Robin Muirhead
Archive number: 1600
Date interviewed: 15 April, 2004

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Robin Muirhead 1600


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Tape 01


Robin, tell us about your childhood and your birth?
I was born on the 10th October 1910


at a place called Flaxton on the Black Oil Ranges in South Queensland. I have never been able to find it in all the circumstances because Mum was very ill. At Flaxton there was no communication, no telephone in those days and the two ladies who were wives of farmers, they had been attending Mum, apparently. There were complications so Dad had to ride a horse from Montville


to Nambour to get Dr Miller to come up. He in turn, because there were no motor cars in those days so he had to find his horse get in his sulky and ride right up Flaxton, which is twelve miles I suppose on country roads and he was present at the birth. Apparently I was a little bit odd and Mum was rather ill so they looked after Mum and put me


behind the door. When Mum was safe one of the ladies said, “It lives.” That was the start of my life, ‘it lived’.
Who told you that story?
The family. I’ve never been able to reach out how Dad rode the time when the two wives decided that she needed the medical attention.


The time it took to ride to Nambour, the time it took to get the doctor and then to get up there. It must have been a long long time that Mum suffered. I wasn’t very interested in this until rather later on in life. There was no-one that I could ask to find out the particulars and that is one of the things that I wonder about. We lived at Flaxton and in our day it was a citrus orchard


and it had a two-storey house on it. People say that youngsters can’t remember but I can remember sitting on the top storey in the cot watching the bullock wagons coming around with three or four logs of timber going to the sawmill. I can remember that. I can remember Dad carrying me on his soldiers down to some wild tobacco to shoot pigeons and we had those for soup. I can remember a turkey that we had,


it was hit with a bucket and its head turned a bluey colour, I can remember this as a kid. I was very young. Dad sold the farm and went to Montville. I will digress a little bit here. Granddad was one of the original selectors of Montville. We had a pretty close affiliation. Granddad


came from Scotland to Maroochydore and as a result of this my life switches quite a bit from Montville to Maroochydore. Dad bought another property at Montville. He had bananas. They planted some pineapples and he had to build a house – there was no house on it. The conditions were very different to today –


no electricity, no power, no water until later on and Mum made all the bread. I started school there and we used to run along the road and we use to play marbles on the way to school. When the school bell used to ring a quarter of an hour before, we fell in so we were able to race that last bit to get to school on time.


Dad sold that farm and moved to another farm.
Can you tell us a little bit what the school was like?
At the school we had one huge room with two verandahs – one on the front and one on the back. Underneath was, when I start was just plain dirt but when I finished school they had put asphalt underneath and we used to have some of the classes.


When I started school as a five-year-old there was about one hundred-odd pupils there but there was no school at Hunchy and no school at Flaxton. While I wasn’t going to school, schools was established there so this reduced the Montville school. We had what I thought was a very very good setup. We would fall in in the morning


and all in our classes and sing ‘God save the King’, march around into our classes and start. We only had a headmaster and two pupil teachers. The senior children were very often put in charge to watch the juniors, and so this was fun. One of the funny things that happened there, one day the headmaster


at the big school… And I was study for a scholarship at the time, there were two of us. We were allowed to move around the school. He sat right down in the front and I sat at the back. The headmaster was explaining ‘exclaim’. He gave an example, “If I put a pin into you, you will exclaim.” The chap next to me and said “Hey Bob, I bet if


you put a pin in the Valley,” that was the name of the other fellow, “I bet he will.” And I said, “Will he? I haven’t got a pin,” and he said, “Here’s one.” I ran over and interchanged and he got a great shock and of course I got four cuts. They were great times that I had. We also had gardens there. Each class was divided up into little plots


in the yard. That was divided into little groups and my little group might have grown cabbages and the next group maybe grew carrots and so on, it was a rather wonderful time. We had a cricket team and we used to play Palmwoods and I happen to be captain for that so life was pretty good to me at school. When I left school I passed the


scholarship and I was one of the youngest in Queensland to do that and I was only twelve years old. Then I went to the Nambour school to do secondary education closer than Brisbane. The move to Brisbane was very difficult and as I said there was very little if any motor transport at Montville at all.
What was your father doing in Montville?


He was a farmer and he had pineapples, bananas and citrus. On the last farm we had a lot of standing timber – that’s what they call now rainforest but we use to call it scrub. We fell, two years in a row we fell about two acres each year, and planted extra bananas.


It was quite a good life.
Can you describe the house that you were in?
The house was three bedrooms, one behind the other and a another bit built out the side and divided into two portions, with a dining room and lounge room – we use to call them sitting rooms and the kitchen. On the back there was a


landing and the back steps went down parallel with the house. Underneath was the laundry and also a packing shed. The house was on a high blocks. We had a wood stove and Dad said that everybody had to do some work so I had the job of milking the cow in the morning and getting the kindling at night. Dad


lit the fire in the morning and feed the chooks. So Dad said that everybody had to work in the house and we had the same thing at home with the girls – they had to help Mum. Dad would say that Mum does all the cooking and you can help her by doing the washing up. It was a very happy life.
You had three sisters, did you?
Yes, three sisters, and we have still got the four


of us all surviving. Three of us are over ninety, so that’s not a bad performance – it speaks well for the Montville land.
And the pineapples?
Yes and the oranges and the fresh vegetables. We use to grow most of our own vegetables – beans, peas, cabbages, cauliflower all those sort of things.
Are they older or younger than you?
All younger than I am. I am the eldest.


You are the only boy?
The only boy.
What were your mum and dad like?
All I can say is they were wonderful people. Dad of course, because granddad selected at Montville and it was all scrub, he never had much of an education. There was a lot of work. I went down to the


centenary of Montville School, and there was a lot of old history there and granddad played a big part in helping establish the first school up there because he had I think about eight children. Dad was a bit too old when the school started. He was a very very highly principled man.


Mum, she was a very kind gentle lady and she suffered a bit of ill health at the end. Dad didn’t. Dad went fishing and they found him with his hands across his chest sleeping on one of the little islands on Maroochydore River and that was rather a strange thing too. The fellow who found him, they rode up the Maroochydore River to go fishing early and


saw this old chap and they thought he was a chap having a sleep. When they came back he was still there so they called over and found out that he was dead. That chap was the son of a fellow who was in Tobruk with me. Coincidences you will find through out my story. There will be coincidences like that. Coming back, I left school


and although we had a very good farm we were not the only ones. The prices of fruit was very poor. We got continuous service on the telephone and I got a job in the post office as a night operator. Staring at six o’clock at night and finishing at eight o’clock in the morning.


I could have a sleep all the time but the only thing was the monitors in Brisbane use to wake you up. Naturally the phone wouldn’t be used much at night because they were farming people and they would be working from daylight until dark, so they didn’t do too much gossiping at night-time.
What other sort of things would you do in that night period?
When I was at the post office I sort of did seven nights a week.


Can you explain your job a little bit more at the post office?
All I did was get the mail ready for the postman in the morning and operate the exchange. That was not like it is today. A person would ring and a shutter would drop on the switchboard and you would plug in and say, “Number please.” They would give it to you and you would plug it in and give it a ring and everything was right.


That was for the locals. If they wanted to ring Brisbane they would tell you the number that they required and you’d write it down on a docket and eventually you’d get a line through to Brisbane. You would repeat the number that was required, giving the docket number, etc., and if you were lucky Brisbane would try to get them immediately. Or if it was engaged… When I say engaged, not engaged but


there was a limit to what the lines could carry, and they would say, “We will ring you back later.” Later on you’d get a ring from Brisbane and they’d say, “1806 on the line,” which is the docket number and you’d ring them and say, “Your Brisbane call has come in.” So that was the setup.
Did you enjoy that job?
I didn’t really enjoy it but I was getting seven and six pence a week, so I enjoyed that.


It was pretty hard to reconcile when I worked seven nights, from six to eight, seventy-five cents. With the price of things today, it’s hard to reconcile that.
What did you do with that money?
Helped out at home. Then I’d have a sleep. At night after


going home I changed and help on the farm again so I helped that way. Mum, as I said, didn’t enjoy the best of health. She had operations and in those days they didn’t have all the facilities that they have now. It was an expensive business so I helped in my little way.
What was the


sickness with your mum?
I really don’t know, I could ask Heather and she may be able to give me that answer. It was something that reoccurred and she had quite a few turns. The time came when I left the post office and went back to the farm and we worked there for quite a while and


things were going all right. A neighbour, he wanted a man to work for him so we decided that I could do that and stop at home and work, so I started working for a farmer. We had a wonderful setup, he had two other people working, two old Boer War people – one was a very big man and one was a small man.


