and that’s where I spent the first three years of my life. My father was killed in a mine accident there and we went back to Victoria. I went to school in Victoria and then in New South Wales until I left school and went and got a job in Sydney at BHP [Broken Hill Proprietary Limited] for a while. Then I was shifted to the steel works in Newcastle worked there for a little while and changed jobs and went back to Sydney and worked with an oil company and then war broke out.
I spent the best part of six years in the army and came back and went back to the oil company that I worked and worked there for forty years, serving in New South Wales, New Guinea, Fiji and Victoria. Then retired in Victoria at head office and came up and retired up here in the mid North coast to hopefully to spend the rest of my days.
We struggled along together, I don’t know how she lived. Children don’t have much of an idea of what it takes to bring them up as a single parent. We had a very supportive family with the various relatives with whom I lived until the war broke out, all though my life I lived with relatives.
She was only fifty-five when she died, she died the year after I left school so from then it was various relations, uncles and grandparents. We got on fairly well together I think. I do recall her telling me that if anything happened to me she’d replace me with a gramophone, so that was the sort of kid I must have been.
How we survived I don’t know because mother wasn’t working, there must have been some insurance I think, or something. I often wonder, I suppose children or even young adults don’t take much notice or didn’t in those days where the money came from. We lived very simply, we always had enough to each and enough clothing and I was with a church school.
One of my uncles paid for my education, he decided the school I was at in Melbourne at the time, he was in New South Wales, and he was also a mining engineer. I wasn’t doing well and he insisted that we come over to New South Wales, and he sent me to
a boarding school in Sydney, that was a bit of a culture shock.
with an uncle for quite some time and then to Box Hill with an aunt and an uncle by marriage for a while. First an orchard and that turned into a dairy farm with pigs as well. When the bottom fell through from that and they moved from Queensland I shifted into the city,
or the town of Box Hill with another uncle who was working in the motor trade. I was with until I went over to New South Wales to go to school in Sydney. Then there was another uncle living with my mother, she was with me all the time, we both went then and lived at Bankstown with yet another brother of my mothers. From Bankstown
I moved to Newcastle and lived with my grandparents in Maitland and I use to commute backwards and forwards from Maitland to the BHP Steelworks. When I left the steelworks I went back to Sydney to my uncle in Bankstown and there I was until war broke out. From there the army looked after me for the best part of seven years.
When you first arrived at the farm at Box Hill, what are your memories of that time living with your aunt?
I had wonderful memories, I had a cousin, girl and we were at the orchard and we had the run of the place. I can understand now because the modern children now don’t have the advantages, we were never bored we always had something to do or something to see. There was native animals,
insects, snakes you name it they were there, a cubby house down by the creek that we made ourselves out of bush, and we’d fish for yabbies in the dam. School friends use to come out and spend time with us during the weekend, we had bikes and I eventually got a pony. A very happy childhood there and even when the orchard folded up and we went onto
dairy farm with the pigs. They tried us on milking the pair of us but we use to squirt more milk to the dogs, we had a dog each, to the dogs to what we put into the bucket until that was stopped, but we did get the job of washing the cream separator. That was probably the worse job on a dairy farm, trying to wash the cream separator in lukewarm water, not good.
Then we went onto the poultry after that and we use to help feed the chocks and help clean out the pens, we all had our jobs to do. We were never bored at any stage, there was always something happening. There was no grog or no drugs, there was no peer pressure to do anything other than sort of the normal fun living. In those days
presumably some of the school children use to be a little antagonistic, we were at private schools, church schools and the state school kids use to think that we were fair game for some reason. There was never ever any vandalism that we can remember, none of the peoples’ property was ever destroyed in those days. It was a much happier atmosphere in which to grow up.
You mentioned that division between the different schools, what school did you go to at that time?
I went to a girl school to start with because they wouldn’t let me go to until I was five, so I went with my cousin who was older and I was there for a year and they then finally let me into the boys school, a Methodist school when I was six. I went straight into primary school
is equivalent to your first year at university. It was a fairly gradual sort of friendly education. There was sport and everybody played tennis, cricket and football and there were teams to be in, a team sport. Friday was sports day and we had one day a week for sport where you played interschool sport and I played interschool sport of some description until I was about nine. In the early days it was just playground stuff until
you were big enough to be in a cricket or football team. I played both of those in the school teams right through until I finished my schooling.
there was only about forty or fifty pupils. It started at a private house in the city, a large house where they built a couple of out buildings, one for a gymnasium and some storerooms. The next school they built a new building, it only had four classrooms but it was a brick building,
with what would have been a bell tower if we had a bell. On twenty four acres of ground so we had our own sporting ovals, there was room for two but we only had one, which wasn’t a real oval it was just a cricket pitch put in a paddock, but it was quite impressive grounds. It had been an estate and the fellow had set out around the grounds
with a drive, a bit u shaped drive that went in and out almost to the other side of the property, which could lead up to the house there which he never got around to building. A double avenue of trees, oak and elm trees, with this big enormous circular driveway and it was all grass in between. It was going to be farm land on the other side of the property, which was never developed. They got that and put the school
on the other side away from the avenue, and enclosed in the u shaped base where this boarding area were developed, I don’t know what it’s like now. It’s much the same now because when we came back from Fiji we came back to Melbourne in 1960 the school was still flourishing there, they hadn’t changed it at all, there
wasn’t any great development to it, they had added a few more classrooms because it was a much bigger school. There would have been only about forty or fifty students if it had been that many.
when we were on the farm we were driven to school by my uncle in a horse and trap, this was in the very early days when I was going to the girl’s school because it was about two to two and a half miles to schools. We’d arrive at school and we would have forgotten out lunch and my cousin wouldn’t stay at school and go to lunch and I wouldn’t stay at school without her so they brought us back and they
made us walk to school, so we set off to walk. Then it rained and we didn’t go to school because the creek came up the bank and nearly drove our parents around the twist because they got someone to ring up the school to let them know that we would be late. And were walking back to school as a disciplinary measure and we didn’t arrive and they were looking for us and the creek was running the bank. They didn’t know where we were but we were paddling around watching the stuff that had been washed up by the flood
so we all got belted for that and into bed with no tea. From then on we walked to school until we graduated to bicycles and then we rode our bikes to school. When the school changed at Box Hill Grammar and they built the new building it ended up being two blocks away from where I lived so I was able to walk to school and didn’t have any problem
What was the farm house like when you were living with your aunt, uncle and cousin?
It was a well built house, no electricity, fuel stove, fuel fires, petrol lamps, and hurricane kerosene lamps. The main one was a petrol one so we could have a nice bright light so that we could do our homework.
We ate in the kitchen, particularly in the winter because the stove was nice and warm, there was dinning room with a fireplace in it but it was only used on special occasions, Sunday dinner or something in there but it was mainly that you ate in the kitchen. It was a seven day a week job on the orchard and on the other farm house as well,
they were basically the same. The other house wasn’t as grand, not as well built as the first one, it had exactly the same facilities, fuel stove, no electricity, kerosene and petrol lamps for light.
When you moved into town at Box Hill, what was your place like that with your uncle?
A recently build weatherboard home, three bedrooms. Again there was no electricity, but a fuel stove, that was part of my job to get up in the morning and light the stove so that things could get started, feed the dog and the cat, let the cat into the house and feed the dog.
made my own bed and made sure that the fuel was there for the stove and look after the cat and the dog. I use to get a cup of tea in the morning on the weekends, I use to get up and light the fire and mother would make breakfast for myself and my grandmother, she was living with us then. Sundays was my job to go and get the cup of tea.
I use to be very reluctant to get out of bed except the dog use to let the cat into the house and the cat use to come in and walk up and down my face until I got up and got him his milk and the dog his breakfast. The rest of the family was ashore a cup of tea on a Sunday morning. Saturday there was also some sort of a sport day.
How different was it for you to move from the farm into town?
It didn’t worry us, there was no problems at all, that was just it, it happened. We lived the same sort of life, we still had plenty of open air to go out and play. At that stage when we moved in I would have been about twelve or thirteen and there was always some sort of sport on the weekend, Fridays and usually on Saturdays.
Did you have a favourite?
Not really, I enjoyed football least of all I suppose because I was least good at it. I was reasonably aggressive but I could run and I could catch. It was Australian Rules I was playing there in Victoria, when I went to Sydney Rugby Union was a bit of a shock, but there again they employed my talents in
running and kicking, I get the aggressive bit and let someone get onto that.
They had a interschool competition, a bit of angle sport on the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It was highly organised for both cricket and football. I don’t recall any interschool tennis competitions, not so much the state schools, but even the state schools had a regular interschool competition
going through both the summer and winter seasons. There were three grades at the private schools, the grammar schools and we were in the third grade, the smallest schools. The talent wasn’t that bad, but it was good fun.
kind of accommodation you had as a boarder?
We had good accommodation, we had dormitories, the boarding arrangements was split into three houses, they were actual big houses, the School House, Robson House and Hodges House. They were all residences and the one I was in was a two storey residence with the
house master his wife and family living down below. The dormitories were upstairs with all the bedrooms and a common bathroom. They were accommodated in two big rooms and a closed in verandah, the upstairs dormitories for the boys with a study for the prefix. There was a matron, a registered nurse for each boarding house.
The accommodation was very good. The dinning room was a separate dinning room for all the three houses, so you went from the boarding house up to the dinning room, it was central to all three houses for all meals. It was very good accommodation, it was excellent accommodation.
if you ate it all you got to go out. They were varied meals, I think from memory the meals were very standard you could predict what you were going to get pretty well each day of the week. We use to look forward to boiled egg mornings because you could get up to three eggs, if someone didn’t like eggs, they were always hard boiled eggs.
One of the fellows at our table actually held the record for boiled eggs, we managed to get him fifteen boiled eggs for him to eat but he could only eat thirteen of them because the other two had gone off, still that wasn’t a bad feat thirteen boiled eggs. I think he had some digestive troubles for a few days after.
I think it was about one weekend a month for weekend leave. You were allowed to go down the street anytime after school hours providing you had a purpose, you had to go and ask for the leave pass from the house master. That was one of the jobs that you usually found that
one of the juniors would be armed with a shopping list of things to buy like ham, tomato rolls, and pies to bring back for the other boys. You had a pocket money system that was controlled by the house master and you signed little ticks to draw money each week.
You were given amount, I think it depended on your parents but I can’t remember what I got, and there was a limit on it, the school made a limit. I can’t remember what the limit was but you had to live within that limit for a term, it was divided into three terms. It wouldn’t have amounted to any more than two shillings a week I would image, all up.
What was the relationship like between the boarders and the day boys?
We looked down on the dayboys and they did their best to look down on us. We reckoned we were the elite the boarders, they didn’t seem to think so. There was nothing physical disagreement, we use to sling off to each other a bit. We use to integrate within a team with a lot of the day boys, if you were in a team representing the
school in anything there would be more dayboys in the team than there would be boarders. The boarders went from first year in secondary school right up to what it was then the leaving certificate.
The boarding prefects could cane, and the house master could cane. The prefects had to be very careful with the cane because some of the boys were bigger than they were, that was in the boarding houses. But at the school the school masters could not use the cane they would report a caning offence to the sergeant major and he would administer the discipline,
he was an ex British Army sergeant major, he was in charge of the physical discipline. The worst possible case you were referred to the headmaster who would decide whether your punishment would be the cane or expulsion so he had the final say on that. For minor stuff you use to give you get two, three, four
up to six on the backside from the sergeant major who was a very burley and gruff bloke but apparently quite humane, he didn’t take any delight in injuring the kids with his cane. He was skillful, he’d hit hard enough to hurt but not hard enough to endure.
cheating, bad language, general misbehavior. Abusing the master is like abusing an umpire in football now that was automatic, wallop, you’d get six for that. The lesser ones like being late and not doing your homework properly you got
afternoon detentions or for more serious breaches of the school curriculum type offence you got a Saturday detention. At that stage the competitive sport was on a Saturday and if you happened to be in a team you couldn’t take part in the sport if you got a Saturday detention so they had to be avoided at all costs.
he had a look at it and he gave it back to you and you copied it all in a correspondence book, a big ledger. You answered the telephone when the telephonist was at lunch or doing anything else you were responsible for answering the telephone if she wasn’t there. You ran all the messages around the traps, you delivered invoices around the town, you picked up stuff from the wharves, you were busy all day and there were four of us.
We managed to get up to a bit of mischief. I think one of my worst moments was opening the letters on the secretary’s desk with a letter opener, you did it pretty quickly and I caught a cheque that was inside the letter and almost tore it in half and flicked it out the window and saw it floating down into O’Connell Street. I think I beat it down to the
ground, I ran down the stairs I didn’t wait for the lift and we were on about the third floor, dashed out and recovered this torn cheque from the gutter. That was a bad moment ‘Why did you throw away a cheque?’ I don’t know what the amount was.
The master one was if you knew you were on the telephone and you knew you could answer the telephone in another room you’d put the receiver to the mouth piece and you got a piercing squeal in your ear. I was cured of doing that because I managed to do it to the secretary one day, I didn’t know he was in the office because I thought that one of the other mail boys was so that stopped that pretty smartly. Throwing things for people to catch, particularly breakable type things.
