or the big kerosene tin actually on the furnaces out on the blacksmith shop.

02:02:30:00

Anyway I must tell you about that too.
Were there tall buildings back then?
Oh nowhere near I think maximum was about 11 stories in those days. They said you couldn’t go any higher because they have since. No that was what it was and I had to do all the work.
There was a law that they couldn’t build higher?
Yes yes there was a law at that time. Anyway

02:03:00:00

to get back to the post office as I say I was put off but I had this job for about six months. But then I had to go down to the Spencer Street railway station to pick up a pulley, it was required. And while I was there and the railway official was away getting it, looking for it, the sales manager from Cameron and Sutherland came up in his car looking for the same pulley.

02:03:30:00

He didn’t know I was there. So anyway we got it and he gave me a lift back in his car. And on the way back he asked me how I was getting on and I said, “I think I’m getting on alright” I said, “I think I’d rather like to get into the office”. So after I’d been out in the store for six months, it was only about a month after this a vacancy came in the office and I was transferred into the office and so it went from there. I was only just collecting the mail in the morning from the Post Office up in

02:04:00:00

Elizabeth Street and and sending the mail out in the night and doing little things like that. And then I went from there went gradually went up and up, stocktaking, cost of sales and all this sort of thing.
Did you enjoy working?
Oh yes I think I would rather not work. I think most people are a bit that way inclined but it was satisfactory it was a good place to work as far as that goes. Yes I think so.

02:04:30:00

Yes and the place was expanding they had a pump department and other departments so it was expanding because mining was going out too and they had to expand into other things, yes it was alright yes.
Did you find it fulfilling?
Well yes the accountant suggested I study for accountancy. So he must have seen some

02:05:00:00

potential there. And he said he was he had a correspondence course with Hemmingway and Robinson, you probably wouldn’t know that now, I don’t think they’re there now. But it was a correspondence course so I joined up there for accountancy company secretaryship. About £24 I think it was, 24 pounds plus about 12 pounds for the secretaryship if you got the two together. So anyway I joined up there and I started to learn accountancy and

02:05:30:00

I seemed to be going alright until the war intervened. That was a bit later.
You were working, was it easy to find a job at that time?
Well as I said I was working, no it wasn’t easy, well not in the early stages of the 30s, gradually from about the middle 30s it was getting more and more able to get a job yes but not in 31, 32, 33.

02:06:00:00

From then on it was a bit better but it was hard yes.
Did you see a lot of people doing it tough at that time?
Oh not, it didn’t come into that, I didn’t notice that. I do know that when we were on the farm at Koo-wee-rup the swagmen would be coming around there and asking for a tucker or something like that and they would usually come round late in the day because it was too late to give them a job. Well if they come around at 8 o’clock in the morning they would get a job to work for their tucker but

02:06:30:00

not at that time and there were a lot of swagmen going around then. Hobos I suppose they call them in America.
Did your mother work?
No not after we were married, not after she was married no. No me sister she would do a bit of sewing and so on when she left school. But the only school she went to was at Mordialloc.
So how did she care for the family without working?
Well its hard to say

02:07:00:00

you didn’t have much, there wasn’t much from the farm. Well after me father died you mean, we left the farm then we just couldn’t carry on. Well me brothers and that were paying some board until each of those got married during the 30s and I think the last one was 1938. Bill got married about 1938. And then Molly my younger sister and me

02:07:30:00

and me mother and we just kept it going then. And as I say the house itself was 12 and six a week principal and interest wasn’t very expensive.
Did the community help at all with her?
No not as far as I know, I didn’t know of it. There was a period when Norvel after he married, he married in 1936 he went to live at Caulfield we went to live there.

02:08:00:00

We let the house at, leased it for a while at Springvale, went to live with them then we went back again when he had his first child I think. And we stayed there until I joined up. And then at that time me mother couldn’t carry on any longer just without my help and she went to live with me brother Bill in Glen Huntley.
How big an influence on your life was your mother?
Oh she must

02:08:30:00

have been a very good influence really teaching me what I, well the right way to live or what I think to be the right way to live. I’m sure she did but not in an aggressive way just quietly there, she was there when she was needed. That is about all I can say on that one, she was.
She was looking out for your job prospects as well wasn’t she?
Well she must have been intelligent enough because she put

02:09:00:00

me in for that Caulfield Tech. I would have liked to have given up school I think and not go there but of course you couldn’t at 12 age 12 I had to go for another couple of years so she put me in for that. And that worked out alright and then of course I had four pounds a year. Did I tell you that, I got that scholarship at Koo-wee-rup there was it was worth four pounds a year. And that paid for books and fees and whatever. Didn’t get much else but that wasn’t necessary, so that

02:09:30:00

was that.
Was university an option at the time?
No well that would have been after the 40s well no I couldn’t have gone to university, couldn’t have afforded it I had to go out to work to earn the money. And the first when I was out at the store at Cameron & Sutherlands it was 17 and 6 a week. It is hard to compare that now to what it is now. While I was at the post office it was about double that, it was over 30 shillings. But it dropped back to 17 and 6.

02:10:00:00

But incidentally I didn’t tell you this but after 12 months I was at the post office there from January well it was three months, January, February, March in 1940, 19, 1931 but then the following January they sent an urgent telegram for me to go back again. So I must have been satisfactory in those first three months. But I said, “No I’ve got a job now” and I didn’t know if it was going to be

02:10:30:00

another temporary or if I’d be able to work again after three months I said, “I’ve got a job and I’m satisfied with me work” although the pay wasn’t as good but it was alright, so I stayed where I was in the office by that time of course and I seemed to be doing alright I was reasonably satisfied there.
It sounds like you were a good worker?
Well apparently I must have been alright. I hadn’t started the accountancy course by then, that came a little bit later but not much later, I was a bit slow at it because

02:11:00:00

when you are doing correspondence you are not getting the push that you do get if you are in a lesson, a class or lectures. But I kept going and eventually got through. In fact after the war I got a letter to say that if you don’t sit for such and such an exam you’ll have to start from the beginning again so I hopped into it and finished the course.
The accountancy course is that similar to what university would have been or?

02:11:30:00

Oh I suppose so, I think so, it would have been equivalent because you get the certificate from the accountancy Australian Society of Accountancy as it is now. I was actually with, when I was doing the course there were about three institutes, there was the Australian, what was the, Association of Accountancy of Australia was one of them, there was the Commonwealth of Accountants and there was the federal, there was the three but they combined later and became the

02:12:00:00

Australian Society of Accountants. So I was automatically transferred. I got through with the other and was automatically transferred and became that. And then of course I joined the secretaryship, which chartered the Institute of Secretaries. But that didn’t, I didn’t, that didn’t happen until after the war change into secretaries.
So back then university was how was it regarded?
Oh it would have been alright but it was out of my reach you would have had to pay the fees and that then and I just

02:12:30:00

I just never thought of it. Well like the accountant that suggested this at Hemmingway Robinson and that was my forte I think the accountancy, as I, as I say the the arithmetic or mathematics or something at school was me best subject, algebra, I always liked to do long division sums and algebra. And also in the Sun Victoria in the morning nearly every morning they used to have

02:13:00:00

a little problem to work out and I used to like doing those. So working with figures seemed to be my, well as I say forte is the word they used, so that is what I was supposed to do and that is what I became an accountant, bookkeeping and accountant.
Was he a mentor this accountant, was he a mentor the accountant that advised you or?
Oh no he was just an accountant at the place and I suppose he saw that

02:13:30:00

perhaps I was doing my work well enough and that I should be learn accountancy, because unless you learn that you can’t get very far. And I was only just doing ordinary stocktaking, cost of sales or something like that or yes well that is just simple things nothing special. And he must have thought that I should do accountancy and get somewhere and have a future and career as that. And he is quite wise. It certainly

02:14:00:00

helped me.
Did you keep in touch with him through the years?
No I never have. No he left and I don’t know what happened to him.
Because it seems that one piece of advice was very very influential on your life?
Well yes it was really yes no I’m sorry I didn’t, it was one of me regrets. I’ve got several regrets in other ways. I haven’t told you one of them yet I will tell you that after when we come to the war.
So it is about 1935 and?

02:14:30:00

Well of course I had a girlfriend at that time. That happened because I went to the, I said when we left Malvern we went to Noble Park. And while at Noble Park I went to the church Presbyterian Church there and the Sunday school. And the Sunday school concert came up and in that they had a little well you can’t say a play I suppose it was a sketch more than a play but the scene was a doll’s house a doll’s

02:15:00:00

shop and I was the Irish doll and for the boys and there was a girl named Rose Carney she was the first girl the leading girl of the girl dolls or something like that. And she and I were at loggerheads during the thing with the conversation that we had. I had to have a green thing around me waist and I think I borrowed Keith’s riding breeches, he used to have that for his

02:15:30:00

motorbike, so that. So Rose and I became friendly afterwards and well I started to take her out and she was my first girlfriend.
Were you opposites?
No.
Because you were confrontational at the beginning?
Oh that was only in the play yes. Oh we had we had a lot in common I think and I took her out to films and I remember for her 18th birthday which was in 1936 we went

02:16:00:00

to the we went down the bay in the Maroona in the police band used to have a moonlight bay trip once a year at that time. And we went down to Port Melbourne, got on the Maroona, paddle steamer and went down the bay. The trouble is it rained that night it was a bad night. But I saw other films of Wallace Beery and Ronald Coleman and The Man That Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo I remember that one and some other things like that.

02:16:30:00

Took her up in one of the little ferryboats that go up from the Yarra [Yarra River], used to go up from the Yarra up to the other end at the botanical gardens and all that sort of thing. And I’ve got photos there on that book showing her lying down on the lawn. We went to the Springvale cemetery in the garden section there. And me sister Molly she had another sister, Rose had a sister Nancy. And so we went there, so that’s there but she broke it off about 1937

02:17:00:00

and she said she just didn’t want to be bothered anymore.
What type of girl was she?
Oh very nice, very nice type, very nice, nice family. I liked her mother very much and her father, he was alright he gave, her mother was what you might call a real lady type thing I suppose and the father was more gruffer bit gruff but I got on alright with him, quite ok.

02:17:30:00

And she had another brother Stewart and he used to play a mandolin at some concerts and he was a nice chap. And but he went to Sydney after a while. If you want me, while I’m on that subject if you like, she, she married a chap named David Phillips I shouldn’t, oh I suppose it is alright. She married a chap named David Phillips in about 1942 in the middle of the war

02:18:00:00

and when I came back from the war they gave me a welcome home party at her house, which was very nice I thought. And invited some of me friends there from the Noble Park days people that I had known. It was really lovely, I enjoyed that. And I thought it was a nice thought.
Was she your first love?
Yes yes.
What did you think when she broke up with you?
Well I was upset of course yes. I didn’t have another one then until after the war,

02:18:30:00

but she rang me last week, she is down at Edithvale. And I had seen her last year. We got in touch again last year for the first time in over 30 years and I will be going down again to see her just to say hello. I think she just wanted someone to talk to just that way. Her husband, he died about 30 years ago, 20 odd years ago, 25 years ago.

02:19:00:00

So I’ll go and see her again. But not the same thing there nothing there there is no romance there now sort of thing no.
Back then what was dating like, going out with her, what were the rules of engagement so to speak?
Well we never got engaged, but it was just, just pleasant it was nice to have her company. In fact I used to see her nearly every day going into work on the train. We got the same

02:19:30:00

train. She was at Noble Park and I was at Springvale and I’d get into her compartment and we’d have a chat going through. She lived, she worked for Tweed Side manufacturing out in Thornbury way somewhere, well we just enjoyed each other’s well I hope she enjoyed mine, I enjoyed her company. It was nice to have somebody to talk to. And we had similar ideas and similar thoughts things like that.
Back then were there like unwritten rules about dating, how far you could go and so on?
Oh we never thought of that.

02:20:00:00

We respected the women, there was never any thought of going too far or anything like that, that just wasn’t done, didn’t occur to us let along not done think about it and don’t do it, I just enjoyed her company. We didn’t do anything wrong, nothing, as I say it didn’t occur no. Girls were meant to be respected and taken care of sort of thing.

02:20:30:00

Do you think you were her first love?
Possibly I’m not sure could be. I know she had someone after me before the chap she married, but that one didn’t last, I knew the chap she had after me. But it didn’t last. Well I never met the other chap until after the war, the one that she married.
And you kept in touch all these years?
No no as I say I hadn’t, when I saw her last year we got in touch it was the first time for

02:21:00:00

30 years. Because they moved up to Robinvale and they had a hardware shop up there, her husband was a builder I think, but they had a hardware shop up there and I was going through to Adelaide to see me brother over in Adelaide and I was driving over and I went up through Mildura for a well just for a drive and actually see it and I called in there to say hello and I said hello, that was the last time I saw her back about the end of the 60s about

02:21:30:00

69 or something like that until last year.
Are you happy to be back in touch with her?
Well sort of, in a sense, well I can’t talk to her, she hasn’t got the conversation now that she probably had well I thought she had anyway back in the 30s, she doesn’t talk much and wouldn’t be a companion, not the same companionship.
Just through age or?

02:22:00:00

Well age personality too I suppose. I’ve probably developed more being in the army, being amongst people all the time. I met so many different people and it must have had an effect on me you may not always realise it at the time but I had very close friends in the army

02:22:30:00

that I were able to talk to and that, unfortunately most of them are gone.
Do you wish she was like she was in 1937 and 38?
Oh I am too old now, I am too old now, I have two sons and I would have to bring them into it and that sort of thing.
But her character, do you wish her character was the same as you remember?
I believe her character is alright now but she hasn’t got the, I wouldn’t have the companionship, I am on me own and

02:23:00:00

I miss having I miss having someone I can talk to discuss things with and enjoy somethings with, say for instance enjoy a film or whatever it might be a session on TV [television] to, double the enjoyment if you are sharing it with someone else congenial and and perhaps to help make decisions. You want new carpet, come and help me choose this that sort of thing. But I don’t think

02:23:30:00

she would be able to do that sort of thing now. I haven’t got no, I haven’t got any friendship that way no, I wouldn’t mind if it just finished. But she rang me last week.
So you wish she wouldn’t ring?
Well I knew she would, I guess I had thought I better get in touch anyway, just for friendship sake I should do it but she got in first.
Alright, back to 1938?
No it is not back to that it is different, I see yes yes.

02:24:00:00

And you broke up and how long after that was it that war broke out?
Well she broke, she broke it off 37 early 1937 I think so it would be a couple of years.
Did you see war coming, did you know it was?
Yeah well it was on the other side of the war you didn’t think much of it really I think. It didn’t affect me greatly not then. But I went the

02:24:30:00

to His Majesty’s Theatre on the 1st of September 1939 and I went to the Switzerland Ice Show. They had somehow or other they’d iced over the stage and they had this ice-skating on stage and I enjoyed the show very much, I’ll come back to that now. When I was at Cameron & Sutherlands one of the directors was

02:25:00:00

a director also of the glacier and this was towards the late 30s and he’d give us a tickets to go to the glacier two or three other boys besides me, younger ones, besides me, to go to the glaciera for ice skating, free tickets to go in and I went in there on several occasions. And I was enjoying it very much and I got my own pair of skates, they’re out in the garage now but I couldn’t get my feet into them now, my feet have swelled too much since those days but it was very interesting job

02:25:30:00

so I liked the skating. So I enjoyed watching it on stage on this 1st of September. Well during the interval a Herald boy came down the aisle with a one sheet special edition of the Herald to say that Germany had marched into Poland so I knew then that the war was on. Because England had promised that they’d go to war if Germany marched into Poland, which they did. Then of course war was declared on Sunday the 3rd.

02:26:00:00

So I didn’t take much notice I said oh well it’ll be over by Christmas, it’s on the other side of the world doesn’t affect me much. But then time went on and then it got, news got worse and worse and then there was a retreat from Dunkirk in June 1940 the following year. And the government was asking people to volunteer to go overseas because Australians all the Australians that were overseas were

02:26:30:00

volunteers, there weren’t no conscription then.
Before you volunteered did you know about Hitler and what?
Only what was in the papers yes. Well yes of course because he was the one overrunning the countries there. Yes.
What were they saying in the papers about him?
Well, well because Chamberlain tried

02:27:00:00

appeasement and tried to get peace with him and it didn’t work, they were saying it was, how awful it was, he had overrun one country after another, Czechoslovakia, Belgium and France. Of course it was in France that the British retreated from Dunkirk. So I thought my mother had four sons and thought

02:27:30:00

she she should expect, whether she expected it or not, but one at least should join up and I was the logical one because the other three were all married. So I joined up, I don’t think she liked me joining up, but that was it she accepted it.
Did the papers and the people of the time understand how bad Hitler was or what he was doing?
They had an idea, I think, yeah they got the idea

02:28:00:00

because Churchill had ideas, Britain had a bit of an idea even before the war. Before it started. But not as bad as it was, but when he was overrunning one country after another and the fierceness of the war well then they got the idea.
But it was so far away?
Yeah but yeah but we were sent there, Britain were our allies sort of thing and

02:28:30:00

Australia was asking for volunteers to go and try and help so I joined up to try and help to see what I could do.
When you join up did you more join up for the Australian army or did you join up to be part of England’s army?
Oh no I was joining up for the Australian army, well it was part of it, it was separate from England it was never governed by England, they had their own leaders and that sort of thing and the only and their

02:29:00:00

own ideas where to go where to be sent I think but it was ally of Britain.
Did you feel allegiance to the empire?
Oh yes Australia was part of the empire as I said before when we were at school we had these ceremonies for Empire Day and it was a well knit empire in those days I think, they were all around the world, many countries around the world. You see after the

02:29:30:00

after the war the world was in red, which meant British Empire. It has gone back now of course.
And your other brothers didn’t join up?
No they were all married, they didn’t join. Norvel did join up later about 1944 he joined the air force but he never went outside Australia he was up in Queensland I think for a while, I am not exactly sure what duties he did

02:30:00:00

there. But he was discharged in 1945 I think it was about October 1945.
So you felt obligated to join up because no one else did in the family at that time?
Not exactly obligated but I just felt that I should. I was the first one to join up from Cameron & Sutherland where I was working, others joined up since. The following few months someone else, two or three others joined up where I was.

02:30:30:00

But I felt, I felt I should, I didn’t know whether I could do much but I just thought the government wants people and I just thought I should go. And I thought me mother might feel a bit well not exactly ashamed but feel that people might say look you’ve got four sons and not one of them has joined up. It would help that a little bit if I joined.
So you’re saving

02:31:00:00

the family’s honour a bit?
Well I thought so yes to a certain extent. You get mixed feelings about these sort of things and that was just one of them. Once there was a leading one but a combination of three or four things, that and the retreat from Dunkirk and how they were getting pushed back there from Europe it was and having a bad time, Britain needed help and Australians were asking for people to help so I joined up.
Did you think Australia would be

02:31:30:00

threatened at the time?
No. No it was always over the other side of the world, I didn’t think, well I thought, that was another thing yeah I suppose so in a sense I thought if we can stop them over there it will stop them from coming to Australia. If they ever run England and took England well the next thing it could be Australia perhaps that thought was at the back of me mind yes.
Was that thought prevalent throughout society?
Well I suppose it could be yes, I don’t know what other people thought but I suppose that is part of it.
Was it in the papers that thought?

02:32:00:00

No I don’t think so not that I remember. Not as a conscious thing not as a definite statement sort of thing. Because other people joined up, I was in the 7th Division at the time, there was a lot joined up before me because as I say I didn’t join up until nine months afterwards but the 6th Division had already been formed and gone I think when I joined. But some of them joined to

02:32:30:00

get a job or get away from if they’d been criminals or minor criminals sort of thing get away from punishment that type of thing for various reasons, not so much for mine.
How did you feel about leaving your work?
Well I just resigned and and had an idea that there probably wouldn’t be so much work with the war on and it wouldn’t

02:33:00:00

be there would be lesser work yes. Well they could out me anyway I thought the country needed me better, the country needed me more.
So you didn’t miss work at all?
No. It is hard, it is hard to, well mention or define feelings of the time really because as I say they’re mixed feelings really one thing and another.

02:33:30:00

And what did you know about war itself before you went?
Oh nothing, you knew practically nothing, I was just a raw recruit.
Did you hear stories about the First World War?
Oh heard about that but as I said I thought in my mind they had lessons from that and things would be much easier now they’d take greater protection of the people and so on. In my naivety I suppose you could say.

02:34:00:00

You thought they learnt from past mistakes?
As I say I was naïve they never do do they? But I did say that to my Mum if I remember rightly when she was talking about how serious it was I said, “Well they look after people now the soldiers have greater protection and that it’s not as bad as it was in the First World War”.
What type of things

02:34:30:00

did you hear about the First World War, people dying and so on?
Well when it was on of course I didn’t know much about it, I was born in the middle, in fact my second name is Kitchener and I was named after Lord Kitchener who died about the time when I was born, my Mum my parents were thinking of a second name for me and they couldn’t think of one they didn’t want Tom, Dick or Harry the common names and his name was in the paper at the time so they chose that.

02:35:00:00

And then they found there were two E K Edwards in the family, my elder brother is Keith but that didn’t matter. He was the state secretary wasn’t he, Secretary of State in the war Lord Kitchener, very famous man in the First World War anyway. But we didn’t hear a great deal about it, we knew about it, they had trenches and that but we didn’t hear of all the horror I don’t think, we just weren’t so much interested so much in it I don’t think. What did we have at school

02:35:30:00

we had school papers at school, they didn’t say much about those things, you wouldn’t know the school paper but that used to come through once a month, little bits and pieces, little stories not so much about the well occasionally about the war but not so much.
Was war glorified?
Oh some areas, but not when I joined up I don’t think. Oh no not really, some were glorified

02:36:00:00

and others would be the other way round yes you get the difference of opinions.
But the papers and so on they weren’t telling the horrors?
No. No they were encouraging people to join. In fact when I joined shortly afterwards there was a thing run in the Herald no in the Sun, it was the Sun then because they had two separate papers and the Sun used pictorial and there was one little column there,

02:36:30:00

here there and everywhere I think it was. And they run, it wasn’t exactly a competition but that type of thing without prizes for people to send in limericks using names of towns Australian towns in them. So I sent one in and I was about the third one to be published, it was published, I can remember it now and I said when Marnoo, the town of Marnoo

02:37:00:00

when Marnoo he was Gowan, G O W A N, the town, when Marnoo he was Gowan although she was sad she said I’ll not stand in your light, I’m as proud of you now as I was of your Dad when he went to speed up the fight, and Speed is another town, so I got three in it. And what they said in the paper when they published it was Eric Edwards must be blamed for this.
When you joined up did you want to go overseas?

02:37:30:00

Oh I knew I’d be going overseas yes, I knew that would be happening. I suppose that might have been a greater an added attraction in a minor way too because it was fought overseas, it was part of it yes. Then we had the militia I think the normal ones for Australian.
Why didn’t you join them?
Oh well they were, I didn’t, they were there

02:38:00:00

before the war I didn’t want to, this was the urgent thing this was the thing to do, it was a job had to be done it had to be done to stop them from coming over here.
Was there a sense of adventure among you and the troops that joined up?
Some I suppose, the general idea was there was a job to be done and went to go and do it and the British actually who were getting into trouble.

02:38:30:00

And they needed all the help they could get, this was just one little way of doing it. I think that is about all I can say on that.
When you joined up did you see others that joined up with you that didn’t understand what they were getting themselves into?
No not really. They were all strangers at the start of course, no I think they all had a fair idea, they might not have realised fully what was

02:39:00:00

involved as I said in the first 6th Division the first lot that went away some of those were minor crims that wanted to get away and that was a different thing, but they’d gone in the 6th Division if I don’t know how many there would be amongst that but I heard there were some anyway. But most of them had gone. We were there for the patriotic duty put it that way.
Did you

02:39:30:00

know what you were getting yourself into?
Well I hope to, no you never know what is ahead of you do you, I don’t think anyone knows, they all think they’d come back alright and I thought I’d come back alright but you don’t know, although I was prepared perhaps to die but I didn’t know.
So the thought of dying crossed your mind?
Oh I thought it was a possibility but I, I was I had two main

02:40:00:00

fears really, one was that I’d be wounded in such a way that I’d be a burden on somebody else like be blinded in both eyes or something like that be a permanent cripple and useless and you do get people that way. And another one was that I feared that I could show fear, I’d be frightened or scared or whatever when I get on the front line.
That is great Eric we’ll change over again but you are doing very very well.
Oh good.
Interviewee: Eric Edwards Archive ID 1538 Tape 03

03:00:33:00

Is that where we’re up to?
Oh yes you’ve joined up, now you were sent to a basic training camp at Colac , tell us about the training you did there?
There was not much, yes I had three days, I think it was three days at the showgrounds, the Royal Showgrounds and that was just mainly to get the equipment and clothing and so on like that and then I was sent to Colac and it was just drilling

03:01:00:00

and marching, perhaps going for a route march along the roads and so on like that. But I remember a couple of occasions when I was asked to go and help the pay sergeant whose name was P Elsum, E L S U M, because on my records it was I was an accountant you see, this happened two or three times, I’ll tell you about the others later. But he asked me to help him, they sent a message to me to help him. So I helped him with the pay book because it is a pretty big job,

03:01:30:00

Colac we’re all in the showgrounds there and there is a lot of work to be done making up the pay. Sailors were paid once a fortnight. I did that on a couple of occasions then of course the time came when I moved out. Colac was a cold place, it was June, middle of winter sort of thing and a lot of the people there had the flu but I didn’t catch the flu. Anyway from there I was moved to Ropeby

03:02:00:00

which is a farm a name of a farm it’s not a name of a town or that as I mentioned before that was near Tallarook which is south of Seymour about three miles south of Seymour and we were in tents there I think about seven men to a tent. And we were supposed to be part of the 2/40th which is a Tasmanian unit but that was changed afterwards and we had new offices, but we weren’t in a particular

03:02:30:00

battalion at that time. I got the what do you call it the vaccination then and that knocked me for a day, I was pretty awful, but that was alright. Anyway I remember one night I went, I was, I got me mug to get a drink of water down at the cookhouse sort of thing and someone else saw me with the mug going down there and called out coffee

03:03:00:00

and before I got there I had about a dozen people then coming for a cup of coffee, which wasn’t available. And that is about all we did at Colac and then we were sent out as I said to Ropeby and we were there for a little while and from there we were moved up to Wangaratta.
Now before you go onto Wangaratta I’ll just stop you there, tell us more about Ropeby, what sort of training did you do at Ropeby?
Well

03:03:30:00

much the same sort of thing.
Such as?
It was a fairly, well much the same drilling and judging distances so how far such and such is away, marching across the road, the camp was a bit, the farm was a bit hilly, up down that sort of thing. There wasn’t much else, but it was at Ropeby that we got the rifles issued, towards the, we were only there for about three weeks.
What sort of rifles?