In those days there was no real award. I got ten bob a day for working, the big fellow he got eight and the other chap he got six. I worked and I was on sort of permanent. If it was a wet day I made briefcases, the other two they lost their job while


it was wet, so I had a good time and I got on very well with him. We use to rob bees. When I say rob bees, we used to go out in the bush and find a bees’ nest and rob them. We tried to get a couple of nests and eventually we did and we started off with some bees. By a strange setup, the person who bought


the farm from Dad at Flaxton was a beekeeper so I was able to ride over to Flaxton and get a lot of help and information and so on. I also found a book, Dr Miller’s Thousand Questions to Beekeeping, and that helped me a lot in learning about beekeeping and we finished up with quite a few hives.


Around about what year was this?
About 1926 to 1927 possibly, in the later twenties.
You were still a teenager?
Yes. We were living at Montville and our fruit had to be carted to Palmwoods and this chap bought a truck. Some of our neighbours were a little bit dissatisfied with the carrying


conditions so we started to cart their fruit. We made a little partnership – he supplied the truck and the finance and I supplied the labour so we worked that way. At this stage the old Montville Road was operating, it was down through Razorback down through Hunchy into Palmwoods, and the new one was other than going around the front of the range,


and it was a bitumen road. I had the experience of driving on the old road with horses and then driving on the old road with a motor vehicle. There were some steep places in it and the old motor vehicles, they didn’t have self starters or anything and if you stopped and cut the motor you had to get out and crank it. Because it was steep


you couldn’t rely on your brakes to hold it so you had to aim for the gutter, and as it slid backwards it was so that you could get out. Unless you had a mate with you and you would hold it with the brakes and he’d get out and find a couple of stones. Not all, but some people got a long piece of timber and put a metal display on the bottom and had it up under the back,


and when they started going up the range they dropped it and that trailed. When it stopped and the vehicle didn’t start, it dug in. That was one of the things. Conversely, in the wet weather we cut down a little suckling and put it behind the truck because it was pretty slippery so the vehicle wouldn’t get away from us, being steep.


That was the changeover for the driving with the new road at Montville.
What did you think of cars when they first came in?
I thought they were wonderful things. It was a great setup when you could drive a motor car doing twenty miles an hour, the old trucks.
Did everybody in town talk about


who owned a car and when they came in?
We went through the very first two vehicles in Montville. I don’t remember which one came first but it was an old Publican truck bought by Mr Smith. Mr Cart had an


Albumen. They were the two old trucks driven by chains just like a bike, chain on a bike. That was quite a thing. Then as people bought them the first were a few trucks and then a few pleasure cars bought. It was quite a celebration when


any family bought a new motor car – they were all new. The dealer was in Nambour and he’d bring the car up and spend a couple of days with the purchaser teaching them to drive. Life was very very interesting.
Did your family get a motor car?
No, my family didn’t get a motor car. We never got the good prices.


That’s how we went on. I grew up there and I finished up with a little bit of property. I still retain the partnership with the vehicle. When the pineapples were on they mainly went to Sydney and in Melbourne and you had to catch the train to the south,


that was on a Tuesday and a Thursday, so it was important. When you were carting for other people too, they all wanted it so was a long day and I’d have to do my own packing the day before, then usually I’d have a bit of a camp. At about two o’clock in the morning I’d get up and drive to Palmwoods,


the railway yards would be locked, unload my load and come back to Montville and get another load. And by this time the railway was open at seven o’clock in the morning. I go in and find the railway truck, unload and then go back and reload the ones I had dropped off before.
By this stage you had your own property?


Can you describe Montville for me? What was there at the time?
Montville, we never really had a shopping centre. The very first thing I remember was the junction of the road that went across the range and there was a road that went out the back and it was


called the Back Road, now it’s called the Western Avenue, and the shop was located there. From this road junction, I’m going to say travelling north to the left, on the next hill there was a dip. That was where they put through the cattle. There were a couple of dairies there.


Then there was nothing until one of the very old residences had built a home, then it went out, this is continuing towards Flaxton. There was Mr Dart’s place, on the next ridge there was Mr Short’s place and on the next was Mr Snowden. Now we are running down the Red Hill and that was the end of my property. On the other way going to the right you were going towards


Maleny and there was old Granddad Dart as we called him he lived there, then on the next ridge there was Elliston, that was a boarding house. Montville was a holiday retreat for a lot of people. It was very picturesque, and then there were the Browns and Mr Downs. At the back of Mr Downs’,


off the road, that was where Dad had properties, then there was Mr Ed, Mr Marshall, Mr Thomas. Then you went under the rough road country across to Maleny. The Back Road there was Mr Smith and another Mr Smith opposite, Mr Ruddy, Mr Bowser,


Mr Pack, Mr Hayworth, Dad, Mr Tinny, Mr Wolf, Granddad Buck, Billy Buck, Uncle George, Mr Clarke, Mr Highfield, Mr Bonds and Mr Vinex.


They were all farming?
They were all farming. And now of course Montville is a real town and there is no farming at all, I don’t think. There is a little bit in the way of avocados and things. Where we lived their used to be open paddocks but now it’s all built on.
Was there a church in town?
Yes, there were two –


the Church of England and the Methodist Church. And the School of Arts – I’d forgotten that. Alf Smith built a little shop there and he put in a telescope up there and you could go and pay sixpence to go and have a look at the stars at night. But Montville has changed completely.


Did your family go to church?
What sort of things did you do at the church?
We had to go to Sunday School first and at church there was a minister from Nambour who use to come up every now and again he use to ride a horse up. I got into a bit a few


years later. I was a member of the Maroochydore Lifesaving Club and in those days you use to dress a bit differently. I’d have a clean shirt and long trousers and came home and didn’t have time to change and I went to church. The old minister from Nambour was up,


I was only a young chap and he said it was wrong to come to church that way. I was young enough to tell him what I thought that coming to church was the thing and not how I was dressed, or words to that effect. That was the reason why my life changed.
What was the surf club like?
Wonderful at Maroochydore.


There was a surf club, there was only the Alexandra Headlands that was along the Sunshine Coast, the Alexandra Headland, Maroochydore, Coolum. That was the North Coast. At Caloundra they formed a club, Noosa, and then I think there were several smaller


surf clubs along the coast now, I’m not sure. Maroochydore was a very unusual club, we had the Sasaris and they were a family of swimmers. Axel, he was a freestyle champion of Queensland, Joe he was a long distance swimmer and


Vic I think it was was a breaststroker. They were champions and they were in our club. As they got older another family, the Petersons, came along and there was Allen, he was long distance, Jack was a sprinter and Gordon he was a breaststroke swimmer. They all had Queensland championships and when


the place developed and the roads came good we had all sorts of champions who came from Brisbane on the weekends. When we joined it we only had a little weatherboard place not even as big as this room. That was our clubhouse. Frank and I were mates


and we were the first surf boat crew that we had in the Maroochydore Club and I was lucky – I went to Sydney with the Queensland Lifesavers in 1935. Not that I was any good, I was just happened to be able to go just in case somebody got crook or something like that, so I had a trip to Sydney.


Mind you, we all had to make our own way in those days and never got paid much.
Montville is a little bit further inland, how did you hear about the club and how did you get there?
Maroochydore, Granddad came out from Scotland and his first house was built there . The first time we used to go over we went from Montville to Palmwoods, catch the train and come up to Nambour and get a buggy


and it would take an hour to Deepwater and we use to get a boat and go down. Then some years later they opened the road through the Yuload Flats. We would leave Montville at seven or eight o’clock in the morning and drive the horses and wagon over and arrive about three or four o’clock from what I can remember.
It would take you all day to get there?


Yes that’s the time. At this time there were only about twelve to twenty houses; I can remember the names of most of them. Maroochydore has gone ahead a lot, but it was a great place.
What was the trip to Sydney for?
With the lifesavers?