The way to put the stamps on the letters we had a little set of balance scales with little brass weights. I wasn’t involved in this one but I saw it happen, but this fellow was doing something, sorting mail near the window. I think we were up on the fifth floor, that’s how I remember
because he threw a two ounce brass weight, “Catch” he said and he just stood and watched it go. The window was behind him and he hoping it would break the window but the window was opened and it went out and onto this little coulter sake, or quite a narrow laneway. On the other side was the next building and they had the same sort of windows we had which were cantilever which swung half from the bottom and
half inside. The two ounce weight went across the alleyway and went through four of their windows on its way down.
fare on that, I think I paid five shillings board to my aunt, she insisted on that and said it was a very good thing. She said, “You are paying your way,” and what I had left after paying for my train ticket and I don’t remember what that was, that would have been at least about four or five shillings a week, I got my lunch. We use to on Friday have a three course
meal at a café in Pitt Street for one and thrippence, about thirteen cents for a three course lunch, that was once a week. It wasn’t much but we got by on it, I still had enough
school clothes left over to wear.
When I moved into town with another uncle, mother’s brother he had been, he didn’t talk much about the war. He had suffered badly from his health, he had been discharged medically unfit from France, but his health was really bad from his war experiences in France, he didn’t talk much about it.
My name sake uncle I didn’t know at all, that’s my fathers brother he was killed, he was also a mining engineer, he was killed in France on the 25th April 1918, that’s where I got my name from because I was his replacement, I was born on the 23rd April 1918. They decided I was his replacement so they called me that. My official birthday is
on the 21st April because I was registered by yet another aunt who got the dates mixed up, my mother said it was the 23rd April, she would be in a better position to know, so I celebrate two birthdays one was yesterday and one is tomorrow.
You mentioned there was an uncle who suffered medically as a result of the war what did you notice about his physical condition?
Only during the latter end of his life, he was completely crippled with arthritis, but he had been discharged medically because of the breakdown from his general health from the trenches warfare with arthritis, which managed to hold off. He worked for most of his life, I don’t know actually how old he would have been when he died,
he must have been close to my mother’s age, she was only fifty five when she died, he must have been a little bit older, and he would have been probably in his late sixties when he died.
It wasn’t until 1939 that there was any real build up it was just that the indication was Hitler was making a nuisance of himself, it didn’t appear as though he was going to back down. They seemed to be very relieved when Chamberlain decided that there was going to be peace in our time, but that didn’t last long. We were not conscious or enlightened
in any of the hoo ha like is going on now about terrorism, there wasn’t much publicity in the press and everybody having an opinions of how dreadful it was going to be.
Where did you listen to the wireless?
At home, you couldn’t listen to the wireless at school, but I had left school by then but I use to listen to the wireless at school behind a little crystal set with earphones, but at that stage every home had a radio set. You listened to the news on the radio, it was almost a ritual.
It was a very big operation, very big, they did anything from producing the iron in the blast furnaces, then producing the steel in the open heart, molding it into merchant bar all merchantable forms of steel, rail bars, wire coils,
they didn’t have an insurance policy for workers compensation they ran their own insurance on that. I’ve forgotten the actual amount now but they had some considerable finance saving a year against what they paid out against the pay out that they would have paid in premiums, but they were very generous. There was a doctor on the job and a big ambulance station
so there was immediate care and transport. They were very safety conscious and there was a safety officer and he did nothing else but look after safety matters to minimize the possibility of an accident.
doing some sort of course, the company paid for it, you didn’t pay for it yourself it was compulsory. The next step for me would have been accountancy, everybody had to study accountancy once they got past the shorthand and typing bit. I said to the secretary there, “This is an awful waste of money for this company,” he looked at me and though I was a cheeky little kid talking to him like that.
He said, “No it isn’t, we train,” I said, “Training people to be accountants you can’t employ them all,” he said, “No but we get the pick of the bunch.” And he said, “If they get the qualifications and they don’t get the job they can get a job somewhere else,” that was the reasoning behind it and that put me in my place.
It had a big impact on their planning, if there was going to be war they would be planning for probably increased steel production in certain lines, that I think would have been the biggest impact. There was no type of glee and hand rubbing and saying, “Oh look at all those lovely lollies that are going to be coming to us,” they had to plan it was inevitable, it would be a major contribution to any war effort,
whether they were in it or not. The ultimate supply would have to come from somewhere, unless we were attacked here in Australia there would be no disadvantage to the steelworks or Newcastle as a whole.
militia actually comprise of?
What you would do if you were an infantryman fighting firing in war, it taught you what weapons you were going to use and handle weapons, rifle and bayonet, light machine gun, elementary tactics, marching and the elementary drill. The drill and all the drill movements with the idea of promotion through the ranks to non commissioned ranks.
you could do, or what was required to move up those ranks as quickly as you could?
Yes, do whatever they gave you to do and to do it properly and do it well and learn as much as you possibly could. You had to have your basic military training to start with, that only took me as far as corporal and then I got into the intelligence section then.
A lot of them were suburban type young fellows who were looking for jobs. One of my mates was an article clerk with his father in the solicitor’s office and the other one joined the engineers rather than the infantry battalion, he was a fitter and turner apprentice at Lysets
in Newcastle. In Newcastle a lot of the apprentices working in the heavy industry were joining the militia down there, but from our point of view up in Maitland it was ordinary suburban living fellows who had jobs, bank clerks all of those, anybody who had a job and was prepared to give some of their spare time to military training.
everywhere they had centre they had a drill hall where you did your drill in the hall learning drill movements, learning about weapons. Then every year you had a camp, and there was a military camp at Rutherford just in Maitland where they use to bring the militia units from Sydney and all around the place. You’d spend about a month in camp, practicing what you had learnt
in the drill hall, the actual field maneuvers, firing of weapons, drilling in the open area and wide movements, they were fun the camps, but hard work.
of covering ground, fitness courses, climbing things. Eventually they had special courses for physical activity of crossing rivers, climbing trees and getting over walls. There was no training on attacking
of towns or buildings at that stage, it was all open warfare.
if you are in contact with the enemy any documents, paraphernalia, weapons that you can get a hold of and to coordinate and distribute the information that is handed down to you from above, this is right on field level, on the infantry battalion level. You get some information in the field and you send back information anything you can pick up, any information about the enemies strength, numbers, types of units,
types of weapons, and what the ground is like the typography. From the other end you collate, assemble and distribute to the people who are going to be fighting any information you get from above of what the enemy is likely to do, what he is using and what his morale is like, any information like that. There is
no spy stuff in field intelligence, it’s the collection of stuff on the ground, passing it back to other people and getting information from above which is going to help the people who are at the actual front, the battle front.
diaries, photographs, information on the weapons, the known information on the weapons they had, what they looked like, what they could do. If there was a particular enemy they’d give you what information they could about formations and they use to pick up information from some source. If they picked up a letter that was addressed to such and such a unit,
you would know that that unit was an infantry unit or a artillery unit and it composed of roughly so many men with certain types of weapons. You’d then let your own troops know or anybody else around the traps know that you had this and you were up against that sort of opposition. Any particular typographical difficulties that you came across you’d let the surrounding troops know.
back bearing is going to be, they taught you to use a compass, to read maps which is very useful. Elementary astrology so that if you know that you are in the Northern hemisphere you find what’s North and if you are in the Southern hemisphere you can find what’s South. Having done that you have a compass and you can take bearings at night, knowing which way you are living. If you don’t have a compass and you know where north
is and you know where south is you can measure off your degrees to find out where you are going, say that’s ten degrees from the pole star or the Southern point, or you work out South from the Southern cross and that’s pretty handy for navigation. Particularly in our case out in the desert where there wasn’t anything else, with no trees and nothing and at night it was black as your boot
you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face, those sorts of things.
on the continent during the First World War. There was also a lot of information on desert warfare from the First World War from the Palestine campaign, that information was available, once it was decided where we were going to be put, that wasn’t decided of course until after we had sailed. When we actually sailed we were headed for England
and we came into the war after we embarked and we were half way instead of being over there in England obviously preparing for the attack for an attack on Europe or the defense of Britain we were stuck in Egypt, that was an entirely different type of warfare.
fortuitous really. When I left the 13th I had to resign from there because they weren’t operating in Sydney so I went to the 36th Battalion and the CO [Commanding Officer] of the 36th he said when war had broken out, “Are you going to come up?” and I said, “Yes that’s certain,” and he said, “I will probably get a battalion
and I would like you to come along.” I said, “Yes I’m in for my commission now and I will join up when I get my commission,” as a commissioned officer. He said, “You can join up at any time that you like and I will make sure that you get a commission.” I said, “It would be a lot easier for both of us if I wait till it is all in the pipeline and it would save us both work,” he didn’t like that much but he went along with it.
By a strange coincidence when he got his battalion he got the 13th Battalion, so I didn’t come across but my old mates from the original 13th Battalion. I had a whole lot of new ones in the 2/13th Battalion, but that was a sheer unlucky coincidence because it was a very good battalion and he was a very good CO.
What was their skills and their training like?
Pretty good, we had all done our basic training by the time we got there, all we needed then was the weapons and a bit of fair dinkum field training. When the 2/13th was formed the members who had been in the militia before were very thin on the ground but everybody in the militia joined up
a vast majority of recruits for the Second World War were people who had no military training and they had to start from tours so you had a bit of everything.
The 7th Division came over after us but they took on the 7th and they formed us into the 9th, I don’t know why but it was a composed division over there because things got really bad. When we arrived and we got into the desert and the 6th had gone by then they had cleaned out Libya
and they were well up the coast heading towards Tunisia when they were pulled back and sent over to Crete and Greece and we took over the front line that they left. We were only there for a few days and Mr Rommel turned up and he kicked us out of there very smartly and we had nothing. They had equipped the 6th Division to send them over and
we didn’t have our full complement of even our Bren Guns [machine guns] at that stage.
who had never been in the army or who had had nothing to do with the army it was the old basic training, which I had been through myself in the early days. It was how to fire the weapons, what they are, what you do, how to survive, how you move around on the ground, and what you do when people say something, what orders they give and what they want you to do, basic military training, how to use your weapons and how to use them effectively.
What preparations were you doing in terms of desert warfare?
None at that stage it was general open warfare in any sort of country, how to move through a country, how to take cover in ground where there wasn’t any cover accept the shape of the ground. Where to place yourself for advantageous positions if you were to defend something, no specific training for any particular area it was very general.
Then you had to adapt those principles to the terrain in which you found yourself.
the piece ‘You never give an order that you know won’t be carried out or can’t be carried out’. ‘It is better to lead than to drive’ so getting on with a lot of people who were older than I its was difficult and I was very dividend about this but I found very quickly that providing you didn’t do anything
stupid you would get as much help from the men as they got from you in the training. You formed a team and muck in together and you had a job to do and it was a question of say ‘This is what we have got to do, these are the sort of basic things that we have got to consider now how do we go about it’ and this seemed to work fairly well.
but it must have been about six months or so and then we did our finally training and we marched from Ingleburn to Bathurst. They shifted the basically trained troops from Ingleburn up to Bathurst to a camp there for further advanced training with a bit more country to operate in. They got the new intake for the next succeeding lot of divisions coming through into Ingleburn
which was close to the city centre and the major training camp. It was an idea of the COs too instead of going up by train he said, “Being the 20th Brigade we will march up there,” he was the brigade commander so we all marched from Ingleburn up to Bathurst, it took us about a week.
physical exercise, they had never proper footwear and I offered a keg of beer to the platoon if they all got there on there own two feet, I was never in danger of losing it. Four or five of them their feet just packed it in. This was the CO’s idea of course because no matter where you are you have got to walk
to get out of trouble and it stood us in good stead because a couple of companies did a lot of walking to get out of Benghazi and pick up the transport section.
being effected by young men in their places joining up?
No I didn’t but some people might of but I didn’t, there weren’t people rushing up and saying, “Good on you I want to join,” or anything like that, there was no feeling for that at all.
Could you explain when you got the orders to leave Australia and where you had to go?
At last our training was over and we were going to get cracking on what we were suppose to be doing. We got pre-embarkation leave so that we could go home and clean up anything that we had to clean up and say goodbye to your loved ones. That was about a fortnight leave we had and we got back to camp and we left pretty quickly then.
We left on Caulfield Cup day in October 1940.
What were your impressions on the Mary?
Massive, I had never been in anything as big as that. The luxury of it, not that the troops had much luxury they were sleeping in the holes of course but the officers were accommodated. The company commander had a very nice outside cabin with two beds in it where as the junior officers, I was in the maids room
which was not much bigger than the laundry there, but I didn’t spend much time in there. I joined up like I said earlier and went into there before I had any credentials at all and they fixed up all my paperwork while I was in camp and during odd times I’d get away from the training and do something else in the way of induction. The last thing I had which
was about three days before we embarked was the vaccination for small pox. By the time we got into the Great Australian Bight sailing from Sydney I couldn’t of cared less if the Queen Mary sank or swam so the company commander shifted me out of the maids room into his cabin and I had a nice comfortable bed there. I didn’t make any effort to get better very quickly
but I spent the rest of the voyage there. I didn’t like the symptoms of small pox.
wet canteen, its like the same old story when the beer went off and there were a number who reckoned they had too much and some reckoned they hadn’t had enough and we had to sort of storm the place and get some more beer. The canteen was in one of the dining rooms but I can’t recall how big it was but it would have been about the size of this area.