03:04:00:00

Oh oh I don’t know what you call them, just ordinary single, I had a magazine.
The 303s?
Probably First World War stuff I suppose, I don’t know the brands and what they were just a simple one. The bren guns I don’t think had been invented then or just coming in, that’s a machine gun these were just a single rifle, but we were issued with those, but then of course they didn’t have any enough ammunition to

03:04:30:00

give us rifle shooting practice, I didn’t get it then I got it a bit later on but not much.
Were you accustomed to shooting rifles before?
Oh not before no. No I, I don’t think I even had a shotgun then, I did after the war but no not no I hadn’t.
So you weren’t good with the guns, until the training started you had no real experience with guns?
My brother, one of me brothers he had

03:05:00:00

a rifle when we were at Koo-wee-rup but I never ever fired it I don’t think, I was only 12 when we left Koo-wee-rup so I was too young to use it. So no I didn’t have the experience in rifles, I never later on.
What about bayonet training, were you given that at Ropeby?
I went out with me brother, me other brother once or twice that would be the late 30s, he had a caravan, we went in that.

03:05:30:00

I had a shotgun for that, my father had a shotgun but I never fired it because I was too young then. But I didn’t go out often only once or twice so I didn’t really have any experience with a rifle no.
But they did train you with bayonets now at Ropeby when you were training, did they train you how to use the bayonet?
Yes we were having bayonet practice that’s right.
What would that involve?
Well having a sort of a

03:06:00:00

thing up in the air with a bag with straw in it and pushing into that and on charge and something like that, you’d go shoving at that and give it a little twist to pull it out and just that sort of thing yes.
Well what did you think of bayonet training?
Oh you didn’t like it much.
Why’s that?
Well you don’t like the idea of stuffing, sticking a bayonet into a bloke’s stomach or whatever it might be and that is what it was

03:06:30:00

sort of representing anyway it was to represent killing a bloke it is not a nice thought is it. I didn’t like the idea but it had to be done.
Did most of your mates feel that way about that?
Oh I think so yes. But it was just a practice and it was them or us so we had to do it. Little things, still, still doing the parades

03:07:00:00

forming, well rifle practice with the present arms and that sort of thing, shoulder arms marching with the rifles along the road and present arms when you’ve got someone important in front of you and you bring it down to the front like that, and drilling with it and stand to attention and you bring it up over your shoulder, we were doing all that sort of thing.

03:07:30:00

Does that answer your question? As near as I can answer it I think. I am going back 60 years you know.
You are doing a damn good job of it as well, so how did you get accustomed to the training and the physical fitness aspect and the officers, what were the NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] and the officers like, would they treat you very hard as a rookie?
No. There was one officer, one

03:08:00:00

sergeant, I think he’d been in the British army and he was very good at drilling and very strict on us and he’d shout and so on like that as cartoons always say sergeants go shouting. But there was no, no real trouble no. We just did what we were told, and if we didn’t march properly we’d be told and we’d have to start again and do it properly, march along the roads.

03:08:30:00

Perhaps sing as we’d march if we could.
Bit of bastardisation going on there?
Bit of what?
Was there a lot of bastardisation going on?
Oh no not really no, we go alright.
They wouldn’t want to break your spirit or anything like that?
Oh no no. Not that I remember no. No we had the officers as I said we had at Ropeby they were taken

03:09:00:00

from us and we had to get new ones and we didn’t get used to the new ones much until we got up to Wangaratta.
Well tell us about Wangaratta, what happened there?
Well we we went to Wangaratta from Ropeby and it was at Wangaratta that the battalion was formed, more than just, we didn’t have that many at Ropeby but with Wangaratta of course a battalion is between 7 and 800 men. A full battalion and we were doing much the same sort of training then, again

03:09:30:00

we were sleeping in the showground. We had to fill our palliasses as they call them with straw. Do you know what a palliasse is? And fill it up with straw and sleep on that and of course they had to be neat and tidy every morning. The officer would come round and inspect them and make sure that the blankets were all folded up properly and that sort of thing. If you, if you miss behaved well you might be sent to run around the parade ground with a pack on your back,

03:10:00:00

6 o’clock in the morning or something like that.
What do you mean misbehaved?
Well, well be careless or have, have your blankets or that out of alignment in a careless sort of a way or smoking on parade or something like that, minor offences. I can’t think much else

03:10:30:00

other than that, nothing, there was nothing serious. I’ll, I’ll tell you this, this is a story, I’m not sure exactly where it comes in, it could have been Wangaratta it might have been at Ropeby. But there was a chap in the army his name was Jock Ashley and he was a chap who was a, a he was a likeable fella, I rather liked him, he had a reasonably good voice

03:11:00:00

but he was a, he wasn’t what you call a precision soldier. And he used to sing every now and again, one of his popular songs ‘I don’t work for a living’ now it was just the sort of person he was I think, bit of a lazy sort of a chap, you don’t know the song, it is pre-war, ‘I don’t work for a living, I get along alright without, I don’t toil all day it’s perhaps it’s because

03:11:30:00

I’m not built that way, some people work for love, they say it’s all sunshine and gay, but if I can’t sunshine without any work I’d rather stay out in the rain’. And that was the chorus and one of the verses goes ‘give me a nail and a hammer and a picture to hang on the wall, give me a strong step ladder you know that I might fall, give me a couple of waiters and a barrel of good bass ale and I bet you I’ll hang up that picture if somebody drives

03:12:00:00

in the nail’. That type of person and he told me once that he was in the army and he went AWL [absent without leave] and back in one of the inner suburbs houses of Melbourne and the MPs the Military Police came around. And one of them said, “Jock Ashley” he said, “Just a moment I’ll go and get him for you” so he went back in the house, over the back fence and off. And he was very quick witted and that was the type of person he was.

03:12:30:00

When I say misbehaved well, being away without leave and that sort of thing. I don’t know what happened to him afterwards, he didn’t come overseas with us. He maybe away without leave again, taken out of the army, I don’t know.
How long did you stay at Wangaratta for?
About three weeks. And then we marched from Wangaratta up to Bonegilla and Bonegilla is up near the, up near Albury, up near the weir up there. And we were out about three nights in the marching,

03:13:00:00

and it poured with rain one night and we had to try and make do with what we could which shelter we could. One chap was a good bushman and he made a reasonably good shelter out of the bark of trees, there were five chaps they joined together and they put a couple of ground sheets on the ground and they got it near the fence and they put the other end of other ground sheet the other three tied it to the fence and they curled and they fixed it up the other end and they crawled in under there

03:13:30:00

but they forgot there is a little gutter underneath, the two groundsheets near the fence and when the rain got a little gutter and a bit of water started pouring through over the groundsheets they came out rather sheepishly wet and bedraggled. But anyway the second in command Everet Bayla his name was, he died just two or three years ago, he went around and he found out where there was a barn in the nearby farm and those who didn’t have

03:14:00:00

proper shelter went to this barn. And I was one of them, and we went to this barn and had straw to sleep on and warm for the night but that was it, and then we went off to we finished off to Bonegilla. When we got to Bonegilla almost immediately the battalion was sent home on final leave. But I was left behind because to form part of a skeleton staff to carry on the duties there. Now while

03:14:30:00

I was there I received a message from this P Elsum, he is the chap I used to work for at Colac as a pay, the pay books. And he sent a message to me he said, asked me to transfer to his battalion and I probably would have, I may have got a stripe or two if I’d gone there, but he wanted and he said well help over there in the office of an E Company,

03:15:00:00

but I didn’t go because I said, “My battalion is on final leave I don’t want to lose me mates I’ve had for quite some time now, two or three months or whatever, I’d rather stay where I am” and that was it and so I didn’t go. And I found out afterwards that he was I am not sure whether it was the 21st or the 22nd Battalion, they went to Singapore and he became a prisoner of war to the

03:15:30:00

Japanese. So if I’d joined I could either have been a prisoner of them, we had a really had a harder time of, the Germans that was bad enough but not the Japanese they were beasts or I could have got killed so I didn’t go, so I think it was a right, wise decision then.
Yeah so how did you, you didn’t really have an opinion of the Japanese at that stage did you?
Not at that stage they weren’t in the war at that stage, they didn’t join up until later on 41.

03:16:00:00

So when did you realise that you were going overseas?
Oh that was on the cards when I joined up, we knew that we’d be going but it was while we were at Bonegilla that we got the message to go overseas and when the others came back from final leave I applied and got final leave. But the trouble was I got mumps when I was on leave, well I felt it coming on before I went and I thought well I’d rather be in the hospital in Melbourne

03:16:30:00

than up here at Bonegilla. So as soon as I got home I went to a doctor and he sent me out to Fairfield infectious diseases hospital. And I was there for a few days and I got right when I got out of there I went straight back to the battalion and from then I had to well shortly after that we set overseas. While I was there on the skeleton staff I had to make out the rolls and there was 129 men for their company, I was in C Company and I only did it for

03:17:00:00

the company not the battalion. I had to make out these rolls and they had to be spot on and everyone was there and all that sort of thing, no absentees. I used to get these extra jobs because I had been an accountant studying accountancy, office work. But anyway I had the final leave, that was over, I went back and I think we left about 16th of November. We came to Port Melbourne and then over by the Stratheden, no Strathmore we went on the Strathmore

03:17:30:00

overseas.
Now before you go on on your voyage, what were the friendships you’d formed in the battalion, who were your close mates?
Well I, well my close mates in the army?
Yeah your2/24th?
Do you want their names?
Yeah at that stage?
Well Rod Deering was one D E E R I N G, and Laurie Brown was another. And I think Rod Derring was engaged to Laurie Brown’s sister. But we, and we were in the we met

03:18:00:00

in one of these tents in Ropeby. And we became good friends then, and we were friends from then right through.
So those two guys were your closest friends in the 2/24th at that stage?
At that stage yes at that stage. I had met another couple but I was separated from them because they were drafted into D Company and I was in C. But at that stage I was with them yes.

03:18:30:00

so on the ship we went off to Fremantle and we were at Fremantle for a few days because there was supposed to be a German raider out in the ocean somewhere and it wasn’t safe for us to go, so we were there for a few days and had a bit of leave then and went and.
How big was the actual ship the Strathmore?
Oh it was a fairly big one, it was a P&O liner I don’t know how many tonnes it would be, quite a few thousand. I’ve forgotten now.

03:19:00:00

Was the whole 2/24th on that ship?
Oh yes yes yes.
Any more troops other than that, were there other battalions as well?
There was, no there was another ship the 2/48th they came from Adelaide or South Australia they were on another ship, there were four ships in the convoy when they were going over there, but I’m not sure the 2/48th was on another ship. The New Zealanders, another one from New Zealand came along that’s right,

03:19:30:00

and they formed part of the convoy.
There were?
Yes New Zealand troops but they weren’t part of our battalion no.
So you stopped at Perth Fremantle was it?
Yes Fremantle yes near Perth.
What was that like?
Oh that was alright. Some of the chaps were meeting up and getting invited into private homes but I didn’t I think I may have missed out one night. I was, I went to Fremantle from

03:20:00:00

the ship there was a, I think it was a trolley bus, I went in a trolley bus or something, goes from yeah from Fremantle to the ship, anyway that doesn’t matter, but one night I, I had been wandering around Fremantle and I thought I’d go back to the ship and I was walking past a hotel and a couple of chaps came out the door and they had another chap with him and he had a bit of blood on his face, a chap I knew

03:20:30:00

he name was Jock something or other and they said, “Are you going back to the ship?” and I said, “Yes” they said, “Well take Jock back with you,” and then they went back into the hotel and left Jock at me feet. And he’d been in a bit of a fight, he was a bad drunk, I knew him as a drunk and he was drunk oh half drunk anyway. He probably got into a bit of a fight or an argument and so I started to support him and lead him back to the ship. And as we were going along I

03:21:00:00

met a women and probably her daughter coming along. And they had to step out on the roadway to get past us and I always regretted that I didn’t say apologise then and say, “I’m sorry I’m not drunk I’m just taking this bloke back to the ship,” I might have got an invitation to lunch or something, but I didn’t of course, I didn’t say it, I wasn’t quick enough and I just took Jock back and tucked him where he belonged and that was it.
Yeah you could have been introduced to her daughter

03:21:30:00

as well?
Well I might have done yes you never know what would have happened.
Would have ended up marrying her gosh. Well I can understand why you regret that day, oh well.
That was it, anyway from there we went to Colombo and I think we had a day at Colombo and wandered around there, went to the museum and one or two places and saw these little boats below our ship and selling wares and.
What were they selling?
Oh

03:22:00:00

things at exorbitant prices, fruit and nuts and different things like that, not much stuff, souvenirs, stamps, postage stamps they’d sell and books and things like that just, note books and odds and ends.
They were just boats that would come up to your ship?
Yeah boats that would come alongside the ship.
And how would you exchange money and?
They’d send something up by a rope and you’d have to put the money in that and go down and that sort of thing. I don’t think I bought anything, but

03:22:30:00

others were doing it. I did buy some stamps for me brother who was a stamp collector it was from one of the places in Colombo itself. I’ve got a photo somewhere or other of this ship this little boat underneath, I’ll show it to you later.
Were people trying to rip each other off?
Were there what?
Were there people trying to con each other?
Oh I don’t think so no I don’t think so. Except they charged exorbitant prices, they expect to be beaten down in price, they always charge, they ask a

03:23:00:00

lot higher.
So you’d literally be shouting down from the top of the ship?
Yeah yeah yeah, well the others were I wasn’t that much keen on it.
How did you communicate was it?
Oh sign language and that sort of thing yeah. Sign language is a good means of communication no matter which country you are in. I found that out later in Germany and Italy. It worked out alright. I better get that photo and show you.

03:23:30:00

You can show me later. No Problem. And when you were in Colombo what was it like?
I had a rickshaw ride, a ride in the rickshaw it was alright, just for the fun of the thing.
Just you?
Yes, yes at that stage yes.
Did you get a chance to fraternise with the locals?
Oh no didn’t want to, didn’t bother, didn’t want to.

03:24:00:00

I was just out to see what I could see myself. I did have, I did have someone else there but it wasn’t Rod or Laurie, I’ve forgotten who he was now I think it was someone else that did come just to have the two for the ride but that was it. Oh I was only there for a day, looking around the gardens and as I say I went to the Gim museum and admiring the things, which were in there.
That was your first time overseas?
Oh yes

03:24:30:00

yes.
So what was your impression of Asia from Colombo?
Oh it was different, it was all different, it was interesting. But I wouldn’t have wanted to live there not meself because it is a different way of life.
Certainly.
It was alright, nothing wrong with it, I liked the place I thought it was very nice place while we were there yeah.
You would have seen elephants and things like that?
They had, I don’t, well I wasn’t out in the country I was only in the city.

03:25:00:00

I don’t remember seeing one there, but they had elephants carvings and that in the museums and beautiful ones there made out of pure ivory very well done, how they got the detail cut out of ivory I don’t know but it was marvellously done. No I didn’t see a real elephant out on the streets no, alright.
So what happened when you got back on board, where was the next

03:25:30:00

stop?
Next stop, next stop was up in the Suez Canal we got out at Kantara in Egypt and from there we got onto trains, put onto trains and went up to past Gaza a place called Dimra, D I M R A, it is only about three miles further north of Gaza and we were in an area there in tents again, this time we were on beds made of bamboo.

03:26:00:00

And about nine inches off the ground I suppose, we had the palliasses on the bench, so that was it. And there again was similar training, more or less the same sort of thing. Route marches along the roads and that. I remember one night our camp, our company commander, he wanted to have an exercise just with the

03:26:30:00

company, and as I said before there was 129 people in a company a full company and there was three platoons in a company and each platoon has about 39 men with a lieutenant and each charge and a platoon sergeant and that and then there was company headquarters. And I was in company headquarters because I always helped to do pay, payroll books and so on and office work then. And then of course with the company headquarters there is the company commander

03:27:00:00

and his 2 IC [2nd In Command] and he has a runner and a batman and one or two others, but there was 12 and the company sergeant major and a company quartermaster sergeant looking after supplies. Well the company commander Frank Buds his name was, and he divided the thing the area we went to in four different sections, one for each platoon and another section for the company headquarters.

03:27:30:00

And the idea was that we were supposed to be on the alert for enemy, we were supposed to with the platoons, they were put out, well we had company headquarters also put out guards sentries to watch over at night and change over at certain hours because a couple of hours perhaps and watch out for a possible enemy. And the next morning at 7 o’clock we were to assemble and be all on parade then.

03:28:00:00

And that’s the time about dawn when the enemy would normally be approaching everyone would be alert, well we did this sort of thing. But then at 7 o’clock I was in company headquarters at 7 o’clock we were standing out there and we stood up a little bit before and 7.15 came, it was very cold standing there, there was a cold wind blowing, we were well it is an exaggeration to say we were freezing but it was terribly cold.

03:28:30:00

so the company sergeant major said, “Well let’s have a game of leapfrog to get warm,” so we had a game of leapfrog to get nice and warm which was good. But then in the meantime the company commander had gone around from one platoon to another, he went to one platoon and he found that they were sitting around the fire getting themselves warm that way which they shouldn’t have been doing, they should have been on the alert. And he went to another one and they had their rifles piled. And when you pile a rifle there

03:29:00:00

is a little hook underneath the rifle and you hook those two together and they stand up like that and they had that well they’re not easy to get at in a hurry, if an enemy is coming you want your rifle handy so they shouldn’t have been doing that. Another one they didn’t even know he was approaching until he was right in the midst of them. So he was unhappy about this exercise and he said to his runner, he was disgusted really he said, “Let’s go and see company headquarters they’re sure to be alright”. And of course there we were playing leapfrog on

03:29:30:00

the skyline, he was so, he was so disgusted with it he couldn’t come and reprimand us he sent the second in command to come and go that Evert Bayla had to come along and reprimand us and he had a bit of a smile on his face as he did so. But the sergeant major took all the blame then the company commander he had a bit of a laugh about it afterwards. But that was that exercise which wasn’t a very

03:30:00:00

good one. So that is the sort of thing we were doing, one day we went out for rifle practice onto a range and we had single shot rifles from 100 yards and 200 yards and then a moving target sort of thing and I think it was a bit of a bren gun then because Bren guns were through. I didn’t do too bad for the single 100 yard one but I wasn’t too much good on the

03:30:30:00

others. But I would have liked to have more practice but we didn’t have enough ammunition to waste it on rifle practice like that.
So even at that stage you didn’t have enough ammunition?
No we were short of it yeah.
Now where were you, where were you doing all this training?
This was at Dimra is what I’ve just been telling you.
Where exactly is Dimra stationed on the map?
Near Gaza about three miles from Gaza, you know where Gaza is in Palestine?
Yeah.
Well it’s Israel now but it was Palestine then.

03:31:00:00

And there was a lot of sand and sand dunes and that there and it was over sandy areas that we were doing this exercise that I was telling you about. And other parts some of it back, sometimes we’d do a route march a long march along the roadway or again we might do rifle practice or we might do drilling again and and with the rifle and so on and practise that way, marching, getting good exercise.

03:31:30:00

And we were there for about three months. I one, one time I went away with my two friends, the ones I mentioned before Rod and Laurie we went up to Tel Aviv and we were there for a day, but that was a very wet day, so we didn’t see a great deal. That’s a fairly comparatively new city as far as that goes I think, it wouldn’t be more than about 100 years old. But later on I went to Jerusalem I didn’t have me two friends

03:32:00:00

then. But when we got to Jerusalem met up with another chap well another chap I knew and there were four others I can’t remember their names now, there were six of us, we met up with a Christian Arab and he had a big car and he took us for a fee around the usual sites of Jerusalem. He even took us to Jerusalem oh to Jericho and Bethlehem and Wailing Wall

03:32:30:00

and all this sort of thing, I enjoyed those couple of days it was very good better than the Tel Aviv one. So that was that, that was leave there in Palestine.
What were the people like in Palestine?
They were alright yeah, because we couldn’t speak the language we didn’t have that much to do with them although the Christian Arab could speak English so that was alright.
I was told that the Australians had quite a bit of problems with the Arabs there, there was a lot of theft going

03:33:00:00

on and hostilities between Arabs and Australians?
When during the war?
Yeah well in Palestine.
Well you’re probably right, I can give you a couple of incidences, we had to be very careful and told to watch out for our rifles that is the things that they would go for. But there was an Arab one day he started to cheek a sentry, we had sentries around the camp in various tents and that. And he started to give

03:33:30:00

cheek to this sentry, so the sentry raised his rifle and fired. Oh the Arab said, “Fire fire” and the sentry did fire and the bullet when past the Arab’s ear. Not to kill him but to frighten him and he went off like a rocket. And there was another occasion an Arab was giving cheek to the sentry and the sentry just raised his rifle and fired it up in the air. And he was the worst rifle shot in the company and a bird fell down dead at his feet and that

03:34:00:00

amazed the Arab. Yes you had to watch out for them they were, they were cheeky. I was told that there was a Jewish firm or company or whatever was doing some work in the camp because it was only a fairly new camp, building a little not exactly roadways but gutters and things like that and doing construction work and you had Arabs employed there. But the Arabs weren’t very good workers and that slackened off after

03:34:30:00

a little while so the boss he’d sack them and the Arabs would start to put on their coats and jackets and walk away and then he’d call them back and they were so pleased to come back and be on the payroll again that they’d work quite well for about an hour and then they’d start to slacken off again, this went on about four or five times during the day and that is how he was able to get the work out of them, but in a haphazard sort of a way.
So they were fired, I see.
They didn’t like work,

03:35:00:00

does that answer your question?
They probably wouldn’t find work for the dole good then.
No.
So you didn’t have much of a chance to fraternise. What about the women I know in Palestine there was a lot of brothel activity and the Australian soldiers were quite keen to visit the brothels when they had a chance.
Oh I had nothing to do with that.
Did you know of any soldiers who did?
No not really, not personally.

03:35:30:00

No not personally. They may have done it somewhere but I didn’t know anything about it. I have no inclination that way, not with those dirty untidy no.
Did you find the women to be quite dirty and untidy then?
Well normally, generally speaking they seemed to be compared to what we were. What we had been brought up to be, they may not have been but that’s the way they looked to us.
How you, how were

03:36:00:00

these impressions on your mind at this stage?
There was no women on our camp, ours was a camp, it was away from the women it was only when we went through a bit of a march through somewhere else we might see some little Arab village but we didn’t do a great deal of that, I think probably to keep away from them.
Were you given any lectures on STDs sexually transmitted diseases, venereal diseases?
Probably in the early days but well some of them back in Australia

03:36:30:00

when they went on leave they’d give them what they call a blue light outfit or something like that a condom and some ointment or something like that, but I never had any of it.
A blue light outfit?
That is what they called it yeah.
What is that again?
Its it included a condom and some anti I suppose some antiseptic type ointment I think in case you got a disease gonorrhoea and syphilis and that sort of thing. AIDS [acquired immune deficiency syndrome] wasn’t even

03:37:00:00

thought of then. But that’s for people going and having sex with a prostitute or something when they are on leave they could use this and use the preventative of the disease.
So this is in Melbourne?
Yeah.
These things were issued. On the boat or before you actually got onto the Strathmore so you were given lectures in Melbourne about venereal disease?

03:37:30:00

Just casually not as if you are getting a lecture at school or something like that it was just mentioned.
What about when you got to Palestine was that mentioned?
Oh not again, it wasn’t pushed all the time no. I suppose we had enough sense to avoid those type of things.
But not everyone did of course?
Not to be told all the time about it no.
Gonorrhoea for instance was a big

03:38:00:00

problem?
Of course it was yes, we knew that, and anyone should have taken note of it, it didn’t bother me, I didn’t have any girls so I was alright. I avoided it, didn’t want it, didn’t have any desire for it.
Some other chaps, I’ve heard stories of.
Because I’m one of the old school, the old fashioned type, I believe in no sex until you’re married and then you have it with a

03:38:30:00

person you love and it comes with the fullest extent then, not this hop into bed every now again these days, they want to see someone they want to hop into bed with them, no that is not on.
But you know how you say nowadays people are a lot faster about sex?
Well they seem to be an obsession with them these days but there wasn’t then.
But what about the soldiers that did go overseas and did engage in that type of activity?
Well if

03:39:00:00

they got a disease they’d be out of the army. But I don’t know of anyone who did. We had a job to do we weren’t going for sex or the time no women wasn’t our goal it was to fight and learn to fight and fight to the best of our ability and advantage, we had training to do and that’s what we did, we didn’t go into those places. There might have been one or two but not as a general rule.

03:39:30:00

I remember there were five sergeants went out one night but they only went out for a drink and they got they borrowed a jeep I think it was a jeep no an armoured car they went out, they ran into, they got so drunk they ran into a ditch and it got damaged, but that was all hushed up.
How often would you get leave when you were in Palestine?
Well I only had it on two occasions. I had the Tel Aviv, that was only a day, and then there were

03:40:00:00

two days and two nights in Jerusalem that’s all I think. If you had a good reason for it I suppose they could have allowed it but they were allowed they weren’t normal things that was ok and that was about all and I was there for about three months. We had, we didn’t have any Red Cross food parcels but we had comforts fund parcels and they were sent to us for Christmas we had special Christmas pudding and that by the comforts fund and our relatives back

03:40:30:00

here would give money for the comforts fund to provide things like that for us.
We are going to have to stop now because we’ve run out of tape now Eric yeah it goes quick you’ll be surprised.
Oh right.
Interviewee: Eric Edwards Archive ID 1538 Tape 04

04:00:31:00

Yeah ok from Palestine what happened after that?
I went up to, well I was going up to the west, what do you call it the western desert is it, well anyway up to Libya but the thing is the 6th Division that had been there, they were withdrawn because they had been taken the Italians in the hundreds and thousands and virtually they thought it was over I think. But anyway they were withdrawn to go to Crete and Greece.

04:01:00:00

And as they were experienced they went there and we were up there to take over from them. So we left and went up there. We went, we got to Mursa Matruh but it was a bit dusty there, wind blowing and sand blowing and it was we were there for a couple of days. But one thing happened at Mursa Matruh the company quartermaster sergeant bloke always on the lookout for scrounging things, he came across a a 12 gallon

04:01:30:00

water tank and he thought ah that would be good up in the desert. So he came and told our second officer the lieutenant about it Schelton his name was. And Schelton got me and two other chaps and we took it to this place and when we got there he found out there was a chap sitting on it and two or three fellas standing around. So he said to us so that they could hear, “You better take that tank away, someone will

04:02:00:00

sure to pinch it if you don’t”. So we went up to the fella and the chap said, “Oh we wouldn’t do it” and we said, “Oh he wants us to take it away he said someone might pinch it,” and he said, “Oh it wouldn’t be us we are not we wouldn’t do it”. So they got off the tank and let us walk away with it and it came up useful after. I don’t know who owned and I don’t know what happened about it after it but that’s what happened. It was useful up in the desert later. But that was Mursa Matruh.

04:02:30:00

Well then from there we went on and eventually we got to Al Bardi which is the western side of Tobruk and we were stationed there. And that was a much better country, there were trees and that around there was more of a chocolaty soil and there was growth around, a much nicer place. Whether they got irrigation from springs or what I got no idea, see there is no rivers there in Libya as far as I could see. Anyway we were

04:03:00:00

there and we went out on rifle practice one day and I think again my efforts weren’t too bad but not marvellous, could have been a lot better. But that was it and then we got notification that we had to retreat to Tobruk, well had to retreat anyway, well they say, it didn’t say that I think the army terminology is a strategic withdrawal. So anyway we went back through the nighttime and it was a bit hectic.