I was willing to go and if any of them had have been crook I could have taken their place. Don’t think because I went to Sydney that I was a crack at it because I’m not.
What did you think of Sydney when you got there, coming from a small town?
I think the thing that impressed me most was the trip


to the Toohey’s Brewery.
Tell us about the brewery?
We were taken there and we were led around and shown huge vats, beer maturing in various stages and we would walk somewhere else – it was very interesting but I don’t remember the details. At the last stage we came up to a big vat


and there was a door and this was the entrance to this vat. We go in and here’s a place setup with casts, with a quarter of it cut out and padded so they were seats, then there was a little bit of a spiel given about it. This is the way that the beer comes in and another door opens and a couple of stewards come in carrying their supplies and


placed it down in front of us. There was a reception with David Jones I think it was, it might not have been David Jones, but one of the Mark boys played there and they put on a big show for us, dance. We went and I met a girl there and years later, as speaking to you now,


talking about the trip down, and it was Blue’s brother and his wife. Turned out to be the girl I danced with at Mark. That was another odd coincidence and my life is full of those.
When you were growing up in Montville, did you hear much about the First World War?


A little bit because two of my uncles were there and when one of them came home he was in a pretty bad way. He had been shell shocked and trench feet, wounded. He was not the best, but the other uncle, he was okay.
When you say he was shell shocked, what did he look like to you as a young boy?


Just the same, just the same as anybody else only he’d be sitting at the table and he’d start to have… That was what they said but I was only a youngster and that’s what I thought was shell shock.
What sort of things did they talk about their experiences?
Very little. I think if they got together


they’d talk a lot because like all wars not everyone was in the same place. They only knew about the other places by only what they were told.
Then as a young boy what did you think about war?
I can really say that I never really thought about it. It was only something that my uncles had been there


and I used to like to read and I use to read war stories in the old days when they use to race around with swords and galloping horses and all that sort of thing, but I never gave any thought about war.
Did the Depression effect your town very much?
The Depression never worried me because by that time I had left the farm.


I had a couple of not big trips but I played a bit of sport. I thought there was a lot more in life than growing pineapples and citrus at Montville. There was a bit of gold discovered at Cracow and there was an old farmer up at Montville who had been a gold miner.


There was quite a bit of talk about the gold at Cracow and he got a group together and we went out to a place called the Three Mile in the upper reaches of the Mary River – Gympie is on the Mary River. I was included and there was another young chap and we used to go out on the weekends and do a bit of prospecting.


We found the place and thought, “This is it.” We worked on it and didn’t do any good and a couple in the group got a bit dissatisfied and they pulled out. The rest of us stopped there. There were about half a dozen of us left in it. The others got dissatisfied because we weren’t finding any gold.


Snow, that was the chap who was about my age, he and I were left carrying the baby so we worked. We didn’t find any gold either. Half a mile away there was a family. When I say family, two brothers


working a reef. There was an old couple who had a claim, or a holding – I’m saying a holding now deliberately – next to them. Naturally they thought that they would be getting gold there. One was a farmer and one was an older chap.


They approached us, telling us that our place was no good and suggested that we come down working with them at their place. They sunk down to about twenty feet I suppose. We discussed it and thought, “Sure there would be a bit of gold on that reef,” so we went down.
Interviewee: Robin Muirhead Archive ID 1600 Tape 02


They made the offer that we go with them, and we decided that we’d do that. The farmer was going to look after the finance and we were going to do the hard work. And the other old chap who was an experienced miner – he would be telling us what we should be doing. He would be testing any stone that we brought down. He would be generally looking after us and


doing the cooking and getting the provisions and we just worked. That went on for quite a while and we went down about eighty feet and I did the underground work and he did the top work. I wonder why the time he had doing nothing,


but as you go down you have to timber so that the sides don’t fall in. While I was preparing for the next night’s charge of the explosives he was away cutting timber to get the slabs for the timbering of the shaft, so he was working pretty hard. One of the factors why we decided to drive was that


for the first thirty feet he use to wind me up in the bucket and see how the wind was whistling, and then I started to get a bit scared, just in case the wind just go away from him. And thirty feet was going to be a long way down so we put ladders down. The ladders consisted of getting a sapling about so round,


saw it right down the centre. Before we saw it we bore holes with an inch auger drill and then we’d saw it right down. Then he’d cut blocks of ironbark – that’s timber – and split it up and round it off as rings for the ladder. Then we had some hooks and we’d drive these into the timber


and here we had a ladder. When I lit the fuses down below on the geli [gelignite] I’d have to scramble up this ladder. It was getting a bit of a race to get up because if I had a premature light I would be helped out with the explosion. We put in a drive. When we got into a few feet the air wasn’t too good, so this old chap, he knew what to do,


and he built what you call a windsail. That was a pipe about so big of canvas rounded, he used (UNCLEAR) every four feet and kept it nice and round. Then he had like two jibs up on the top and air down the side of our shaft resisting, and on the top it caught all the breeze and it would come down and it was gloriously cool. I’ve never ever


seen it done anywhere else but it was very successful. That turned out horrible. I would love to know the story about this.


I met this chap and I don’t know why he seemed to be friendly, but he asked me so much about the area and what we were doing, how many people were working there – lots of questions. He paid particular attention to our old cook. He told me that he could be a representative of an organisation that had


scouts. We will call them out in the various areas like this, Cracow and areas like that that had created the boom. There was the North Arm and Little Yabba, there was our place at Three Mile, there were so many of these areas. He had representatives on those places and they were looking forward to passing the information if anything good was found.


Also he told me that we would most likely be pushed off any time if there was some fault found in our rate of working there and he suggested that I go and see the ward man when I go to Gympie. I did go to Gympie and I did go to the ward man and I found we were operating without any authority at all on the property.


I found out my owner’s right did not take me to all properties – it was government property where we had a right to be in. To go onto private property you needed a different procedure. I didn’t know what to do and I told the ward man that I was an innocent kid and he told me the best thing that I could do was to get a permit to enter. That had been drawn up but


we had to show the miner’s right of the people that were requiring to enter and do the work. When I made the application I didn’t know the numbers of the other people of the miner’s rights. It was suggested that I take it out, which I did. I spent another couple of days in Gympie and when I arrived back home… I’m saying back home, I was the most unpopular


chap because somehow or other word had got back to them that I tried to jump the claim by taking out my right to enter. I didn’t know we were so close to the end because I decided to snatch the time and I left them. I had a couple of guns and I was able to sell them and I finished up in Nambour


away from them, and that’s another story for the end. I finished up absolutely broke. I stopped at Nambour, I stopped at the hotel and when I settled up I had one shilling left. I was wondering whether I would go down the Maroochydore River looking for a job or go back up on the range. I was in Nambour


and a school mate from Montville, and we met and had a drink and of course beer was sixpence then and my last shilling was spent on a beer. I asked him whether there was any work on his farm. Bill, who was his brother, and he wanted to substitute pineapples and I didn’t think he would give me a job and he laughed


at me. He said that I wouldn’t have wanted that because I was a great gold miner, but I said that I wanted it. He said that he was able to give me a job and he was going to ring his brother up and make certain with him. So he did this and when he came back to me he said that Bill would give me this and I said, “Lend me a quid, will you?” and he gave it to me. I’m saying that I think I was the most unusual chap here.


I was absolutely broke at one time in my life, I didn’t have a shilling, I didn’t owe a penny and I didn’t have a job or anything. I was absolutely broke for five minutes. I don’t know what the sequence was but there wasn’t any big gold found at the Three Mile but I think that there still is gold in that area,


and I think its scattered all over the place. A very interesting phase of life.
Were you disappointed at the end of it?
Not particularly. It was just one of those things that happened and there was no use worrying and I had a job.
What did your father think about you doing those kind of jobs? Did he want you to be a farmer?
Dad wasn’t particularly happy in one way, but in the other way I think he was


a bit disappointed in that he didn’t make a huge success at farming and why should I? I don’t think there was any worry. Dad never spoke about it, anyway.
Were you close to your sisters?
Yes, but we were close mentally, I would say,


but not physically. When the Nambour hospital opened Jean started nursing there and just stayed at Montville all the time, but I was close to them. I still ring Haze every couple of weeks and she’s in Sydney. I speak to Jean less frequently,


and Jess is over in Western Australia. So we are a bit scattered but I would say we were a close family.
How did you come then to join the army?
War was declared and I reckoned I would be going.
Do you remember the exact day war was declared and where you were?
The 3rd September on a Sunday.