Full of troops with only a pair of shorts, you couldn’t tell anybody from which and one of the pickets was determined to do his job properly and try and defend the beer supplies. The picket to distinguish themselves from anybody else they had a uniform and a side arm which was a bayonet
to threaten well that was the end of it they were going to chuck him overboard. An officer managed, I still remember his name and I remembered it the other day Major Searle and he worked for in Newcastle, he got in front of this lad and put him behind in a corner and kept the mob off him. There was a panic on then for all officers
to report to this dinning room and then a whole flock of them came in. They managed to get this young fellow out through the mob and put him in the brig for his own protection, and the crowd dispersed, there was nobody hurt. It could have been a bit sticky there for a while, but the boys saw reason in the end, nobody was hurt in that one but it could have been nasty. If Major Searle
hadn’t reacted so quickly and got in front of this chap, it wasn’t so much the fellows in front that were providing the nuisance they had cooled down a bit it was the fellows behind pressing. I don’t know if you have had any experience with mob hysteria but it can be frightening.
I don’t know what it was like for the troops but they didn’t complain, none of the boys made any serious complaints to me, which they would of done if they had reckoned it was unbearable, but they were pretty resilient. They put up with a hell of a lot when they realise it is done for a purpose, but it couldn’t have been pleasant with so many men packed together in such close quarters for so long with nothing to do.
It was nowhere near as bad as some of the voyages out from England for the convicts but probably bad enough.
there was an awful lot of sand because we disembarked in Ishmailiya and we were taken across the sand to get into Palestine and there was a lot of sand. When we went to Palestine there seemed to be a lot of sand too, but as you got closer in there were the orange groves and olive groves which broke it up. The people were friendly, the Jews and Arabs were living together in reasonable harmony at that stage,
none of the problems like they have there now.
around the camps trying to sell oranges and things but mainly oranges. At that stage the bottom had fallen out of their market there was no where to market them, they couldn’t export their oranges, these big beautiful jaffa oranges were running out of their ears, that was about all they had to sell and olives. The troops didn’t go much on olives but they did on the oranges. The other interaction with them was if you went leave it was with the shopkeepers where people were buying souvenirs
or dining out at the restaurants and having a feed locally. Anybody who went on leave would have to get a feed but some of the little cafes there. We use to eat in the cafes what the locals were eating rather than the big hotels, you did have the big hotels too, but you needed a guide because we didn’t speak the language. That is the biggest disability
not being able to communicate, most of them could get by on a bit of English for anything that you really needed.
So my first job when I arrived at Palestine was to make sure that the couple of troops that I had in the intelligence section, there was a sergeant and three privates and make sure that they knew what they were doing, I was responsible for their training. I had been fully trained at that stage having attended a
second intelligence school the moment I arrived that was the first job they whizzed me off to another intelligence school to bring me up to date on the local situation. Then I was responsible for the training of my section as well as doing my own job.
several attempts of them offering a service for nothing, I had several offers and it was obvious you get nothing for nothing over there, you get in with them and you could probably pick up some information. The other thing we had to be very, very careful of was the theft of weapons, they would pinch weapons. It was mainly the Arabs
that would pinch the weapons, it was worse when we came out of the desert, they were even more active on weapon pinching. We were also warned locally that we had to be very careful of what we talked about when you are on leave. There was a known intelligence gathering organisations from the opposition operating throughout Palestine. All we could do then
was warn the troops on that, and the types of questions they would be asking them like where they came from and did they like it. It was very easy to gather the information on what the units were, roughly by the size they could tell if they were battalions. You only had to walk along the road and you could see how big their armament was and there were some things that you couldn’t possibly keep from the enemy. They were after sort of morale and the general
feeling of what the Australian troops were feeling about the war.
things very cheaply, anything you wanted they could give you discounts at cost. I got offered a wife at one stage, but that wasn’t for information that was for a chance to get this women back into Australia, she wasn’t bad looking either but the aim was obvious. They’d do little
favours for you like doing free washing, they would go to anybody of influence to just get a entrée into the camp.
What kind of precautions were taken against that?
All the rifles eventually were bolted at night to one of the tent poles, they still lost a couple still with even that. The troops would fall asleep with your head to the tent wall and not having a pillow you’d use your haversack and that’s where you kept your valuables. What they use to do was lift up the tent wall and slit the haversack with a knife and feel around inside
and knock off anything with value and gradually let the head down without waking the person who was sleeping, they were incredibly good at it.
What kind of things would people lose that way?
Money, diaries, books, watches anything that might have bought of value and they wanted to send home. If you had anything of value you used to keep it close to you,
and sleeping with it under your head was one of the best places. The precautions of course was you had sentries who patrolled the camp at night all the time, but they use to watch where they went and they use to whip in and make sure that you were on the least side of the tent because the sentries wouldn’t go wondering around through every tent. Some of the boys use to be careful about their beets, they’d eat the same beets all the time
and nobody would ever see anybody, they were far better at pinching than our blokes were at watching, they had been at it all their lives.
What are your memories of those places?
Not very vivid at the moment, we use to see the temples, if you have seen one temple you have seen the lot. Narrow streets with lots of people, the Jaffa Club use to be quite good and we always use to surf there, not quite. That was after when we came back out of the desert that I went there.
I don’t know where the first night was spent but I think the second night was spent at Mersa Matruh, this was all in trucks. We slept on the ground there and then it was all trucks through past Bardia, Tobruk, Benghazi and dumped out at a place called Beda Fomm,
just a little bit west of Beda Fomm where we went into prepared defensives where the 6th Division had left and that was all done by road transport. Formed roads all the way there but on our way back we had to do a couple of short cuts across the desert.
What were you told about what your role would be at Bedda Fomm from as a unit?
As a unit we were told to defend it, to hold that ground until we got our full equipment. We didn’t have our full equipment at that stage my only armament was an Italian pistol which I had manage to salvage. I fired one round out of it to see if it worked and it didn’t,
the round got stuck in the barrel and I was too busy sort of digging in and organising and finding where everybody else was and keeping things in form I didn’t have time to try and get it out. I remember word got around that Mr Rommel had arrived and we had to get out just as fast as we could to take up a further position and cover the next lot of troops that went out. We moved back from there very quickly to the escarpment
just outside Benghazi at a place called Ishmailiya.
What kind of impact did his arrival have on the morale in your unit?
None really except they realised we couldn’t hold him there, we get out and get back to somewhere where we can, the morale was still high. We reckoned just because he went through Europe he wouldn’t get through us, we didn’t know how good he was, he had heard how good he was but we didn’t know if that was true or not so back we went.
We had nothing to fight him with anyway, we were depended entirely on British armour we were just infantryman and it was rifles basically. A rifle is not much use against a tank.
There was one spot when we got kicked out of Benghazi from Ishmailiya and we had a company at Bardia further down the coast, three companies. Having extracted the companies from Ishmailiya we were picked up and taken back to another holding position
in another little town which I have forgotten the name but we found that on the map. The CO said, “I will go straight down to Bardia and contact C Company and you come across the desert and take my jeep and driver and met us with the troops” you give them a route
or show them where to go. We set off for there and we got to the desert track coming into Derna and we had to across that and go pass and further south and there were tank tracks across the road, we thought that was funny. There were only three of us my batman, the driver and myself and we didn’t have any tanks in this area I knew that I knew where the supporting armour was that was way back in the desert. There were none through there
and it didn’t look too good. We had to push on and what happened was there was suppose to be a military policeman on that junction and there was no sign of the military policeman. What had happened was Rommel’s tanks had come through and picked him up and gone further down the road to Derna and us three went around behind them up to the place where we had to met, we got that settle out and set myself up to wait
for the CO to come in. The CO eventually came in from the south having warn the British where the Germans were, the tanks were in Derna he had seen them from that side. I hadn’t seen them but where they had been on the other side where the two Generals Neame and Collins the two British Generals had been captured by the Germans, our man got out
and our company got out. The first lot of troops that were following behind me the Germans put one of their men in a British red cap military policeman’s uniform and put him on point duty and directed them all down to the German tanks. But quick thinking followed there and they managed to redirect and turned the convoy around and cleared him on and leaving somebody there to give warning if the tanks started coming out again.
So the bulk of the people got through a bit of the 15th Battalion was picked up they’re including the CO. So that was the bit where we had to a bit of the dodging around off the main road and we eventually found our way back into Tobruk.
then special examinations for an officer. I passed the corporal’s exam and the sergeants standard but when war broke out they scrubbed exams. They were desperately short of officer material and they’d take almost anybody. I had got that far and I had apparently impressed the people with whom I had been serving
and there was a possibility that I could turn into an officer so they recommended me for a commission. They realised with recruiting and then starting they were going to have flocks and flocks of people but very few officers. This was why I waited for the commission to come through before I actually joined the AIF [Australian Imperial Forces]. That was how I got it I didn’t have to pass the final exam,
it was fortuitous and then it was up to me you only get a temporary commission to start with and that was confirmed after I joined the AIF. From then on your promotions are temporary until you can prove that you can do the job and then they are confirmed.
happens to your career and your role in the AIF?
It means that you have to take charge of whatever section or job you are given. It means you have certain privileges, you get more money, you are exonerated certain duties, you have other duties you have to perform. Your first duty is to your men, and in the early days
all officers received a batman, so they didn’t have to worry about where their food was coming from, where they were going to sleep. You had somebody there to look after you and when you got all your men and everything else settled down then your batman would come along and say, “Here’s your tucker and this is where you sit.”
That’s about it but you take responsibility for the men you have under your command and if you do something
stupid and get them all into trouble or killed, if you prove not to be capable of not doing your job you can be transferred or discharged or allotted other duties. Your training session is that once they have got what they class as officer material you either say in as officer material or you don’t, they whip you out of it and you revert to the ranks or be discharged as unsuitable.
Having been recognized as having officer material you are then assessed on what job they consider you are best at. Obviously in my case they considered that I would be better employed as a staff officer rather than a combatant officer.
I’m pretty certain that Tobruk had already fallen before we arrived at the desert, I don’t recall now the actual timing but I’m pretty certain that first phase of the desert campaign was pretty well over by the time we had arrived, so we knew what the situation was. Then we were in training
until such time when they determined what was going to happen next. So that we could be withdrawn, they were going to withdraw the 6th Division and give them a rest and put us in anyhow, but the situation in Greece, the attack on Greece was a little too quick for them. They then would have to quickly withdraw the troops from the 6th Division
to help the British in Greece. The German plan then and what we didn’t know or what we weren’t told at the time, whether they knew or not but I think they probably did the higher command. They know now of course was that the (UNCLEAR) was aimed at the Middle East oil fields. They put the troops down through Greece to chop that end off, to chop the Balkans end off and Rommel into Tunisia into North Africa
at the same time to keep the Balkan mob the Greece crowd were going to keep that area neutral while Rommel slipped through the depleted British forces in the Middle East up through Palestine into the oil fields.
Given that the allies then pushed the Italians back to Benghazi what sort of information was filtering through about how competent and how equipped the Italians were?
It was all backed by then because they all had their weapons. The consensus was that they didn’t have their heart in the war, there was nothing wrong as far as the fighting soldier was concerned, they weren’t interested and they couldn’t see their point in doing Hitler’s dirty work.
Once you got to Benghazi what sort of intelligence gathering did you do, before you were told to retreat can you walk me through what one typical day would be?
The one typical day, but we were only there for about a week so there wasn’t much intelligence gathering going on. We were seeing our positions and seeing and where they were laid out, that the commanders maps were all up to date, marking the maps where all the other troops were, what troops were in the area, what supporting troops were there. This was information that was fed to us,
there was very little gathered from the field because all the Italian weapons and stuff that they had left behind had been very well gone over by the 6th Division blokes before we got there. We had to settle in there and hold the line, but then they suddenly found out that Rommel was included in this general push so we just didn’t have the troops or the equipment to hold the line against anybody.
The last we saw of the 13th or the last I saw of them was they were left at the top, we held the Germans of for the best part of the day. And we had transport waiting for us at night so we had to hold them until nightfall and it was just light enough to see when we pulled out. That was the battalion headquarters
and the German troops were probably from here to the main road away, we could see them with a tracer, they weren’t shooting at us so much until they saw us and then they were. They held them there for enough time for our final company, B Company to walk out around the back way and pick us up at the next position we stopped across the road.