04:03:30:00

I know that someone else a bit further out in the desert, we were out on the coast road you see but someone else further out in the back they came along and they came to a chap in a British uniform and directed him down this path and they went down this path and they got surrounded by Germans and they were taken prisoner of war. And I met those, they belonged to the 2/8 Field Ambulance, which is a South Australian group. But I think, well someone else came along later and found out he was directed along the same and realised this was a

04:04:00:00

German in a British uniform disguised you see so he shot him, killed him. But those fellas were taken prisoner, but we missed that one, we were, we went back and eventually got to Tobruk. We were on our way back to Tobruk well I remember one place we stopped at we took up a certain position

04:04:30:00

but then we were taken over by the Gurkhas, and their little not very big chaps but their very efficient, they’re very silent, their very quick and very intelligent and very loyal to Britain and the thing they say that if a Gurkha comes an Australian or comes across someone who is lying there in bed they will feel around his collar just to see if you’ve got the Australian rising

04:05:00:00

sun badge there and if he has of course it’s ok. And they took over the position and we moved out. But there is a legend or some story going around that the Gurkha came across the German once and out with his knife and slashed and the German said, “Ha you missed” and the Gurkha said, “When you shake your head you’ll know I didn’t”. So they’re quick and very very silent. I didn’t know they were alongside of me until they

04:05:30:00

were there. But anyway our group we moved onto the well really the second line of defence, a little bit back from the front line and I was there for about a couple of weeks and then about on the 28th of April 1941 we moved up to the front line and relieved those that were up the front. And I was in company headquarters as usual and we

04:06:00:00

occupied a building, which had walls but no roof. The roof was camouflaged with ground sheets and that type of thing, just material. Well then at lunch time about three German bombers came over, or three planes anyway and came and they machine gunned this and six people there were hit, I wasn’t one of them but six others were, one was an English officer and he was

04:06:30:00

only there doing visitation and he got chest wounds and he died on his way back to the hospital back to Cairo, someone else got injured in the knee and the other had lesser injured, but there was six of the wounded. And so our company commander who was Frank Budge he was one of the ones that got injured in the knee so he was sent back so captain Lindsay Canty from A Company was transferred to us.

04:07:00:00

And of course when he came there he said, “It is not safe for you to be in this building” so he took us up or sent us up to the, that one of those posts or whatever you call it right up at the front line S6. I call them posts but I don’t exactly know what you call them. They are about 100 yards long and they’ve got sort of a passageway, a bit of a zig-zag and there are three weapon pits one at

04:07:30:00

each end and this is on a bit of a raised platform with a a protection at the front, you fire over that and and in the centre there is an emergency exit by a steel runged ladder, but there are three pits. And at the centre one captain Canty was there and another chap one of our fellas was there and he had he was operating a

04:08:00:00

machine-gun but it was an Italian Breda gun, we had no machine guns of our own we were so short of equipment. And during the night a chap named Peter Ferguson, this is the night of the 29th of, 30th of April, 30th of April, he came from one of the other posts, I’ll call them posts, he came from there with a message for our captain for Lindsay Canty, he was only a short chap, he was about 5 feet.

04:08:30:00

And he gave the message but as he wasn’t required to take a return message he stayed with us and he was at the opposite end from where I was. And he was firing from there and alongside of him was firing another chap named George I don’t know his surname but he didn’t belong to our company but he was there to supervise sanitary arrangements sort of thing, but it was too dangerous to go across the thing, the land, so he was there and

04:09:00:00

firing from there. And incidentally there was no normal communication not like the First World War they had communication trenches right along, here it was just wires across the top of the ground and the artillery could blow those up so the engineers had to go out to try to repair them, there was no other method except personal contact like Peter Ferguson coming from one to us. But anyway that happened but then sometime during the night a bullet came along and it hit Peter Ferguson in his steel helmet, or tin hat it’s

04:09:30:00

sometimes called. But it went in and it came out the side, it sort of spun the helmet around a bit and came out the back, and when it came out it came out in two pieces like ram horns, they were about half inch wide and three inches long, I saw the helmet afterwards, it didn’t hurt Peter but it killed George standing alongside of him. So that is just one of the things. Now I was down the other end oh one chap was wounded,

04:10:00:00

he got wounded in the neck and he came back and the company sergeant major Neil White he got wounded and he got wounded badly in the arm, shrapnel in his arm and he came back so I was on me own then down at that end. And I was there until captain, well during the night I got messages from Captain Canty in the centre asking to let him have some more ammunition, they were running short, now of course a machine gun

04:10:30:00

uses quite a lot so about two or three times in the night I was giving him what I had and I was practically had hardly anything left by the end, well I got the message from him to say fire when it is only absolutely necessary we are short of ammunition. Well then he had to give the white flag and say we’re out of ammunition had to surrender, well I had nothing much meself so we had to surrender so I had to go along all that passage way and come out the other end where the Germans were. I couldn’t keep

04:11:00:00

firing when surrender had been given by the commander.
So this is a big battle going on with the Germans?
Oh yes the Germans and Italians had come along. I was told that the Italian, the Germans pushed the Italians in front and if the Italians tried to surrender or run away they’d get shot in the back but they were they were coming from one direction and the tanks were coming from another direction and during the night or before that there’d been an artillery bombardment which had blown barbed wire which

04:11:30:00

is just in front of us, blown that to pieces so they were able to come through fairly freely and not hindered by barbed wire. So the attack was virtually in the area where I was and two or three of the other, I don’t know three or four it might have been posts, posts or pits or whatever you call them where I was in that area. And I saw some people being marched away, so this was about five minutes before I was taken prisoner of war and

04:12:00:00

I said, “Oh they are getting taken prisoner of war”. So I knew, that was the first that I knew that I was going to be a prisoner of war, about five minutes before I was. And a couple of me mates people that were there were telling me to hurry up and come out take off me equipment which I had on me and leave it behind and come out. We had to get out the Germans were rushing us out to do it so I come out. And one of these chaps was a chap named Jim Haw and he was killed when I came out, but I got through freely. But as soon as I got

04:12:30:00

free out a German officer said, “For you the war is over,” that was their slogan I think if you can call it that as people were taken prisoner of war. And I was then with five other chaps were ordered to carry a German wounded solder back, he’d been badly wounded in the legs and he’s in a bit of pain, so we had to carry him for about a couple of miles I think it was to their

04:13:00:00

headquarters their, what they call the RAP Regimental Aid Post, the first aid. So we left him there and then we were also then marched back another couple of miles to Acroma a place called Acroma and we were there for the night.
Ok before you go on there I want to ask you a few more questions about that battle. Can you explain to me what that huge bunker system looked like in Tobruk the one you were in, it contained 30 men?
I was not at Tobruk not

04:13:30:00

where there was.
What I mean was in that battle you were in a bunker system?
Well call it a bunker yes alright.
Can you describe how the bunker was constructed, what did it look like?
Well it is concrete and as I said it was a sort of a passage way covered over like a tunnel I suppose you’d call it more than anything else in zig-zag fashion. And in the

04:14:00:00

middle there was a bigger area, quite a big area, it widens out you could put it that way, and our gear could be left there and ammunition. And when we went there when company headquarters went there on that previous afternoon we were, there were only eight people there but we were joined with signalists as I said the wires were along the top and these signallers had to go and join up the

04:14:30:00

wires again when they got broken with the artillery. So we had 29 in that area of S6 when I was captured. Well at each end, I didn’t see the centre once I can’t say what was happening in the centre but I assume it was much the same at each end there was a step or two raised up and there you could stand and then there was a little ledge and just above that was a barra, well you might call it a barricade, a parapet that

04:15:00:00

you leaned over and fired over when you were firing at the enemy. And you couldn’t get too many up above that parapet, only a couple at a time because there just wasn’t the space you’d be bumping into each other. I was down at the other end and it would be the same. And when Neil White had this shrapnel there, he was taken prisoner of war and he was sent to the hospital German hospital but I saw him after the war and he was

04:15:30:00

reputedly alright for a little while and then he had to wear a glove and he became a Presbyterian Minister but he always had this glove on his hand and he died at the age of about 60 odd, 67.
So this bunker would have a firing slit to shoot from is that what you were referring to?
No it wasn’t it wasn’t covered at the top,
Oh it wasn’t ok.
It wasn’t covered at the top no, except well this big area what I was talking about where it widens out that was a bomb proof shelter

04:16:00:00

but where the three ends well two ends and one in the centre where they were it wasn’t covered over at the top it was just sort of a little raised platform where you would go out and fire at the enemy but you were protected by this bunker thing, parapet you call it.
At this battle did you actually fire bullets at the enemy, did you?
Oh yes I was firing yes I was firing.
What sort of weapon did you have?
I had a rifle, I had someone else’s rifle but I was firing with a rifle.

04:16:30:00

And just the same sort of old rifle, they weren’t really modern ones but the old ones and we didn’t have much ammunition that is when I got the message to say fire as little as possible we are running out of ammunition. But I was firing there especially after Neil White went because he was, while he was there there wasn’t much space standing alongside of him. But he went and then I was there on me own.
Was this a daylight attack or a night attack?
Oh well

04:17:00:00

early morning, you might say dawn, it was just come daylight, and there was certainly daylight when I was taken on, I am just not quite sure of the exact time now but it was dawn. The main attack, the bombardment, the bombs and the shelling that was all during the night and when the fence the barbed wire fencing was all blown to bits that was during the night to allow them to come through and then they surrounded this dugout or pits

04:17:30:00

posts. And they were right round that and we were firing at them. But it was a bit darkish then so it wasn’t easy to see them but we fired at them then and of course we had to surrender.
The artillery was firing all night and in the morning?
No no the artillery was firing at night they would only fire when the Germans were around the posts naturally. They fired the artillery fired mainly to blow this barbed wire to

04:18:00:00

pieces and make it possible for the infantry to come through.
Tell us, so you were obviously expecting an attack in the morning?
Oh after we knew that was going to happen when the bombardment was on yes, oh we could see the tanks coming off in the distance too, the German tanks were coming towards us but they didn’t get right up to where I was. Whether they got up somewhere else later I’m not sure, but they were coming, they were coming in one direction and the Germans were coming in the other.

04:18:30:00

But both centred towards us from different angles.
Tell us what it was like to be under a bombardment, I mean?
Well you didn’t think much you just you just sort of go and fire and do what I can, there was noise, of course there was a lot of noise and that sort of thing, you didn’t know if it was going to be your last any moment, you cop a bullet or what. You just had to if you see a target well you fire at it. That is all I can

04:19:00:00

say. As I said I didn’t know I was going to be a prisoner of war until five minutes before when I heard the surrender. I don’t think I can tell you much more. As I said before earlier I had these couple of fears I was frightened of being severely wounded or I’d be a burden on anyone else to look after me. And also I’d show fear and show cowardice and let me company down and let the battalion down, that didn’t eventuate

04:19:30:00

but that’s it. I couldn’t run if I wanted to. There was nowhere to run to if I wanted to I had to be up on the ground. Does that answer it?
Well that is part of other questions that I have. What tell us what it was like when the actual infantry took place, you could see the German infantry quite clearly?
Well it was just getting daylight when I could see them. Previously you fire where you could

04:20:00:00

saw a little flash or something like that. And they were approaching, I said they were right round but that’s probably not quite true they were just getting near where I was. And in the early dawn it was just starting to get daylight. You don’t have the twilight there so much as we have here it is more or less dark and daylight and this was in the darkness part just towards the light.
Could you hear them talking or shouting?
Oh I could hear the shouting I could hear, this Neil White that I was talking about got injured in the arm

04:20:30:00

and that he was throwing a couple of hand grenades and you could hear the squeals and noise of the people shouting, mostly the Italians I think were pushed in front of the Germans. But you heard that and there was noise going on, there was noise of battle going on. But sometime a part of the brain shuts down while you are doing something else you know that now. If I’m concentrating or something I don’t hear the clock ticking and it was the same thing there, the noise was going on around us.

04:21:00:00

And we were doing our best to do our part, do our bit for the battalion.
So once daylight came and?
Well that’s when the Company Commander Canty surrendered he showed the white flag and he said cease fire. So we had to stop firing, perhaps on daylight you might say it that way.
Right so alright the the few minutes before I mean say the half an hour or hour

04:21:30:00

before when you were fighting against the German soldiers you said that once the light started to get a little bit brighter you could see them, how far was the fighting taking place what was the distance between you and the soldiers?
I suppose 25, 30 yards might yeah something like that yeah something like that.
How did you handle it, this is your first experience in battle, how did you handle it, what was it like?
It wasn’t too

04:22:00:00

pleasant but still I just did it, I was there to do a job to fire and I just did it.
Sure.
I didn’t like it.
I understand.
Especially as Neil got injured there in his arm he was badly, shrapnel, it was my turn next, but see I just can’t lead that way and sit down or something and wait over go back and do it and see what I can do. So I went there, well I was there just behind him actually almost standing alongside him

04:22:30:00

when it happened so I just took over.
I can understand I mean you clearly had a very strong sense of duty for your regiment and so forth with your training, but at the same token, what sort of emotions were running through, did you have to suppress and restrain, an incredible situation, very few people actually experience, well I haven’t, what sort of emotions are running through your mind?
I suppose one thing is you’d like to hide and do nothing and be out of it.

04:23:00:00

But that doesn’t get you anywhere, it allows them to come closer. What else is there, what else can I say. I don’t know much else I can tell you. Rommel called the war in Libya, the war without hate so it probably was we were fighting each other, we were

04:23:30:00

enemies, but there wasn’t the hatred that you get in some of these other wars that you get, like in Palestine there is hatred behind that now. But there wasn’t the hatred there it was just they were enemies and we had to stop them or they’d stop us, we shoot them or they’d shoot us and that was it. And I was supposed to shoot them if I could and that was it.
So that is a very honest impression you’re giving me, a lot of soldiers felt that they wanted to

04:24:00:00

hide because it was such a terrifying ordeal, how did you deal with the sight of people getting shot and killed and injured?
Well I suppose I would have liked to hide too but I couldn’t do that.
Was it overwhelming at the time, seeing all this?
Well as Neil went off in fact I started to take him part of the way because they couldn’t get him past where

04:24:30:00

I was, it was just a narrow passage. But I said, “He’s gone there is no one back up there I’ve got to get back and do me job there,” so that was it. Otherwise I would have been, I suppose I suppose the thought crossed my mind if I didn’t go back I’d be cast as a coward or something like that. But anyway I should be there otherwise they can come up and come down and where I was fighting from so I went back, that’s about all I can tell you, I don’t think there is much else.
Well there is a few more questions

04:25:00:00

I would like to ask you.
Yes go on.
No thank you for being so upfront and honest about it’s very interesting, did you think of the prospect of of potentially getting into a bayonet sort of encounter, you were telling me before about having to stick that bayonet into the straw sack?
I hadn’t thought of that then, we didn’t I hadn’t thought of bayonets I don’t think. It might have been a possibility

04:25:30:00

it is not a definite thing in me mind at the moment anyway. We were down there to get a bayonet you had to get up those steps, over the parapet and and there, it wouldn’t have been easy, you’d get stuffed with a bayonet before you get out from them. I don’t think bayonets was in their mind they were shooting firing, they weren’t that close for a bayonet charge at that moment and we didn’t get the order, see you’d usually get an

04:26:00:00

order and abide by the order. The officer would bayonets say bayonets, fix bayonets and charge, we didn’t have our bayonets fixed, they were handy but they weren’t fixed, they hadn’t it wasn’t well I wouldn’t say a problem but it wasn’t considered at that time a bayonet charge, we were just firing.
Do you know that if you i actually, throughout the battle do you know if you actually had shot any

04:26:30:00

of the enemy soldiers?
I couldn’t say, I just couldn’t say, they weren’t that close that I could tell and I wasn’t there long enough, I don’t know how long I would be firing for probably no more than half an hour, so I didn’t do much towards the war did I? All these months of training and just about half an hour there. But I I really don’t know but I was firing at them I know.
Would you describe it as a very

04:27:00:00

confusing?
Oh it was confusing, and it was confusing when it came out. Everything about, we were getting pushed, rushed by the Germans to hurry get away and carry this wounded German and we were on the push all the time. And me friend Jim Haw got killed, straight down, I wasn’t allowed to go and have a look and make sure he was dead I was just pushed on and the Germans were pushing me rushing me come on come on sort of thing.

04:27:30:00

How did your friend get killed by the way?
Oh he must have been shot he was telling me to come out and telling me to take my webbing off my army gear I had the army gear, which you keep your bullets in your rounds in. And he was telling me to take that off he said, “Come out” and he was rushing me to come out. Because he was firing, he wasn’t firing at my end he was firing at the middle part and he was telling me to come out and then the next when I came out the next thing I saw he was lying down on the ground.

04:28:00:00

He was dead. But that was a terrible thing, he was a very nice chap. But I couldn’t go up and feel his pulse or anything like that, the Germans would say come on pushing, almost pushing us along.
Now in the surrender itself when your sergeant had raised the flag?
He was the officer, he was the captain.
Oh sorry captain
Captain Canty.
When he raised the flag what exactly

04:28:30:00

happened can you walk us through bit by bit what actually happened when he raised the flag your captain?
Well I didn’t see him because I was from the centre one I was down at the far end and I only hear him he said, “Cease fire,” and I knew I assumed he raised a white flag or a handkerchief or something, he said, “Cease fire surrender” so I just had to come from where I was up the other end. Of course he was taken away to an officers camp and I came out there.

04:29:00:00

And I was after him he got out first because he had not far to walk.
And how did the Germans approach you when ..?
They were all around the area there and they were just getting us to come up. Once you’ve surrendered you can’t go fighting a German once you’ve surrendered because that was it was just not the thing to be done. For one thing it’s not, what can you call it, not one of the rules, one of the rules if a person surrenders

04:29:30:00

you cease firing so we just couldn’t do anything else. So they were just hurrying us to come out.
Were you angry with the captain for surrendering?
Oh no no. That’s what he thought was the best thing to do, he couldn’t do anything else. And I was out of ammunition anyway, I don’t know how many rounds, call them rounds not bullets, but I don’t know how many I had because I would be giving most of them back to him or his area.

04:30:00:00

So I couldn’t have carried on anyway, it was just, just one of those things. Until reinforcements came up with more ammunition and that there was just nothing to be done, you couldn’t have done, he couldn’t have done anything else. He felt sorry for it, he apologised after it but it wasn’t his fault, he couldn’t have done anything about it.
Tell us what the German soldiers looked like close up when they first approached you?
I thought that some of them

04:30:30:00

at that time looked as though they were drugged, but they may not have been I may be wrong but they seemed to have staring eyes and that type of look about them. I don’t know what a person fully drugged looks like really, but that’s what appeared to me that was my impression at the time as a normal soldier. But there was an officer there and he was the one that said, “For you the war is over,” and hurried me on and hurried me on there.

04:31:00:00

Does that answer your question?
Yeah absolutely.
Whether they were drugged or not I don’t know, but they might have been.
They looked rather exhausted did they?
Well yes yes.
Did they treat you quite harshly when you surrendered the Germans?
I wouldn’t say harshly I mean there was no brutality, they didn’t bash us or anything like that, they just, well they just harried me along because I had to carry this other German chap. And when I got to

04:31:30:00

well left him at their first aid area headquarters and was it was me and five others, there was six of us, but he must have been in a lot of pain because there was no stretcher, we just had to carry him as well as we could. And he was badly wounded I know he was in pain because he was grizzling and growling, howling sort of thing. We left him then we had to march another couple of miles probably, might have been three I’m not sure to a place called Acroma, A C R O M A, and when we got there

04:32:00:00

we were put into oh just this area and slept there the night on galvanised iron. And I was asked then because I’d been an office worker I was asked to take a roll of the people who were there, of the first 125 people anyway as they’d been moved out. And I painstakingly took 125 names and handed it to the officer and he said, “I don’t want that now we’re all going off in the morning”. That is what

04:32:30:00

happened the next morning we all went, they cleared the lot out. There wasn’t much to eat of course because they weren’t expecting all those prisoners I suppose all at the one time, they got a bit further back until we got onto to Derna and then we went onto Derna which wasn’t, oh a few miles further back we got onto Derna and I was at Derna. It was at Derna, it could have been the second or third, I was captured on the 1st of May, the morning of the 1st of May.

04:33:00:00

I think it was the next day the 2nd, yes that’s right we stayed at Acroma on May the 1st and on the second day we moved to Derna and it was there that an officer said that we could write a letter not more than 25 words to our home and he would drop it over the British lines, oh he or someone would, he would arrange for it to be dropped over. So I had a scrap of paper about 5 inches square, I wrote out a message,

04:33:30:00

a simple message just to say that I was well and not wounded and not to worry for me mother and I folded it over as well as I could, there was no envelopes and that did go through, it was censored and it was only about an inch and a half I suppose maybe a couple of inches by an inch of a half size at the end. But it was censored there and me mother got it alright and it was the first message that she had really and truly that I was a prisoner of

04:34:00:00

war. Previous to that she had only had missing, believed prisoner of war.
You said that the letter was censored?
Yes it got the censor stamp on it, you want to look?
Oh no we can look at it later but the content wasn’t censored but it was run though a censor is that what you mean?
Oh probably yeah. There would be oh somebody would have read it the contents.
Sure, but your mum got the full message you wrote of course?
Oh yes yes yes exactly

04:34:30:00

as they got it yeah.
Oh that’s very nice of the Germans to do that isn’t it?
Well I thought it was an honourable thing. As I said the Rommel said it was the war without hate and they said, they congratulated us, I am not sure, I can’t remember now, not me personally but they congratulated the Australians and said, “Good fighters”. And they were they appreciated that.
Who said this?
A German officer.

04:35:00:00

Where was this?
I think it was shortly after I was taken but I’m not quite sure.
Tell us what happened, that’s okay, tell us the story of what the German officer said?
Well he sort of congratulated them on coming out after they had been fighting and good fighters yes they appreciated that. Well this might be out of context but

04:35:30:00

when I was at Tripoli later a few months later there was a German officer, there was a work site there, I’ll tell you about that later but the German, the German officer said, German, they said that the German officers, the German soldier officers and them is as good as the British ones and they’re equal to five Italians no five Americans and nine Italians. That is the way they summed them up.

04:36:00:00

And they said the British and the Germans are similar and similar outlook, similar in, well I suppose outlook in one way, living and that and they said they should be, they shouldn’t be fighting against each other, they should be joined together fighting against the Russians.
And this is what a German officer said?
Yes German officer said that at Tripoli. And

04:36:30:00

another one said that the he said that the German officers are good but the German soldiers are not so good. The German, the British soldiers are better than the German soldiers and the officers are not good. A lot of the, what they’re saying is just this is a German’s opinion that the officers sort of come from these officer school they’re not, they’re not

04:37:00:00

well not trained properly I suppose or something like that. He said with German officers and British soldiers and when I say British I mean the Australians as well they included in that, with German officers and British soldiers they could conquer the world. But he said that the German soldier normally doesn’t have the initiative of the British, he’s got to take orders, he doesn’t act without orders from above, if you understand what I mean.

04:37:30:00

I will give you another example of that later, but that’s it.
Well you could tell us now, since you’re on the theme of this?
Well this happened, what on the, it happened later on where some of them escaped, some of the chaps in another camp, a different camp again escaped and when they were lined the

04:38:00:00

people who were there were all lined up and the German guards realised that seven people had escaped they couldn’t act, this is about 8 or 9 o’clock at night, they didn’t act because their commandant was away, he was down the town with his lady friend and they don’t act without orders, so they had to wait until the commandant came back the next morning, because they couldn’t interrupt him with his lady friend.

04:38:30:00

And that’s what I say, they don’t act without orders. If it had been a British or an Australian they would have done something about it at that time but that gave them 77 people time enough to get away and to get help. I will explain that later on.
Sure. That is a good idea but that’s good that you brought that out anyway. Now let’s get back to Derna was it?
Derna yeah what about it.
You were stationed at Acroma first and then you went to Derna?
Acroma is just overnight and

04:39:00:00

sleeping on galvanised iron that wasn’t very easy to sleep on there was no straw or that underneath, but we were tired and wet and that sort of thing but it was alright. But anyway Derna was there and I was sent out from there to the headquarters of the German, well the Germans I think it was the air force on the Derna aerodrome. And Peter Ferguson I mentioned before with the bullet, he showed me his steel helmet, I

04:39:30:00

should say tin hat, and he and I were working right alongside a big copper of food outside the cook house, we had to peel potatoes and that sort of thing and right alongside was a lovely copper of stew a big thing about so big and it was tantalising to smell this beautiful food there. And we hadn’t had anything proper for about two or three days. Anyway about 1 o’clock we were we assembled together,

04:40:00:00

there was only we two there but there was others of our group, other POW [prisoner of war] were out on the aerodrome and they had them out chopping little bushes or filling up bomb holes and doing a bit of concreting whatever it might be other hard work, but we were sitting there doing this and we were all given a lovely plate of stew afterwards, I had three platefuls. And I don’t know how many, oh yes we were hungry it was quite good.
So they were quite generous in their serving as well?
Well there was plenty of it there, it was for the

04:40:30:00

Germans themselves but for us as well, we could have it yes. So if that answers your question of before of how we were treated, we were treated as well ok. We weren’t bashed or anything like that or brutal, it wasn’t brutal. Well I can tell you one simple little incident, it shows you how stupid I was I suppose. The a German bloke in charge of this cook house he came out with this box and he pointed to a little bit of wood

04:41:00:00

on the ground a little stick and previous to that I’d seen someone chopping up wood and that this wood heap, so what I did I chopped up his box. And after a little while he came out to see what I had been doing and he seen me chopping, he was very much distressed, what he wanted was for me to pick up the sticks of wood around the heap there and put it in the box and take it back to him for his house, but I’d chopped it up, so he had to go and get another box for me, and of course I couldn’t understand what he was saying he wasn’t

04:41:30:00

talking in English. But he laughed afterwards it was alright, there was no bashing or anything like that. But I was only there for a couple of days at this cookhouse, the next day we didn’t get this lovely stew we got rice and something but then I was sent out onto the aerodrome and I was out on the aerodrome itself.
I am going to have to pause you there.
Oh they’re getting through too quickly.
Interviewee: Eric Edwards Archive ID 1538 Tape 05

05:00:31:00

Before you were captured did you know anything about the Germans?
No no, practically nothing. Only what you read in the newspapers and that’s not always correct. When I say not always correct it might be a bit biased one way or another. I knew they were pretty strong to go and take over France and Belgium and so on like that but otherwise didn’t know anything really except they’d be a

05:01:00:00

good fighting force and be hard to conquer them by that time, early I thought it would be easy because they’d have Belgium and France and that to assist Britain but they crumbled quickly and it was just virtually Britain on its own, Britain and the allies I mean Australians and so on. And that was it. I thought it would be pretty hard by that time yes.
Did you ever think you’d get to meet them?
Every get what?
Were you expecting to meet them?

05:01:30:00

Well I never thought I’d be taken a prisoner of war until five minutes before. When I saw me friends from a little bit closer to the barbed wire than I was a few yards and they were being marched off and then I thought perhaps it might be so, especially if you are getting low on ammunition and then we practically ran out.
What was the command structure like, before you were captured?
Command structure with who?
With you who ordered you and did you know where the orders were coming from?