When it was announced it was in Gordonville, Commercial Hotel. That was at half past eight at night. I played cricket that day and I was still in my cricket clothes at half past eight and I said that I was going to join the army. I didn’t immediately.


What was the reaction at the Commercial Hotel when war was declared?
I don’t remember any unusual… There was no great cheering or any great booing or anything but some people said that they would join the army too. I really thought that I would go to England and I thought that would be a good trip. I had no


great thoughts of a promotional career in the army. I knew there was infantry or artillery. I never knew any of these odds and sods, so that was it.
Tell us about the day that you joined and what happened.
The lead-up to it, Frank,


we use to see each other a bit. I went up on the Sunday and I had to say that I was going to join on the Monday and I knew that Frank and I spoke about it. I went up to their place and they lived at Maroochydore and as I walked up they had high-blocked houses and Mrs Henderson met me and she said, “Have you come to ask Frank to join the army?” and I said, “I’m going to tell him that I am.”


She said, “He has been waiting for you to come.” I went in and told him that I had decided to join the army, that I would try and volunteer. He said, “I will too,” so we decided to catch the train to Brisbane and we went out to the recruiting depot and went through there.


We were both accepted. And Frank has a very good sense of humour. We had been cane cutting and cane cutting you made pretty good money and there was a captain and he started to speak to us and found that we were single and he suggested that we make an allotment for the bank. Eventually he had persuaded us


that we showed him a bit of interest that we knew we were getting five shillings a day and we making more than five pound a day and we were only getting five shillings a day. We played with him a bit and Frank said, “Yes,, we will join,” and the fellow said, “How much do you want to get paid?” and Frank said, “Seven or eight pound a day”


and he said, “I’d like to see the reaction of the captain to that.” We went over to Fraser’s Paddock and we were in our civilian clothes. We got changed and got into army stuff and our clothes were taken away. There was a parade call and


they asked for drivers to fall out and so Frank and I fell out and we were standing next to each other. An officer came along and asked us what we had driven and where we had driven and that sort of thing. May I digress a little bit? Frank and I drove a T Model Ford from Maroochydore to Cairns in the mid 1930s and there were no roads.


The chap said that he would call on us again and we’d have another parade in another couple of days and they’d call for drivers and you tell them that you are with us and that was Armoured Div [Division], and we thought


that that would be good. We would be drivers, bang, bang, bang. “Watch out Jerry [Germans], here we come.” Then we went down to the other parade and a lieutenant spoke to us and we told him the same thing and we said that this other chap had told us that he would take us, and he said, “That will be all right, just go over there.” And we thought


that it was all army. When we got over there that was fair enough and we moved to Redbank with all our army kit and met a fellow that we had met at the recruiting centre from Nambour that we knew and he said, “G’day, what mob are you with?” and we said, “Armoured Div.” He said, “No you’re not. I’m with Armoured Div.”


The only way we could do it was we went to the orderly room and I found that I was with the ordnance and I had never heard of ordnance. I only thought this Armoured Div came into it. I knew there were tank, army and infantry. I never knew there were warrant officers, so I never knew much.


I found ordnance and thought, “What’s this?” We were told then as we were drivers we would be taking the stores up to the front line and all this sort of stuff and we would become expert Bren gunners. The Bren was something, it was just the thing, it was new and that was good. We reckoned that Frank would be the driver and I would be the gunner


and watch out, but it didn’t quite work out that way. We were in the ordnance corps, the 2/1st Ordnance Corps, and after a while we went from Redbank back to Gaythorne and that was the ordnance depot in Queensland. Since we were ordnance we were permanent army.


We went there and into the rookie training.
Before we got into rookie training can you tell me a little bit about that trip from Maroochydore to Cairns?
We decided that we’d go up in the old Ford and Frank was a pretty good mechanic, so we set off.
What year was that?


It would have been mid 1930s. We spent quite a bit of time going, and one of the things we did, we both had been in the country and fencing. I knew there was a little fence strainer and it had a little thing like this and a rope around it and you put it onto the wires and you pulled it and it would be a wonderful thing if we got bogged. Knowing that there weren’t


any roads and there were no maps because there weren’t any roads so we knew that we could expect some funny spots. We had this and we did a lot of things and we set off and I don’t know where it was. After we got past Nambour the bitumen cut out


and it was quite okay until we got up to Bundaberg. The north coast was cut off from Bundaberg and you don’t go through there at all. From Bundaberg to Rocky [Rockhampton] it was all right but after we left Rocky the road sort of disappeared and there were a series of tracks


and it led to a homestead and there would be several tracks and that would be the focal point possible for an area of seven or eight miles. St Lawrence was the next place. “We are on our way to St Lawrence and how would you get there?” “You go out those gates,” or slip rails or something, “on your right and you go down so far.


You’d go through a fence there and don’t forget to close the gate after you left. And if you keep on going you will see a creek. There will be another fork in the road and take the right-hand side and there is a house there and Bill Smith lives there and he will tell you the way from there.” We took our guns and fishing lines – we had plenty of time. We use to catch a few fish


and shot quite a few duck on the way up. Most of the time when we went to ask a question we were able to give the people the things we had fun catching – we never wasted anything. One of the very funny things was before we got to St Lawrence there was a house


and a track that led to where there were four or five boys playing. The house was some distance, say seventy to eighty yards back. I said to the eldest boy, “We have four wild duck. Would you like some wild ducks?” And he said, “Yes.” I took them up and went up the back step and knocked


and somebody said, “Go away. I don’t want any,” said a female voice. I went back to the biggest boy and told him that there were four ducks to take and to give them to his mother. In the T Model Ford you had levers on the side and you had a spark and you had a little throttle at the right and you cranked it and Frank was driving.


I cranked, I cranked, I cranked and the jolly car wouldn’t go, and the lady of the house came down and she was a little bit embarrassed and she told us that she had just put on some scones and she asked, “Would you like a cup of tea and some scones?” Ad we said, “Yes.” We went up and as I say she was very embarrassed and she told us that she was alone and her husband was out mustering and there had been a couple of nasty efforts around that area


and she wasn’t taking any risks. We had a good old yarn and we got back down and Frank jumps behind the wheel of the car and I cranked her and away she went. I have shown Heather that old cottage and it’s way back off the main road now and its still there.
How long did it take you to get to Cairns?
Just on three weeks but don’t get me wrong on that. I think we spent a couple of days at


St Lawrence and places we like, and we stopped.
Did your car break down or did you get bogged?
Yes we got bogged, only about the third or fourth night about four o’clock in the afternoon. There were no bridges and we came to this creek and nice expanse of water. “We will go in here and back out the other side.”


Frank’s driving and away we go, plop, with only about this much of the radiator showing and of course the motor had snuffed. Here was the fencing tool and we hooked it onto a tree and wound it around and pulled it back but of course the motor wouldn’t go, and Frank being a mechanic knew what to do and among other things he pulled out the


spark plugs and that sort of thing . The spark plugs in those days weren’t just a push on, they were a screw on. “God help me.” I can see you reading the thoughts. The little screw on the rolled down and Frank took the head off. While he was doing that I went to find out how you did get across and immediately where we went


there was a drop of about eighteen inches. What they did was they went in here and down around the bottom and out that way, so I was able to find that and we went off. We went along further, you don’t go across the Adronikie River now the road is entirely different. Frank was driving and the long grass and just


a couple of tracks, three tracks, and he hit a log and busted the tyre on the front. We had the spare on the back and I went around to get it and it wasn’t there. Just before about a mile earlier we went across a rocky place and we did hear something hit. We did have that experience quite a bit so we never worried. I went back


to look for it. We thought that maybe it would be there so I walked back, the two of us couldn’t repair it, we had lots of repairing stuff and we thought that this would happen. I went back and I got along there and I found an old chap riding a horse with our tyre around him like a bandolier and I said, “G’day,” and I said, “That’s ours?” and he said, “Yes, I know.” We passed him and


he said, “I knew I’d catch up to you.” I don’t know, from there on we only had to go another quarter of a mile and we had to cross the Adronikie River and that was a long stretch of sand. This chap had gone ahead of us and I don’t know where he was going. Frank and I we got caught quite a few times but


we were both pretty strong and active chaps. As soon as the old vehicle started to lever the other one would get out and jump on the back and push and that was usually just enough to get us through. Frank was driving and as soon as the vehicle coughed and I got behind it and we got through and we had to go up a very long bank up the other side, a steep slope. On the top there was a father with two


horses and we said, “G’day, what do you do?” and he said, “Whenever we hear a car coming I will hook up two horses and would get a plough to pull them out.” I believe he was telling the truth but I think that old guy on the horse, when he told us what he usually did, he got the horses ready and he was waiting for us.
Was it hard to get petrol?