Apart from the company that had been out and not in contact with the Germans they attacked around them to get back to us. Then we held that position over night and then fell back during the dark to another prepared position by the 15th Battalion behind us. We went through them and then they went back
through us, or some of them did, some of them were picked up like I said a minute ago. It was as fast as we could possible go without having them chasing us right on our tail and shooting at us as we went. To hold them in one spot and then clear out suddenly when the opportunity arose and that was usually in the dark.
civilian farmers, there were farming areas a long the coast there, the only bit of horticulture there was a bit of olives and stuff growing. That area use to be the grain belt supplying Rome but cartridge was up there and in the desert there were these great systems that were half the size of this room here and about
as deep cut out of the solid gypsum with this little hole in the top, these were the silos where they use to store the grain. Some people used those for headquarters but to get in and out of them was too much trouble and too dangerous because you couldn’t see what was going on.
there were more causalities from durance than from battle, that’s a broad statement and I can’t give you figures to prove it but hygiene was the biggest problem, shortage of water of course was the main reason for that. Dysentery was rife almost everywhere and that was one of the biggest problems in Tobruk until we really got it under control. The storage of water was the
biggest disability that caused quite a few problems. Otherwise the conditions were gritty, the actual climate was quite healthy, there weren’t any bugs and things that attacked you there was no malaria or other illnesses. They were only the illnesses that you brought with you that would be generated by sometimes insufficient diet although the diet wasn’t that bad.
but it was a dry heat, that wasn’t any good for the water situation. The sand, once the camp scene got up the wind do you know the bull dust in the Northern area of Australia, it’s about as fine as flour. To illustrate it we had
a hessian sack I don’t know if you remember the Australian sugar bags with about that sort of a weave. Inside that was a waxed paper carton of wrapping and inside the waxed paper wrapping was spaghetti about that long. Inside the spaghetti was sand, that was what the sand was like it could
get into anything it was that fine. It wasn’t so bad when it wasn’t blowing because it stayed on the ground but any vehicle or any undue movement or any wind it got everywhere.
the Middle East trenches but in concrete with a concrete headquarters covered over area. These were death traps so we basically disregarded those and dug weapon pits in the sand which are indistinguishable when you were approaching them. I can show you a photograph there of the little holes that we lived in, you just can’t see them in between all these other defenses. So that everybody
that was doing the fighting could see what was going on including headquarters. You could put your head up and see what was happening. They were just little holes in the ground about that big. You lived in those and sometimes we had a little bit of cover over them, or part would be covered over one end so you could get in under the shade. They were very uncomfortable and sometimes
in the rural areas you’d dig your sleeping quarters where you could get right down and they’d cover the top over and they’d crawl in a little bit at the side and you could make yourself considerably comfortable.
concrete trenches or pits that the Italians had built why were they considered death traps?
Because you couldn’t see what was going on and you couldn’t fight out of them half of the time, they were too deep and too safe, they were built for safety. They had an anti tank ditch well out in front for most of the way, in some places they hadn’t even completed those. You couldn’t bring your
Can you explain the theory behind Montgomery’s choice of the word attack over anti?
After Tobruk everybody was saying what a wonderful thing it was the defense of Tobruk. It was too it made time but then they got back onto the El Alamein line which again was defensive and he wanted to get the troops out of the thinking defensively to start thinking in terms of advancing and attacking and not sitting there and just defending to finish the war they had to attack.
They had the boxes, little defended area along the way and they called them boxes and that was something he prohibited the use of the word box, it was to be deleted from military vocabulary. There was an Australian officer
up visiting the troops and he asked where this fellow had come from and he said, “Oh we have just come around from such and such a box,” and he looked at him and said, “What’s a box?” he said, “Yes a box is something that a bowler hat comes out of,” so that put Monty back in his tracks.
What were the reasons up until then for the forces being undermanned and under equipped?
Sheer pressure, they never knew when Britain was going to be invaded, the invasion into Russia took a lot of pressure off that and then they were able to build up the strength in the Middle East a bit. They were pressed in the Balkans and they were pressed with the mass on the other side in France, the Germans were in a very commanding position. When you think of the supply line to keep the Middle East supplied the sea
was set with submarines as far as you could see.
they were determined, they weren’t in a hurry to go and if we were going to look after ourselves we had to do it. There was nobody there that had anything to help us. The difference of course, if you are interested you’d read Rommel’s book and I’ve got a copy of it there. He suddenly found out that he was being attack,
we didn’t sit in the trenches we were out every night attacking, fighting patrols that was the big difference. They never knew when a patrol was going to turn up next and get shot at while they were supposed to be keeping us tied down. When they broke into the place they had always been accustomed to their tanks going over the top of the infantry and we would come behind and ‘Bob’s your uncle’ [it will be alright] and it would be all over. They would of too with these Italian defenses
but if you ask the blokes some of the tanks went right over some of them with them still in them and when the tanks had gone they got up and shot the infantry. The British gunners took on the tanks and they did a wonderful job, they had never come across that before. ‘Not fair, they are not suppose to fight after the tanks have been through’.
there was one lot in behind us, we did the second last stop and then the next lot and there were some stragglers from all over the place were coming in after us. What we were told once we had arrived was what positions we were going to take up in the area which was one of the front line positions. It was identified to the CO and given out so then all I did then was go around and make sure all the company commanders
all had their company area pointed out to them and they put their men in the little holes and if there weren’t enough holes they started digging some more and that was all there was to it. You just got down to work because we didn’t have long to wait until Mr Rommel decided to get in.
What was the terrain like, how easy was it to dig a hole?
In places it was quite good and in other places it was quite rocky, where it was very rocky you could get down to certain distance and then you’d build up a little bit in front of you with rocks, but usually where you wanted to get was to get right down undercover. There was more
front line, the red line and then swap over with somebody in the blue line and there you would do sort of a make and mend if you could. It was very good on man management and man control you looked after the rations, you made sure there was food, what wood you could get and anything else that was around. He managed to get hold of a ASC [Army Service Corps] officer ‘the grocers’
we called them they were the fellows who looked after all the supplies. They had an extra lot of ASCs in Tobruk and they portioned a company of them out to each battalion as far as they would go. He got this chap and his men to setup a camp on the beach and this fellow put up a big notice that
said ‘Bill Burrows camp for prosaic people‘, and everybody then on the blue line would have a rest down there. If they had been in hospital they would spend a little bit of time in convalescing or a few days there before they went back to the unit. It was very well patronized, I only had one trip down there in the whole time I was in the thing but I went down there for half a day and had a swim.
Also responsible for keeping the maps up to date, if in attacks and people wanted the start lines pegged out one of our boys would do it for them. Which means going out in the dark a certain distance and putting a tape down, our intelligence section did that. We had from time to time in hot spots
one of the boys would be out in the forward areas keeping me in touch with what was particularly going on in the hot spots. I remember on one occasion the company commander from this particular section got on the blower [the telephone] and got back to the CO that there were German tanks moving on his front
and they wanted to keep their eye on it. I had one of my blokes out there and the CO said to me, “You have a man out there, what the hell is he doing?” I said, “Captain so and so has all his tanks on his front, you better find out what’s happening.”
So I got onto the blower and got onto my bloke and I said, “What about all these tanks out the front: and he said, “There are no tanks on this front,” I said, “Are your sure?” and he said, “Of course I’m sure.”
I said, “The company commander has seen them,” he said, “If he’s seen them he has got them painted on his binoculars because they are not out there.” It was complete nonsense, there was that sort of thing and there was a checkup on that piece of information, especially the CO wouldn’t believe my bloke.
the telephone was as secure as far as we were concerned. Field telephones are an earth return there is one connection and it depended on an earth return to complete the circuit. You can tap into them very easily as we found out. After I had been out poking around overnight and the men were staying out there the next day strangely enough it was the same fellow who reckoned the company commander
had the tanks painted on his binoculars. Seeing what was going on and there was a bit of activity going on out there and there was a sand storm the next day and the CO said, “Take me out where you were and we will have a look around in the daylight,” so we went out there and had a poke around. The only thing we picked up was German signal wire which was about half the weight of ours and a light pink colour and he rolled on it and said, “I will have that.”
He gave it to the signal office and said, “You have to have that connected to my telephone,” which he did. We then connected up to the CO’s telephone when we shifted out of the front line
to our next move back to the blue line we were connected up in our new little hole down there. The CO noticed that his pink wire had disappear and wanted to know what had happened to it, and why he wasn’t connected as he asked. The signal officer said, “Sorry but it must of got lost somehow in the move,” and he said, “Oh,” so enough was said.
I saw the signal officer afterwards and said, “What’s with losing the bosses wire?” and he said, “You have no idea of that stuff,” he said, “I know the CO use to sit on his telephone all the time, you might remember I was up at headquarters yesterday. And I asked to ring up and I used the bosses phone,” and he said, “You can hear everything that went on in the battalion, it use to pick it up on the earth return,” he said, “It must be some special wire for that.”
All he use to do at night was go to bed and listen to his telephone and he knew exactly what the troops were arguing about and what the company commander thought of him. And he said, “He was right on the ball of everything that was happening so we couldn’t take it off him,” so he got rid of the wire. Whether it was a special wire for just picking up eavesdropping or not we don’t know but it worked.
have a telephone they had a telephone and the platoon commander had a telephone. So they could then communicate particularly during the day and at night but they were too busy doing it at night time. They could communicate during the day with having to around in the open which was very fancy. The only catch is we lost a lot of stuff, we kept our telephones alright but as we were moving around to the position to be relieved and the other people would come in
the standing order was the common sense was that you left all your telephone wires in position so when you came in and you moved into a new position you could hook up your telephone to the wires that were there. By that time Montgomery realised that communications were essential
wireless was an emergency job because it was so easily compromised. So he had multi cable underground lines connected from general headquarters to every co headquarters and there were three quarters operation all laid down under the ground with big cable laying devices from which the attack was going to start. So that there would be perfectly secure communications and nobody could over hear that
until such time as the attack started. They were good except for a land slide or a slight earth quake, they cut the cable so there was a real panic on. There was one corps that never got reconnected apparently. Still that was an indication of what security was necessary on telephone
communication and the attempt to over come it.
that you would also look at information that was brought back by the troops, what kind of things would they bring back?
Letters from home, sometimes letters that the fellows had written but had yet to post. Letters for home were quite valuable, not so much to us there but when they got back the morale situation to the higher command, changing manuals,
any information issued on new weapons or methods of servicing other pieces of equipment, odd pieces of equipment which we perhaps hadn’t seen. If the troops had spotted a tank mine that they didn’t recognize they’d bring it back to see whether it was a new type or not. I remember they brought a German anti tank mine
they brought back it looked a bit different and the adjutant had a cane bottom chair and the cane was broken and he said, “That will do the mend the hole.” So he turned the thing upside down, it has a little knob on it and he turned it upside down and he used it as a seat on his chair. One of the engineer officers came along and I said, “There is a German anti tank mine there that you might want to have a look at” and he said, “Where is it?” and I said, “Joe is sitting on it.”
He got Joe to stand up and he picked the tank [mine] up and had a look at it and said, “No, he can sit on it if he wants to because I have switched it off.” It wouldn’t have blown him up because it took the weight of a tank to send it off. He said, “No it’s not a new one” and put it back on the chair upside down so that Joe could sit on it.
Before El Alamein we were in reserve there and they brought an S mine [shrapnel mine] in for me to have a look at and that looks slightly different. I hadn’t had a good crack at an S mine before so I waited until after tea or just before dawn and I worked on it through the night, It was a good opportunity and everything was pretty quiet.
Our headquarters at this stage, and this was divisional headquarters this was back later and we had a three ton truck as an office with an annex on either side and the intelligence section was on one side. And the operational section was on the other and the clerks and typists were sitting in the body of the truck in between. I was on my side busy on my own there trying to keep awake and I decided that I’d dismantle this mine,
cutting the soldered joint off with my pocket knife. I was busy doing that, I got the top off it and the duty officer came around to see what was going on, he just wanted to ask something and he came in and said, “What are you doing?” and I said, “Just dismantling this S mine.” He said, “Pick it up and take it outside and go as far away as you can and bury it” and I started to talk and he said, “Just do as you are told,” he was
a major so he outranked me. I picked it up and took it outside carefully and I didn’t bury it very deeply, I picked it up the next day and continued my exploration. The other duty officer I heard him say the next day to the other duty officer, “You were very rude to Evans last night in the very early hours of this morning, why,” he said, “He was only dismantling that mine,” he said, “You didn’t have to be so rude.”
He said, “I could imagine myself up in front of General Morshead the next day saying to me, “Why did you let Evans blow up divisional headquarters?” That was one of my jobs to become as familiar as I could with any stray pieces of equipment. They were nasty little things those mines.
If you are going to attack you have got to have somewhere where you could line the boys up and point them in the right direction so you would put a white tape along the ground, at right angles to the line of approach. So that they could line up with it and walk just walk straight ahead and they are going to come to what they are after. There is really only one blokes that has to make sure that he keeps on going and he would fix his eye on a star or something and walk straight to that whether it was in that line. Otherwise if you are moving around
you worked out on a bearing and set your bearing on a compass and fit that on a star or something and just keep on going on that bearing. When you have a whole lot of people there with their mind on what they are going to do when they get there you peg out at start line with tape.
How were you operating in the darkness?