05:02:00:00

Oh yes we had a captain he was a captain of the company the company commander in the same post. But at a different, there was three as I said before, three firing exits or whatever and he was in the centre one and I was at one end and orders were coming from there, we were just firing from there it was he who gave the orders to surrender by messenger. And he sent someone down during the night three or four times for extra ammunition, which I couldn’t

05:02:30:00

well I did supply them but I was getting rather short me self then.
Did you know why you were defending Tobruk?
Oh well to try and stop the Germans and Italians from getting through to Egypt that was virtually it. And Tobruk had a good harbour and get supplies in there better and it was with these places where we were in these pits or posts there was

05:03:00:00

better defence there, it’s not just behind barbed wire in the open we had the a certain amount of cover I suppose you might call it.
Were you told that at the time of?
No I didn’t know until I got up there at the front, which was the day before to see what they were like. Others might have been told who were there perhaps a day or two before but I didn’t know.
So at the time you didn’t know why you were fighting?
I did know, at Tobruk?
Yeah.

05:03:30:00

Oh that was oh well we retreated to Tobruk and I ever knew or assumed it was the best place to defend and to contact the enemy, there was nothing at Bachi where I had been so we had to come back to a place where there is a better chance of fighting them and hitting back at them, which you couldn’t have done further back, further back westwards.

05:04:00:00

And we didn’t want to get as far down as Egypt, let them get that far we thought we would stop them there.
And you knew that at the time?
Oh I had an idea yes.
You had an idea, did anyone tell you why you were there?
No. Well not particularly not in detail, they didn’t come and say, “Oh Eric we are going to defend Tobruk because it’s the best harbour,” and that sort of thing, you get a feel for these things or conversations that you hear.
But mainly they just send you there and you fight?

05:04:30:00

Yes that was it. We assumed that the people that gave the orders that that was the best place to be at that particular time and we had to do what we were told sort of thing.
And you trusted what they said?
Well you had to, what was the alternative, the alternative was well not exactly treason but the same sort of thing. You had to take orders from above disobey, disobedience or disobeying orders could lead to

05:05:00:00

well I don’t think there was a firing squad in our army but that type of thing. Well a court martial anyway.
When you’re sent somewhere like that is there a sense of disempowerment, you feel powerless in your situation?
I didn’t feel it that way, I don’t suppose I had much time for that. We were expected to fight them at any rate. We were expected to go over there and battle with the Germans and shoot back at them and send them running as it were.

05:05:30:00

So it was expected, it was expected of us. And we can’t argue and say oh they’re here now I don’t want to do anything about it. I don’t think I answer it any better, I don’t think I can well from my point of view anyway I think.
It was just your sense of duty to?
Well it was it was what we joined up to do, to fight the Germans, and this is where the officers said we’d fight them and that was it. With the army

05:06:00:00

I say officers the army or whatever the high ups. They were going to defend Tobruk so that was it.
Were the high ups Australians or English or?
Oh Australian we were under our own, the English were there with their artillery but we took orders from the Australians as far as I was concerned, I was the, there was the company, in the order of or order down I suppose authority, company commander first and he’d take it from his

05:06:30:00

the colonel in charge of the battalion and he’d take it from the brigade and they’d probably put their heads together and decide amongst themselves. That’s about all I can say there I think.
Did you meet anyone higher up than your captain?
Oh I saw the colonel, Colonel Spours [?] he was. And I got a letter from him in which he apologised to me mother, wrote to me mother and said he was very sorry that he had been taken prisoner of war.

05:07:00:00

I can show you that afterwards.
What type of man was he when you met him?
Oh very nice type of chap, well very well I didn’t have a great deal of talk, I didn’t talk much to him but he was a good man a good soldier and he was very disappointed that so many of us had been taken prisoner of war in that thing in that engagement I suppose you’d call it. But there was the Germans was a very big push on their part there was the, well there was the infantry and the

05:07:30:00

artillery well the artillery first and then the infantry and the tanks were coming through. See one officer German said you can’t fight tanks with bayonets, well you can’t, not really you’d get squashed if you do or attempt to, you get blown to bits first before you can get that close.
At that time tanks were pretty new technology and they were still trying to understand them did they have a great knowledge of them?
Oh I don’t know if they, I don’t know if they were new they brought them in the First World War as it was the

05:08:00:00

British who invented them, and they were brought in the same time as I was born in 1916 and I think they were first used on the Somme in France.
But they were still in development?
Well they’d been improved over the years and I suppose when England and that had an idea or knew there was evidence of war coming well the technology would have improved that’s right. They were much bigger and better and so on than the ones in the First World War.

05:08:30:00

The tracks and that used to come off pretty easily. And overturn and so on, oh no it’s been developed over, not just at the beginning of the Second World War but it would be done in between wars as a measure of defence. They are always looking for means of defence. What have you got now where you can shoot down a robot bullet or whatever it might be or plane or whatever it might be automatically and so on. They’ve got all

05:09:00:00

technology all of the time it is increasing all the time.
Because with all this technology of tanks and aeroplanes the rules of war have really changed didn’t they?
That’s right.
And they would still in World War II be coming to understand the new rules with this new technology?
Well one country advances or another one will try and do better than them and advance also. And there is intelligence throughout the world they’re always

05:09:30:00

on the lookout for what the other country is doing.
Because they simply couldn’t charge out of the, they couldn’t charge at each other anymore could they?
No. What do you mean like?
Like from trench to trench?
No it is a different type of warfare entirely different this war, yeah more well I suppose you can say mobile you call it. And the bigger fighting power and bigger defence power sort of thing for protection.

05:10:00:00

Did you know you were fighting Rommel?
Oh no not at the start, he didn’t come into it until afterwards. I don’t think Rommel was heard of much. He was in the push in like the lightning war in Belgium and France but we didn’t know much about it, I didn’t know much about him anyway, we only heard his name there when he was when we were back at Tobruk and he was pushing down.
So you were simply fighting Germans?
Yes.

05:10:30:00

I think I told you he was he said it was a war without hate and the Libyan war and he was very tactical oh a good soldier as far as that goes a good soldier. But some say he was a gentleman too. What can I say there.
But at the time, sorry continue.
I’m a bit hazy on this but I think I heard an occasion where there was a stop a pause for a while

05:11:00:00

in the fighting but I’m not sure where it was and I only heard it to allow each side to go and get their wounded before they went on the fight again, but I’m a bit hazy on that and I’m not quite sure where I heard it or read it. But that’s the sort of thing he would have done, he was a gentlemen, I thought he was.
So at the time you don’t know the commanders you’re fighting, you don’t know you basically just fighting a German race that is coming to attack you?
That’s right yes. And Italians, German and Italians. But the

05:11:30:00

Italians weren’t, they didn’t have their heart in the war they didn’t want to fight the war because they were taken prisoners by hundreds of thousands, they didn’t want war not the normal soldier, Mussolini might have but not the general soldier. They were glad to be out of it.
Did you fight any Italians?
Oh they were with the Germans I don’t know, I wouldn’t have known which was which in that early morning. They were with the Germans then, they were both together sort of thing,

05:12:00:00

intermingled as it were, the Germans seemed to push the Italians in and if they start to surrender they shoot them in the back sort of thing so they had to go and fight. But well they were there when I didn’t have any hand grenades meself but Neil White did and he was alongside of me and he threw some during the night, I don’t think he had too many of those either and we got these squeals and so on from the wounded who because

05:12:30:00

they are pretty deadly things once you get close to them, especially ours the Italian ones were rather tinny sort of things, but ours were pretty solid and effective if you put it that way.
How was it from a guy from a clerical background how did you feel being in the middle of, in the middle of a desert in a hole in the ground shooting at Germans?
Oh I can’t I can’t say much about that, it is just a different, it was just a

05:13:00:00

job to be done and I had to do it, it didn’t matter what I had, we had all sorts of people with different backgrounds in the army there and I was just one of the others and that was just it. I’d signed up to do it so I just tried to do it, do what I could.
Was it surreal?
Oh I suppose so.
Would you think sometimes where am I what am I doing here?
No I didn’t have time for that sort of thing

05:13:30:00

no. No I never thought I’d rather be back home at the desk or something like that I suppose it might have been a subconscious thought but it wasn’t very conscious and wasn’t wishful thinking sort of thing not particularly. We said what are we going to do what are we going to do, do my best to show and pull my weight as it were, that’s what I wanted to do.
So when you were captured on that morning and the Germans said to you, his first words were?

05:14:00:00

“For you the war is over”.
And he said them in English?
Oh yes a lot of Germans could speak good English yes especially the officers, they were probably more intelligent, well they were more intelligent otherwise they wouldn’t be officers to have a certain amount of intelligence or whether it was general it is probably a lot of German soldiers could teach English. But it was mostly the officers that I would know of. And they used to like to come and chat to us when we were in the working camp at lunchtime and something like that.

05:14:30:00

And that’s what they’d say as I said to you on one or two occasions what they were doing.
Were you surprised when they spoke in English?
Oh not after a while I.
On that first, when he said “For you now the war is over?”
I hadn’t thought, I hadn’t thought about it it was just an English expression and I could understand what he was saying yes.
And how did it make you feel to be captured?
It was a sense of shame, especially

05:15:00:00

since it was so early in the, early in me getting up to the front line. Very great, bitter disappointment and also it was always wondering what is going to happen now, I’m a prisoner of war what is going to happen are we going to be lined up against a fence or something and shot or what. I had no idea or thought much about being a prisoner of war and they’d do and what happened to them. But I was as I said a sense of shame and bitter

05:15:30:00

disappointment that I hadn’t done more for my efforts for being there after joining up.
Was that the most shame you felt before or after?
Oh I suppose so. It was after I was caught that the shame was there. Here I am a prisoner of war and I haven’t done much, well mainly one night mainly.

05:16:00:00

I’d been under machine gun fire a day or two but there was no reaction, no fighting back there. But there seemed to be in my mind a stigma attached to it, there is not now because they’ve got that wonderful memorial up at Ballarat to the prisoners of war. But just conscious I suppose, here I am taken prisoner of war and I’d just started to fight them.
So when you were taken a prisoner of war you think you are no longer part of the war?

05:16:30:00

Well that’s what the German told me, there is not much I could do. I didn’t know what was ahead, I didn’t know where I’d be taken, how I’d react any chance of escape or what, just have to take one day as it comes and see what happens afterwards.
Did you feel personally responsible for?
Oh no I wasn’t personally responsible, I couldn’t have done any more than I did. And people I was with we did our best under the circumstances at that

05:17:00:00

time with what we had.
If only you had more ammunition?
That’s right, there’s no use using of the bayonets we would have got blown down with their, with their machine guns fire or artillery if we’d gone out of the trench without to try and with bayonets on them, there was no possible chance of that.
So the first thing that happened was that you had to carry a wounded German?
Yes.
How

05:17:30:00

did you feel about that?
Well because he was an enemy? Oh no I didn’t have any animosity about that, he was a wounded person a person was suffering, he was definitely suffering he was in pain, great pain. And it wasn’t easy because we, we were tired, I was a bit tired of fighting through the night I hadn’t had any sleep and that for quite a long while and

05:18:00:00

the trail where we were walking was pretty rough, over rough ground and through barbed wire, we were lying on the ground and that sort of thing. It wasn’t easy and we had to march a fair distance, I think it was about two miles from memory. It was a fair distance anyway and weight. And when you’re carrying someone like that without a stretcher you are bent over a bit so it is a bit of a strain on the back and muscles.
So you had to carry him for a fair way?
Oh yes we were carrying a fair distance. Well they don’t have

05:18:30:00

the RAP the Regiment Aid Post, what do you call it First Aid I suppose, they don’t have it at the front line it is back a bit otherwise you don’t want that to get blown up or whatever. So it was a fair distance back.
So when you were captured how many of your group were you with?
Well there was quite a number because when I got to the place after leaving

05:19:00:00

the German, the wounded German there we had to go on another couple of miles and there was quite a number there because I was asked to take a roll, take all their names because the first 125 were going to be moved out and there would be over 125 there but I took the names of probably the first 125. I did complete the roll it wasn’t as if I was only half full or something. But then I didn’t need it. When I handed it to the officer he said, “I don’t want it I don’t want it we were all going out”.
Why were you asked to do the roll?

05:19:30:00

Why was I asked to do it, because they had my records that I was an accountant, or well I think I must have said I was an accountant, they wouldn’t have known what that was or you know being an office worker.
So where to from there, what camp did they take you to?
When you get caught you are asked for your name and number and they ask you for your occupation.
Were they interrogating you?
Oh only just briefly there, not until later on. I never got the

05:20:00:00

terrible interrogation that some people get, who is your officer, what are you doing that sort of thing, you are not supposed to disclose any of that. You are allowed to give your name, army number and rank. I also gave my occupation, that didn’t matter much.
So they were civil to you?
That is all they liked to ask, that is all we were told to get and that’s all they asked for.
But the Germans treated you civilly did they, with respect?
Oh they treated us civilly as I said as soon as I got, as soon as I got to Derna, which is

05:20:30:00

the next day they allowed me to write a letter home and it was dropped over the line. I don’t think you can get much better than that.
Were you surprised by their generosity?
Well to a certain extent. But I accepted it I thought well it was pretty good of them, but I didn’t know if it was normal behaviour or what. But I accepted it and thought it was good. I didn’t know whether it would get through, I had no idea it would get through until me mother told me.
And can you describe what Derna was like, what did it look like?

05:21:00:00

Well Derna, well coming out of the desert from around Tobruk, Tobruk is nothing much there, the buildings were mainly or seemed to be sandstone or whatever it is or seemed to blend in with the sand to a great extent. But Derna was nice you come over up high and go down to Derna, down a sort of a pass you might say and there were palm trees, it is like a little bit of an oasis. And it was on the

05:21:30:00

coast and it was certainly much better. It was a relief coming in from the desert into that. It seemed to be cooler and better. There were wogs as we called them selling them, they were the oriental gentlemen. Allenby gave them that name in the First World War. But they were selling grapes and watermelons and that sort of thing, which of course were very attractive to us. We were exchanging them for cigarettes or something whatever we had

05:22:00:00

but we didn’t have much. I was taken with, all I had on me when I was taken was a pair of boots, socks, shirt a singlet and underpants.
Who were the wogs?
Well they were on the streets. If we were in army trucks well German army trucks, well Italian ones, Italian ones I think by that time, if they’d stop they’d come and crowd around to try and sell their wares.
Did you buy anything?

05:22:30:00

Well I didn’t have much to buy them with. I think I did have some Italian lira so I got some watermelon, it was lovely and dates, the dates were lovely there, not what you get here which are dry and many many months old perhaps but these were fresh dates and they did taste different.
And the camp itself what were the barracks?
At Derna? I was only in just a rough building at the start, and that’s when I was working at the German headquarters in the kitchen there and come back to the camp at night

05:23:00:00

but there was only about two or three days at that and then I was out onto the Derna aerodrome and I was staying in the aerodrome. But then I wasn’t in the aerodrome for long and we were chopping down bushes and smoothing off spots and trying to make it a bit better I suppose for the planes to come on, filling in holes and then I was with some others, about four or five others, we were unloading a bomb off a truck and the bomb was in a

05:23:30:00

crate and it was a 500 pounder, so it was a pretty hefty one and they were easing it down slowly to ease it off the back of the truck onto the ground and I had army boots on with the heel with the metal steel and they were on a rock so I was pushing and that to take the strain and me foot slipped under the bomb and the edge of the crate grazed, it didn’t fall on top of it but it grazed the side of my left foot. And it caused

05:24:00:00

pain and eventually swelling, I was limping about for a little while but I was taken from there to the hospital nearby hospital, Derna hospital. And a lot of Australian people were serving in that hospital, the 2/8 Field Ambulance were doing sort of first aid work sort of there and I was in there for a few days while the thing was healed. A chap named Major Binns he was a surgeon and a doctor and he was

05:24:30:00

supervising it and he’s recognised greatly at a marvellous job that he did in that in the war at that time.
This is while you were a POW?
Oh yes it appeared in Melbourne newspapers and so on.
So you were a POW and you were meeting other Australians in hospital?
Well they were captured about the same time as I was, just about a week or two before. But as they were 2/8 Field Ambulance people they knew, they had a bit of training on medical stuff

05:25:00:00

and they were helping those like I was with slight injuries. Well I suppose the heavier ones would be done by Major Binns if he was coming on his rounds but he was pretty busy as you can understand. I’m not sure about the severely wounded ones like that might have had a leg or that blown off I don’t know, they could have been sent further back.
Were you happy to be cared for by Australians rather than Germans?
Oh in the hospital. Oh that was alright, mine wasn’t serious, it was very sore,

05:25:30:00

very swollen and I was limping about, I was quite happy, it was ok with me.
How much work did the Germans make you do?
What do you mean at Derna? Well as much as we could do in time which before I had this bomb on me foot as I said we were living off the ground and chopping down little bushes that might have been growing in the ground. It’s all stony and sandy a mixture there and any biggish stones had to be cleared away. And holes

05:26:00:00

that might have been made by bombs on one side or the other, filling those in. Some did a bit of concreting but I wasn’t in the concreting, I, and digging trenches sometimes, yes we dug a bit of trenches for protection if you had been under attack for preparation for it, for the Germans I suppose. Because Derna was in the German hands at that time.
This is all under German orders too?

05:26:30:00

Virtually I was in a sense I was taken by the Italians, I was really taken by the Germans physically but a German officer said later, they used to like to come round, or seemed to like to come round and talk to some of the prisoners of war, I suppose they might get other ideas, just to chat, it might be just to test their English too. But many times in lunchtime they’d

05:27:00:00

come and have a chat, and I’ve forgotten what I was going to say now. But the
But how did you feel doing all this work for the Germans?
Well I didn’t like it of course they were the enemy, I didn’t like it, but what was the alternative to get shot, it wasn’t worth while and oh well it was always a thought too, war will be over, it won’t be that long.

05:27:30:00

We always thought it wouldn’t take too long, but it did, it took much longer than we thought.
When you were captured what did you expect to happen to you?
Well I had no idea, I had no idea. I didn’t know what prisoner of war life was like. I hadn’t given it a thought until five minutes before I was taken prisoner of war. And when we were asked to work or told to work I thought that had to be it.
Were you afraid that they were going to kill you?

05:28:00:00

No I don’t think so. They would have done that before. Before I got too long away as a prisoner of war. We were taken numbers and sent up to a camp further back, well they weren’t going to do that and shoot me then, they would have done that on the battlefield. So well I don’t know they knew much about the Geneva Convention then because they can’t do that, the Geneva Convention they got to be, supposed to be

05:28:30:00

human, treat them humanely, although the Japanese didn’t, they didn’t take any notice. Of course I was a prisoner of war with the Germans but British had German prisoner of war too so if they did the wrong thing with us they could be treated to them.
So there is a reciprocal relationship there?
Of course there was yes, always is. But there was the Geneva Convention, I’m not sure when that was done

05:29:00:00

but there was definite rules for that and one is that you treat them humanely, you don’t bash them around or anything like that, they are allowed to work within reason and that was it.
What did they give you to eat?
Oh not very much. Well oh mostly bully beef and perhaps a bit of bread. And when I say bully beef it is not like our bully beef is corned beef, but some of it was

05:29:30:00

Italian, and some people said it was horse meat, it tasted like it too I think, although I hadn’t tasted horse meat before. But it was more moist than ours but not so nourishing. But then of course I got this stew as I said about the second day on the place. What I was going to say before was about the German talking, another one said that the whole of the Libyan campaign was an Italian campaign, although the Germans were there, the Germans only

05:30:00:00

went there to help out the Italians. The Italians were getting taken by hundreds of thousands and the Germans sort of came to help them out. And he said that the Italians paid the wages or pay soldiers pay for the Germans and paid for their food and all other expenses. There was an Italian campaign so they paid for it, whether it was right or not I don’t know. But this German told me, told me that I remember him saying that.

05:30:30:00

So that’s interesting.
Yeah very. Did you work in the kitchen?
Oh no only just peeling potatoes outside, it was outside the kitchen, near this big copper.
And with POWs when you are all captured is there a mateship that comes together.
Well you pick your friends some you like, someone might make a remark, I don’t like that fellow I will go and see someone else and short chat to someone else and

05:31:00:00

where did you come from what do you do oh yes good and you get sort of a mateship there. But that’s in the first in the beginning, but you do find your mates, and there is a marvellous mateship in the prisoner of, well there is in the army anyway where you get a bunch of fellows together, you get a real marvellous mateship and a mate will stand by his mate as far as he possibly can. I mentioned Rod Dearing and Laurie Brown before. They were my close mates. Laurie Brown was the first

05:31:30:00

person to be killed where I was in the post where I was. He was at the centre one and Rod Dearing was in another one, what 20, 30 might be 40 yards away. He was different he got taken prisoner of war the same time as I did. And he was up in the aerodrome when I was but I got separated from him when the bomb dropped on me foot. So we got separated all the, often and back to meet up again. I met up again with him later because Laurie was dead.
How did you feel about

05:32:00:00

Laurie’s death?
Oh very sad because he was a lovely fellow, very nice chap. Rod Dearing himself died about four or five years ago, so I kept in touch with him. He used to have a farm up at the back of Wangaratta King Valley, I’d visit him on the farm.
Did you see Laurie die or?
Oh no no. As I say he was in another one. In the post that I was at there was three firing places,

05:32:30:00

two at each end and one in the middle and Laurie was in the middle one and I was at one of the ends. I didn’t see him die but I knew he was gone, someone told me.
Who told you?
Well one of the people that came down to get some ammunition from me, he was sent down by the captain to get some ammunition, from me and from the other end because they were running short of ammunition at the centre one and he told me.
What do you do

05:33:00:00

under those circumstances?
Well you can’t do anything. Just carry on, you can’t go outside and dig a grave for him. I don’t know what happened to him, I suppose he was left there and the Germans would do that eventually, but that’s all. If he if a person was badly wounded he would have gone to this bomb proof area under you know that bigger area I said where it widened the passageway widened out

05:33:30:00

sort of thing to a bomb proof area, he would have gone there. But then of course when we were taken prisoner of war anyone that was wounded and couldn’t be help they would be left there and the Germans would have to look after them. So I don’t know of anyone like that.
Do you have time to grieve?
Do I what?
Do you have time to grieve?
No not really no. You are just terribly sorry and you feel that is the fortunes of war suppose.

05:34:00:00

It is unhappy, you get a bit, I won’t say callous is a bad word but hardened is suppose to it. It is going on all the time you know it’s going on and it’s just a fact of war, and it was war, it wasn’t a playground.
How would you compare your father’s death with Laurie’s death?
Oh that’s more personal really. Feelings would have been different.

05:34:30:00

Well with me father’s death I was only 12, I was much younger, with Laurie I was much older I was 24, 25. I don’t really know well you can’t compare them very much they are different, as I say one was more personal it hit me harder that way because I didn’t have a father then.
Do you think dealing with death in war and dealing with death in civilian

05:35:00:00

life is different?
Well when it hits you personally it would be, but otherwise I don’t think so.
You just get on with it?
You just get on with it yes. It is unfortunate that there is death you sort of expect it in war time, you know it could happen, it could happen to you or others around you, you expect it to happen to you

05:35:30:00

because then you wouldn’t know about it I suppose if it’s quick. But
So to a point there is desensitisation to it?
Yes I would say so yes.
You know it’s coming?
Well it could come. It may come, you hope it won’t but it could come, for yourself I mean yes. But you know it is going to come to some of the others anyway. Or a terrible miracle if it doesn’t hit any of the others, your friends or yourself.
Did you see soldiers using

05:36:00:00

lucky charms and so on?
No.
Praying?
No. I didn’t see it, there may have been quietly. But if you’re going to do that sort of thing they would do it on their own silently at night sort of thing, I didn’t see it. I didn’t see any people who would be that way inclined, they were more strictly religious I suppose you could say if that’s the right word,

05:36:30:00

well they weren’t that way inclined, I don’t know, we are not normally that way inclined on the lucky charms. Some other countries are but perhaps I don’t think too many Australians are.
Because in war it’s pretty much pot luck if you get shot, a bullet can miss you by an inch?
Well that’s right, there have been lucky escapes and they’ve been unlucky ones where someone’s been well seemed to be straight unlucky something happened and got hit.

05:37:00:00

Well look at this chap George standing alongside of Peter. George got killed and Peter was missed and they were standing alongside each other and it went through Peter’s hat. It made a groove on the side I saw the hat afterwards.
So soldiers they really had no control over it?
No no, he didn’t know it was coming, bullets are quick and silent and swift and and well that’s it. I think it spun the hat round because it seemed to hit

05:37:30:00

one place and and come out another way, it seemed to spin it around a little bit and come out there.
When that happened what were your thoughts about your own situation?
Well I didn’t know until after I was taken prisoner of war of course, because he was at the other end from me, I wasn’t there when it happened, he was one end and I was down the other. But I said he had a lucky escape because a fraction one way it would have gone to his brain but it missed him. If it hadn’t of spun his hat around

05:38:00:00

it could have gone into him too. It looked like it was going in there but because of the curvature of the hat it sort of deflected it, it came through the other side. And that’s probably why we have the steel helmets as they call them, not tin hats, steel helmets are a shaped that way.
Before that happened did you realise how close death can come and how quick?
Oh I knew it could come at anytime. That’s just an incidence,

05:38:30:00

I confirmed it afterwards, but I knew it could come at any time. Well you up in front you are there at the front and someone is going to try to shoot you so you if you don’t expect it you realise it could happen.
Did you see other people around you that didn’t handle the death of their friends the same way?
No. No not at the time no. I don’t know how many there were

05:39:00:00

in where I was that were actually killed, I think, no I don’t know how many there were. There was about three of them killed when I was coming out. I mentioned Jim Hall and there was another one, there was a chap who was operating the machine-gun I think he was killed as he came out too and there was another chap, a chap named Charlie Jackson, he’d come from another area with a message during the night like Peter Ferguson did.

05:39:30:00

And came through all the artillery fire and that whatever was there and got there safely and then he was killed the next morning coming out of the pit. So there is no real rhyme or reason, things just happen and that’s it.
Did you see fellow diggers breaking down?
No I didn’t see anyone. No
Did you hear of it happening?