No, because we had four five-gallon drums and wherever there was petrol we filled up, so we had no worry on that. I think it was four lots of petrol that we carried with us.
Why did you both decide in the first place that you wanted to do that?
I don’t know. We would be able to afford to run about


up in North Queensland. I can’t remember how we agreed to do it, but it was quite an experience.
Going back to when you got to Gaythorne and you were doing your rookie training, can you explain what you had to do in training?
We did the ordinary work of regimental training –


of marching, drilling and rifle drill and that sort of stuff, but for our technical stuff we were with the gunners and we use to go to the section in the ordnance depot and they only had the eighteen pounder and the four five pounder and that was our artillery pieces in those days. The twenty five pounder came in later.


We had learnt about the spares and identify them so that we could have the pieces as they were required if the unit wanted them. I was lucky enough or unlucky enough, whichever, to be detached and sent to Carin Carin, and Carin Carin was a fort down on Moreton Island. They had a six-inch postal gun mounted there


and I went down there and I think I did a fortnight on learning a bit about those and searchlights. Never ever did a bit on a six-inch gun. While I was down there the other chaps were doing just the usual boring sort of work, whereas I was lucky.


Then we got final leave and went to Sydney by train, down to the wharf and onto a boat and away we went that night. Didn’t expect to but we felt ourselves going up and down and didn’t realise we were at sea.
What did you find difficult about training in the army?
Nothing really.


I was strong, healthy and active. Some fellows liked playing with a rifle, throwing it around. It was only a few pound – nothing like a bundle of cane – so I had no reason to be worried about the training.
What were the other blokes


like that were in your group?
They were all sorts of chaps. In our tent from what I can remember we had a clerk of petty sessions, we had a chap from a station around Springsure, we had a fellow who was a taxi driver and there was


another chap but I really don’t know what he did. They were in our tent of six and we all were in a tent of six. We had a very very mixed… There was a chap who was a shearers’ cook and he became our own cook. There were fellows from all walks of life.
Did some fellows find training harder?
Some of them did.


Some liked to be a bit bossy. We all took turns in playing the part. We had no theory with 2/1st and we had no organised trainers. We had a sergeant major and a lieutenant. The sergeant


major couldn’t do all the work. He’d do a bit of a briefing and then take the mob for a bit of a march. A major came up from Sydney and we went over to Gaythorne and he came over with us; he marched us over. We had been briefed on what we would be doing.


What was said in the briefing that you would be doing?
He just said, “You are going over here, some of you would be working on the eighteen-inch and some of you would be going over on the…” That was how it was. We knew what we would be doing. We would be mucking around and saying, “What’s this?” so a chap would go and


try and identify it. This was the sort of thing that we would be doing. He would then say, “You are in charge today.” He said, “Four of you have to work on the eighteen pounders.” He would say, “Four of you have to work on this.” “I’m not saying they are the exact number, but so many on the three inch mortars.”


I looked at them and said, “Jim, Joe, Jack, you go work on those.” He said, “That’s not the way to give orders.” He said, “No, you address them by name – Jones, Smith.” And I said that if I spoke to men like that I would get a punch on the nose. Anyway he didn’t appreciate it very much.


Life was always full of funny things. There was always something that you could giggle at if you wanted to. When we got the inoculations there for overseas, a captain from World War I, he stood out there in front of us and told us these things would happen and not to worry and take them okay like a man and that sort of thing, and the doctor went jab and he fainted.


You could find a smile in almost anything every day.
We have heard of practical jokes that went on in training, was there much practical joking in your group?
Yes, but I can’t think of any really bad ones. We never really had any practical jokes.
Were you happy that you had signed up to do the driving in the end?


I never got my licence. I never got my army driving licence, and I was a storeman. When we got over to Barbara in Palestine, that was when I got my army test.
Before we got there, what did you do in Brisbane when you weren’t training?
Stopped in camp, played cards in the main. One night a week you


got a bit of leave and all you could do, I had no friends, when I say no friends I wasn’t going to go around and see what brothel was convenient, a couple of us would go to the pub and have a few. There was no canteen in those days unless you were a sergeant, of course.


Again, funny the information you get. When I joined, my cousin, who joined in World War I just at the end, he became a corporal and he told me, “Don’t worry about becoming a corporal because as soon as you go overseas you will be stripped of them. It’s just a temporary job.”


So I never worried. At Redbank one day a couple of officers there they had to name a couple of people who had been in the CMF [Citizens’ Military Force] and they came out and they got appointed as corporals and then they called on anybody who wanted to go out.


I thought that I would be smart and they would lose their corporal strips. Three in fact went out and they all became lance corporals and when we came back after being in Tobruk they were all sergeants. By that time I was promoted too and I was a lance corporal too when I came out.
How was Frank at that time? What sort of a guy?
He was a great guy.


We did the same things together. We were just mates.
What sort of a person was he, outgoing or…?
No, a very rugged sort of a chap. To give you a bit of an idea, he founded the


Santo Marine setup after the war, he had his own mechanical business outside of Brisbane and got rid of that and went up to Santo and set up this place where he developed, and he practically owned Santo. He had a keen seen of humour but a very very forthright.


He didn’t call a spade a spade; he would call it a black spade. There was no worry about Frank. You can see by those couple of photos that you have seen of him that he was a show pony. He was a great fellow and we had lots of fun.
Interviewee: Robin Muirhead Archive ID 1600 Tape 03


Can you tell us about leaving Australia and what that was like, the scene in Sydney?
We went straight to Sydney on to a boat and moved out that night. We went way down south down to Tasmania – very very cold and very very rough. Another ship the, Johann DeWitt, this ship joined us and


the two of us went across the Indian Ocean and there we had a burial at sea. There was the 2/1st Pioneer Battalion and some other soldiers and one of them fell down one of the gangways and he was buried at sea and that was the first one that we saw. We were fed


rabbits, rabbits right through. And there was a big jack-up on the trip and it caused a bit of a commotion. We called into Colombo and had several days there. They bought us fresh beef and they were brought out in an open box sort of thing


and there were chaps sitting on the beef chewing betel nuts and spitting. There was a bit of a commotion about that.
Why wouldn’t the chaps eat the rabbits?
Would you like rabbits for breakfast, dinner and tea? It was just rabbit, rabbit and rabbit. And some of the war people


caused a bit of a commotion. We stopped in Colombo and there were no wharves there so we were anchored, and we use to be taken by boat to land and most went to the Galle Face Hotel – that was the number one hotel in Colombo. There we were dispensed for the day and we would assemble there again at five o’clock at night.


Frank and I, we knocked around together and there were a couple of other chaps but Frank and I were together most of the time, but the four of us use to have great fun with the rickshaw people, going for a ride, going along and then we set up for races and we would lean back and that would get it off balance. The old rickshaw chap would


try and keep it up. We gave them some money, which was very little for racing and we’d know whose turn it was but we had lot of fun there. Here again coincidences comes. After about three nights we went into a pub and who should be in it but the chap who played


saxophone in John Airds Band at Montville. We parked at the pub, Frank and I, so we never saw much of Colombo and we never caught the five o’clock parade. When we left it was a bit late and we were going down into town and a picket came along.


Something happened, one of the boys he was a bit by himself and this is the thing about Frank, this little corporal said, “What are you doing, blah, blah, blah?” and poked him in the stomach with his swagger cane, and Frank just came up like that and dropped him. The officer came over and he said to Frank, “Did you hit that man?”


and Frank said, “No sir.” And the officer said, “Where are you going?” and Frank said, “We are going back to the docks to get a boat.” I don’t know whether the office was a bit indiscreet. I think it would have been a very very bad move if he had have said, “We will escort you down to the ship,” because the happiness went out of our group for a few minutes. We got over and at the ship we


had a big pontoon and the gangway was coming down onto the pontoon. Frank and I had the old boatman and he was paddling away and we had two crying drunks on our hands. One was howling because he was going back and the other one was howling because he was actually leaving. It was comical. One of them when he scrambled out


of the little boat onto the pontoon he fell down, and the officer from the 2/1st Pioneers – I’m not too sure but he wasn’t one of ours – he said, “What do you do?” and he said, “Don’t you knock me down.” That’s how the four of us spent the night in the brig. There was no crime recorded against us


but we were penalised because we didn’t stop. And we couldn’t go on land any more there, but I was broke because I had spent my last money so it didn’t matter. We had quite a good time there and we went on and up through the Red Sea. I forget the name of the place where we disembarked and we caught a train there that took us through to Barbara in Palestine.