There was often starlight but in the moonlight you didn’t like much, because they could see you moving around but in the dark there was enough starlight. Its never really completely dark and you are doing jobs outside, improving your defenses, digging holes, the patrols go out at night and somebody has got to watch all of them on their way back. The patrols that went out at night they worked on bearings, the patrol leader would have
to work out his bearing where he wanted to be to make sure what his back bearing was going to be if he wanted to get home. Any outside work that you needed to do was done at night because there was no movement during the daytime on the front line. When you were on the blue line you could do what you liked. Any movement use to bring up this terrific dust and that use to get knocked about so if the cookhouses
were way down behind the blue line and the meals use to come up at night, they be brought up a certain distance by truck and then carried in big hot boxes. You couldn’t drive the trucks up in the daytime because of the dust. At night they could come up and you could have a hot meal. It was only bully beef
or rations, sort of a stew type of a thing and biscuits. The CO was very conscious of making his food as interesting as possible, it was very hard because by the time you got it they had driven the truck up from about two or three miles from behind and then staggered out in the dark for another three or four hundred yards carrying hot boxes with tea and stuff. You had your bully beef and tea all mixed in together.
He segregated that enough so that the tea came up separately so that if it spilled you could still have it but it would be cold but it would still be tea and drinkable because it was a liquid that you needed. He got onto Italian flour which they wouldn’t use because it was filled with weevils and they were the proper little beetles and they made them up into bread and they tried it, baked bread and it looked like seed cake with all these
little spots with weevils, and he got a hold of a whole lot of this. Individual rations with your hot cook bully beef or rations or whatever it was made into an individual little pasties and cooked, and it was still hot by the time it got there. It was then up to you whether you ate the crust or threw it away, but that was to keep the meal hot but the boys all ate the crust as well, weevils and all. Those little things that made the difference.
have anyone out there you just went out there on your own, the boys or I did it but the boys did it mostly. It was just that all the troops were there and nobody could see you, if anybody shot at you you wouldn’t know that they were going to shoot, if they were shooting they would be shooting at random. Every now and again they’d put a few squirts over just in case there was anybody moving about. Not every often
because our patrolling was so vigorous, they didn’t want to give their own positions away. If any of the enemy had their positions advertised they usually got visited by a fighting patrol and they’d sneak up on them in the dark and throw a few grenades at them, give them a few bursts of the Bren. They never did, the enemy never patrolled not up to our lines they weren’t game.
they were getting down to the last lot, the boys had had enough, you can only stand so much, and they had the troops to put in they were from the South African Division and they could go in. They put in a Polish Brigade first and they came in before we left, we got them on to show them the ropes. Then the South African Division came in, as one lot would come in a lot would go out, the equivalent number would go out
by sea with the Australian and British navy. That had to be done in the dark of the moon, only on moonless nights because they had to come from Alexandria and the ships were very vulnerable. At night and certainly with moonlight they were bad enough on the moonless nights because they could see the ships wakes and they use to send bombers over to bomb them and they sank several.
they got all the others out and it came our turn and they got rid of headquarters company, battalion headquarters and a selected company to get back to Palestine to setup the camp so as the troops came out they would all be ready. Enough blokes went out and I was one of them and the adjutant, not the signal officer because he stayed there but I think the mortar officer
and enough troops, a about a couple of platoon of troops to set up the tents and things when we got to Palestine to get the place organised. We went on a destroyer called the [USS] Jarvis and we got out alright. The next ship that was to come up got sunk and no more ships left so the battalion was left there, we were last in, well the brigade was last in
and the battalion was pretty much second last and the 13th was the last out. They were the only troops that went in by road and came out by road as far as the Australians were concerned. They got stuck there for another battle and they fought their way out and came out by land.
They couldn’t come out until the next dark and that was a month away, so I had a month to fill in and I had no intelligence work to do there and they had enough troops to do it so they sent me to the weapons school to get me out of the road. If worst came to the worst my weapons skills would be brought up to date if there wasn’t an intelligence job for me. In the meantime the moment they hit me out of there they
transferred me to the intelligence corps and then I went to a staff corps as a promotion to captain, as a staff officer grade 3 which you had to have it you got a staff job and then I got posted to the 20th Brigade.
Can you remember what was on it?
The devil. They called the 13th Battalion the “Devils Own,” I haven’t got a copy of the magazine to show you what it looked like. It was the devil riding a platypus, the platypus was the 9th Divisions animal identification sign, and it was a devil riding a platypus with a pitch fork held up as the wand and his tail curled as a three. ‘The devils own’ and that was on the cover and then it
not attached to anything but held in the position so it looked like a nice standing tent. They’d wait until the sentry moved off and then they’d move it a few feet, it might take them all night but far enough to get to the edge of the camp. The sentry wouldn’t know exactly where each tent was in the whole of the battalion area. There was a wadi [depression] along the back of the grounds there and they had their camels down the back there and
when they got close enough they’d just drop the tent, put it down and roll it up and put it on the camels and off. We’d put those tents up and down about four times I think until the troops arrived over the month, about once a week they’d pinch another tent. And they’d take them all down and then when you knew the troops were coming up go the tents again, when they didn’t come then down would go the tents, they were clever devils.
then and sent back to Australia for training and promoted to Brigadier and given a training job. The troops were pretty worn out and had a long spell and went up to Syria because the 7th Division had pulled out of Syria. We had a spell up there on sort of garrison duty and I got posted after the staff school I went too, I had my G3 classification then and promoted to captain.
Every staff job had a learner, it was doubled up incase there was a casualty with a principle one so that someone was immediately trained and they could step into his shoes. The staff captain on the 20th Brigade was our adjutant who had come out from the battalion with me out of Tobruk and he was the staff captain of the 20th Brigade and he took me on as his learner.
I got the odd jobs while he did the work, I was understudying him in case anything happened to him on the 20th Brigade.
that the locals had put in for damage during the fighting in Syria where peoples orange trees had been destroyed, their crops had been trampled by soldiers while being in training, where trees had been chopped down or somebody had been killed. All these complaints had been sent back to general headquarters and decisions made and any compensation to be paid or refused the information was sent out to
whoever was in charge of the area and I got the job for the 20th Brigade area which was pretty much all of Syria at that stage. Right through from Aleppo right across the coast to Latakia and I got that job. Most of it was that but apart from that it was assisting Joe Kelly and looking after the rations and ammunition supplies, pretty much all office work. The claims settling one
was the interesting bit, traveling around the country with a pocket full of money here and there and telling some unhappy bloke that he wasn’t getting his money.
but there was nothing that the truck could do. The father had put in a claim but apparently a girl isn’t worth much, for ten pounds sterling for the compensation for the life of the child, there was no difficulty in paying that and it was passed immediately. I went out there with the interpreter and there is a photograph of the interpreter in the thing there to find this fellow.
To do that we had to go to the village and then find the junta in charge to identify this bloke for us. Which he did and we stood there while we explained this thing and the old chap was very grateful, he was thanking us for our kindness for paying him for killing his daughter, or re-convincing him for killing his daughter. I was walking away and I looked back to see how he was and he was down on the ground with the junta belting him
and I said, “What’s going on there?” To the interpreter and he said, “He would give the junta his cut out of his money.” I don’t know how some people can live that way, ten quid for a life and some fellow wanted his cut out of it because he identified him as the wife or recipient.
The other one was a complete try on, timber in Syria was an absolute premium. The Australian troops had cut down and carried away seven very valuable poplar trees, they wanted five more per tree than the ten pounds
for the little girl some hundreds of pounds for these trees that the Australians had chopped down and taken away. I went out to see the place and there was a whole row of them chopped down, they had been cut down by Australians who had camped there we did check with the unit. They said that they had cut down three trees for two tent poles and a ridge pole, three trees
they cut down that we were prepared to pay for.
divisional headquarters had enough motor transport to shift itself. The transport companies use to shift the full battalions, not like the Germans they had a motorised infantry and they had their own trucks but we worked on transport companies and they were like contracted carriers and they shifted troops where required. They use to shift the heavy gear for
divisional headquarters, they would get a couple of trucks for the heavy stuff. The headquarters truck use to carry all the office gear and the office staff and the rest of the stuff went into the various cars, utilities it all fitted in.
Before we go on and talk about El Alamein I want to ask you, you mentioned Lord Haw Haw what sort of other enemy propaganda was there in Tobruk?
There were a couple attempts at leaflet dropping that was all, which was treated as souvenirs, they were very adversely thought of. As a matter of fact quite a few troops made a few bob out of it, they would collect as many as they could and flog them around the traps.
They were souvenirs, only there they didn’t cut any ice whatsoever. There were two types, one was aimed at Salucy [?] with a demonic looking British soldier with his foot on an Arab head and a child impendent on his bayonet to see if they could rouse the Salucy, but it didn’t have that much effect. The other one was
saying, “You are trapped like rats and come out waving your red flag of surrender, we will ensure your safety and the war will be finished for you,” and that was greased with a bit of a laugh too.
you could hold with any reasonable chance of protecting your flank. That was all established that line by a series of boxes like I mentioned before which Montgomery objected strenuously. It was behind that defensive line that was held by British troops and a New Zealand Division was in it with some Indian troops and the Polish Brigade and we had been resting back there.
The New Zealanders had a bit of a rest too because they had come out and they had been involved Buna in the breakout action in Tobruk but everybody else was at full strength. Then we were positioned, the troops for the initial attack were positioned and some troops were relieved and
the 9th Division went in on the right flank by the sea. That movement was picked up very smartly by the Germans and I don’t know whether you know why, but it was. Rommel then immediately then moved one of his armoured divisions up covering our flank
to cover the Italians the moment the Australians arrived there. He thought ‘That if there was going to be any fighting that is where I’ve got to put some Germans there or they will be around us like bees’. They had been engaged in quite a bit of fighting before the final breakout.
How did they become aware of that?
Churchill had an arrangement with Roosevelt that he would be kept informed. America was widely interested in the Middle East of course, we all had our interests there and rather than going right back to England and London communicating with New York or Washington or whether they had agreed to communicate. They arranged that the American ambassador in Cairo was to be supplied
with the outline of the plans and what the intentions were and how things were going in the Middle East. He use to radio back to Washington and the Germans had broken their code years before and they never thought to change it. Rommel knew exactly what moves the British were making in the front line. His job as a general was
simplified to some extent.
before the October offensive. We move into a position that at one stage had been occupied by artillery, there were a few dugouts and things that we occupied there. That was one of the things that the Germans still had their guns ranged on, when the barrage opened the 9th Division headquarters coped one of the first blasts
because that was one position where they knew there had been guns, there were no guns there and there was no one near them at all, the guns were much further forward. We copped that lot and I don’t think there were any casualties but at the end of my dugout there was. When I eventually went back to get some sleep it had no end in it, luckily there wasn’t any gear at that end and fortunately it was the bottom end and there was a big hole in it
were my feet would have been had all gone.
Artillery fire. The one that mattered sounded pretty close to good old BGS [Brigadier General Staff] so I said to the boys, “We better go and see if Bomber is alright,” I ducked out and I managed to brush my way in through the sandbag that blocked his entrance and got rid of those. I looked inside you could just see across to the explosion that rose all this dust, it was just like a heavy fog and he had a light from battery, he had blown his normal light
but he had an auxiliary light from a battery going in there and he was bushing the sand off his map. I said, “Are you alright sir?” and he said, “Yes Evans come and give me a hand it’s most provoking, it’s most provoking, get this off so that I can see my maps.”
I helped him clean up his desk and he went back to the job. They didn’t fire anymore we only just got that one squirt and then they realised that that wasn’t doing any good because
it was coming from the left flank. You could read a newspaper outside just by the gun places and the guns were a mile away, she was big.
What happened after that initial bombardment?
They scrubbed in there for about three or four days before we finally broke through with attack and counter attack, until finally he ran out of armour. We very nearly ran out of armour too. The German tank guns had a knock out capacity on our armour before our
tanks ever got into range they had eighty eight millimeter guns on them. They also had eighty eight millimetre guns sunk in as defensive weapons and the barrel was just above the ground. These things had a flat trajectory of about two miles, our tanks couldn’t get near them. Some of them they took out with bombing, the tanks by sheer rate of numbers
would come in through and converge from one side.
and by bombing. While their heads are well down and they are recovering from this holocaust of fire the infantry goes in because you can’t clean it up until you are actually on the ground and got rid of the men themselves, either killed them, captured them or driven them backwards. If you have got them on the run then you keep them on the run as far as you can and as fast as you can but you run out of puff yourself. So unless you have a lot of people to come through, fresh ones and carry on you can lose your
momentum very quickly. With war [UNCLEAR] you can’t win a war without feet on the ground and people possessing the actual ground itself.
We had then an interpreter and any prisoners that would come through the division they would be interrogated and any information would be passed to the general via the Brigadier General Staff. We had a couple of very good interpreters at that stage and one particularly good one Tony Whitican. He was an Englishman and his father was a company manager managing a company
in German and he went to school in Germany and he spoke perfect German. One of the prisoners we got he reckoned he was a renegade German because he spoke German so good. We got quite a bit of information out of the prisoners at divisional level after that. I sat in on one with Tony Whitican
with a German and all he would tell us under his condition was his name, rank and number, we weren’t going to get anymore out of him. We knew his rank, we knew his name and his number because he had given us that. We knew what his unit was and there wasn’t very much that he could tell us. Tony said to me, “This bloke is a nice bloke, we aren’t going to get anything more out of him except perhaps what the morale of what the troops is like.”