05:40:00:00

Oh I just heard that people were unhappy if their friend or that was gone. Rod Dearing was unhappy of course with Laurie gone but I won’t say he broke down, he was out on this working party. He was in charge of the group that went on the aerodrome to do the digging and that there. Like the Germans appointed him in charge of it to help.
You didn’t see anything like shell shock?
No I

05:40:30:00

didn’t see it personally no. I don’t think there’d been any occasions of shell shock but no I didn’t see it personally see it no.
Ok that’s great, great stuff Eric.
Interviewee: Eric Edwards Archive ID 1538 Tape 06

06:00:31:00

Back at the Derna camp was there any talk of escapes?
No it was terribly hard to get there, get away there Germans were all surrounded no. No I, well not as far as I was concerned but I found out later that two chaps did escape and they

06:01:00:00

got hold, they went down to the beach, Derna is close to the beach they found a boat down there and they got into the boat and went out to where it was, out in the sea sort of thing and they started to row towards Tobruk but the boat was a bit leaky so they had to try and keep it from sinking, mop that up sort of thing up and they couldn’t get down there in one day and they pulled into a beach somewhere and they slept there the night and

06:01:30:00

went back and got out in the ocean again, well the Mediterranean sea it is and kept going and then they got down they saw some people swimming in the nude. And one of the Bill he said, “Oh they must be aussies” he said, “They’d be the only ones swimming in the nude and the other chap Snow he said, “No I think we should go a bit further” but anyway Bill had his say and they went in and it was Germans. So they were recaptured, so

06:02:00:00

that is the only escape at that time that I know about. And it wasn’t successful.
What happened to them when they were captured?
Well I met this Snowy and I suppose I saw Bill but I don’t remember him. But I met Snowy and we became good friends and we were working in the camp at Tripoli. And he was had been very keen on wireless and that and before the war there used to be radio stations, armature

06:02:30:00

could have radio stations and broadcast on a Sunday morning on their own stations and he used to do that. He used to be able to talk all over the world, he had friends all over the world he was able to talk on his radio station.
And when did the Germans move you from Derna?
Oh not long after I went there, after having foot done they moved out that camp. I went from the Duran aerodrome into the camp, into another camp at Derna not the first one but another one

06:03:00:00

and it was old camel stables probably from the First World War and that. And I wasn’t there for very long and then they moved us all out on diesel trucks into Tripoli. And it took us about three nights there was one night at El Aghella I think it was and the next one was at Sirte on the beach. That was a very very cold, we were on the beach that night, there were about 30 people to a truck by the way. And then I’m not sure how many trucks, about 150 must have moved out.

06:03:30:00

And the next one was Misurata and then went through Homs to Tripoli. And it was lovely to see coming into Tripoli to see the stately gum trees lining the streets there. I think they had been given by the Australian government many many years before. And they looked lovely, a touch of home to see the eucalypt, gum trees. But then they took us to the camp there which was an old school Gargaresk I think was the Italian name for it. And

06:04:00:00

we could see old desks and things like that. It was a bit rough at first but then they were cleared away and double decker bunks came in with four people, four up the top and four down the bottom. And they were put in and it was little better after that. But that was about the worst camp I was in as a prisoner of war I think. That was a working camp, we had to be up at 4 o’clock in the morning and ready to leave between 5 and

06:04:30:00

5.15 and didn’t get back until about 8 to 10 at night and it was seven days a week and no time off for Sundays, no time off for washing clothes or anything like that. There was a beach there, it would be about 75 yards long but it was just cold there. We had cold showers that’s all. And coming back of a night you were too tired to go down for a swim at the beach 8 to 10, 8 to 10 o’clock at night.

06:05:00:00

Then in the morning when we went out to work we’d have to line up and then they’d take us out to in trucks to various jobs. The first day I went to a place called Libyan [?]. We got a spoonful of jam and a couple of slices of very dark brown bread in the morning and I think it was a little small block of cheese for lunch. That was all.
What works were you doing?
Well this one was work we should not have been doing. We were stacking shells.

06:05:30:00

I think that was the one we were stacking shells and they were in wicker cases. They were lining them up and stacking them at a depot I suppose a place ready there for them to be loaded up and put on trucks up at the front line. And next day we were down at the docks and that was only, that was a Saturday and it only happened to be half a day. And then the third day we went out to another place where there was

06:06:00:00

bombs and that to be fixed so we didn’t work at all that day. So I thought this is not too bad, no work. But that idea was knocked out of me head pretty quickly, because after that we it was every day seven days a week and I suppose when they got organised properly and sent it out to these various places. It was either working on these shells or stacking them and that, some of them were cases, about the size of an attaché case but they contained

06:06:30:00

shells rounds I suppose bullets rounds I suppose for machine guns, and they were very heavy. And what else was there, oh petrol drums. We had to fill these jerry cans from 44 gallon petrol drums. And well that is the type of work that we were doing. I think that gives you an overall description.
How tiring was it?
How what?
How tiring was

06:07:00:00

that work?
Well heavy work it’s tiring, and this is about the end of their summer, this is July and it was their summer time, pretty hot. Well actually I got diarrhoea I think several others did too. And I blamed it on drinking too much water in the hot weather. It could have been, it may not have been used to that water, and that was not too good. And talking about docks we went down every now and again, depends on which group you’re in which one you were in the truck,

06:07:30:00

which one took you down there we went to the docks. But I remember on one occasion there was a bomb dropped in the harbour down there somewhere and there was a bit of a scatter then there was a lot of Arabs and that working on the docks as well there was a bit of a scatter there. And one chap I know Tony Amber he had been working on coal, and he got his face all black with coal dust and so on. And as he was running away from this bomb he tripped and fell into a heap of lime and he had white face all over it and streaks of black and white down his face. But

06:08:00:00

that was that one. But I remember an occasion we went to the docks and the ship and they used to bring the ships would bring the goods in but not always come up to the docks. If it was a big enough ship it couldn’t berth there, there wasn’t enough water and they’d unload their cargo into a barge and the barge would come up to the dock. And this is what happened on this particular occasion I’m mentioning now and what they were unloading was these cases that

06:08:30:00

I was telling you about before, machine guns full of machine-gun bullets. And the way you handle them you get one person on one end and one on the other and they’d toss it that way. They’d have to, if they were working up on the barge, they’d lift it up there, two men onto a case and put it on the wharf and there’d be two men on the wharf, pick it up from there and put it into a truck and a couple of blokes in the truck and they’d put it down to the front of the truck and until they finished the whole truck. And that truck would go away and another motor truck would come along and carry on like

06:09:00:00

that. Well when the barge was full of course came, a lot of these cases were stacked up above the side of the barge and there was a German supervisor and there was an Italian guard, and the Italian guard had the rifle. Well every now and again when the German wasn’t looking one of our fellas would give a nudge with his elbow on this and knock the case into the water. And this is happening every

06:09:30:00

now and again and the German didn’t notice but the Italian did and he went up to the German to try and tell him about it. And just the way they do they wave their hands about and pointed to the water. And the German couldn’t understand him of course, but there were two chaps in our group one of them could speak Italian quite well and the other spoke German so the one who knew Italian, he understood what he was saying and he was telling us that what he was telling there, that we were committing sabotage there

06:10:00:00

and that sort of thing. But the one who could speak German, he went and spoke to the German overseer and he said, oh he’s trying to tell you that the water is wet. So the German overseer had a look of disgust on his face he grabbed the Italian by the scruff of his neck and by the seat of his pants and gave him a kick and sent him off. Because the Germans despised the Italians and the Italians hated them for it. So there is the opinion and so of course the sabotage went on.
Did you make friends with any of the Germans?

06:10:30:00

Oh no.
You talk to them?
No I didn’t. I didn’t know enough German I didn’t know any German at the time, no I didn’t.
What about the ones that spoke English did they?
No they weren’t there that I know of, no I didn’t speak to them anyway, there might have been an occasional word. The ones that came out on the job perhaps talking to us at lunchtime. But I didn’t have a long chat with them no, mainly I listened to what they were saying. If they came out

06:11:00:00

on a job saying those things that I was telling you about before, one German one British equal to five Americans and nine Italians well they’d be talking to us as a little group. Or they’d be perhaps asking us about Australia, what was Australia like and so on like that. They expected us, there was another occasion they expected us to be black, and
In Tripoli?
Well yeah that’s right. And and speak another language whatever it was. Because

06:11:30:00

one chap, one German was speaking to an Englishman and asking questions about Australia and I was answering him direct, he didn’t expect me to answer him directly, he expected the Englishman to speak in whatever Australian was and answer that way. So they’re ignorant that way. They were then, I don’t know what they’re like now but they were a bit ignorant in that way. Later on I came across someone they couldn’t understand Australia being far away, this is on a farm I was at, I’ll tell you about that

06:12:00:00

later. But she said she asked me, “How long to get to Australia” and I said, “Oh about five or six weeks by plane” and she said, “well how long by train”.
Was there any talks of escapes at Tripoli?
Oh you couldn’t have got, well not from my, I didn’t. I couldn’t see any chance of it. But two, two escaped Palestinian, in

06:12:30:00

these working parties sometimes there was Palestinians and sometimes there was Sudanese. But a Palestinian and a Sudanese escaped as far as I know the Sudanese got far away but the Palestinian was caught. The Palestinian kept to the town, the Sudanese got out in the desert and as far as I know I never heard from him again, but I understand he got away. But there were three of our chaps escaped. But they were brought back within a couple of days. The Italians caught them and brought them back. See

06:13:00:00

there wasn’t much chance. Tripoli is right on the coast, where are you going to go. You get caught if you are going to go along the coast road down to there, if you went out in the desert, you’ve got to have an idea where to go, you’ve got to have a chance of getting food and water and big problems, there just wasn’t the water there there wasn’t the rivers and things, it was terribly hard. And well as I say these fellas they were good strong young fellas and they were caught

06:13:30:00

very quickly within a day or two.
Was escape discussed?
Well, I didn’t, no one I personally knew talked about it. But there was another occasion where it was planned but some idiot had a note about it and dropped it and a German picked it up and didn’t know what it was and took it to his boss. And of course they found out about it. And that was nipped in the bud they just didn’t get away.
And what did they do to that?
Well there was nothing done as far as I know

06:14:00:00

except severely censured, extra guards sort of thing. We went out to these various jobs day after day.
What about disease and so on was there much of that?
If there was any disease they were sent away to a camp, an Italian camp, Taroona or something like that, out in the desert a bit and from there back to Italy, that if it is a serious one. I had a,

06:14:30:00

I had a tinea at one stage if you know what that is it’s a little sore between the toes and I was speaking to one of the fellas in the camp, not a personal friend but just someone I mentioned it and he said, “Oh you want to bath yourself in the sea water and don’t dry yourself”. So I did for about four or five days I went out to the sea took me boots and socks off and bathed there and it was cleared up. It must have been the salt in the water, salt water, but that cured. But later I

06:15:00:00

was I am not sure how it happened but one of these jerry cans, we used to fill these jerry cans from the 44 gallon drums and I handled thousands of these jerry cans and one of them just fell against my leg and it caused a little blob of blood to come out, you don’t take any notice of that you get that here you don’t take any notice and I left it. And a scab formed which is normal but then puss formed under the scab, so we had first aid

06:15:30:00

people there, just simple medical treatment. They didn’t have much in the way of ointments and no penicillin in those days, hadn’t been thought of. And he just took the scab off and cleaned away the other stuff as he could and put some acriflavine on it, it is only a mild antiseptic and left it and it just went on, another scab formed and then more puss formed under that and it was a little bit bigger next time. And this went on

06:16:00:00

for a couple of weeks until it was about the size of a 20 cent piece. And I couldn’t stand up we were out on parade and I couldn’t stand up, it was just too sore. So I was put in the camp hospital then on the bed and not going out to work and was treated from there. But they had no, they had nothing better to treat me with until the German doctor, he was treating for the, well he treated the German, the German headquarters or compound or whatever

06:16:30:00

you call it, camp, was just outside ours and the German doctor would treat them and of course he would treat ours as well and he came in and then he went back to Germany on holidays. And when he came back he came back with some powder, and he mixed this powder with water and it might have been pills first. That’s right he had pills he ground it up into powder, mixed it with water and made this paste and put that on and from that time, he started on that it started to clear up. And within

06:17:00:00

about two or three weeks after that it was pretty well gone.
How did you get through the days as a POW after work?
Well when I was in the camp or after work?
In the camp after you were doing their work.
Well after, well as I said before when we came back, when we were working we came back, we didn’t get back till 8 or 10 o’clock at night we just had a ladle of stew and a ladle of ersatz is a German word synthetic coffee made from burnt acorns and then

06:17:30:00

we were so tired we’d just hop into bed. Not much doing any washing because you had no spare washing clothes to take out the next day. We had bed bugs at night, we didn’t notice those very much because we were too tired we went to sleep there, but we had lice and they stayed with us in our clothing, make their homes in the seams of the clothing. Now there’re about three or four ways you can get rid of lice, there’s one by frequent washing of your clothing,

06:18:00:00

we couldn’t do that, we didn’t have time, we were out at about 4 o’clock in the morning didn’t get back till about 9 o’clock at night, 9 or 10 o’clock at night, and they wouldn’t have had time to get dry. Another way is to catch them and squash them, kill them. But you don’t get rid of all the little eggs in the seams. Another way is to get a lighted match and light it up and down the seams and kill them that way. Well that’s alright but you might burn your, have to be very

06:18:30:00

careful about that. And then of course if you get rid of them then you still get them from someone else. And the fourth way is to wash your clothing in petrol, but the Germans didn’t like that very much because it was wasting their petrol. But that got rid of them if you could but then they’d come back again because everyone, everyone had them. And if you got rid of yours you’d soon get them from someone else. And they were with us all the time.
Was there a constant threat a constant presence was it

06:19:00:00

was it a constant
What the lice?
No no just being in the camp, how would you describe the feeling of being in there, was it constant?
We just we just accepted it, it was what we had to do and it was accepted. There was a few of them, I think about 10 or 12 Englishman, they said, “We’re not going to go out to work we’re going to go on strike,” they went on strike. It would be 15 to 20 minutes later the SS [Shutzstaffel – German guards] came out

06:19:30:00

and line up against the wall and they went out to work they weren’t going to get shot like that, and they would have shot them straight away. Oh yes they would’ve, they were ready for it.
So how do you relax in that environment, can you relax?
You can’t, you can’t you just you’ve just got to accept it that’s all, there is nothing much you can do, you can’t complain, you can’t do, you can complain to your mates. I made some new friends then because Rod had been, I got separated from him at Derna, I made some new

06:20:00:00

friends some very fine friends. I made friends with Gordon Rooney and I stayed with him for life and I saw after him I come home from the war. And Ted Broomhead, Ted Broomhead was a lay preacher, well he was a preacher I think I think he was a Methodist Minister. And I met a couple of others. I learnt chess, I learnt how to play chess in the camp, I can play it I haven’t played it for 30 years. One of these days I might play it on

06:20:30:00

the computer when I get to know how to do it.
So you had a couple of little outlets like chess playing and just to?
Well yes. Well a little bit but we didn’t have much time for it, it could be at lunchtime, you used to get an hour at lunchtime. As I say we were too late at night. Well when I was with this desert sore lying in bed at the camp hospital, well I had a little bit of time to spare. One chap, Ted Broomhead I think it was loaned me a book of

06:21:00:00

Shakespeare’s plays. And I never appreciated Shakespeare so much as I did when I had that. Because I learnt Shakespeare a couple of them, Julius Caesar and the Merchant of Venice when I was at school. But that was it there. There was a chap named, I’m not sure when I picked up chess I think I did it started at Benghazi but I didn’t get playing very much. But a chap at, a chap named Dance played with me at Tripoli and oh he cleaned

06:21:30:00

me up in no time with the frills mate, he cleaned up in about two or three moves. Because I didn’t know the, I knew the moves the rules, but not why you move such a piece to such a place and then he, he told me where I went wrong and how you, I don’t know if you know anything about chess, you have to protect every other, when you make a move you have to protect your pieces as much as you possibly can. And he taught me that principle of chess and from there I never looked back. And I used to play

06:22:00:00

often play with Gordon in another camp perhaps we’d play once a week and we were about even on games.
What did they feed you in Tripoli?
Feed me? Oh just sort of a stew it wasn’t I suppose most of it would be potatoes, Germans relied a lot on potatoes, just a ladle, which I don’t know what a ladle would be, half a pint or something. We had the bread in the morning, that was a sour bread, I don’t know if it was a rye bread

06:22:30:00

but it was sliced but many months old, it was wrapped up in cellophane paper and as I said first we had a ladle of well at least a spoonful of jam, or it might be a little bit of cheese or bacon, greasy bacon and that had to do us for the day. And then this ladle of stew and this ersatz coffee. I say ersatz it’s synthetic, ersatz is a German word at night so it wasn’t very tasty but it was a drink. And we had the

06:23:00:00

water of course there was plenty of water in Tripoli, we had that if we had it outside. Sometimes occasionally we got rice but not very often very very seldom.
Do you think they looked after you well enough?
As well as they could because they wanted us in health to do the work for them. Now I can tell you something, you may not believe this but I was in the camp hospital as I tell you and a number of us, a number of chaps, no I didn’t have it, a number of them had

06:23:30:00

yellow jaundice, they don’t call it that now they call it something else, but they had yellow jaundice and that affected them. Now the German doctor he was impartial, didn’t matter whether it was a British or an Australian or a German he would treat them all alike and he was a good doctor. And he prescribed for these sometimes rice, sometimes with sugar sometimes without. Now the rice was cooked in the German cookhouse alongside the camp. And it would be delivered in a

06:24:00:00

dixie and I’m not sure about eight to ten people I think were affected by this at a time and they come in there. But in the camp we had an English sergeant, sergeant major and his offsider I think was a sergeant, and they belonged to the RAMC [Royal Army Medical Corps] and I don’t know if you’ve heard of that, the nick name of that is Rob All My Comrades and I think it was fairly justified in the case here. There was that, there was a chap that used to clean out the

06:24:30:00

latrines. The latrines and showers weren’t very good and there were a couple of other people. And when this rice came in for these sick patients they took a big share themselves, which they weren’t entitled to. They watered down the rest and gave it to the other patients and quite often they’d keep all the sugar ration and the patient wouldn’t get any, which meant that they much slower recovery. I don’t know if that should be repeated outside but

06:25:00:00

that’s what I, what I found about when I was there.
You did what you had to do?
Yeah well it was a rotten thing to do, look after themselves first never mind the other, never mind the sick people. But that’s that.
How physically and mentally draining is being a POW?
Well we were expecting, we were expecting to be released at any time. When we were at Tripoli we heard the British forces were off as far as

06:25:30:00

Homs, which is well past west of Tobruk and that. Whether it was true or not I don’t know but it was early in January that we were moved out, the whole camp was cleaned out. And sent back to Italian, I said that the whole of the Libyan campaign was an Italian campaign so the Germans gave us back to the Italians and we were sent off to Italy.
How long were you in Italy?
Near enough to seven months.

06:26:00:00

Because I was captured in the First of May and June you might say most of it in Derna and then a little bit in Benghazi so it would be July to early January.
Did it feel longer?
Well yes I suppose so. Alongside of us by the way were four naval French naval guns. And they used those, eight Italians manned those to shoot down the air force. If our own Royal Air Force planes were

06:26:30:00

coming. And later on that was bombed by the air force and two of the guns were put out of order but our camp wasn’t affected, oh some of the plaster got blown off the walls and that. But part of the bombs fell on the Italian barracks across the road and 25 Italians were killed. So we were ok but the German commandant he had us all out on parade about 2 o’clock in the morning and he said, “Oh that couldn’t be”

06:27:00:00

we said, oh the store was open too where they keep certain products, that was opened and we said, “They bombed it” and they said, “Oh no a British bomb couldn’t do that, it couldn’t break glass let alone break open a store like that,” but of course it did, and it did quieten down after a while but we were out on parade at about 2.30 in the morning.
What did you think when you went back to Italy?
Well this is the first time in Italy. We went to Sicily first and we were about

06:27:30:00

three weeks in Sicily as a sort of a quarantine. But that was an awful place because we were in big tents about 120 people to a tent, we still had our lice with us, took them with us, and it was wet most of the time, raining most of the time. And we had to go and get our food and dixies or macaroni and rice and that probably the food might have been slightly better but not much. We didn’t get sliced bread we got sliced, something the size of a little roll

06:28:00:00

a day. But that was it. But the As Bs and some of the Cs in the surnames were moved out and they went up to a camp up near Genoa up the top of Italy and then we moved out and went to Siviliano in Italy, which is inland from Ancona.
And what did they do to you when you arrived there?
Well there was no working at that time. Any rate we didn’t have to work for the Italians so it was all free. That was,

06:28:30:00

you can imagine how pleased, how delighted I suppose or even a stronger term than that when we got there, because the clothes off us and fumigated them, that got rid of the lice and we had hot showers, we hadn’t had hot showers for months since back in I don’t know early days. So we were able to get under hot showers and splash around under that and they gave us new clothing, Italian clothing but I had

06:29:00:00

Italian knee breeches sort of thing, like the old knicker bockers and thing, but it was good warm clothing. So that was much better that way. And we were in huts there, there was 16 huts if I remember rightly and we were on wooden double decker beds there. The Australians were in one, I think there were the best part of about 80 Australians but the rest of the camp, others had been there before so we weren’t the first ones to start that camp but others

06:29:30:00

were English and then there were some Cypriots from Cyprus and there was one Norwegian and one or two others.
How did you get along?
Oh we with the other people. Well with the Cypriotes we got on very well with them, they didn’t like the English but they liked the Australians, and they made some arrangement where each of us would give a cigarette per day, we used to get regular cigarettes issued British ones mostly or sometimes

06:30:00:00

the Italian ones, no we didn’t get British ones then, they came a bit later, but the Italian ones Camel, not very good. But anyway for one cigarette per man per week they offered to sweep out our hut for us and keep it clean. Well that saved us a job of that. I think they brought us round a cup of tea or coffee in the morning in bed or something like that. So they were good hearted people, they helped us that way. But we weren’t there very long.
Did you know why the

06:30:30:00

Italians didn’t make you work?
It wasn’t their policy at that time, they maybe we didn’t work the Italian prisoners of war, I don’t know at that time. But later on they did find out when I was in another camp, that, we were in Australia making the Italians work so they sent many of our people out onto the rice fields in northern Italy. That would be about the beginning

06:31:00:00

oh March or April 1943, they went out, I didn’t go, it wasn’t the whole camp cleared out but a lot of them were cleared out then.
Were you happy when you didn’t have to work at the Italian camp?
Oh yes I, I was doing work but it was more or less voluntary, I was in the office there, I was helping out in the office, there was always a certain amount of office work to be done, roll call, people going to hospital, they’ve got to be cut off the list that sort of thing and

06:31:30:00

they wanted somebody to help out there. One chap was in charge and he was an Australian, he was a sergeant, Sergeant George Shaw, I became very good friends with him and I was an assistant in the hospital, oh in the orderly room, so that was alright.
Was there any talk of escapes at that camp?
Well not at that camp, not as far as I know,

06:32:00:00

not the first camp, I’d moved out of there into the groupin yano [Graziano], I’d moved out there in June. Incidentally at the Siciliano camp, that’s inland from Ancona the first letter I received from home was about the, was about May. I’d just, I’d just told you about how pleased and delighted we were to have our clothes fumigated and hot showers and so on, it was about a few days later that we got the

06:32:30:00

first inclination of Red Cross food parcels. There was one between three, then I think it was one between two but it was something, and we were thrilled to bits about these sorts of things. We hadn’t seen anything like that before and they were about, they contained about 7 pounds net weight of foods, and foods that we hadn’t seen since we left home. Meat and vegetables and creamed rice or stewed fruits or margarine

06:33:00:00

and butter or whatever, sugar a little block firm block of sugar and tea oh biscuits, chocolate, it was lovely. You should have seen the delight on the chaps’ faces when they got their first parcel it was like Christmas morning with a lot of kids. It was really wonderful.
Did you feel connected back to home then?
Well it was really marvellous. But I didn’t get any letters until May, that was the first letter I got from home.

06:33:30:00

I might mention this. While I was in that camp, no while I was back in Tripoli my watch went bung. And I was just talking to a chap about it and I said, “My watch had stopped I don’t know what’s wrong with it,” and he said, “Oh you ought to take it to Alec Barton,” I said, “Whose Alec Barton?” he said, “Oh he’s an Englishman he he does watches sometimes.” So I didn’t know who Alec Barton was, didn’t know where to find him because there was about 300 people in the Tripoli

06:34:00:00

camp. So I did nothing about it. Then a few days later I was out on a job somewhere and I met this chap and he said, “Are you still looking for Alec Barton?” and I said, “Yes,” he said, “Go about there back go back where those couple of trees there behind there you’ll find him sitting on a petrol drum”. So I went there and here was Alec Barton. I went up to him and I said, “You Alec Barton?” and he said, “Yes,” I said, “You fix up me watch?” he said, “Yes alright, I can only do it when the Germans have a watch to be repaired so

06:34:30:00

then I can fit it in” so I left it with him and he gave it back to me sometime later, fixed up, repaired. But I became very good friends with Alec he was a very fine chap and I liked him very much. And in the camp there he, we had a chap, he wasn’t too well one of our own chaps from the battalion and he had some sort of a disease sickness and this German doctor,

06:35:00:00

this is in the Tripoli camp I’m talking about now, he prescribed strychnine for him, one gram, one grain I suppose it is for the first day, two for the second, three for the third, up to 15 then reduce it by one until he got back to nothing. And apparently it cured him and he got out of that, so that was alright. But this chap Albert, Albert Bergman his name was, he was a commercial artist, and he taught Alec Barton commercial art writing, the old English style of writing,

06:35:30:00

that type of thing, and Alec Barton was good at that. And he when I moved from this camp later he wrote in a book a notebook he wrote in it a few words with a picture of an English cottage in a background and over that he put these words ‘because of you I somehow seem, because of you I somehow seem more glad and more worthwhile, the bright side’s more in

06:36:00:00

evidence, it’s easier to smile, the beauty’s brought by each new day are not so hard to do and everything is as twice as nice because of knowing you’. And I think, I think Alec meant it. He was a very fine chap and I was sorry to get moved away from that camp in Siviliano and leave and miss him. But before I went he introduced me to a friend of his they joined up together, an English friend, named Eddie, Edgar or Eddie

06:36:30:00

Balls and he, Alec asked me if I’d teach him bookkeeping. I said, “Oh I’ll do what I can”. I didn’t have any textbooks or anything but I had got a certain away through my course, bookkeeping course. So I thought I would teach him what I could, and I taught him a certain amount. I’d set little problems for him and get him to work them out and do them in proper bookkeeping form. But then I got moved away from this camp as I told you about June 1942.
How normal was life in that camp?
How normal?

06:37:00:00

Well nothing is normal in a prison of war camp as far as that goes. But you make your friends and you make the best of it. It is no good just miserable and being grumpy and as you say commiserating with yourself, that’ll get you nowhere. They tried to, they did have a concert or two not from very much equipment just do they best they can. There was one chap there that was going to put on a play but then of course I moved away, I put me name down for it but I moved away and I never got in it, never was

06:37:30:00

performed.
Did you play sport?
Well they couldn’t do much there. We were inside a brick wall a high brick wall, about 15 feet high and there were guards above that, little guard posts I suppose you call them, whatever with the rifles every about 15 feet around this top of this wall. But they did allow us out one day, there was a hole or a door in the wall and there was a sports field

06:38:00:00

next door. And they allowed us out to play that and the Australians played English at soccer. And I don’t think the Australians had ever played soccer before and they had to get a sketch of where their positions were and so on like that. But they played and they won, one score to nil. I wrote a poem about it.
Do you recall any of it, a verse?
“Early one morning on a fine summer’s day we went through the gate in the wall to see the great match the Aussies would

06:38:30:00

play of soccer or English football. Undaunted unfielded as they filed on the field to prepare then to do or to die. And no finer team has fought for a shield a victory or draw as they cried,” and it goes on from there.
A bit more?
Oh I don’t know if I can remember any more. “ Where is my place Les, where do I go let’s look at that sketch Dickie please, should I be back there Les wanted to know not feeling a great deal at ease.”