Here the depot had been established and we settled down as permanent people. I went into 3 Sup [Supply] Depot and Frank went to another sup depot so we were parted and we weren’t living the same tent, but we were still good mates.
Before we go into talking about the Middle East and Palestine, can I ask you a couple of questions about back in Sydney? When the ship parted was there


much of a scene there in the harbour? Was there much of a farewell?
We left in the night-time; there was no-one. We came down from Brisbane in the train and driven down onto the wharf and up the gangway. There wasn’t a great crowd of people at all. There was no


great fanfare or anything like that. We didn’t expect, well I didn’t and I don’t know about the others but they all express a bit of a surprise because we heard of other people and they had had a couple of days in Sydney and we were expecting that, but we didn’t.
What were your thoughts as you were leaving Australia on that ship? What were your expectations of


what might happen?
I think I play the future by what is dictated in the immediate. The immediate thing was on the ship and bingo, “I’ve got no control of my future. I will go where I’m sent,” sort of thing. I don’t recall of having any great thoughts of what I would be doing.
What did you think war was?


I thought war was something like this, there were a lot of cannons firing, there was a lot of men firing rifles and you were charging around with a bayonet sticking it into people and at the same time the other people were doing it to you. It was going to be you or them and


you had to be better at your bayonet practice than the other guys, that was more or less. If I could say any thoughts, I was lucky that I grew up in the country, I was a pretty good rifle shot. Dad for my twelfth birthday got me a little .22 rifle with the instructions and anything that I shot had to be eaten or had to be a pest, and I stuck with that all throughout life.


I became a pretty good shot so I didn’t have any worries like some of the people did on the rifle range. I reckoned if I was in close quarters I wanted to be better than the other fellow.
Can you describe the conditions on the ship for us?
Pretty hectic, we were in hammocks, they were put down and hung up on the side.


I forget what time we had to go to bed but I know we couldn’t go to bed before lights out. From what I can remember there was a mad scramble each night, and there were the three meals a day and then we’d be doing rifle drill or exercises and physical jerks –


that was how those days were spent.
You said that it was pretty rough leaving Australia. Were people sick? What about yourself?
No, should have been thrown overboard, “Gee Joe, you look crook.” “You should see Peter up there.”


Looking back it was a shocking thing and if you were against a strong wind blowing and it was cold and I had my greatcoat on, “Oh gee, you look crook,” and he opened his mouth and out came it all, all over the coat. That gave me a great thing, “Look


what that dirty rotten leader did.” If they weren’t sick before and I thought that was funny and I still do. It was something that we could set up.
Sounds like you had quite a sense of humour?
Yes and we had lots of fun.
How did you pass your spare time on the ship?
Usually playing cards. There was a


couple of nights spent watching films, but in the main we were left absolutely to ourselves.
Was there actual gambling with the cards?
Yes, there were a little bit of wagers on the side – poker was a very popular game.
How would you describe the mood of the men on the ship as you were sailing?
The chaps with whom I was associated with were good guys,


quite a few of the fellows tolerated, there were some great fellows there. Bear in mind I was just an ordinary sort of a fellow. Some of these chaps now, we had a chap who was a minister of religion, he had been defrocked of course,


but he never participated in it because he wasn’t used to the ,common herd’, whereas I had grown up all this sort of cane cutting and timber cutting. I had a different sense of values to a lot of people. I didn’t worry about telling a chap that


I thought he was a rabbit or things like that. I could use my hands and if somebody got a bit cheeky. When I was growing up that was a pretty important thing and I had a lot of sport, I was not too bad as a boxer. I wasn’t much good but I was


big and strong and after a couple of hits they were hurt. So I never worried about anything. There were often bits of blues around the pub and that sort of thing and you were expected to be able to use your hands. When you went into a new area, usually there was someone that wanted to have a go at you, and you would hang a couple of quickies on them.


Then you didn’t have to fight the chaps that wanted to fight you because you seemed to be good. Don’t get me wrong on that, but that was the way of life where as in that community. That sort of thing wouldn’t go today not by any means, but that used to go on.
What was the mood of the men as you got closer to the Middle East and approaching the war?


Were people excited?
No. We just treated it like, “Here’s Barbara. I wonder what the next place will be like.” And we were in Barbara for a while and had a good time and had a wonderful football team. We played a lot of footy there.
Can you describe Barbara for us?


It was a big orange orchard with a couple of little houses and this army camp set up around that area. Desert, it wasn’t like the Sahara. It was desert country; that was all it was.
What were your first impressions of the Middle East?


Very disappointed if I can say that. The first impressions of when we got out of the train, barren part, and then when we were going through on the train we were going through the Sinai Desert your impressions are after being used to the green of North Queensland and the greenery of Montville –


I wasn’t impressed really.
Where did you go from Barbara? Were you training in Barbara?
Yes. I was sent down from Barbara to do a school with the Englishmen on the Vickers gun, and this wasn’t just to learn about bits and pieces because I knew about the bits and pieces – this was for a bit of instruction.


And I qualified as an instructor there and went to a place called Betjurga and that was just another wog village. A rather interesting set up, I never learnt but I have memories of it, and we had these guns and among other things we got a bit of instruction about how to use them. They were a ground weapon usually but how they could be used as


ack-ack. Not far away there was an English air force camp, Gramleigh, and down at Gaza, further south, they had an exercise going. These people at Gramleigh had to go and do a bombing setup. We weren’t that far from Gaza and we could see it. When these planes started to come back


the instructors started to fire at them, never knew they were our own planes. Never hurt them but just put a couple of holes I suppose. It stuck in my mind about a lack of information and that helped me I think a great deal when I started to get a bit of promotion in the army. I knew the importance of everybody knowing what was going on.


They never tried any secret manoeuvres or anything like that.
When you arrived in the Middle East, were you briefed on what you’d be doing?
No, just you were sent and you would be one of the group, ten men going somewhere. We went from Barbara to Cairo to the Citadel and that was something to know


about having read about it. The Crusades and you wonder how on earth anyone would attack the Citadel like that on horses. We had a depot at the Citadel and while we were there and we were selected for the desert and I was one of them and we were attached to the English.


Then we moved to Abu Sir. The English had their army in Egypt and we moved into the ordnance setup there.
Can you tell us about Cairo and the atmosphere there?
Cairo was a place where we had a wonderful time. We had about a month and we were just with the


English for meals, breakfast, and we had to be back in by ten o’clock at night or something like that. We spent most of our days in Cairo and they’d give us an English pound every morning and I think it was one of the wisest things because they knew we were going up to the desert and that was a debit in our pay book. It was only third paid – we were only getting two shillings a day


deferred pay. I think the English were very very wise. Otherwise they weren’t all nice people in our unit. I think some of them would spend their money by way of some nasty efforts in Cairo. We had this and we knocked about and we found some very interesting places and had lots of fun.
What sort of interesting places?
There was one place that I visited many


times was a place half as wide again as this and about the same size, a fountain, and in each corner there was a fountain and in the centre there was a big fountain. I’m not sure of the chronological sequence of this but this one would be red flowing water, this one would be blue and this one would be green


and this one yellow, four different colours, and they’d go around in a circle like that. When they got there they would run for possible thirty seconds and then upward spray, the big one in the middle, and it was quite spectacular. I went there many many times and I’ve got a funny story on that but that was one of the things that really did impress me in Cairo. The funny story I’m about to tell,


and I’ve seen this published in Smith’s Weekly and the Smith’s Weekly was a paper in Australia. What happened was a mate and I, not Frank, another chap, were there and there were always little boys wanting to guide you to good things. We said, “No, no, we don’t need you.” I looked at him and he had a crucifix tattooed on his arm and


I asked him what it was and he said, “I am a Christian,” and I said, “We are Christians too.” He said, “No, you are Australians.” Whether somebody I’ve told and they had it published or Mick who was the chap with me but that was published in the Smith’s Weekly. We found quite a few good watering holes and I found a little bit of question


and answer. There were quite a few brawls between the English and the Australian troops. I found out one of the reasons that some of the camorras would go there and they would become very attentive to you and serve you drinks and some of the fellows tried to date them. The English had been in Cairo for quite a while.