He said, “We will have a cup of tea,” and we had a cup of tea and a cigarette and he was talking to him. I couldn’t understand what they were talking about of course because they were talking German. Tony told me what he had told him afterwards. Tony asked the prisoner, “If there was another war would you fight?” And the fellow thought for a while and then said, “Yes under three conditions,” Tony said, “What are those?”
He said, “One that I have German equipment, two that I have British rations and three that I have Italian opponents.” The morale of the German troops there was reasonably high. It couldn’t have been too good towards the end. Later we came across
some paratroop boys out of a paratroop regiment that was left over after their lesson in Greece and Crete they weren’t going to drop anymore because it was too costly and they sent this parachute troop out to help Rommel. I met this fellow in West Wyalong, he was Hungarian actually after the war, he had been at the El Alamein fight and he had been slightly wounded and
was evacuated back, he was walking wounded. He said, “Rommel had won the war when I left and all I wanted to go was get out of it,” he said, “I was walking wounded and I was low priority for being evacuated so I tipped a wounded Italian off his stretcher and climbed on myself.”
As an intelligence officer what were your impressions of the battle in those first few weeks?
My impression was that it looked about fifty-fifty there for a bit, it was then just a question of who gave in first, or who gave way first and that was Rommel who gave away first because we kept the pressure up and they had the troops and the equipment in which to do it. I would say it was touch and go but it was a pretty hard slog until
the final break through. When the final break through came it was just a race and that was when Montgomery was severely criticised for not following it up he could of stopped them all. That’s the old hindsight job, twenty-twenty vision hindsight. He had seen what had happened at Benghazi when we went through there and they saw what happened to Rommel when he came here, you can get ahead too fast but
he waited until once he set off that he would go the whole distance. By which time it was too late to catch most of them, they just licked split without anything to worry about or fighting anybody, they didn’t stop to try and make a stand. They saw what happened with Tobruk, everybody did.
It was one of the things that saved Egypt in that it retained some of Rommel’s best troops, he had to keep them in Tobruk to stop us breaking out. We had no intention of staying in Tobruk when we were running back, that wasn’t the plan. It was right back to El Alamein to the line that was already prepared. Rommel was a bit fast for us and we got stuck in Tobruk, but that didn’t worry Rommel to start with because he said, “I will clean this out in next
to no time,” and he then found out that he couldn’t. He had the 9th Flight Division there for quite a while and they were picked up by our lot and they were two of his cracked units, but that was accidental.
millimeter was designed as an anti aircraft gun that fitted onto a tank, nothing could get near them. They outranged any other armoured fighting vehicle on the battle field and dug in and used as a defensive weapon, they had the same effect. The only catch was once you dug them in you couldn’t get them out, that was their big draw back. If you wanted to get your anti tank or tank
attack guns as Montgomery insisted on calling them, out of the battle you had to have them mobile, but those were not mobile ones they were dug in to be of maximum efficiency.
armour the Germans, what they had been able to do before was drop little bits of British stuff off here and there. Montgomery said they have to knock off concentrate our armour and he had armoured superiority in numbers, so they could afford to keep their numbers concentrated and have some to niggle from the sides. The German weren’t dependent then of the infantry and the Italian armour keeping that away.
They weren’t up to it so they eventually broke through and contained the British armour and break through on the weak points, that was his plan and that worked. As far as I can work out that was his plan I haven’t studied his own planned notes.
The British rations were supplemented by stuff that was supplied by America, not the American type rations but they had a better source of good tinned food and good army rations. The German troops got the best of the food, and the German locals unless they were on a farm they were very short on stuff
in Germany. By and large the British rations were more plentiful and less disgusting. The Germans had cheese in tubes like toothpaste, beautiful stuff. The Italian opponent bit was
they are self evident, they just didn’t have their heart in the war and they didn’t think that it was fair that they should be there at all, but they put up a bit of a show. The unluckiest of all of the Italians I think were the small observation squad that came down from the walls of Tuscany ‘the Pascala’, they had a group of
officers and NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] right down at the El Alamein battle front to observe. Unfortunately they arrived in the dark and they woke up and found that they were surrounded by Australians, they stood aloof and they didn’t quite know what was happening. Apparently one of the blokes was telling me from the 13th he said, “We rounded them up
and they were standing there,” and this fellow said, “Well come on,” and the prisoner said, “We are aloof Pascala,” the officer said, “We never surrender,” and he put a bayonet up the spout and said, “Make up your mind,” he said, “We are your prisoners yes, but we have not surrendered, I repeat
we are the aloof Pascala never surrender.” And they marched off quite happily, he had made his point. They didn’t have much choice but to surrender because they woke up and they were in the bag the poor devils.
and the enemy moves back they only move back a certain distance and they pick up the type of ground that they feel that they can defend where they are going to make another stand. Then you have to assess and locate where they have arrived at and how you are going to wiggle them out of that. Its infinitely variable, there is no set pattern it depends entirely on the type of ground and how far they go and how long they are prepared to stay there sometimes they only plan to stay there for just a few hours
in case there is a sudden counter attack and then clear out a bit further. You can judge possibly where they might stand just from the contour maps, but there is no quarantine you have to work out where they are before you can counter attack or follow up your attack. If you are going to counter attack you have got to make up your mine to find whether they have moved forward or whether they have remained in the same position. So there is a certain amount of reconnaissance
that has to be done and that’s done by the forward troops. The intelligence section doesn’t have much to do with that, its too quick.
should know. Its usually of pure intelligence information any significant intelligence information goes to a battalion level is passed by the battalion commander back through the operational side. They would say, “Our blokes tell us this and this is the position.” They don’t wait for it to go back to the brigade guy and then back to the brigadier. Once you get any intelligence that is of any use it goes to the commander,
the battalion intelligence officer if he has got something that is of immediate interest it goes to his CO, long before it goes anywhere else. He might send it off as soon as he gets another duty and send it back through eye channels but he is responsible to his commanding officer for any information that he picks up that is anything of significance. He has got to judge of what is significant because the CO has got more to worry about then odd bits of letters from somebody who has lost his sweetheart and is a bit low in Germany,
it has got to be significant.
down on them. If he is likely to move he’s not going to go down a hole if he knows that you are on the high ground. If you have got high ground to attack then you have got to find someway of attacking them or some line of approach where you are not being overlooked all the time, this is where your maps come in. This is why you don’t need an intelligence officer for that you need a fighting officer or forward troops they have got to make up these instant decisions.
The fighting officer has to make sure that they have got all the information on that area that you can possibly give him, and make sure the maps are right and to make sure that they are up to date and to make sure there aren’t any new maps or any additions. Later on we got into the act of air photographs where we would keep terrain information exact. This is going further back now but you don’t do much at battalion level with that, you can’t do much at the divisional level.
You can, some but to be really effective in the long term you have got to be getting it back around corps level so that everybody has up to date maps. To that you have got to have pretty sophisticated facilities, which we eventually finished up with when we got our hands on some Americans stuff, but that’s another battle that was later on.
What sort of air support did you have?
Up until El Alamein none, we had two Hurricanes I think it was in Tobruk which they sent ME109s [Messerschmitts] out from Germany especially for those and they use to run observation runs in the morning to report on any enemy positions that had been moved.
They used the fighters because they could get up fairly high and move fast and they were faster than the anti aircraft because they could easily knock them down. So they sent out a couple of ME109s from Germany, the cunning devils use to wait until they were coming into land and they use to shoot them down once they got just outside the boundary fence if they could or just over the defenses and they got the lot of them.
They were only Hurricanes and they were too low to take any evasive action and these things were too fast so they use to wait until they were absolute sitting ducks and then shoot them down. We use to sit and watch them and we watched them get both of them.
whole cable, I don’t know what it was like in the actual forward area, but the same disability would apply there with the lines being on the top. There were more access on radio by then because in the heat of the battle its not as critical that the enemy knows where you are because they can see you, you can tell him what’s going on.
You could probably guard your language and not say, “Look we are just about on our last legs now come and help us,” if the enemy picked that up he would hop in first. Rarely where the telephone lines worked but they were pretty vulnerable to shell burst and interruptions. The tanks all still worked by radio. I remember listening in to one tank engagement at divisional headquarters
at the signal section this British Tank commander was saying, “where are you?” to his tank crew and he said, “I’m over here,” he said, “You weren’t over there,” he said, “I’m on your left,” and he said, “I can’t see you,” he said, “I will stand up on my tank.” Just then there was an awful crunch it came over the sound and you could hear it on the radio. The commander said, “Are you there so and so?” he said, “I don’t think standing on my tank is such a good idea.”
I don’t know whether the Germans heard that too but we could hear it.
I might just go back to your wedding, could you explain when and to whom you got married?
I was fixated to my lass I had been courting, or we were mutually courting each other from before the war when I was living in Maitland, that was before I changed from BHP and worked in Sydney to my present spouse sitting here Betty.
How much news did you have from home in the Middle East while you were fighting there?
Betty wrote numerous letters, the mail wasn’t too bad but we didn’t get too much into Tobruk you use to get a batch at a time. I don’t know whether any went astray or not but we use to get a stack of stuff coming to Tobruk. I think there was only one ship that was prepared to carry mail
a month or a couple of months, then you’d get a whole batch. Betty use to number them and I don’t think I missed any so I must have been lucky. She would also get a batch too from me and they would go back the same way.
I arrived home and sent off on leave straight away, everybody got leave straight away. I have forgotten what date I arrived, it would have been just at the end of February
and I got married on the 4th March. It would have been about a week I suppose to get disentangled from the army and get the special licence to be married. We had a honeymoon and I think I had a honeymoon for about three weeks.
It would have been about a week and I was married
and I had the balance of the three weeks holidays and I went back to the Tablelands to train for the New Guinea operation. I didn’t see hide nor hair of Betty until after the New Guinea operation.
While you were on the Tablelands can you explain whereabouts you were based and what the layout of the camp was like?
We were based at Tolga, I can’t remember the actual spot. It was in the jungle, I have a little photograph of it there, and it was a pretty quick camp. The ablution block wasn’t there we went down to the creek to have a bath.
We had a reasonable sort of mess, it was a tented camp and I hadn’t slept so cold for ages because he had only come out of pretty hot and I only had been issued with jungle greens at that stage and nearly froze, well I did. The camp as camp goes it was quite comfortable. It was in pretty heavy
jungle country heavy rainforest stuff.
Rain wasn’t the problem only in so far as it was wetting everything and trying to keep things dry, particularly in New Guinea, and to a lesser extent at the Tablelands. The intelligence training didn’t change at all there was no difference and the same principles applied. It was only the physical conditions were different so as far as intelligence was concerned there was no additional training
accept that you were practicing keeping maps that you could still read. The critical maps were all glazed with duco unless they were mark and they didn’t just disintegrate in the wet that was about the only difference that we had to do.
he was on the same ship that I was. He unfortunately got a bullet through his bottom and he didn’t make it any further, if it was one of our blokes would have been patched up and he still would have been on the beach. He got shunted off back and he got a Purple Heart for being wounded and he got a Silver Star in bravery in the face of the enemy and he was face down when he got shot but he got shot on the landing craft.
The one air raid that was resisted on that landing and it was the fifth wave and that happened to the one that we were in. We were pretty lucky of course because the landing craft to the left of us got walloped and the landing craft on the right of us got walloped and all we got was bullets across the deck, we were all up on deck waiting to land. Being an ex infantry officer the only one available around the traps there
with all odds and sods I got the job of OC [Officer Commanding] for the troops. So once I saw the plane coming I got them to all laying down flat, that’s why he got shot in the bottom instead of somewhere else he was unlucky because nobody else got hit he was the only one. Then we scrambled to our feet and got ashore. The guns were burst on either side, the other two boats suffered quite a number of casualties.
What was the scene like when this landing was going on, what would you hear and see happening around you?
On the airplanes coming and it was unopposed, there was nothing to shoot at because you couldn’t see anybody, nobody could see us because there were troops there and suddenly this single plane appeared, otherwise there was no other opposition to the landing. The trouble started much later when we got closer to Lae.
Can you explain what happened after the landing?
We advanced then through the jungle along the coastal strip, I think there were three rivers to cross, or three streams to cross not all rivers. The last one was the nasty one where quite a number of people were drowned trying to cross it. It wasn’t that deep it was up above your waist but very, very fast flowing.
How did you carry all the equipment, the tables and the benches?
They were carried by porters only the light stuff. The essential stuff was carried up so you brought in your map case, notebook, everybody and you could have a look at your maps and write notes in your notebook until such time they caught up to you with a tent, table and a chair. They followed up pretty quick with
tracks that the jeeps could use, four wheeled drive and they use to carry a lot of the stuff. Eventually if we were going to be there for quite a while they would put down Marsden matting strips so that you could get three ton trucks on them. I don’t think they ever bothered to do that there because we weren’t there long enough. They decided that we’d wiz off and the 7th Division could look after Lae and we were fronted off to look after Finschhafen.