06:39:00:00

I can read it to you after, I’ve got it in my war diary.
When something like that happened, did it bring a bit of normalcy back to you?
Oh that was a lot of fun, the English never thought that, see there was about 2,000 in that camp there was about 80 Aussies and the rest were English, mostly English, there was one New Zealander, he had not a bad voice and he sung at sort of a concert, he sang the Inverary Ring.

06:39:30:00

I went to Inverary once, I went to Inverary once to spend a holiday. Believe me it’s a most delightful place, the air in that direction, is simply just perfection it puts a green complexion on your face. One night I went a fishing when a fearful storm arose indeed and I was wetted to the skin. “It came down with such a pelter, I was forced to fly for shelter so I ran into the Inverary Inn. Oh it’s the nice

06:40:00:00

wee Inn the Inverary Inn, I’ve never been in a nicer Inn before, there’s a wee Scots lass in the Inverary Inn a bonnie bonnie lass that I adore. She’s simply wonderful marvellous the barmaid of the Inverary little fairy. On the 21st of June I’ll be on me honeymoon with the barmaid from the Inn at Inverary.”
That is excellent.
I haven’t got a voice but
No that’s

06:40:30:00

great, from there you left, you left the Italian camp?
I left there and went to a big camp up at Grapinyano [Graziano] near Unani up the top.
Which we’ll cover on the next tape.
Alright.
Interviewee: Eric Edwards Archive ID 1538 Tape 07

07:00:31:00

One little thing.
What’s that, before Graziano?
Yes it doesn’t matter does it, just before. When we were at, you mentioned before about being about being mateships and so on. Now I met a chap in Tripoli named Angus Small, a very fine chap. Now he came to the camp there at Siciliano PG59

07:01:00:00

the Ancona one. And while I was there the English were starting to get some mail and I didn’t get any letters the Australians were not getting any mail, it took too long to get there. So he wrote to a friend of his named Marjory Brown in England who came from a little town village called Fortingbridge and asked her to write to me so that I would be getting some letters, rather than nothing at all, and she did for the rest of me prison of war days

07:01:30:00

I got about three or four letters a year. It was just sort of a friendly letter. Well I was repatriated via England at the end of the war and I went to see Angus Small and he took me round to Marjory Brown’s place and I met there a man named Trevor James who was boarding there. And he was a Welsh man and he had been doing some work there for the government. And eventually

07:02:00:00

he married Marjory and I became friends with him. And when I went to Wales a couple of years ago I stayed on their farm, the farm of his niece. But that’s one thing. But also I mentioned a few minutes ago about Alec Barton and teaching bookkeeping to Eddie Balls. Now when I left that camp to go to Grapinyano I hadn’t finished, I wanted to tell him

07:02:30:00

some more from the bookkeeping. But you’re not allowed to communicate from one camp to another. So Eddie said, “You write to my sister Peggy and do it through her” so I wrote to Peggy, she passed it onto Eddie and then he’d do his exercises whatever it was, go back through his sister and it came back to me, so it worked that way.
So this is how you’d communicate?
Yeah, so after that Peggy she wrote to me oh fairly frequently. So I was getting letters from

07:03:00:00

her. And I was writing to her when I could, I couldn’t write more than about two a month and two cards but I wrote a little bit. So we became friends and of course I saw her when I went to England afterwards. So that is how you meet people.
So describe for my what Grapinyano looked like?
Well it was barbed wire around it, the other camp had high brick wall about

07:03:30:00

15 feet high, this I suppose had about the same height of barbed wire, but you could see through the barbed wire but we got ugly barbed wire we hated it. It was a bigger camp with many many big huts in it wooden huts and that in it, I forgot how many, there’d be about 50, 40 50 to a hut I suppose and I was in there. There was Australians and there was no English, I don’t think the English were there but there was some New Zealanders

07:04:00:00

and there was some Indians from, Sikhs were there and some Jews came in a bit later on.
Jews?
Yeah well they said they were Jews I don’t know what part from, they must have been from Palestine somewhere or other Palestinians they might have been. That’s about all I can tell you about it. But it was a big camp and we were getting

07:04:30:00

more and more better organised as time went on. We still didn’t have to work at that time, there were normal chores. My friend Rod he did work around the camp in a little bit of roadwork or something, patching up footpaths or something like that. And he got an extra loaf of bread for that. But we’re getting, food parcels are becoming more regular, we are getting one or two. But a

07:05:00:00

lot of the stuff in food parcels you couldn’t, needed to be cooked and what could we cook them on, we didn’t have much fuel, we didn’t have any fuel, they didn’t provide fuel with us to cook, we had our meals from the cookhouse and they were cut down actually early in the year. The rations were reduced, but we had to survive nevertheless but we were getting the food parcels and that helped us supplement it. So some chaps say,

07:05:30:00

well one chap I suppose started it off the idea of making a blower to concentrate the heat in a certain place and you’d get concentrated heat that would cook something or burn use less fuel and get a stronger heat. And I’ve got an illustration of that in that war diary of mine of one of them. But some of these became very very elaborate pieces of equipment. And you could heat up boil a billy in

07:06:00:00

very little time with very little fuel, just cardboard from one of the Red Cross food parcels. And it was nice in the evening perhaps to see smoke from these fires going up into the lovely evening air.
This is at Grapinyano?
That is at to Grapinyano yes. We couldn’t do it at the other place there wasn’t the space in 50, 59.

07:06:30:00

Now what else can I tell you about that.
Yeah about Grapinyano tell us about your relationship with the guards as opposed to?
Well I didn’t see any.
PG56 was it?
No there is 59, 57 was Grapinyano, 59 was the first one. Grapinyano was 57 PG 57. Oh.
Well between 59 and 57?
Some of them were alright I suppose. But we had one guard

07:07:00:00

well he wasn’t a guard so much as an interpreter and he used to come in from the outside camp the Italian compound. And come in and his name was Morogna, M O R O G N A, Morogna. But a lot of the fellas didn’t know that. But they called him twinkle toes because he was a shortish chap, he wouldn’t be more than 5 feet. And he used to walk with sort of short mincing steps, just as though they sort of twinkled they called him

07:07:30:00

twinkle toes. But they also had another name for him, he wasn’t a nice type of person. He’s the sort of person if you smiled on parade or laughed or something like that he’d just as likely to stick you in the solitary confinement for a few days. He was looking for faults and that type of thing. They had a not very polite name for a lavatory for him, you probably know what it is, it starts with an S. Well one

07:08:00:00

day he came into the camp and he came looking for a chap and he asked someone standing near him he asked, “Where’s so and so,” and the chap said, “Oh he’s over at the shithouse” and he said, “Well what’s that, what’s that?” And they told him and he said, “No that can’t be true, that’s what the fellas call me”. So that was him. He used to speak not bad English but we used to he used to pride himself on

07:08:30:00

his English. He said, “Me speaka the better English than Bruno yes or no” that was the way he spoke. But that was that. But I didn’t have much to do with the guards, you avoided them as much as possible. But they did have searches too often. Now in the camp 59 the earlier one you could have

07:09:00:00

books but you couldn’t have knives. Now in this other one you could have knives but you couldn’t have books. So it just shows the mentality. Once camp is different quite the opposite from another. And the reason why they couldn’t have books in the second was because one chap wrote a poem, which was derogatory about the camp commandant. And a lot of people in the camp they got copies of this you see. And there was a search

07:09:30:00

put on and one of the chaps, prisoner of war, he panicked and he had this copy of this poem on him. So he kicked a hole in the ground and he started to bury it in the ground but a guard saw him and picked it up and took it to the office outside and it eventually got to the commandant and he had it translated. And he was very annoyed at the comments that were made about him in this poem. I’ve got a copy of that there. And
Do you know how it goes?
Oh I can’t remember it

07:10:00:00

but it goes the colonel he did say and some of things he said he would do or ordered to be done which were a bit silly or that type of thing, I can’t remember the poem because I never learnt it but I do have it there. So from then when he saw that he banned having books. So until later on we were able to get some textbooks from the Bodleian Library in Oxford University and they came out for

07:10:30:00

study books so he allowed those, he had to in a sense. But we had to sign, if we had a book a notebook it had to be signed and the number of pages counted and that sort of thing, before we could use them so they wouldn’t tear them out and make more silly poems about him. So that’s about that. Oh games were started there, there was soccer, well soccer was alright, cricket

07:11:00:00

was the main one I think but they made cricket balls out of a little stone and wound the string or twine which was round the food parcels around the thing and sewed it up and made a cricket ball that way. And one chap used the tins in the parcels, he got the empty tins and he used them in such a way that he could join them together and make boxes, he made

07:11:30:00

tin boxes and suitcases and that type of thing. Some of their abilities came out in the camp there when the necessity was to the fore and they used it. And I’ve got one there that little tin was made by him in the camp.
Were there any good prison guards for instance you could exchange things with and get things?
Some might’ve but I didn’t bother I didn’t change them, some

07:12:00:00

may have done so. Quite a number of people escaped from that camp, about 50 odd escaped from that camp by making a tunnel but they were all brought back within a couple of days. So there wasn’t much hope of getting away.
Did you hope to escape yourself?
I couldn’t see much chance. If I got outside that wire which way was I going to go, I didn’t know directions very well, I suppose I could guess the sun was up such and such a place, but then you had to get through the Alps to get through to Switzerland and it is a terrific long job and that was all

07:12:30:00

guarded there was the, it wasn’t just a free thing where you could go for a bit of a walk. So I made no attempt. You’d have to have a very good plan and know where to go, I think you’d have to have a good knowledge of the language.
Now what about partisans, Italian partisans?
Well I didn’t meet them. Now the people about round about March I think it was in 1943 the Italians did I suppose order

07:13:00:00

people some of the prisoner of war to go out onto their rice fields, and work on their rice fields and later on when the war in Italy ended, which was in September, 8th of September 1943 of course the guards and that just dropped their guns. Well before the Germans arrived this is up in northern Italy a lot of those fellows escaped. And some of those got in with the Italian partisans. Some made their own way through

07:13:30:00

the help of the Italian people got through to Switzerland but I was way down. No I was at fairly well up in Italy but still near a main town and I didn’t have a chance to get out from there because the barbed wire was around it. What I’m talking about with the other people they were in well working in the rice fields in the camps and that there, it was easier to get away there.

07:14:00:00

But not where I was the Germans came and surrounded the camp the next day. And they had their guns and machine guns and lined us all up. And we had to line up outside the camp gates. And then an officer came along and he chopped me off from my mate Rod who was standing next to me and chopped us off. And they went on a train, I had to go by the second train well they went through into Germany. But I went on the second train and I was taken to Austria.

07:14:30:00

And when I got into Austria we got through first of all to a place called we went through Marburg, I say Marburg because that’ s the German name for it, on the maps you’d find it as Maribor, M A R I B O R, its in Yugoslavia just across the border from Austria. But we went, we got there, we had to change trains there and go on another train to

07:15:00:00

Ferntail [?], and then from there we had a bit of a walk about a mile to a camp at Agidi [?] I won’t say much about that we were only there about two or three weeks. And they closed that camp and moved us all to a camp at Marburg itself. It saved us having to change trains and waiting for the second train at Marburg station to get to the camp and it was easier and we didn’t have to get up so early in the morning to go back to work, we could just start from Marburg.

07:15:30:00

And at Marburg we were in big long barracks and we had to line up each morning at a certain time and form up and then they’d march us down to the station we catch a train, it was a steam train, two carriages and they’d take us out to the work site and what we’d do was work on the railway lines. We had to pull up the railway lines as they were which were short, fairly light ones if you can understand

07:16:00:00

and put down heavier ones to take the heavy war traffic and heavier and more ballast underneath. And that was our job and of course we were getting further and further away from the Marburg station each day but that’s the way it was, but we still had the train to take us there to our job and come back. And when we finished off our work we’d have all sort of work you’d have shovels and picks and I suppose spades and things like that and other sorts of tools. We’d just put them inside

07:16:30:00

a big box, which was left at the side of the line. And we’d leave them there overnight, next morning we’d come and pick them up. And when we go a bit further up the line they’d move those boxes further up. So two were kept there, is that alright? Now Marburg, as I say I’m still calling it Marburg but we were on the, it was a lovely place the work site was very beautiful it was amongst the trees there was the river, Drowl, well they call it a Drowl I think

07:17:00:00

Drava is a proper name a Yugoslavian name, we were right alongside that and the scenery was good and the railway line went around amongst these trees. Now it’s quite easy to walk off a job there no trouble at all, because we had guards certainly, but the guards couldn’t watch all of the prisoners, there’d be about 80 I suppose on this job. Just a few guards they couldn’t watch them all

07:17:30:00

and if you wanted to go out to the toilet sort of thing amongst the trees they couldn’t go and follow them that type of thing. So it would be easy to walk off there, but the thing is to get away successfully you’d want to have knowledge of the language either German or the local language Slovinish or Slovanish I think it is or Yugoslavian or whatever and also that’s one thing, you want to know where you are going to go, you want a compass and know exactly where you are going to go

07:18:00:00

and you’d want to have local support, help from the locals. Now the normal local people wouldn’t help because they’d get shot for helping an escaped prisoner of war, but you’d have to have help from what you mentioned before the partisans the Yugoslavian partisans. Now these were run by mainly by martial to, to and they were they knew the country back to front, it was their

07:18:30:00

country and they knew it quite well. But the Germans were stationed at Marburg and other places and they were trying to catch hold of the partisans but they could never catch them. The partisans were blowing up their railway lines they were blowing up their marshalling yards for instance, and bridges and things like that and they were causing havoc amongst the German places of usefulness but the Germans couldn’t catch them.

07:19:00:00

They were so elusive and they knew the country so well. And they’d have a scout and they’d know exactly where the Germans were so the Germans were looking for them, they’d know where the German patrols were and they’d report back, so the partisans would avoid that and go somewhere else. So how would a prisoner of war get on if he didn’t have that knowledge of where the Germans were. Now while I was there

07:19:30:00

six people fairly good strong blokes about 6 feet high they saved for about six weeks their food parcels and whatever they planned to go away, they left but they were brought back in two days. They got caught between a bit of a battle, I can’t say a battle but that type of thing between Yugoslavia and the Germans. So they didn’t have a chance, so that was that.

07:20:00:00

I don’t know if I can carry on.
Yeah absolutely.
I don’t know if you want to know, we had a, I told you that we were allowed to go down to the local cinema of a Sunday morning, I don’t know if it was every Sunday but every now and again to see some of the pictures. Now I didn’t know German very well, I started to learn it but I didn’t know enough. But they had a film of Diesel and his life story

07:20:30:00

who invented the diesel engine. And I could follow a lot of the film with that and they had another one, the Abina Minajeli [?] the great opera singer and of course he had a lovely voice beautiful, I didn’t understand the Italian he was singing but I could appreciate some of the songs, I knew some of the songs that he sang. And there was another one Mariki Aruika [?] her name was but she was a dancer a beautiful dancer. It was quite lovely, I enjoyed

07:21:00:00

those. You’d get outside the barbed wire you might say and have the freedom of the streets and that it wasn’t on streets it was quite good, of course we had to go under guard but it was quite pleasant and I enjoyed that. And then occasionally they would allow walking parties of the Sunday afternoon with a guard of course and that was quite good. Until one time we went out and we went out in two parties I think. There was one with the non drinkers and another

07:21:30:00

one with the drinkers. The drinkers got too friendly and too drunk and they started to play around with the barmaid or something like that so they banned the walking parties then for a while. But it did come towards the end.
1945?
That would be no that would 1944.
Late 44?
Late 43 or early 44.
Now you know of the big attempt to escape the 70 chaps?

07:22:00:00

Yes I know that. Well I’ll come to that now if you like. We had a chap in charge of our camp his name was Ralph Churches now he’s an Australian. And the Germans always have someone in charge so they can give their orders to them. Now Ralph Churches could speak German quite fluently and he was in charge for that reason, well it was one main reason and he was an intelligent chap. And the Germans had to have someone they could

07:22:30:00

talk to and their orders be passed on from this what they call the fertruence[?] man which is literally man of confidence or someone they could trust. Well Ralph was that. Well he planned to go so he resigned from his position around about the beginning of August 1944 and someone else was appointed in his place. Now Ralph of course when he resigned he went out on a job. But he was planning to escape with 7

07:23:00:00

of his mates to make eight of them and they planned for a certain day. Now he was, he thought he’d escape now he knew German quite well now one of his mates, one of the other seven was named Les Laws now he had communication with the partisans and over a little period of time, a few weeks it was arranged that the partisans

07:23:30:00

would see them when they escaped and take them up to the hideout in the hills, introduce them to their leader and get them back to the British forces which were way up the top of Italy at that time. So that was what happened, they walked off the, it wasn’t, one of their mates, one of these seven couldn’t get away, he was in the working gang and there was a cutting in the railway line and he wasn’t able to get

07:24:00:00

around that and walk amongst the trees, he was just trapped sort of thing. He couldn’t make it obvious when he was there so he got left behind. But Ralph and his other six they kept their appointment with this partisan and the partisan guided them up to their hideout up in the hills there. Now the Germans knew the hideout was there but they could never find it, it was so well hidden, well anyway these seven got there. Now when they were there, that evening Ralph said to the

07:24:30:00

leader of the partisans he said, “Why don’t you get the rest of the fellows?” So they thought about it and they discussed it and Ralph said, “Well you’ve got a certain number of guards but they’re old people they’re not very what would you say war minded, aggressive sort of thing they are getting on and they won’t give you much resistance it should be easy go and just take them from the site

07:25:00:00

and get them away. But they discussed it and Ralph said, “I don’t want anything, I don’t want them to be killed or hurt that way”. So it was arranged then that if they could get them away they would let them go after a couple of, let the guards and the civilians, there were some civilians working on a job, let them go after a couple of days, which is what they did. So what happened was this night the seven escaped the guards back at our camp, I was telling you

07:25:30:00

before they counted us up and they found there was seven missing. But because the German soldier can’t act without orders from someone up higher they took no notice of it because their camp commandant was down in Marburg with his lady friend and they couldn’t go and interrupt whatever he was doing with this lady friend. So they had to leave it until next morning when he came back to the camp. And that gave Ralph and his six friends

07:26:00:00

time to get up to the partisans without ever resistance or whatever and talk to him about it and discuss their plans. And when the camp commandant came back the next morning to the camp and he was told that seven people had escaped he rang up his superior. And he said to his superior officer, “Oh look I’ve got to report seven men escaped yesterday” and the superior said, “That’s nothing you lost another

07:26:30:00

77 this morning” and that’s what happened. Because when the rest of the camp that morning, they went down to the as Marburg station as usual, got on a train and went out to their job and they got out of the train and around about 8 o’clock in the morning and the train went back around the trees and back out of sight they appeared, the partisans appeared from the trees and surrounded the whole lot and took them all up to their hideout into the hills. There was no

07:27:00:00

resistance from the guards they were too surprised and shocked they didn’t know what to do, they were too old and that. But they took the whole lot up to their hideout in the hills. I got left behind because I had been asked to do some work in the office some Red Cross food parcels had come in and they wanted me to record them. So I got left behind and another chap got left behind because he was having his boots repaired and there were two cooks and they were left behind. I didn’t mention this about the cooks.

07:27:30:00

In this camp we were getting parcels pretty well one parcel per person per week regularly. Well before we got our parcels we’d line up but before we received the parcels the, they would go to the cook house and the cooks we had three cooks they would take out every tin or article which was meat and vegetables or stewed fruit or something like that and they’d keep them in the cookhouse and they’d mix them with

07:28:00:00

the German food and they could make quite good meals out of them, which we couldn’t do, we had no reason, no means of cooking up meat and vegetables and making good food. But they, most of the German food was just potatoes or something like that, well mix it with our food it make quite meals, so that worked very well. But then two of these guards were back at Marburg and of course they got left behind, but the other, the two cooks I mean, but the other cook was down on the job and

07:28:30:00

he used to help with the lunchtime meal but he got taken away. So that was that. Now those men they were taken by the partisans because they couldn’t stay their too long, they left their position and started on their trek through to northern Italy. And as I said they had scouts, they had people, they knew the country like the back of their hand and they sent a chap out he might

07:29:00:00

be a kilometre in front and one each side or something like that and watching out for the German patrols. They just got into one at one stage but our chaps were ok. The partisans had a bit of a what do you call a bit of a skirmish with the Germans but they got them they departed and got them away alright from the Germans. But as I said about two years, two months, oh sorry, two days after they

07:29:30:00

left they released the guards, they released the civilians to make their own way back to their homes or back to Marburg whatever it was, so they didn’t shoot them or kill them or anything like that so they let them go which they kept their promise. Now one reason why the partisans were agreed to take the whole lot was they had a hatred for the Germans and the Germans taking over their country, which they had virtually done. So they were

07:30:00:00

pleased to have any opportunity to have a fight back at the Germans. And they reasoned that if they only taken the seven prisoners of war the Germans probably wouldn’t be bothered chasing them they knew the partisans were around there and they knew they’d get into trouble. But when there is about 77 or more escape well that is more incentive for them, the Germans to go and catch up with them because a loss of prestige for them. And that’s what happened, they did, they tried to chase the prisoners

07:30:30:00

of war and they got into trouble with the partisans and some of them were killed. But that was another story. But as far as our chaps were concerned it was a hard job for them because they were poorly clad. This was in August, at the end of summer, quite a few of them had only shorts on and they had cold nights so they practically shivered there. You couldn’t expect the partisans to provide them all with blankets and

07:31:00:00

things and food stuff was a bit of a problem they were light on food. And they had nothing to eat it with, they had no dixies or anything like that, everything was left behind. So what happened was when the partisans had their meal they had to wash the dishes and give them over to our chaps to eat their meal until eventually as they were going along they picked up tins or jugs or or whatever. But after three or four weeks or something like that and

07:31:30:00

up hill and down and round and round and round about and so on avoiding the Germans and that they did get through the into Italy and handed them over to the British troops which were up about Unani[?] at that time. And that was it.
So they all got through?
Yes they all got through, they all got through. There was more than those there because Ralph said to the leader of the partisans he said, “While you’re there you’d be on your way pick up another camp they’ve got about 12 people, I think about 11 people prisoners

07:32:00:00

of war there, pick them up, you might as well take them as well”. But the partisans got mixed up with the directions and they picked up eight Frenchmen instead. But when they found out they had Frenchmen they had the wrong one they went back and got the the others. So that was eight and 11 and the so many, there were 99 altogether and they got them through. Now of course the British as you probably know were dropping arms and ammunition food stuff to the partisans and helping that way so they were glad to be able to return

07:32:30:00

it that way. And of course it was prestige for them and it’s a nasty smack in the eye for the Germans.
Now where were you when all this?
Well I was, well.
How come you didn’t tag along?
Well I told you that I was asked to work back in the camp on the recording of these food parcels and things which had come in, I had to do a lot of paper work on that. So I got left behind with these couple of cooks and this chap that was getting his boots repaired that was four of us we got left

07:33:00:00

behind. Well we couldn’t carry on the camp the camp was closed. So I don’t know what happened to the cooks but the other chap and I were sent to a farm out near Graz in southeast Austria. It is a big city it is almost as big as Vienna. But it is down the bottom corner there, a bit north, north I suppose or northern east of Graz is Hartberg and that’s a city too but nowhere as near as big as Graz

07:33:30:00

then not far from that is Grafendorf [?] and that was a little village you might call it it was a farm there. Actually there was a barracks and there were 20 of us in these barracks, we two added to 18 and we were in these barracks and each of us went out to farms around the barracks each day and we were working on the farms. And I was on the

07:34:00:00

this is the Saturday I think I arrived or the Sunday and on the Monday I had to go out to work and the the German in charge of the camp he took me up to the farm. And it was about a half hours walk and going through other farms and back the farms and little pathways and that sort of thing and I came to the farm of Josef Kopper, K O P P E R, Josef J O S E F, and I was working there

07:34:30:00

and I worked there for the rest of the war. Well not quite the rest of the war, this was the beginning of September and I worked there until the end of March, March 45, September 44. Now that I suppose in one sense that was probably the best camp I was at. In Italy even though we had food parcels the

07:35:00:00

rations were light on, we were hungry half the time we were always looking for more food which wasn’t available but here I could have as much food as I could eat on the farm. It wasn’t much variety about it it was all much the same, brown bread, they baked their, the farmers pretty well self contained as possible, they baked their own bread, they had eggs from their own fowls, they ground their own flour, they had a water mill for a little creek

07:35:30:00

down the bottom of the hill and they could make their own flour for making their own bread. They had a little forest, in fact the forest was as big as their farmland. And that gave them trees mainly trees which they brought down in winter time to give them enough wood for their wood stove for their cooking. They had pigs for meat and when they were allowed to they killed a meat, killed a pig and provide them with meat and they’d hang them up in the chimney and that

07:36:00:00

got smoked and that would keep it, well allow it to be kept for quite a while, well for quite a long while actually for keeping that. They made their own drink from apples and pears, crush them up and that and make what they call a mousse which is sort of a cider, I think it could be intoxicating if you had enough of it. But they never had too much they just had a little

07:36:30:00

bit. They told me not to drink the water, they had sort of a spring there they said, “Don’t drink that water it could give you goitre”. Which is a lump in the neck so I didn’t drink much then, so I had some of their stuff. Of course I had tea or what it was in the camp because I had the Red Cross parcels and getting the tea from that.
So how did you get picked up when the war was over?
That was a different story. I went from, well I was working on the farm for quite a long

07:37:00:00

while, as I say for about four, seven months I suppose then the Russians were coming in from the east from Romania and because they were coming the Germans said to themselves I suppose we’ll get rid of these prisoners we can’t have them here we don’t want them to get recaptured so they started to march us. Well we were only 20 at that time but then we picked up other camps like ours as we went along and

07:37:30:00

it gradually got more and more and not only our prisoners of war there’d be Frenchmen and so on until we had quite a lot, there were hundreds I think on the road eventually going along and I suppose it must have been a bit of a problem for the Germans to get food for them all but they managed because it was a bit skimpy but we got it. Incidentally before we started off we, the

07:38:00:00

farm folk in Austria they were rather religious and they fast before Easter. Now Easter Sunday was the 3rd of April that year and they were fasting for four days and I was looking forward to a lovely big feed on the Sunday but of course it was a Sunday when we started off to march. And so I didn’t get the big feed, but that night they told us about, well they woke us up about 11 o’clock at night and said, “Go back to your farms and get rations for

07:38:30:00

three days because you’ve got to march”. So I had to go a half hour walk up the farm, I was about the furtherest to go another one a bit further on than me but that’s all. And I went to the farm and I knocked and knocked and eventually they opened and they couldn’t believe it was me, I had to go and show my face at the window so they’d know it was me they thought it might have been a partisan or something. So anyway of course they were a bit frightened when they I told them that I was leaving and the Russians were coming. And I do think that the Russians gave them a terrible time when they

07:39:00:00

eventually came through rapings and beatings and that sort of thing. But I don’t know personally about them but they did do it to a lot of the folk as they came over because the Germans did the same to the Russians as they went through. But anyway they gave me the rations for three days which was only bread and or some apple strudel which they would have had on the Sunday, and a couple of other things like that, cheese some cheese and so off I marched.