I didn’t know this at the time I found it out later, quite a few of the Egyptian girls were wives of the English soldiers. The Aussie soldier tried to make a date, missed and came back and some of them weren’t gentlemen and


hit the girl, and she would complain to the husband and the husband would get four or five of his mates and go looking for him and there would be a clash between them and there would be a blue. That was what I found out and I think that was one of the reasons this happened.
Did you witness any of the brawls?


No, I never saw one. We had two things I always thought, not the thing that I was going to tell you. They had a night searchlight exercise. They had about a dozen searchlights around Cairo and when a plane came over and they all focused on the one, here’s the plane


and it was only about that long, it was a very spectacular sight and that was in Cairo. The other couple of things I was going to tell you, a lot of the cafes had entertainers and this place had a fire eater ,and of course they had their fire fighting equipment and one of our fellows


saw this and picked up the bucket and threw it over him and it cause a great commotion. Another chap in another place, a different fellow but more or less our same little group, we were built up in little groups with about half a dozen or so that knocked around together.


The fellow was coming up and running his hand down your face, money, a lot of our chaps raced over and lifted his wallet and took the money. Then he argued with the boss of the place, that was where he always kept his money. These were the sorts of things and there were so many things like that that had happened.


Did you hear about any of the men visiting the brothels in Cairo?
Yes, the brothel area was immediately by the two-up area. I never saw an Australian soldier there. The girls would be lined up on seats having a cuddle with a Tommy [British soldier] and the old madam would came out and called her away, and the Tommy would wait.


To me no I couldn’t, that just wasn’t on. Now that you are talking about that I will tell you something that happened to me. A little English chap, I had done my money down at the two-up so I’m not happy and I was walking up the edge of the street, and he came up on the inside of me and said, “Aussie been down to the girls?” and I said, “No, not the girls.”


He said, “Oh haven’t you got a big arm? Oh haven’t you got a big leg?” And his hand went across there and his head was there and I went whack and I lifted him, and of course there was a glass window there. He hit that glass with so much force we ran through it. I was off. I wasn’t going to wait for him and I don’t know what happened to him.


That was my experience of the sexual life in Cairo.
Was there much time for sexuality?
I’m not in the position but I know there were quite a few. One of the tragic letters that we got, one of the fellows got a letter saying his


wife was pregnant and he had been over there. Where was he? He was in the special hospital suffering from VD [Venereal Disease], so it must have been a queer family. In Japan


that got a bad name but it wasn’t as bad as what the statistics showed so I don’t know much about VD there.
During your training were you told about VD?
No, if we were it was so unimportant I didn’t worry about it. When we were going to Japan we had lectures on the boat about it,


but otherwise no.
You said that there were some homosexuals in the troops in the Middle East, how were they treated by the other men?
I don’t know, but all I know is that one chap was supposed to have been. He was treated okay but I don’t know of any odd performances at all.


You had a bit of fun in Cairo and you spent your money on two-up?
Yes, but you’d have another pound the next morning. I had a funny experience there. I was walking up a street in Cairo one day and I heard a female voice call from behind, “Aussie.” I thought there were none of our girls there, “Aussie, Aussie.”


So I turned around and there was a Salvation Army girl and I went back to her and spoke to her. When I say she was a girl, she was older than I was. And we had a yarn and she came from Townsville. I never lived in Townsville before the war but I was up in Cairns and we came down here often playing football.


That was another remarkable incidence. We moved from Cairo to Alexandria and we embarked on a ship, lots of people walked or rode into the desert, but we went into Tobruk


by sea. We arrived there after Tobruk had fallen and it was a mad house. Some of the boys there got pretty full and that was an


Italian garrison town so they had all the army equipment there and that’s how we got our guns and they were Italian guns. There was a ton of ammunition. We would never have got enough ammunition the way that we used it. There were vehicles and Frank


and I got a little Fiat vehicle between us and they were all called in about the first week and we kept ours for about a fortnight and nearly got into trouble for having it, and we gave it back of course when they took it. Chaps dressed up in Italian colonels’ uniforms.
Australian soldiers?
Yes, it was as I say


a bit of a mad house, but they found a heap of money about that high, a couple of chaps doing a step dance and burning money, here they burnt all this stuff. When we got to Benghazi they were still burning money and when we got back to Cairo, Cairo wasn’t at


war but they burnt all this money.
Before you left Alexandria, what were you told about what was happening in Tobruk?
We didn’t know a thing. All we knew was we were going somewhere.
You didn’t know anything about the plan to take Tobruk before you got there?
We knew they would


be and we knew that Bardia had fallen. We expected, but not having any information and what on earth could you look at? Why would anybody want to go right across to Northern Africa? So I couldn’t make it out, at least I couldn’t in my silly way of looking at things.
Can you describe that situation in Alexandria, like how many people were there and how you travelled and the sort of scene?


We were brought into there, marched down on to the boat and we were away.
How many people on the boat?
About forty or fifty of us, that’s all.
What were you wearing and carrying at that time?
What sort of equipment did you have?
Uniform, the old pattern


webbing, the great wide belt and haversack, just the old uniform.
You got on the boat and you weren’t told anything of what you were going to be doing?
No. We just knew we were going up to the desert somewhere. I don’t recall. We may have been told


but that may have been just another name, wait and see sort of thing.
Can you tell us exactly what you saw when you arrived in Tobruk?
Just another place with about three or four ships burning in the harbour. We then stepped off the docks


and we were marched up into an area and moved into some houses. Then we settled down and we got a cookhouse and the food started to come in. This had been captured and the war was over.
How many days after the invasion was it?


This was in January and Tobruk started in April.
You arrived there quite a while after the invasion?
No, we landed just after the taking of Tobruk, when they first captured in January.
Arriving just after that, that was a big battle, what did you see of the battle?


We never saw anything of the battles.
Could you see anything of what had happened there?
No. We could see the setup of where a few bombs had been dropped. We went out and I was the ammunition offsider and we went out to one of the places, there was no such thing as old tanks that were left,


it was cleaned up. We went out to some caves where they had some of the Italian stores. One of the jobs that I had, all the equipment that had been captured I had the job of looking after that. They had a little cannon about that big. I had to say whether they were serviceable or not


but I never knew, but I could look up the spout and see that the trigger would work. And they were taken back to Cairo and sent over to Albania who were fighting the Italians, and a lot of the stuff captured in Tobruk went over to Albania.
As far as the actual battle that had happened, the invasion that had happened, what about casualties? Did you see any signs of casualties?


No, they would have gone straight to hospital. We only met the active guys.
Did they tell you about what they had experienced?
Some of the chaps did, some didn’t.


I never saw anything.
The chaps who told you about what they had experienced, what sort of things do you remember them telling you about that invasion?
They told us about our fellows had sheepskin jackets,


they were very cold and this sheepskin jacket come down to about there. Apparently the Italians thought that was armour and they shot at their legs. That was one thing we were told. We had our own little problems of getting set up and we had to receive stores


because we were right at the very start and we were attached to the English. But the English were the same. It was a matter of cleaning out the old stores. One of the things that did happen about the second week we were clearing out the big warehouses


and there were a few bombs come and it started a bit of a fire. They had a lot of clothing in cases of things and I don’t know, but it must have been something because they started to burn a bit and we were pulling out the stuff that was good.


A couple of the Tommies came in and got one of the cases that were smouldering and put it over with the stuff that we just pulled out.
Interviewee: Robin Muirhead Archive ID 1600 Tape 04


What was your particular role in Tobruk?
I started off as a driver, a storeman. I had been a storeman before the driver because we had to establish the place and so I helped in swaging the pumping of the cases and that sort of thing, opening and checking the stores, placing them into areas.