Can you explain how that happened?
The Japs were setting up as we found out later we knew they were concentrating in Finschhafen again when we got the full information from captured documents and orders after we had taken Finschhafen but that was then going to be their main concentration. They were meant to get through to Moresby but the Australian troops the militia and the 6th Division when they came home they had effectively stopped that at
Milne Bay, Buna and Gona and the Kokoda Track and that was long before we got there. Lae was going to be their next bit so we kicked them out of Lae so then they settled on Finschhafen as their concentration point if they were going to hold New Guinea so that had to be taken. So they sent off the 20th Brigade as the advanced attack there
and made a hell of a fight at Scarlet Beach and Finschhafen and they had to be reinforced and it was a real dog fight there for a couple of months. Divisional headquarters moved in very quickly and we got up by barge from Lae and we got bombed on the way up on that one too. Divisional headquarters seemed to cop the bombing without any casualties that time and they were bombing at night and they were trying to bomb the wake of the barges. The bloke who was driving our barge had
enough sense to stop and you couldn’t see the barge at night but you could see the wake so he stopped. They could circle and do what they like then because there was no fighter cover or anything. Then they bombed and when they hit the water they just lit up, they had all little floating candles all around to light up the area, it was quite pretty. Fortunately, we were out of the range of those.
We arrived up there without any trouble and setup at tented headquarters at Finschhafen and there we stayed until they called the division out. Although the fighting went up the Rai Coast and we chased them up the Rai Coast they found a regiment of Americans
further up near Sio but all they did was count them when they went past. Their COs excuse was the weather was inclement and the terrain was difficult and we knew that because we were in the middle of it. So we didn’t go any further north after that and the Japs cleared out further North and they got away up to Wewak.
You mentioned examining the mines when you were in the desert what kind of equipment were you discovering from the Japanese?
They didn’t seem to have land mines, there didn’t seem to be land mine laying to my knowledge anywhere in New Guinea that was the big difference. They did have limited mines that they attached to any tank that they encountered or thought that they might encounter, they had tanks. We eventually got a
Once the pursuit up the coast started the division kept on and I was whizzed out and sent down to the staff school in Australia, at that stage I had been transferred to the intelligence corps, I was off the battalion strength. They said that they wanted me back there, the main fighting was over there it was just a case of follow up stuff and
they wanted me down at the staff school so that’s where they sent me.
did you need to learn for that position?
Just general administration appreciation and a broader understanding of planning and strategy, supply problems so that anybody with a grade two staff officer classification can occupy any grade two staff office, where it be at the administration Q, G or Intelligence, a pinch came to a pinch.
You were back in Australia at this time what kind of attitudes or thoughts on the war at home did you experience or witness?
I didn’t have much contact with civilians during that time, Betty was my only contact when I came back to the staff school otherwise we were sort of almost completely employed with our particular studies and exercises and things. From what you read in the papers the war was going quite well, but the threat at the Brisbane Line had passed, and people heeded a sigh of relief and the politicians had got that off their chest
and things were looking pretty bright. The battle of the Coral Sea was over and Australia was relatively safe and people were starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
of the Japanese behavior coming back from that. Some of it was from British sources and some of it was from out own sources, the information that was brought back by the people who got out of Singapore, that was where most of it came from. At that stage the Americans had been whipped out of the Philippines and they
had information to add too. That came back through all sorts of sources, from GN intelligence [general intelligence].
topical operational stuff, any letters from home were of domestic chatter, orders to do so and so or attack this or do that, we are short of rations this sort of stuff, nothing particular about the terrain. Accept one Japanese fellow in a letter was complaining it was a horrible country because it was wet and muddy
and he had used some prickly grass in the latrine, what he used, it was obviously a leak of the gimpy bush, the stinging tree. I don’t know whether you have ever come across that, but that is really savage stuff. That is one in a one to ten series of severity in the stinging bush, and the gimpy bush or the stinging tree is number ten.
We had people just brushing against it and being incompetent to carry on the pain is that bad, he would have been an unhappy little chappie that one.
because of the old story of the attacks on their supply line, in New Guinea they were dependent for barge support, basically of rice and they weren’t crash hot of living off the land, neither were our boys. The Americans then had PT [Patrol Torpedo] boats operating around the coast of New Guinea. And they use to concentrate on running down their supply barges at night and they were having a very big effect.
They were becoming under nourished and of course if you become under nourished under those sorts of conditions with high humidity and general debilitation you lose a lot of strength. They realised they were not in any condition to fight, so they had to get back to where their supply line were ashore. That was even worse than their ammunition requirements because you can ration your ammunition,
you don’t have to fire bursts with your machine gun you can fire single shots but you need a certain amount of food everyday to keep going and if you don’t use that amount you don’t keep going. Then if you don’t get it then you have a problem and that was their biggest problem at that stage.
Did you ever have to use it?
No I didn’t have any occasion to use it accept in a pistol shooting competition on the Tablelands one stage there but that was later on in the piece, that was before the Borneo campaign. I used it once in the Middle East when I shot a mouse, the wretched thing was pinching my chocolate in the dugout so I shot him.
That wasn’t a very good idea because I it was just before dawn or just on daylight and I could just see and before I knew it there were five heads looking down the hole in the ground at me, they thought that I had shot myself. I said, “I’m alright and I got the mouse,” it was a foolish thing to do because it did frighten them.
What was the model made out of?
You have seen a contour map, well the contours represent levels and each one of those contours lines was cut out of plywood and then covered over with plasticine. There wasn’t a drop of plasticine left in Northern Queensland because we brought out all the shops and little stores and then we had a job of getting the money back from the army. We made quite a nice model, with trees and green and a little villages from where we knew they were from air photographs. Because we were doing it from air photographs
and being upside down we put the villages in where they were, accept they were all back to front and that was it. Having done all that and having got them all wildly excited MacArthur decided that we wouldn’t go into Mindoro because it was too difficult to have two lots of supply routes there with different machinery and different food and different armament and different bullets and different bombs, that the Yanks could look after,
and we would go and attack Borneo.
every group of thirty men had his own little map of where he was going to land and it tied in with the whole map and ‘This is where you should land’ and they carried that with them when he landed. There was no drawings, even every tree was mark, with all the villages and trees, every tree it was incredible it was a fascinating procedure.
I had quite a lot of staff to put it all together and then we’d tell them what we wanted when we had those. Then when they were doing the final planning they were issued with those and they could mark out what their particular job was, all the way down to platoons.
to attack something on our own but if they took the Philippines the feeling was with the lot of us that it was a waste of time, a waste of money and a waste of manpower. Because the Buna side was finished and that was all cleaned up, New Guinea was finished and that thing at Wewak that should never of happened.
The Japs could have been left to rot just at the containing line the end was in sight and they could have done the same in Borneo. But one of the things in Borneo that appeared was the prisoners of war at Sandakan what would happen to them, it would have happened anyhow even if we hadn’t of gone in. The Japs panicked and got rid of them, for fear that they would be able
to tell what brutalities to which they had been subjected to. The Japs couldn’t go anywhere in Borneo they would have just withered on a vine like they did in Celebes and eventually they had to give in in Borneo anyhow.
Do you feel like those mapping up exercises that were conducted in that last year and a half were to a certain extent futile?
To a certain extent yes, that was the feeling amongst the troops I think, not a one hundred percent feeling. It didn’t make that much difference, that’s how we felt, that was how I felt anyway, particularly in New Guinea.
Australian POWs [Prisoner of War] in Asia?
Very little, some was leaking out that their situation wasn’t good, particularly the Sandakan ones there had been a lot of discussion with ‘you should have done this and you shouldn’t have done that’, with the others, and it was a very difficult decision. We thought that once we had cleaned
What were the obstacles in terms of getting them out in time?
Shifting a body of troops at that stage because most of the transport facilities were occupied in the cleaning out the Philippines, you couldn’t march up through the jungle because it would have taken too long. The only way to get there was by sea, you couldn’t get up there by air because there was nowhere to land paratroops, even if you had paratroops
What were the American intelligence officers like to work with on that Philippines planning?
We didn’t have to work with any of them, except the fellows that were doing the production up at Morotai they couldn’t of been more helpful. We were providing what we wanted, they could provide us with what we wanted and you couldn’t have asked for a better thing, we had no facilities anywhere like it ourselves.
What was the geography like of Tarakan and Balikpapan?
Tarakan is an island, very heavily wooded and very hilly and the Japs on there had nowhere to go and it was an oil field. Balikpapan was an oilfield, that was all rainforest and a pretty hilly country too, it was awkward to fight in. On the other side
in stereoscopic pairs and you could examine them and they use to do that in a day of taking the photographs and in a week we’d have a map of a week old of what it terrain was actually, the bloke living in the house would still be there, he would have gone in side. For a study on a particular area we use to get stereographic photographs as well, and you’d examine them yourself
and that was quite good fun.
They had a pretty good idea of the Japanese order of battle in the Pacific. As a matter of fact when the war had finished a chap at corps headquarters he was in charge of our order of battle organisation and that is keeping track of the Japanese. He got hold of one of the Japanese prisoners from the (UNCLEAR) I think and settled down with him. He could tell the Jap
where some of his missing troops were, he knew more about where this blokes unit was then the Jap did. He got all that information and pieced it together from bits of information so he knew exactly what troops there were, what units there were on Tarakan and Labuan and in that area and Balikpapan unless they had shifted them around recently but there was no particular call for them to do that.
What we didn’t know was how many of them were operative, whether they were sort of deleted in numbers through sickness or natural nutrition. We knew how many should have been there which would have been pretty close to a maximum and we were pretty right.
most of our officers there managed to scrounge American hammocks out of the Yanks they slept very comfortably. They were a very, very comfortable hammock with a mosquito net and a built in hood over the top, so we slept very comfortably there and still we got bombed one night. Then the order was we had to dig slit trenches, nobody would dig slit trenches there for us because we were in coral.
There were various degrees of safety, there was one engineer, we were on the edge of the Langemak River and there were two trees jutting out over the river. He swung his hammock right along the edge of the bank so that when he got in it he sank below ground level and any bomb that landed in the water the water ensured that any shrapnel would go pretty steep not that it goes off land it goes that way.
He reckoned that he would have to have pretty much a direct hit otherwise he was safe, so he got himself down there. I compromised I dug mine straight underneath my hammock so all I had to do was slip out of it and drop straight down into it, it was only that deep so it was just enough to cover me and long enough. The third fellow he had the best of both worlds he slung his from trees so that when he got in his hammock he would go down into his slit trench so that he didn’t have to get out of his hammock.
When he went to bed he just did that and they could have the air raid or they didn’t have to have an air raid. All this had to be done in a day. I went to bed and sat on my hammock and the hammock rope broke and I went cross ways into my slit trench and I was damned if I could get out because I was jammed in their like that, with my legs and head at one side. I happened to dragged a bit of vine and it just happened to be a fine vine
and I dragged myself out and found out the guy who had sung his hammock under the creek he had cut one of his spreaders up against a tree to which my hammock was and he had half cut through my hammock rope so the moment I sat down the rope snapped and down I went. I was going to kill him if I could find him, I vented it and I slept in there.
Then there was an air raid that night I couldn’t get my mosquito net opened in time so I had to just curl up in the hammock while all the leaves and branches of the tree was knocked off and fell on me luckily there was nothing low enough to hurt me. So that was it and I eventually woke up in the morning and I could hear cries for help from one of the other guys from over the side. He had tried to get out of his hammock but what he hadn’t thought of was
once he was down there how was he going to get back. He was like a giant sloth clinging to his hammock underneath and he turned it upside down in his struggle and I said, “Did you sharpen your spreader up against the tree?” And he said, “Yes,” and I said, “Well you can stay there,” so I left him hanging and let somebody else help him up. Come ten o’clock in the morning somebody said, “Where is Barnsey?” that was the third fellow who had sunk down in into his slit trench
and there was his waterproof air tight completely opaque over the top of his hold, I said, “Hey Dick are you alright?” he said, “What time is it, that is the longest night I’ve ever put in,” it was still dark in there and he thought that it was still night but it was ten o’clock in the morning. So we revamped sort of techniques for hammocks after that. They were very comfortable to sleep in and by the time we got to Morotai
How would you get out from the mainland to the boat each day?
We didn’t have to because it was moored along side somewhere, I think it was moored along side I never went on that the boys use to look after that, they might have a little run about something to run themselves backwards and forwards like a little motorboat like you would in a jeep. I did never ever see the boat, I’m sure it was there
What were the facilities like at Morotai overall?
Very comfortable, a normal camp but very comfortable, there were still Japs on the island there but there were Americans line up the top and they use to shoot a few bullets off at night, I don’t know who they were shooting at themselves or the Japs but nobody ever worried us. It was a very comfortable camp.
Once those landing operations started what would the intelligence officers do?