07:39:30:00

And bits and pieces and so much each day sort of thing and some of our fellas tried to escape, I could have escaped too then while I was working on the farm quite easily but the same thing applied, you have to have a knowledge of the language, either German or the farmers, well the farmers they spoke German although many words were slightly different for instance a potato

07:40:00:00

in German is is kartofel but on the farm they called it aird apple or earth apple. And a boy is kanarba in German or bouler is on the farm so there are certain words that are a little bit different.
I might have to stop you there because we’ve run out of tape.
Again oh that didn’t get on did it oh it doesn’t matter.
No it did.
Interviewee: Eric Edwards Archive ID 1538 Tape 08

08:00:31:00

What a German said a German officer said another said that a German officer it wasn’t an officer it was a German.
Alright first of all you said there was something about the great escape of Australians that you wanted to mention about the river, would you like to tell us about that?
Are you ready now?
Yeah we are recording now.
When they were escaping all this 91 people escaping they came to a big river.

08:01:00:00

And Ralph was wondering how they were going to cross this river, but the partisans had it all in mind and they had farmers on farms nearby who got permission from the Germans to take their horses across the river. And the Germans gave them permission sort of thing but they said during the day time and they said, “No no we want to do it at night time because we need them as much as we possibly can during the day to do the work on the farm”,

08:01:30:00

so short of men and even horses and that thing. So they got permission to take them across at about 10 o’clock at night, and then the partisans had a group at one end of this river sort of thing and about 200 metres or more away they had another lot and there were another lot of partisans they created another diversion in another direction. Now when the horses were going across the river they made a lot of noise, well that was able to let our blokes to get across. They had

08:02:00:00

very strong partisan people and they had a couple of boats, little rowing boats, I think they got six to each boat and they went backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards until they got them all across. And the Germans didn’t notice about them because they had this cabin with the horses, they just thought it was the horses doing the noise, or this other machine-gun fire somewhere else. So it just showed the resourcefulness and the bravery and courage of the partisan people.
And they were

08:02:30:00

Slovenians?
Slovenians I think yes, mostly Slovenians yes. It was their country and that’s why they hated the Germans because they’d taken it over.
Were the German guards you had, were they aggressive?
No they were pretty old, no.
What pretty much all of them were old guys?
Well they were getting on a bit, well I won’t say 60 or 70 but retiring age from the army anyway.

08:03:00:00

See they’d sent all their best troops up to the front. And they left the older ones to look after us and they didn’t want any further trouble, they didn’t want any of that sort of thing. So they weren’t aggressive but they would have been. If someone had tried to run off they would have shot them. But it was so easy to escape there but then where would you get without the aid of the partisans or someone, even the local people, local people wouldn’t help you because they’d get shot for assisting a

08:03:30:00

prisoner of war if they got caught, either they would or their family would. And that’s, quite a lot of civilian families were killed that same way, they were shot or lined up against a wall, whatever it might be or sent to the chamber because their husbands helped in some way or other or for some other reason. So that’s that. You have to have help from the people,

08:04:00:00

but the Slovenian people wouldn’t do it. So it was the partisans well I suppose the Slovenian partisans but the fighting people that got them through. But they had as I said before they had the knowledge of the area and they knew where to go and what to do and they had the scouts and so on out. It was a military exercise for them and they were very resourceful and they were able to adapt to any situation that immediately arose in front of them. If they saw a German patrol or that and they wanted to avoid it well they could adapt themselves and that.

08:04:30:00

And not keep strictly to a certain route and so on like that. And they got them through within a reasonable time. It was marvellous how they did it.
Did you learn how to speak German?
Oh I learnt enough to make myself understood on the farm or for them to understand me. But Ralph was teaching me German when I was in the Marburg camp but he got left before I got very far and so on. But I learnt a little bit but not much. But well

08:05:00:00

on the farm as I said I got enough to make me self understood and you get used to a bit of sign language. Something I was going to mention to you on this Marburg job on the railway line job a German came up one day and he saw a New Zealander and a Maori, they were standing together. And he asked the Maori “Where do you come from?” Cause the Germans don’t like the blacks either they think they are low place, and he said, “New Zealand” so the chap standing next door to

08:05:30:00

him he said, “Where are you from?” and he said, “New Zealand”. And he looked past and he said, “How is it that you both say you’re from New Zealand and you’re white and he’s black?” And the white chap said, “Well the thing is he was born at night and I was born in the day time”. So they got away with it, I don’t know what the German thought he’s lucky to be born white himself I suppose. Anyway to get back to the farm.

08:06:00:00

I was on the farm and the first job was to help one of the children. They had ten children on the farm when I was there and I heard that there were two more born since. So that meant 12 children. In addition to those 12 children and his boss and his wife there was a women named Leani, she was just sort of a helper and there was another women about 21 she was Julie

08:06:30:00

she was the boss’s niece I think. And there was an old bloke who was practically deaf, his name was Tony. And there was a couple a man and his wife and they lived on a separate building on the farm and they were from Ukraine. They weren’t prisoners of war because they weren’t fighting but I think they were overrun by the Germans and they had to fight, work there on the farm. Julie was the only one really the eldest she was 13

08:07:00:00

and she was working on the farm, the others were still going to school. But then of course they’d still do some work perhaps carrying some wood whatever it might be when they came home from school. Well Julie was out on the job with me this day and when I was doing the weeding of these plants they are something like turnips or swedes she was doing her own weeding. But then no matter how fast I went, I didn’t like to go too fast anyway because they were virtually the enemy. But no matter how fast I went she went twice as fast and she’d come and

08:07:30:00

help me with my rows. Anyway that was it because she was used to it. So I ate on the farm but I used to have to sleep in the barracks, go back there at night and come onto the farm every morning. There again it would be quite easy to walk off on the way to work or on the way home. But again where would I get, I’d have to have a knowledge of the language, I’d have to know which way exactly where to

08:08:00:00

go. I know the border to Hungry is only about less than 30 miles away, it would be easy to get there. But you’d have to avoid the Germans, which are all around. Wherever they might be on the border or whatever. And you’d still need to have help to guide you around the Germans wherever they were and and a terrific lot of luck and a lot of initiative. And as I said before the second front had been started in

08:08:30:00

June of 44 and we knew that they were doing well and that the end was getting in sight. So what was the use of it. So
Did you see also evidence of allied bombing raids?
No I could hear the bombs but I couldn’t see it where I was. It was a farm which was way out in the country, away from cities and that which weren’t bombed. They wouldn’t bomb the farms. I didn’t see the evidence there no

08:09:00:00

not on it.
Did you see planes though?
Oh occasionally I’d see planes going over but even then they weren’t near that area. It was more for, I don’t know if they bombed Vienna much they probably did a bit. I didn’t see a great deal. I heard a bit about it. I knew the partisans were blowing up the things and doing a lot of damage but that was it. So I was on the farm I was doing all sorts of work and

08:09:30:00

worked the same hours as they did. I had Sundays off there but I worked Saturdays as well. But we worked on the system in the farm farm job those of us in the camp the prisoner of war, as I said there were 20 of us there. I was the only Australian. But they worked on a system of two each week getting a Saturday afternoon off in the roster system and

08:10:00:00

when we’d come down if we were on that roster and heat up a bath and then there wasn’t much water available, there was a little creek running by and we’d have to get the water from the creek and fill up this big bath tub wooden bath tub and heat up the water and that was our bath night Saturday night. And if we were on duty well we’d get first bath, then the next time we go to the bottom of the list and it

08:10:30:00

go round that way. So if you were first you were ok, next time by the time you’re last you’re getting dirty soapy water but there was not much else you could do. But I was treated alright on that farm they were reasonably pleasant and I had a bit of fun with the, with three girls, that is Cherli the young one, 13 year old, and Yuli and Leani. And when I say fun I remember

08:11:00:00

one time we were gathering up the windfalls of the apples and pears and they’d throw some at me and I’d throw some back. And same time when the snow was around, a little bit of friendly snow fights. So just amusing there. I can remember one day when we’re picking up potatoes. The boss had a, he had two horses and there were six oxes on the farm and they had the cows for milk. So he had the ox and that, no he had the horses this

08:11:30:00

day and he had sort of equipment which would turn out the soil and throw out the potatoes and the rest of us, that is me and Cherli and Leani and the missus and the other two couple Ukrainians and Tony, we were spread across the field. And we had to pick up the potatoes and put them in a wicker basket and then when the basket was full go to a truck, which was on the field or a wagon

08:12:00:00

and empty them in there and go back to get another. And we had to do this before the boss came round with the next furrow and cover over the ones that had been thrown out. So one day I found a mouse and I killed it so I carried it by its tail to where Cherli was and she was halfway up this plank to empty this basket into the truck. And she saw me come and she let out a squeal and she dropped her basket and potatoes spread everywhere and she ran away up the field yelling,

08:12:30:00

screaming her head off nearly. So I had a bit of fun that way. There was another time when I think it was New Year’s Eve and the boss was going around every room, every building where the cows were that sort of thing and spreading a sort of incense on it. I think it was just to ask for blessing for the cows and the shot crops for the coming year.

08:13:00:00

And I was doing some sweeping up of the pathway just nearby and he shoved the thing under my face, the incense thing, just for fun and gave a grin and Cherli was coming behind with water that she used to splash on the doorways or whatever with the incense and she went and splashed me face with it. So it was just a bit of fun like that. And when I saw her on the farm later on, I visited the farm I reminded her of it.

08:13:30:00

When did you visit the farm?
In 1999.
Oh really you went back?
I can tell you about that now I suppose if I got. I as I said they treated me reasonably well, I had, there was no grumpiness or growling or unpleasantness and I had as much food as I could eat as it were and so on. And I wondered how they were getting on over the years and I thought I would like to write to them, but I

08:14:00:00

couldn’t because I didn’t know enough German and they didn’t know German. But I went to a prisoner of war reunion at Horsham one day and when I got there Ralph was there, Ralph Churches, he’d come from Adelaide, he’d come from with a couple of other chaps I knew too. I was speaking to him and I then said, “If I write out a letter out a letter to you in English can you translate it into German for me to these

08:14:30:00

people?” So he did that and he added an extra paragraph saying that “If possible can you reply in English”. Well I sent the letter off and I got a letter back in English and it was written by the wife of the grandson of my former boss. I knew my former boss and his wife would be dead at that time because they were much older than I but it was from his grandson, it was his wife that could speak English. And she’d typed it out, and she well told me a little bit about it they were delighted to hear

08:15:00:00

from me. And they sent me some photos, they sent me an aerial photo of the farm, they sent me a photo of the boss and his wife, about taken, taken about 1970 or something but just as much as I remembered them and then they said, asked me to send some photos back to them, which I did. I sent some photos back and they said in the second letter they said, “If possible would you be able to visit us we would receive you

08:15:30:00

kindly”. So I thought I planned I would do that, so I planned and I went and visited them in 1999. And they put me up for a few days and while I was there Cherli and her daughter in law, she had married and had two sons and four daughters and so many grandchildren and the daughter of her eldest son named Anita and she could speak English quite well

08:16:00:00

anyway. But she and Cherli came round to this family that I worked on the Sunday the day I came back and they said, “Before you go back to Australia can you come and visit us on the farm on our farm and stay with us for a couple of days?” So I had some things I was going to do in England so I cancelled those and I caught a plane to come back to Austria before coming back home. So I stayed on their farm and they gave me a good time. Now the farm that I was on it changed quite a lot since I’d been

08:16:30:00

working there they now just milked cows and that’s all. They don’t have the water mill that’s gone all broken up and a lot of the things they don’t do at all, they had 36 cows and they milked those and they get all their income from their milk, they’ve got milking machines to do it. But the the young ones, the young calves and that they sell them straight away, they don’t keep them and

08:17:00:00

grow, they just keep the 36 all the time. And the other farm where Anita and Cherli are now they have pigs, they buy young pigs and they fatten them up and they sell them when they’re about six months old. So that’s their income and they have special foods that they measure out very very carefully to fatten up the pigs and make them grow, so that’s their thing.
That is an interesting story.
In both cases they gave me a very pleasant time. Now the highlight of the trip I think after the first

08:17:30:00

farm the one I worked on was they organised a meeting of all those 12 children except one who had died a few years before in what they call a gasthäus, a gasthäus is really a restaurant but there was no meal provided. I didn’t get there until about 3 o’clock, I could have had soft drinks or something if I wanted to. But it was just a get together place and all of those 12 children, plus their husbands and wives

08:18:00:00

except the one that died and Anita was there to translate for me and just to get there and say hello and meet me. Now one women came to me and said, “I’m Maria, I was seven when you were working on the farm” and another one said, “I’m Teresa I was six when you were on the farm” and another chap came and he put his hands about nine inches apart and he said, “I’m Francin, I was about this big when you were working on the farm” and he was, he was the baby of the family he was only just two or three

08:18:30:00

months old. So I had a good time. And then when I was at Anita’s farm later at the end of the trip, they took me round to Teresa’s farm, that is the one that was six back in 45. And her daughter, Teresa’s daughter brought out a zither which she hadn’t played for a while and she played the zither for me. Now I liked the zither music and she played the Harry Lime theme

08:19:00:00

and the Strauss waltz and something else, it was very very nice and I enjoyed it. What else is there?
Yeah I wanted to ask you what what you were doing in the last days of the war?
Oh when the Russians, I started to say that, I started to say that the Russians were coming across and we started to march across Austria and eventually after about three weeks, three or four weeks we got

08:19:30:00

to Karchberg [?] in the centre, well not in the centre of Austria but that way, towards Salzburg we were going and it was in the mountains, they have snow there about nine months of the year. We were supposed to do some work on the roads there but we didn’t do any because there was snow and that there, we just couldn’t do it, and so we were in the camp. Now this is another thing, we had a chap in charge of that camp the Austrian in Boshabit, [?] his name

08:20:00:00

I don’t know what his name was but he had Orgtod, O R G T O D on his sleeve, that is a special organisation, but he was an Austrian. Now he was very good to us, he allowed us to listen to the BBC [British Broadcasting Commission]. And one thing he was very good at he allowed our chap we elected as a chief to look after us Jock, Jock Gordon his name was, he was a Scotsman. He allowed him to go into a one of their

08:20:30:00

head depots where the parcel, where the food parcels were to go and get some food parcels for us. We went in a truck and we went there. Now Russians are about there, and they thought they got these food parcels I think they thought these parcels were for them and of course they weren’t they were for us. Now this Orgtod chap he handed his pistol to Jock and he said, no oh he said, no he invited Jock to stay in his house, his house was at Philarc [?]

08:21:00:00

and he got back to Philarc and he said, “You stay in the house and I’ll guard the parcels” and Jock said, “No I’m responsible for them I’ll look after the parcels they are my responsibility, you stay in your house”. And of course Orgtod was at his own home and he said, “Alright then” and he handed Jock his his little pistol and he said, “If any of them come close to you, you shoot them and I’ll take full responsibility”. So he went in there and Jock stayed in the truck and guarded the parcels and they got them back the next day.

08:21:30:00

So the Russians were there?
Well they were around there. And if they hadn’t been any guards there ready to shoot and that they would have pinched them snatched them, but they were scared and they didn’t do it, so he got back. It wasn’t late, it wasn’t much later as you say we listened to the BBC and we heard over the BBC the prisoners of war wherever they were were to stay where they were until they were freed. Now we heard then of course that the war was over,

08:22:00:00

and this is when the war was over. But we knew that was practically over because a day or two before the Germans were marching past that way and they were throwing away their pistols and so on and they said, “Why should we carry on and fight because the war is pretty well over, we might get killed in the last day or so of it so we are giving it up”. So they were passing by. I’ve got a pistol and I got a, there was a magazine with it, and some bullets, some rounds. But me wife gave it away later on during an

08:22:30:00

amnesty when I got home. But that doesn’t matter, then it was a day or two after that, after the war had ended that this Orgtod chap boss he said, “Oh this is no good” he said, “the war’s over now I want to get home.” So he went down to the village at the bottom of the hill, about a mile away, he commandeered three truck drivers with their trucks and ordered them to come back to camp, which they did, and he loaded us all on and he

08:23:00:00

ordered these chaps to take us through to the British lines through the Italian Alps back to where the British forces were back at Udanai at the top of Italy. And they did that. As we were going along of course we got back to we had to go through Philarc so we got there and he said, “Alright chaps” he said goodbye to us he said, “I’m home now” and he wished us well, and of course we gave him a good cheer and because he is a very fine chap and let him go and so we went

08:23:30:00

on our way and got home. Got to there and I came out by army vehicle from Udanai down to Ancona and I was about a night or two in Ancona and then I went on a Liberator bomber plane with the bomb racks taken out and there were seats put in there for us and went down to Bari and south of Italy, back of the heel. And I was there for about two or three weeks waiting for transport to take me to England and eventually it came along it was another Liberator

08:24:00:00

bomber which took me to England. And I met up with Eddie’s sister again. I met up with a couple of other people, I saw Alec Barton again I saw Angus Small, Trevor, Trevor James and Peggy. In fact I stayed with Peggy’s family for most of my leave time, which was only about two weeks anyway. And we went round and she showed me a lot of London together and we went to a couple of shows a couple of Walt Disney shows, Three

08:24:30:00

Caballeros and saw the picture of Dorian Grey which is a film and and that and had a very pleasant time. Showed me Madam Tussaud’s and oh a couple of other things, it was quite good. St Paul’s Cathedral inside. And then I came back on the Mauritania, came back through the Panama Canal. That is about it.
So what was going through your mind when the war ended?
Oh well lovely l to be home, lovely to be free again. Couldn’t get home quickly enough

08:25:00:00

and we thought, it seemed to be taking so long to get home we thought the captain lost his way or something like that. We came back through the Panama Canal, we had to go through the locks there. What else.
Yeah just a few more questions before we take off into Australia. You said the Germans were terrified about the Russians coming

08:25:30:00

that were going to commit all sorts of atrocities and rape which they did do the Russians in retaliation, what was sort of discussions that you overhead or did you have with any of the Germans, German officers, German soldiers?
No I didn’t have much with the German soldiers. It was the, I had to go and get, I had to go and get my

08:26:00:00

three days rations when I was told that we had to march. And it was the people on the farm who were very worried because they knew what would probably happen. They were scared the Russians were coming they didn’t want the Russians to come. And that’s the ones I spoke to sort of but I didn’t, I wasn’t fluent in German so I couldn’t have a long conversation with them but I knew that that’s what was happening. And I knew, I did get a letter or two from Leani

08:26:30:00

after. I’ve mislaid it somehow I don’t know whether I’ve still got it or it’s been thrown out. That’s Leani that’s the one that was a helper, she was about 40 years old. I think she married after I left, but she died before I went over in 99. And as I say she wrote a letter or two and told me that they had a bad time, but I can’t find the letter.
With the Russians?
Well yes when the Russians came through.
And you said you saw

08:27:00:00

German soldiers trying to get to the western front to surrender and their guns were taken off them by allied POWs?
No no. They weren’t getting through the western front. I said that the, I was in this camp way out in the mountains of Austria at Karchberg, I think that’s what you mean. And this a day or two before the day ended they were walking past the camp and they were saying, “Oh the war is near enough to be ended, why should I carry on fighting

08:27:30:00

and might get killed in the last day or two of the war”. And they were throwing away their guns. They weren’t not surrendering them as such, I mean we weren’t asking for them, they just threw them away on the side of the road because they didn’t want to get caught with them. And that was it, they were going home. Does that answer it? So I don’t think I can explain anymore than that, that was it, that’s where I picked up, picked

08:28:00:00

up a pistol, it was just lying on the side of the road and someone else had the magazine and he gave it to me because it fitted. But I never ever fired it.
You said something about a German officer who said something to you, you wanted me to remind you about?
Oh that was it, I told you before about the New Zealanders.
I see.
The Maori and the other white New Zealander.

08:28:30:00

I, I was playing chess one night with a chap and a German came through and he was helping me to play, he said, “Play that there and play that there” and they’re taught to make a move in a certain time within a minute or something like that. Whether it is good chess or not I don’t know, but it makes them think quickly. I mean you’ve probably heard stories of people watching and looking and they’re set for five minutes or more trying to work it out. But they had to make it quick. I don’t know who

08:29:00:00

won now but I was playing with someone else. We had a good commandant there for most of the time in, in Marburg and he treated us as well as he could. He was limited to what they can do, and he was alright and he was quite good actually. And Ralph dropped him a hint that he ought to transfer from there. That’s when Ralph knew

08:29:30:00

he was going, he was going to escape himself, so he wouldn’t, so he didn’t want this chap to get in trouble, so he didn’t want him to be there when we escaped and lost all the people, so that’s why. And this bloke took his hint whether he guessed or not I don’t know but he transferred to somewhere else. Because otherwise it would have been either severely reprimanded or sent to the Russian front or something like that I don’t know.
Yeah

08:30:00:00

What what do you think, or how do you see your experience impacting on you after the war?
Oh it was a good experience in that sense I suppose. I think it brought me out as you might say if you know what that means. Instead of being quite so shy or reserved as I might have been I was a bit more outgoing. I’m still

08:30:30:00

not aggressive or pushful or that but it helped me to mix better with people. Because I in a prisoner of war camp you are forced to live in a hut with perhaps 100, 120 people and you may like dislike half of them and that but you can’t help it. And there’s no privacy, practically the whole four years there was no privacy, you are with someone else or other people all the time. I didn’t mentioned that some of them went on

08:31:00:00

strike while we were at Marburg, I mentioned the one at Tripoli but some of them went on strike at Marburg, but the Germans came around the next morning very quickly and shouting out “raus, raus,” means get up go on. And there was one chap there a chap named Bill Gemison he had a, or he had farm up in southern New South Wales, he had a moustache and he was living, sleeping in a sleeping bag.

08:31:30:00

And this German was getting him to rush and hurry up and get out but he got caught in his arms in the sleeping bag and to get out he had to get further into his sleeping bag to free his arms and the German is getting more and more furious come on and he was, Bill was getting all upset and flustered because he couldn’t get out. Eventually he freed his arms and he got out of his sleeping bag and he stood up shivering on the floor.

08:32:00:00

But those sort of things happened, some amusing things happened.
What are the other amusing incidents you can tell us about in your days in the POW camps?
Oh I, I didn’t tell you about Fatma at Tripoli did I about the food stores.
No I don’t think you did.
I didn’t tell you about that. There was one day we had to be up at 2.30 in the morning and got to a place

08:32:30:00

called Fatma which is an area which is an enclosure with food stores in it. They were big, big halls you might call them. And they were stacked with practically every type of food you can think of which the Germans had taken from the countries they’d over run. Condensed milk, Dutch hams and tins of stewed fruit and all sorts of stuff like that. And of course when we were

08:33:00:00

there and we were hungry naturally intention is to try and steal something. But you couldn’t just go up and open up a can a case or carton or pinch it they worked in accordance with a sort of a group of say perhaps three or four and two or three would keep an eye out. One might be up on top of a stack, they were all up on stacks of cartons several feet high. The halls would be 15 to 20 feet high and about 20 feet wide and about 40 or 50

08:33:30:00

feet long, so they were big halls. And I remember one day a chap named Jim Murray he was an Englishman and he got inside a onto a stack and there was condensed milk inside and he opened up a carton and he’d taken it out from the inside of the stack. And the condensed milk was not quite as stiff as ours it was just a little bit more runny. And he punctured the hole, one each side at the top of the

08:34:00:00

tin and so that he could drink this condensed milk. And he just started to drink it when he got a warning that it was the guard coming. So he had no time to put it back where it came from so he tucked it inside the top of his underpants and waiting for the guard to go past. But the guard didn’t go past it called him out and said, “Du du”. And du for means you of course, and called him up and he was

08:34:30:00

sent out to just outside the hall and as I was saying before what they would do was get two people to carry a carton and from inside the hall they’d dump it outside and two men from outside would pick it up and put it inside a truck and a couple more in the truck would stack it at the back. And he was one of the ones put on to pick the cartons up and put it into the truck. Now every time he bent down to pick a carton up some of this condensed milk would seep out. And he, into his underpants. He had a

08:35:00:00

nasty rotten time for quite a while. And that was, well it was funny to us but it wasn’t funny for him. Well sort of a lot of things like that went. In that hall there was a a couple of 15 pound tins of ham, shaped like a pear but they were big tins and they were fairly big and some of them, some one previously apparently might be prisoners of war that had been

08:35:30:00

stacking them had punctured them and they’d gone rotten. So one of our chaps went up to the German in charge of the store and he showed him the thing there was going bad and he said, “Throw it out”. But for every bad one that went out there was about four or five good ones went out with it. So they got dumped outside where we have our lunch, so we had some lovely ham there for a little while. The the rule for the Germans is, as far as the guards are concerned

08:36:00:00

they’ve got to catch us in the act of taking it. If we’re eating the ham afterwards it’s a it’s not, we can’t be blamed, it’s their fault for not, they can’t go and say “Look he’s eating stolen ham there”, it’s their fault for not stopping us from getting it out in the first place. If you want incidence there is another incidence, this was told to me

08:36:30:00

we had to go to a place at Hartburg one day for a check up to see if any of us had TB [tubercolosis]. There were some cases of TB somewhere or other, so we went along and one chap there told me that he wanted to get a day off from work so he got one of his mates to go and bash his leg, get wet towels and bash around his leg so his knee, around his knee, so his

08:37:00:00

knee swelled up. So it did and he went the next morning and it was pretty well swollen. So he went off to the doctor and the doctor said, “Well show me your leg” so he pulled up his trouser leg the doctor looked at it, “Oh there is nothing wrong with it” he said, “Oh it’s terribly painful I can hardly walk on it” “Oh no there is nothing wrong with that, that’s ok, you go back to work”. And he found out after he had rolled up the wrong leg of his trousers. And he had showed him the wrong leg, well he was a bit of an idiot that way.

08:37:30:00

It could have been very sore, it was still swollen a bit but it wasn’t sore. But that was one thing.
Were there any relationships with women from the areas, like outside the camp, any of the POWs have any?
Well the two in the farm next door to me I was at Josef Kopper’s farm I told you about that, I worked on there. But there were two on the farm next door and that was a bigger farm so they were allowed to have

08:38:00:00

two. And they did have intercourse with two girls on that farm and we left there about April but the following September they had each of those had a girl. I think they both had girls yeah. But their boyfriends were unhappy about it, they were not going to marry them for a while but eventually they did. So they were married and so it was ok.
That was in Austria?
That was in Austria yes.

08:38:30:00

What about in Italy?
Oh I don’t know about Italy, I wasn’t allowed out in Italy no we didn’t we couldn’t get out to have that sort of thing in Italy no. I certainly wouldn’t want to have it with an Italian girl anyway. Anyway as I said before I’m probably old fashioned and of the old school, but I still believe that you get the most pleasure out of a sexual,

08:39:00:00

what do you call it, arrangement, when you’re married and there’s no worry, there’s no nothing wrong with worrying about getting pregnant and that outside marriage and well I mean it is the done now it’s the thing but it doesn’t make it better, it doesn’t make it right. And I don’t know what’s going to happen to the future, some people don’t even know, will never know who their

08:39:30:00

parents are and that sort of thing. It’s not right, it’s not the right thing. I wouldn’t like a daughter of mine going off with any Tom, Dick or Harry. I haven’t got a daughter anyway I’ve got two sons and they’re away from me now but they’re both married and as far as I know they’re both happily married. So that’s it. So is this finished yet or.