They would sit back and wait for something, except that towards the end of the operation, I had one trip to Tarakan to take some information over. Just before the end of the war, the operation was basically finished Labuan had been cleared and there were still some fighting around about Miri and they were there trying to put the oil well fires out that the Japanese had started. The Japs were sort of
driven into the bush and the Dayaks [Borneo natives] were busy knocking them off, the Dayaks killed more Japs than we did. The G3I [General Staff Officer Grade 3 Intelligence] at division got sick and there were still a lot of documents and stuff coming in and they wanted some help so I got shunted over there and I did a locum for him and I was over there when war broke out. That was why I was a bit concerned about the Sandakan stuff because it was a likelihood
that we would have launched an expedition from there, or possible. All I was doing then was collecting all the information that they could land their hands on that the Japanese documents and evacuating any Japs that gave up, they pretty well gave in because they were ordered from Tokyo to give in.
big maps, models and troops and sticks and they are pushing things back and forth is it anything like that?
No not field intelligence, accept for when you get back and war is static, (UNCLEAR) is about as static as you would want to get, you could only get corps headquarters distance by aircraft probably bombing and all the rest of it, divisional headquarters is usually always in artillery range
of what is happening, it’s got to be pretty close, that is fighting the immediate battle. Its just a bloke at the desk normally or scorching in a tent, with a pad and something and a few maps. There is not much glamour in it, not much spy stuff just a fair bit of hard work and
sort of sorting things out and making sure you don’t make too many mistakes.
I just wanted to ask you with the Tarakan landing did you have a lot of
intelligence about what was going to happen there before the landing?
Not what was going to happen, we knew what troop were on there and we knew what armament they had, we knew that they were Japanese and we knew that the landing would be contested, so we had a pretty fair idea of what the struggle was going to be. I remember after the briefing when the brigade commanders were given their jobs
and Brigadier Windeyer was the brigadier of the 20th Brigade and he had Labuan and Brigade Whitehead, Toby Whitehead and Tarakan and the 7th Division had Balikpapan but I knew both the other brigade commanders because they were 9th Division units.
I said to Brigadier Windeyer, “What do you think of your job over at Labuan?” he said, “There is one thing going for it I would sooner have it than Toby Whitehead’s because with Labuan its not an island. And if the Japs suddenly decide they want to go they have got somewhere to go but they can’t go anywhere from Tarakan,” he said, “So Toby has got to fight them to the bitter end.”
I recall now that Labuan is not an island because Victor Windeyer never made a mistake.
Tarakan was going to be bombed. The brigadier staff general said to me, “You better go over there and tell Brigade Whitehead that he is going to be bombed on such and such a night,” he said, “You have got time to get over there and stay and make sure whether it happens or not.” I got a ride to Tarakan and I was over there for about five days before I could get back again. The air raid transpired, there was airplane that came over and dropped about five bombs right in the middle of Chinatown
which was on a swamp anyway so no harm was done but at least it proved the information source was correct. I had a bit of a trip out, the boredom of sitting in headquarters without doing things.
understudying him so he was there. I was the most easiest dispensable one in intelligence. The thing wouldn’t fold up without anyone of us, just because one of us was missing it wouldn’t fold up. It was a fairly trivial sort of thing and it
was not a thought to send the G1 over for but to send a G2, a Major over to carry the information over to a brigadier why not an lieutenant was a bit of a curiosity to the brigadier you send a senior officer to tell him that this was on. It would get Evans out from under his feet for a while anyway, and I didn’t have to put up with his silly jokes.
What kind of intercepted information were you relying on as an intelligence officer?
Anything that you could get a hold of. All that stuff was passed down from higher up, right from corps downwards, to the best of my knowledge we had no intercept facilities what so ever this came all through the American setup. They had been
sort of studying Japanese codes for yonks [a long time] probably well before the war and probably even had some broken. In the Middle East we were dependant entirely on the British. Any information you got on intercepted messages that was passed down was useful, it was either on enemy strengths, enemy intentions or enemy problems.
You would get a whole lot of pleas for rations, that was what the Americans were intercepting in New Guinea when they were pleading for ration supplies, they were running short of this and they were running short of that that type of information. Then they stepped up there efforts of course to stop the rest of it going over. Anything that is not significant that is intercepted they don’t pass on but anything that
is trivial is not coded anyway, anything that is coded and you can intercept and decode is usually valuable.
documents coming in because the Japanese were disappearing and going bush, getting away from it all, I think they could see the writing on the wall too a bit. There was a mass of material coming in that they were leaving behind and this had to be organised and sorted out and if necessary sent back to division to the interpreter. There must have been a Japanese interpreter there
to oversee his work and see what had to be sent back and the rest had to be disregarded, what we already knew at corps. There was so much coming in that I asked the order battle officer who was in charge Keith Steele came over and get a crack at it first hand and he was in his ultimate. There was an interpreter there because he was working with him and they sorted a lot of
stuff out before it ever got to corps headquarters. But it cut the time down a hell of a lot of this stuff to make sure that we rounded up all the Japs around the Pacific and finding out where they were all and on what little islands they were tucked away on. This was the fellow who was eventually able to tell the Japanese general where all the rest of his troops were, he didn’t know.
What do you remember of being told that the war had ended?
I don’t remember a thing about it that the war had ended, it must have been an ultimate sense of relief ‘well that is finished I don’t have to think about it anymore’ because I have no recollection, no reaction or when I was told or what I was doing, or where I heard it only that it had ended. I’ve often wondered about that I probably was
they got back to corps headquarters there were quite a few of us there that were left over because Morshead had as many of his old staff that he could lay his hands on I think. He was a great believer that a team of people who knew what he wanted to do was much better than a whole flog of experts no matter how qualified they were, I think that was his rationing. There were about four or five
on the corps staff that had been right through with him from Tobruk days. I wasn’t on his staff at Tobruk but I was there and when he was still in charge of the Middle East I was on the brigade staff and I was on his divisional staff. We had pretty good points to get back, it would have been about five or six weeks before I was home
and came back by ship to Brisbane.
you wanted to actually go up to the oil fields?
Yes, I wanted to slip around to Miri because the 13th Battalion was there and meet up with some of the old fellows that were there and who I knew and to see what the state of the war was with the oil fields and I got the signal to go back to corps headquarters. So I queried it ‘must I come back I want to go back down to Miri?’ but I just got a code word, “come back,” so I came back.
To be told that because I didn’t obey orders and come back when I was told I missed out on a trip to the Seles to take the surrounded of the Jap force down there, so John Rudd got that job. I got that job because I was about the only infantryman with field experience in an infantry battalion at headquarters, John and I had been staff all though,
he was welcomed to it and I didn’t shed any tears about that. I would have sooner gone down to Miri and see my mates.
working with men under my commander who were older than I was realised that there was a way to go about things if you want to get results, personally the penny dropped fairly quickly. It also gave them a certain assurance if worst came to the worst I knew what to do when things got bad, I didn’t say, “How do you do this?” if somebody had given me a Bren gun then I could fire it,
or a tommy gun, a pistol or a mortar, at least I could strike a blow like an ordinary infantryman and be confident that I wouldn’t be handicapped, I could look after myself. That was the only way it didn’t have any direct effect on intelligence gathering.
I’m speaking of field intelligence now and that is the only thing that I know anything about. There is a very limited field for field intelligence and that doesn’t differ very much from anything to anybody but you grab whatever you can. You are not into the sophisticated electronics, you are not into spying you are just into what you can bring in from the battle field by talking to people by watching
and interrogating prisoners. If you speak their language then well and good but if you can’t you are dependant on an interpreter. It was a big help if you could speak their language and you know what they are telling you.
know what to look for in the way of enemy movements, significant features of terrain. We were taught in the early days how to do rough landscape sketches to indicate the terrain that you were looking at and you can give that sketch to somebody and say, “this is where the enemy is and this is the way to go, this pit fall is there, and there is something here and something there.”
Even though it wasn’t a real map it was like drawing a visual map and having things that are important to the person if he wants to attack then we will go there and we will recognize it again. So that observation has got to be fairly minute and you have got to be trained to know what to look for, you don’t just look at a bit of ground and say, “Its just dirt.”
Did you get an understanding of how the enemy would think in a similar situation?
Only by what you would do in his shoes, if you put yourselves in reverse and say, “If I had to do that, what would I do about getting here?” That is as far as you can go unless you know the fellow personally and know is personality and if there is a risk what risk is he prepared to take, or whether he was a bit of a chicken and he wouldn’t.
All you can do is be trained to know what to look for from the other fellows point of view or how you would go about it. Seeing whether that is feasible or not and you base your defense on that particular thing or an attack on that particular thing. ‘If I was over there what parts would I defend’, that is all that you can do. Some people in the depth
they study the personalities as well particular of generals. Towards the end of the war everybody knew pretty well what Rommel would do next, that would have been something that would have been two dimension. We got one document that had been issued to his junior tank man ‘if held up do something, do anything but just do something and make the enemy react and
don’t work to his initiative’. Then you can make your own decisions, don’t just sit their do something. It seems silly but you are going to get a reaction from the enemy so you take it from there.
What skills do you think you took away from your work as an intelligence officer?
I can’t think of any particular skills that have been particularly helpful, except to be incisively curious that always helps, it makes you think a bit. Perhaps the necessity to weigh up information, if you are going to do anything you get as much information
as you can on a particular subject even if it is investing some money or even going to the football, whatever you want to do you have to make sure you know as much as you can and go about it in the best way to get the best out of it. That’s perhaps the only thing because you had to do that, you had to make a appreciation, taking the pros and cons. This was also part of the staff courses,
you get all the information and you sort out the assumptions, what is fact and what is assumption. With the assumptions you cut them down to the absolutely reducible minimum and then work out what is a reasonable course of action, it’s the best chance of success. In short don’t be too impulsive, it seems to work
you miss out on a few things but you don’t fall into too many pits.
Coming back home and being apart of civilian life again how did you notice or what did you see that had changed in Australia as a result of the war?
Not a great deal, I don’t know that the present relaxation of discipline, civil discipline, family discipline is a result of the war, I don’t think it is a result of the war but it has happened. The really significant change is the reduction and family and civil discipline and sense of responsibility.
That might be due more to the relieve of the depression rather than the war I don’t know, but that is the only interest that I see and I can’t see that the war had anything to do with that. It should have been the other way but it hasn’t been.
So for the foreseeable future we need some symbolic relation with a good strong friend. If you look around and the only friend I should say that we have around this area is New Zealand and I would have a New Zealand by my side or at my back in a fight any day. They are very dependable,
so who do you pick but we have got to pick somebody and that is unfortunately the task of the government of the day and it is something that we have to do very, very carefully. But you can’t please everybody.
ideological problems. That brings us down basically to the English speaking or obviously English speaking friendly nations, and that only really leaves two Britain and America. Unless we decide
that Japan would be an allies but there again Australia and Japan couldn’t combat either China, America or Russia, either of those three so we are in a bit of a spot. America seems to be our best bet right now, our object
must be to become completely independent. What we do is to go the Swiss method and to declare ourselves neutral that is one way. The other way is to build our own strength up so that we are impregnable, both are which extremely difficult or if not bloody impossible, so somebody has got a big job ahead of them.
Do you believe that close link with America started with the Second World War?
No but I always wonder what would have happened if Japan hadn’t made the classic mistake of bombing Pearl Harbour firstly and secondly that stroke of luck that the two American aircraft carriers were not in Pearl Harbour when it was bombed.
To my mind that would have completely altered the whole conflict of the second half of the Second World War, we might not ever be here today if that had of happened. If either of those two errors had not occurred. If the bombing had occurred then both of them would be valid. If the carriers had have been in that bombing I think it would have been an entirely different result,
and that’s a personal opinion.
and this was confirmed from hindsight of course, to setup the Asian partnership that they would control all of Asia down to and including Borneo and Indonesia. Australia was not necessarily in their original target. When they came through so quickly, within two months they were down through Indonesia and bombing Pearl Harbour
and they were down here on the doorstep of Australia. They decided then that they could get Australia too, then they started to get held up and that was the turning point. So that Australia was within that much of being invaded and this is where those two American carriers come in. If it hadn’t been for them and being available to clobber that finally attempt to
reinforce Finschhafen that was to re-enforce New Guinea as a whole but then in New Guinea Port Moresby wasn’t available and Milne Bay, Gona, Lae and Finschhafen was their last foot hold there and this convoy was to start the first build up and headed for New Guinea before Lae fell and they then decided to divert that to Finschhafen. That was the one that the final fleet clobbered.
Looking back on your role as an intelligence officer during the war how do you feel about it now in hindsight?
My role, well its always necessary, it had to be necessary my particular role didn’t make one bit of difference in the war or the beginning of the war for that matter, but field intelligence will always be necessary, you would always have people to do and you always need people to do it. The armies
what wars has cost the young manhood on both sides of every fight, it’s always the youngest and the fittest who get knocked off. They are no particular gain to anybody and it just highlights the necessity for people to work as hard as possible to prevent it from happening again,
that is what it brings back to me. The only thing I observe is the dawn service on Anzac Day I don’t worry about Armistice Day. I go to the main service which is the dawn service which is the significant thing where you wake up expecting something to happen and be ready to prevent it.
You are at your last end just before the dawn and you have got to be up and over come that to be ready for anything. You can reflect that nothing is happening and you can reflect on what has gone past, on the people that you have known and lost and then I give it away after that, that is where I try and forget it for the rest of the year.