08:40:00:00

Yes well the tapes actually finished now so we’ll have to stop this now and put in the last tape.
Interviewee: Eric Edwards Archive ID 1538 Tape 09

09:00:31:00

Well let’s start, the war’s finished, what’s the first thing that happens to you?
Well I’ve mentioned about leaving that camp and the chap in charge the Austrian in charge getting organising these trucks, ordering them to come and take us down to our truck, our forces up in Italy. Well that was at there and I went down to from there down to Bari in the south of Italy and we were there for about two or

09:01:00:00

three weeks waiting for transport to go home. And while I was there there was another camp nearby, there was an American camp nearby, I’m not sure if that was the one, but a mate of mine I’d known him up in Carthburg [?] and that, Burt Mags, he and I we went and borrowed horses and rode horses up and down for a little way, we were only allowed them for an hour and that was very interesting, that was very good. But that was the only time

09:01:30:00

we only got them once. And we didn’t like to go too far and we went down and when we the horses were going back towards back to the camp we toured along and cantered along beautifully. But then we turned it round and they weren’t quite so happy going away from camp, we did it two or three times and then we got sorry for them so we took them back even a little bit before the hour was up. But that was quite enjoyable.
How long, how long was it before you informed your mother that you were

09:02:00:00

released?
Oh I could only do it by, I tell her straight away, as soon as we possibly could, but letters take a bit of time. There was no emails or anything like that in those days, I couldn’t ring her up or anything.
Did you write her a letter?
Well yes as well as I could yes. Oh yes I had to let her know.

09:02:30:00

But I think she would have known from the Red Cross anyway because they would have been familiar with it and they would have let her know. And of course I was released from there after Bari they, Bari I went to England.
Was that one of the first things you did write a letter home?
Well as far as I can remember now, I had to let her know, yes I think so.
Do you remember what you said in the letter?
Can’t remember

09:03:00:00

no no. But I’d have a copy here because me mother told me she kept every letter I wrote to her, so I’d have that here, I’d say I’m released I’m happy good. I know I, I remember writing to her when I was on the boat coming home but that was of course two or three weeks afterwards but that was just a general letter giving more information rather than just to notification.
Were you dying to get home then?
Yes of course

09:03:30:00

yes. Oh yes. I knew me mother was looking forward to me coming home.
What did you miss most? What did you miss most?
What did I miss most?
About home?
Oh the love of family I suppose. I had a sister four years younger, we got on well together. Well I was glad to get back again to get away from the hated barbed wire and

09:04:00:00

all the restrictions and being ordered about and that sort of thing. Get back into, well and I don’t know if I like work quite so much or hurried to get back to work but still that was part of life. Get back again, get back to the normal life again the war was behind me. That’s it.
Would you rather fire a gun than be an accountant?
Oh no no I’d sooner be an accountant.
So how did you get to England?
By Liberator bombers, they took the bomb

09:04:30:00

racks out and went over in one of those.
First time in a plane?
First time yes.
And what was it like?
Well not to England, they had I went a day or two before, oh no about two or three weeks before they had a Liberator bomber take me from Ancona which I reached by Aussie [Australia] army trucks from Undana to Ancona and I stayed one night at Ancona and then next day went down by Liberator bomber to

09:05:00:00

Bari in the south and I was waiting there for about three weeks until I got transport which is another bomber to go across to England. Because there was quite a lot of people wanting to get transport at that time. Some of them couldn’t get it by plane they had to go by ship, well that was a bit slow, a plane was much quicker. So I was lucky to get across even if if I had to wait two or three weeks for it.
And what processing did take place when you were in England?
Oh medical checks for one thing. Clothing again for another, they gave me good clothing. There was a place,

09:05:30:00

I was stationed down near Eastborne on the south coast in the St Andrews school there and I went back there a couple of years ago but I couldn’t recognise it. It’s been added to an extra bit put on and so on since. But I went there, but from there within easy walking distance there was a big house called Gari House and there were ladies there, volunteer ladies that would do any sewing or mending or sewing on

09:06:00:00

colour patches and that sort of thing for us if we wanted to. Or have a cup of tea or a bit of relaxation talk or chat or read books or whatever. But I had friends to see. I went to see Peggy and I made her home with her parents as my depot as it were, home base. Her brother Eddie who I knew he was still in the army, he was in the RAMC but he was still hadn’t been discharged,

09:06:30:00

so I stayed there. But I also went to see Alec Barton in a different suburb, and he was working in the Mill Bank hospital and also I went to see Angus Small I mentioned before at Fortingbridge and he took me round to Margery Brown the one he’d asked to write to me when we were in, when we were in Siviliano the PG59

09:07:00:00

I think it was that he asked Margery Brown a friend of his to write to me so that I’d be getting letters and because I wasn’t getting any from home. So he took me around there, I went to, and she was living with her mother and a bit of a sing song around a piano I think. But that’s were I met Trevor James and he was and I told you before he was a he’d been working in the district for the government and he eventually married Margery and they went and bought a little shop down in

09:07:30:00

Bristol. And they operated that until Trevor saw the writing on the wall with the little shop getting pushed out by supermarkets so they sold that and went to well Machem, M A C H E M, near Newport in South Wales.
Who was Peggy?
Peggy was the sister of Eddie Balls. Edgar Balls was a friend of Alec Barton. Alec Barton I knew back in, he was the one that mended my watch back in Tripoli

09:08:00:00

and he asked me, he said that Eddie Balls wanted to learn bookkeeping would I help to teach him. So I started to teach Eddie Balls bookkeeping and when I left that camp I hadn’t finished all I wanted to teach him but I couldn’t write to him direct from the next camp. And so Eddie suggested that I write to his sister and send the information I wanted, the questions I wanted to ask and get her, she would write to him

09:08:30:00

and do it vice versa. Well we did that for a little while but then I ran out of anything I could teach him, I didn’t have textbooks to go much further and he was a very good pupil, student as it were and he did very well and he said afterwards after the war that he was, what I’d taught him was a great help to him in his work because I met him in England when we were repatriated when I was at Peggy’s when I was staying there.
Did you enjoy meeting Peggy

09:09:00:00

for the first time?
Oh yes yes, she was very friendly type of person, very good, lovely yeah.
And how long did you stay in England before?
Well I was only there for about a fort, I only had leave for about a fortnight, that was the maximum I could get. So
Have you been back since?
I went back, I went back to England in 1982 and I went back in oh I’ve been back three or four times. I went back in 1995

09:09:30:00

and I went back when I went to Austria, I went across to England as well, just to, just to see the friends.
Peggy?
Oh no Peggy died in 1982. I saw here when I went in 1982 but she died the same year of heart trouble I think. So so that was it, she married round about the time that I came home, about 45 shortly after 45, somewhere around that time, it might have been the end of 45.
And what was the feeling like in England after the war?

09:10:00:00

Oh well they were glad, relieved that it was over. At Peggy’s home one of these doodle bug things had lobbed probably not more than 50 yards away and I could see the place where it had done a little bit of damage next door. So of course they were still on rations so they hadn’t gone off yet. But there was no, not the sirens going all the time and getting out in the night and going into the tube railway to get protection of that. So they were free of that.

09:10:30:00

So there was that relief at any rate that they’d won the war.
Was there dancing in the streets?
Which?
Dancing in the streets?
Oh no not when because I was late there might have been on the 8th of May but I was here I didn’t get there until about the middle of June, so a month later any dancing, they would have been worn out by that time. You know just general relief that the war was over and get on with our jobs yes and hopefully get back to

09:11:00:00

normal where you can go in a shop and buy what you want, that sort of thing.
There wasn’t much that much celebration after the war?
Well there might have been in England but I didn’t see it that much not when I was there. I wasn’t looking for celebrations anyway I was just went out with Peggy two or three times and she showed me a lot of London which I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise without an escort. Like we went for a ride on the river to Tower Bridge and back and Madam Tussaud’s and St Paul’s Cathedral

09:11:30:00

where we listened at the whispering gallery. Someone whistled one place, and I think the guard, the guide whispered there and we could hear it at the other end. Oh there were other things that we saw. And as I say I went to I think we went to see a play. We saw a play called the oh, Tomorrow the World. That was a nasty, the boy who acted in that was very very good.

09:12:00:00

He was a real nasty boy got up to nasty things and all this strutting and all that sort of thing. That was very well done.
So what happened when you came back home?
Oh I got back to work. I was able to go back to work so I went back to work. My mother in the meantime had, when I joined up she went to live with my brother Bill at Elsternwick, no Glennhuntly near Elsternwick. Sold the property at Springvale

09:12:30:00

and she was living with him. And then she bought during the war while I was away she bought a house at Brighton in East Brighton. And when I got home of course I went, I went to live there and she was there with my sister Molly, and that was all I think. And then my other brother Norval came there afterwards with his wife, and they went there to live, it was a big home and quite a bit of space there.
What did the family

09:13:00:00

say when they saw you back?
Oh well they met me out at the out at not the showgrounds, there was a special place where they came and met me. My mother came and Molly and a couple of sisters in law. I think me, my brothers were working and they couldn’t do it, but they came. I was thrilled yes it was really good, lovely. I had a party and I think I told you before

09:13:30:00

me first girlfriend had a party, she and her husband had a party for me at her place at Noble Park and I appreciated that. And then of course time went by and it got behind me, it faded behind me and it was in the past.
Were you fit and well when you returned?
No I had a I had something wrong with me knee. I’d strained me knees on the farm somehow or other, my foot slipped and I strained that, and that was causing trouble

09:14:00:00

I went to, out to Austin, well the repatriation next to Austin and they sent me to Ballarat to some place in the I was in the Victoria Park at Ballarat and they were doing sort of exercise and things, it never did any good. I didn’t seem to be much better after it. It sort of goes out a bit as you call it. So then somehow I got onto, I wouldn’t know the address now but I got onto someone who had a some sort of

09:14:30:00

I don’t know electronic treatment somewhere or something or other I can’t remember, I don’t know the details, when he looked at it and examined it and tested it he said, “Oh you’ve got a muscle out of place, it’s been out of place for quite sometime”. So he did what he had to do with it and shot it back but it was alright. But occasionally it would go out again but then I just had to straighten me leg or whatever it was and it would go back again and then it was ok since.
Was there much support for the veterans

09:15:00:00

when they returned?
Oh could we could go out to the, Heidelberg Hospital was the place to go there. But I didn’t need much so I wasn’t involved. That was the only thing I had wrong with me. As I said I went to get that done, they couldn’t help me they sent me to Ballarat.
What government departments, were they looking after?
Oh yes yes.
What would they do?
Well they’d pay for the fees, the expenses, that sort of thing.

09:15:30:00

I’m still on a gold card now, so I get all me dental and medical and hospital fees paid for.
So as soon as you returned they cared for you?
Yes yes.
Very supportive.
As a prisoner of war yeah, I think it was that not just a soldier. If I’d been just a soldier back coming back I’m not sure.
So they looked after you even more for being a prisoner of war?
Well maybe, I think so maybe, probably.
How did that make you

09:16:00:00

feel?
Oh well I accepted it, it was what what they said I was entitled to so I accepted it, that was it. I was happy to take it, I’m not cheating anyone so that’s ok.
And when you returned were there celebrationis in Australia at all?
Oh well I arrived just before the end of the war, see the war wasn’t over when I returned, it was still

09:16:30:00

the American and Japs [Japanese] the Japs were still in the war and I wasn’t couldn’t be so because I was still in the war, the war in Europe was over but not that but I wasn’t discharged until about October 45. But the when the Japanese war was over about the middle of August and there was celebrations in the city then, there was cheering and shouting and all that sort of thing there. So that was that.
What did that look like?
Oh just just

09:17:00:00

cheering and that type of thing, yes, joy and pleasure and everything that the war was over, both wars were over. If you call it both wars or an extension of the first one.
In the city of Melbourne?
Yes well I went to Melbourne one day as we heard the news.
Was it a wild scene?
Oh not unruly not stupid where they’re breaking windows and all that sort of thing as they do nowadays, nothing like that just

09:17:30:00

joy and gladness that the war is over and they can get on with their lives again. Even though to a lot of people weren’t happy about how it was done. The terrible nuclear bomb, atom bomb that was dropped and so many people had to suffer for it. And they justified that by saying well they saved thousands of lives by ending the war earlier. But it was a big decision to make.
What did you feel about it?
Well I was mixed feelings about it.

09:18:00:00

I was glad that the whole war was over and I probably agreed on that thing. If it hadn’t happened, the they were causing so much trouble and a lot of our troops were still getting killed in the islands and so on like that. And I was glad that that war was over, so there was that about it. But of course the Japanese did suffer, those people in those two cities they did suffer greatly from it. But then look at the suffering that went on elsewhere.

09:18:30:00

But I don’t know, it’s just war and I thought, they were probably right anyway, end the war quickly, save any more suffering more agonising pain.
When you returned and the Japanese war was still going, did you think it was going to be a long time before that one was over?
Oh not really, not now that the first one was out, I think there were signs of that being ended too. The Japanese

09:19:00:00

were were losing a few battles weren’t they, and the Australians were giving a bit of trouble. I wasn’t particularly concerned about that one, it didn’t affect me greatly, I’m not sure whether I went back to work now I wasn’t discharged until October, so I couldn’t’ go back to work until after October when I got me discharge. It wasn’t much to, I didn’t I wasn’t doing much then no.

09:19:30:00

And when did you first hear how the Japanese treated their POWs?
Oh when people were coming back especially prisoners of war being released and coming home. It was in the papers then how badly they were treated. I don’t think much got out while they were there, the Japanese wouldn’t allow it to be to be out. But when they came home and the condition that they were in and they

09:20:00:00

suffered, the suffering that they had to go through well that was in the papers and so on at that time, on newsreels and papers and all that.
Could you believe how they were treated compared to yourself?
Well it’s hard to believe isn’t it, it is inhumane, but you had to believe it because it was the evidence was there, their skeleton bodies you might say, they lost so much weight and the signs of

09:20:30:00

suffering were on the people themselves and they’re on newsreels and that so you had to believe it but it’s inhumane. Well same as the gas chambers, people don’t believe that the gas chambers ever happened. But there is evidence of that. I met a chap in one of these prisoner reunions, the one where I saw Ralph. I met the chap who had to fire or stoke the furnaces that the Jews were

09:21:00:00

killed in, in this I’m not sure, Belsen or one of those and he was ordered to do that. What could he do, if he didn’t do it someone else would do it, if he refused he would have got shot. I don’t know if there is a right answer or a wrong one for that. But he was doing it and these Jews were getting thrown into it. He wrote a book called Stcker and I and I met the fellow and it seemed as though what he

09:21:30:00

said was true, he didn’t seem to me that he was telling lies or making it all up.
Do you feel a kinship with anyone who has been a POW?
Well they are all gone now, nearly all gone. There’s not too many left.
But after the war, when you saw the people coming back from Japanese war camps and so on?
Well that’s something I will always regret. I remember seeing in the paper about that time that this chap P Elson that I mentioned before

09:22:00:00

was on the list of returning prisoner of war. But I didn’t know how to contact him, where to get in touch with him, I didn’t get his address or anything like that and I never did I wish I’d gone to the Department of Defence or the Red Cross or something like that and I could have got his address and gone to see him. That’s the one that asked me to be to help him with his payroll with his pay books at Colac. And I always regret that. But I didn’t do it but I should have. Is that what you meant?

09:22:30:00

And.
Other POWs well I saw them at my battalion reunions from time to time but they got less and less and less.
How does it feel reaching your age and seeing friends and so on slowly pass away?
Well it’s sad, yes it’s sad and well it is about all I can say,

09:23:00:00

unhappy about it, see I told you before there was Gordon, I knew Gordon back in Tripoli camp and made friends with him. And I did go to see him, he was in Adelaide I went to see him and had a nice time and then he died. And I kept writing to his widow afterwards, she kept writing to me, she wrote a good letter and very interested in me as far as that goes,

09:23:30:00

and kept up a conversation. It was nothing more than just friendship but that was it. Teddy Broomhead that, he was another one I played chess, used to play chess with Gordon too in the prisoner or war camp. And I think we were about even on games. But Teddy Broomhead I remember playing chess with him on the boat going over to Scilly. And I heard him preach at Wesley I think it is Wesley Church in Lonsdale Street one Sunday he come

09:24:00:00

over. But he died early. He wrote a book called Barbwire in the Sunset. And I’ve got that.
Have you enjoyed your life?
Well I think I’ve lived through the best of it, the best years. Not personally me but as a best years of Australia. Now there’s more crime, there’s less caring for other people, it’s all, a lot of it is just

09:24:30:00

greedy for money I think at the expense of whoever it is they get it from. I mean there is not always the helping hand now that there used to be. You do get it of course you get it in many places such as the volunteers that do work and so on. How would we get on without volunteers I don’t know. But there’s not the general, general friendliness that there used to be in my younger days. I

09:25:00:00

mean when I was on the farm there if we wanted to go we could leave the door open and any passing person could come in and help themselves to a cup of tea whatever it is, you couldn’t do that now or anything like it. If some of those like I mentioned the swaggies came past, well my father and mother they weren’t, they were never very wealthy, they were always struggling for money, because as I said as a farmer he had a lot of trouble and that sort of thing. Well but if a swaggie came along looking for money down and out

09:25:30:00

they’d always try and give them something, it might be a few apples or whatever it might be, potatoes or something like that. But nowadays they just don’t care, they pass by the street, oh he’s a no hoper, let him go. Am I right?
How important were those few years of World War II in the scheme of?
Well I think they developed my personality as far as that goes. And I made a lot of friends, which I was very happy about, very well taught me something and

09:26:00:00

taught me mateship too which I didn’t have before.
Do you think there are other more important years in your life than World War II?
More important? Well it is hard to say, it depends how you classify important. If something has developed your character and made more of a man of you than it would have otherwise well I think that’s important.
Important to you?
Yeah. I met some of those POWs that I knew kit, Ken Carson, he had a farm up in New South

09:26:30:00

Wales, he was one of the seven of Ralph Churches a friend of Ralph Churches he was one of the early party. And I met another chap who had a farm up in New South Wales, Len Cull, I, I was good friends with him and he, he got on his farm he’s using some something, some spray or other with aldrin in it and he got affected with that and it made him very, not exactly dopey but lethargic

09:27:00:00

and he had trouble with that for many years. I don’t know, I haven’t heard from him for years but he probably died since, but he went to live at Cronulla in New South Wales.
So living through war, what are your thoughts on war now?
Oh it is cruel and ugly, avoid it if you can but not at the cost of, you don’t avoid it if too much cost, not if you’re giving away too much like

09:27:30:00

if I can explain that I don’t know if I’ve explained it right. There’s a limit to what you can avoid war put it that way. It seems to be man’s nature to be war to have wars in some of man’s nature ever since the world began or man was put on war there’s been fights and disagreements and killings and so on hasn’t there, right down through the ages. Battlings for power or for

09:28:00:00

territory mostly or or money or wealth, one or the other and I don’t think you can ever stop that. Because of the condition the make up of man’s personality, there is greed or something like that. Look at the war of the roses there’s in England that went on for quite a number of years, that’s a civil war their own people, just for some silly little dispute.

09:28:30:00

And how can you stop it, what’s the answer? Should I not have gone to the war, I think I did the right thing by going.
Did you think World War II would be the last war?
Well we always hoped that, World War I was supposed to be the last war. No I don’t really think so, there’s

09:29:00:00

going to be another big battle because of prophesies in the bible and I believe in the bible. And that is going to be a terrible one, I think that’ll be a nuclear one if you if you go back to a certain part of the bible it says people will be standing up and they’ll be dead before they’ll have time to fall to the ground. And that sounds like nuclear warfare. Well it would be nuclear warfare as another one and hasn’t there been a lot of mention lately of nuclear warfare in various countries.

09:29:30:00

So although we say freedom from nuclear war, there is plenty of countries have got it. And America says no no country has nuclear war but I bet they’re got well stocked up back there.
What do you think when you see soldiers going to Korea and Vietnam and Iraq?
Well Vietnam we shouldn’t have gone to Vietnam that was a silly war we shouldn’t have gone there. Well we went to help the Americans and I don’t know why, it

09:30:00:00

wasn’t our war. I don’t think we should have had anything to do with those. This war World War II was the one I know about and I think we had a right to go there because we couldn’t allow Germany to overrun the world. And if I hadn’t gone and people like me and sort of thing the next thing is they would have come to Australia, irrespective of the Japanese forget about them. But I mentioned that play that was out ‘Tomorrow the

09:30:30:00

World’. That’s what Hitler said wasn’t it? Today Germany, tomorrow the world and that’s what his intention was, conquer the world. I don’t know how literal that would have be whether it would be a war of Asia and all of Africa or what. But his intention was to conquer all of Europe anyway and certainly England. And so you had to stop him and that war,

09:31:00:00

the efforts to stop him I think was quite justified, what was the alternative? So I suppose you can back on a smaller plane where someone from school, a bully from school is annoying someone else, taking their their well I was going to say marbles, but I don’t know if they play marbles now that sort of thing. Well if he is getting bullied isn’t it right to stop him and and

09:31:30:00

in a sense to have a small war to punish him for what he’s doing, that type of thing.
Do you still think Australia will be invaded in the future?
I am a little concerned that it could be. We are very close to Indonesia, and there’s a lot more people in Indonesia than there are in Australia. Whether they would do it or not I don’t know. But Australian people have been training Indonesians

09:32:00:00

for weaponry. I don’t know. I feel as though the Muslims are getting very strong and they could cause a lot of trouble. It’s it’s a difficult one, it concern, whether it would happen or not I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows, but the concern is there.
Is it a big concern or?
It could, it is a thing that could happen. It won’t worry me because it will be after my time.

09:32:30:00

But I feel it could be hard for my sons, there could be trouble then. Whether it would be a conquering here or what it’ll be, I don’t know how it will work. It is only conjectures so what’s the use, I don’t know.
And at the time you said when you were a POW you didn’t feel like you were a part of the war anymore, when you returned and after the years do you feel like you’re a part of the

09:33:00:00

war now?
Oh yes I am well I couldn’t take an active part in it as a prisoner of war put it that way. The only way was to take an active part was to escape and get back into the army again. And the I mentioned the reason why I couldn’t because of the situation. Walk off and easily in a couple of places but there was no possibility of getting through. I’m a bit like Montgomery, he wouldn’t go into battle unless he was pretty sure he was going to

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win. Well I’m be more that way, I wouldn’t try escape unless there was a good chance of getting through. If I, if I know I’m going to get picked up or 99 out of 100 chances of getting picked up within a day or two what’s the use of doing it or trying it.
But you do know that even as a POW you made a great effort to the war you contributed?
Yes I know that but I’m talking about escaping from the war it wouldn’t be worth while, I wouldn’t get back again to

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fight unless I’d escaped from being a prisoner of war.
But you feel you made a contribution even though you were?
Well I suppose so because.
Because many people.
I feel as though I didn’t do very much because I joined up in June and I was captured in the 1st of May and what did I do, I don’t know whether I even killed one German or Italian in 11 months. And I don’t know that is all that wasted effort perhaps for me,

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if it hadn’t of been me it would have been someone else perhaps.
But you sacrificed many years for that for the war?
Well I did, yes I sacrificed many, that’s one way well thanks very much you ease my conscience well that’s true.
Does your conscience need to be eased?
No I don’t think so. Not now.
You did make a sacrifice?
Well I was prepared to yes.
No you did

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I mean when you were in POW camps for years that is a sacrifice for the cause, that is being part of the war, don’t you feel that?
Oh yes well there is that way of looking at it, yes that’s quite right, quite true. Well I, I was able to, I met people, I had a better understanding of people I suppose you can say that of, I met people in types

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and that sort of thing that I’d never met before and had a better understanding of them.
Do many POWs feel the same way as you that they didn’t contribute?
Oh no no I think they just accepted it as a matter of course, that is what happened and that’s it. Oh I don’t say I didn’t contribute but I did what I could.
Came out a bit wrong there, I mean you feel like you could have done more but in fact you did as much as you could?

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Well yes that’s right. Sorry, I don’t feel that I could have done more because as you say I did what I could but sorry that I wasn’t able to do more. That it seemed to be such a poor effort, only a couple of days in the front line, right in the front line, I was at the second line of defence but that wasn’t right in the front line, I wasn’t actually fighting the second line of defence as it happened. I could have been subject

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to air strikes and I was subject to this machine gunning but it wasn’t the actual front line, which is where the most fighting was. And then of course they came just at that time and that’s when I was there. I mean if I had’ve been in the front line a week or two before it would have been just as quiet as a, I was going to say quiet as a mouse, but that’s not quite right but you know what I mean. It was, when I went up to the front on 20th, on the night of the

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30th I think it was the 30th of April, 1st of May that’s when they made their definite big push they made an extra special effort. And you’ll find in any war the leaders will make a push at some time or other, Montgomery made a push and so and so and so did the Rommel and whatever.
Ok Eric, we’ve only got a couple of minutes left, so it’s up to you now you can say what you want to the Australian public, to the Australian people, your thoughts,

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anything you forgot, it’s up to you, you can just give us a message what you think about war and so on?
Well I’m Australian and proud of it and I am happy to be an Australian and I like the Australian people and and I met a lot of the Australians in adverse circumstances and came to appreciate them and a different way of life perhaps for mine but not necessarily worse or that. We all have a different ways of acting

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or thinking or moving and and because one is different is different from another it doesn’t mean to say it’s worse or better. I think I’ve got a lot of better understanding of people from being a prisoner of war and I think it’s a good thing it’s helped. I am sure it helped me in the work I was doing because I was in charge of office staff. And I don’t, I remember in the office one

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day I had a, I put a girl on, this is just the opposite to what I’ve been talking about I suppose.
Just to finish off have you got a message for the leaders of?
I can’t say much more than what I’ve said.
People who send people to war?
Oh well it is a terrible responsibility to send people to war, it’s a great responsibility and the person who decided to send those atom bombs to Japan he must have had a terrible thing

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on his conscience at the time to create all that devastation and loss of life and so on, it’s a great responsibility. But as I said before what is there to avoid it, it’s the same with the, look at the, look at Churchill what he did to send the troops and that to war and the planes and the first of the few, those few aeroplanes going up there but it was necessary. When when you’re threatened and by a monster as it was

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had something had to be done and I think they did the right thing, they did the right thing. But they pulled together there and they were all united, the whole of England was united against a common enemy and I wish we could get a bit more unity in the world today. What.
That’s excellent.
Is that alright?
Yeah. We’ll finish off.

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I hope I came back hoping it would be a better world. We fought for something we helped to fight for freedom and liberty and peace and it would please me greatly if more and more people could do act that way in their daily lives I’m not say fight, act peacefully, be more communion with their friends and neighbours and less arguments and less

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selfishness and putting other things forward. And I think one of the great things in life is to help other people and to forgive if they do wrong.
Thanks Eric we’re just running out of tape, thank you very much Eric.
Oh thank you.
INTERVIEW ENDS

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