We never had beautiful shelving and all this. We had to improvise with a lot of stuff. We had to sort our stores out and we were in the technical stuff so it was pretty important that we did this properly. Where we could we would get a case and put a couple of pieces of wood and make sections and you could put the label on it: ‘Springs’, ‘Vickers gun’


or something like that. All of this work was being done under direction from the English because we were attached to the English and that was our first job. Bearing in mind there was no siege on and the troops had moved forward, they were way up near Benghazi and we established another ordnance depot way up there.


So to take their supplies we’d take loads of their stuff up there and drive up to Benghazi and that was several hundred miles away. We would be away for a couple of days doing that and then you’d be working on the stores. We became gunners. There was a bit of a raid –


this was before the siege started – there was a bit of a raid there and they came down a bit low and a couple of English chaps left their two guns and Frank and I went and took them – these were Bren guns so we were able to handle them all right. When the English came back they told us to leave their guns and we


said, “No, we are taking them from you.” We had a couple of little words and Frank and I are pretty big chaps and we retained them. I would have loved to have know what happened because they would have reported it to their officer. We certainly reported it to ours. And it was an English colonel in charge. He must have given way that we could have the guns, he must have, I don’t know


but I’m assuming this. When the siege started they developed a secondary line of defences so they took the guns off the people who were in town and took them out there. Frank and I got onto these Italian guns and we found out that they wouldn’t work, and we spoke to a few people and they wouldn’t work. And we had an Italian prisoner


there that was a gunner and we had a talk to him nice and quietly and he told us that that needed plenty of oil on the gun and we found that they went like a charm. Where we had our two guns and unlimited ammunition and that was a bit spasmodic until the siege started.


The siege started the raids were two and three a day and they were pretty solid. We were on the guns pretty regularly. One chap, I claim and I say this although I got credited with a plane, there were claims that I did a couple


more but I got credited with one and there were too many guns firing at them. I am happy to be credited with one because I know when an airplane is another ten feet up and you can go bang, bang, bang, you can’t miss him an you? I reckon that when he was coming in I saw him laughing;


whether I did or not I don’t know. On one particular occasion after one of the raids a chap congratulated me. He said that he saw the wing fall off the plane that I was shooting at. How on earth he would know what plane I was shooting at I don’t know, but I certainly never saw a plane,


but it was lots of fun. I’ve got a good story I think on this. Did I mention that it was a fortress town so there were lots of air-raid shelters, and most of our people were able to get down but this chap couldn’t and he was a bit nervous. I called him over to come into my hole


and the hole was only about that deep with sandbags around it; we had been down into solid rock. He was in there and the planes were a bit low and he said, “Impossible to get out of this. Impossible.” We called him Lucky. I said, “Lucky, nothing is impossible.” He said, “Bob shooting down one of those Bs [bastards] with a water pistols, that’s impossible.”


There was always something that you could laugh at. One of the English colonels, before the siege started he use to come around in a raid waving an old fly swatter saying, “How are you chappie? Keep your pecker up and give them hell.” What happened to him, he went up there and a bomb dropped about there


and we got another English colonel. Years later, I belong to the Rats of Tobruk Association and there was a letter from him asking if any of the blokes had served under him would contact him. He was in England and he had become a brigadier. I wrote back to him, this was after I had retired, and I said


who I was and told him that I kicked on a bit and he wrote back and we had a great correspondence until it stopped and his nephew had said that the old chap had passed on. That was one of the odd setups, I thought.
Can you describe a little bit about that first raid, how you and Frank came to get that? Can you give us a little bit more detail about that?


We were just there, we never ran down, both of us, “What say Bob, hit the mouth and it blows and it was closed and you were living down under there?” “No way, let’s stop up on top if we are going and let it be nice and clean and easy.” That was in our thoughts, don’t get us


that we were being stupid. We were just mates and we stuck together up there and we just happened to be near those Tommy guns and Frank took one and I took the other and that was it; that was our place.
Did you shoot any of the planes down on that occasion?


No, please we shot at many planes and we did a lot of damage to them I think, because we fired so many shots at them. If they ever claim to say that I ever shot down a plane, you will never ever hear me say that. I will say that I had been shooting at many that have crashed, but I won’t say that I shot one down.


What was your view of the enemy?
Never gave it much thought. They were just the chaps that were out there. Sometimes we thought, “Isn’t this stupid? They would have been working in the same sort of job as I have.” But we were there and it was something that we had done,


or something that had a set of circumstances, and we were there. Never sat down and gave any thought, just aware that they were just common ordinary people out there just the same as we were. I was aware of that. But that never brought in any sympathetic thoughts.
Can you describe a little bit of the conditions during the siege, what a day would be like?


The day would be like, get up and have breakfast, go up to the depot and do whatever we may have to do if we weren’t disturbed by old Jerry. If the alarm goes we race over to our guns, and we’d wait and wait and then the blue would most likely be on


and we would fire a few. These Fiat guns, they just had knots on them, you just changed the barrel. They weren’t water cooled like the Vickers gun, but they were belt fed like the Vickers gun. When the barrel got very hot and you could just give that a twist and they laid along the top. One day it was so hot it burnt the bags.


There were tons of barrels so I had half a dozen barrels around the pit so whenever I reckon I had done a fair bit I’d switch over and that was all it was, out and in, and that’s about all it took. I never had that happen again. Then after the raid you would be replenishing your supplies of ammunition and of course they had


an argument with the English about that. Frank and I put our heads together and reckoned we would use tracers. Tracers are used so that you can see where they are put and we reckoned by using tracers they would see where the bullets were coming from. We didn’t want that and I think that was quite a feasible argument.


We won the argument and we weren’t using tracers.
How would the day progress then?
Then we’d go and do our normal store work and there would most likely be another raid, while they cleaned up we got ready for the next one. Then maybe at night we’d be called out, very rarely. I don’t suppose we ever had


three nights in a row without a raid. Tobruk was second only to Malta with the amount of air raids. How many planes do you reckon there would be in a raid? You have to make a guess.
No, I want you to tell us.
I’ve got a book here


that we were in town and the units, they used to go out to the stores for us and they didn’t want to come into us because it was too unhealthy. And our director of services who was there, he arranged with the general to come in. As it happened they put on a raid, the Jerries put on a good raid.


The result was that the ASC [Army Service Corps], that’s a carrying unit they had to take the stores from us at night-time out to the different units, and the same with the units coming in because they didn’t want to come in so that will give you an idea. This particular afternoon they reckon there were one hundred and fifteen. It’s surprising, isn’t it, when you talk about raids?


Can you tell us what that was like?
No I can’t really because it was just a mass of planes. You’d see one here and you couldn’t see those that are behind you. I couldn’t explain but I was asking you to consider what it would be like.
I can’t even imagine. Do you think you can describe what one of those waves was like


for you, what you would see and hear?
What I would see, take a daylight raid there’s the old sun up there and you’d hear them whirling around up there, and all of a sudden one would come down and it might come over my way or it might go over some other way. The one that I was concerned with was the one that would come near me.


He’d come over and pass and I use to meet him coming in, but I didn’t think after a while it was too good because if you shoot a wild duck and he’s flying at you, you will never shoot him because it just takes a little bit to deflect the bullet. That’s what I reckoned. But as soon as he got above you, you’d give him his works and as he goes out


while you are doing that you don’t see a thing around here, and there might be one there and just bang, bang, bang, that’s the sort of thing. You have nothing at the back. Frank and I, we did have a little bit of unconscious, that we did keep a look out.


I never knew where Frank was firing and neither did he, but we did have a glance to see that nobody was getting too nasty to us. I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody this. Towards the end of the siege after one raid, there were three planes and they came down and they never


fired at anything, they never dropped any bombs or anything. They circled around, around our area and they dropped their bombs and come down and strafed. I reckon that the German intelligence said that there was something there that was causing them a bit of bother. Look, sounds as though I’m skiting, but please, it’s not meant that way at all. I think we did put a couple of holes


that had been patched up so we could have caused them a bit of trouble. What I am saying is true and it is true, but whether my interpretation of what it was, I don’t know.
During that raid when you were describing that fall, what was the noise like?
You had your Owen gun going bang bang bang bang


and boom, boom, that was the bombs going off, and you had the big ack-ack guns going bang and the shell exploding up in the air and the Bofors going bang, bang, bang. Now here’s a thing that I have forgotten to mention and we had tin hats. All those things that went up in the air had to come down, didn’t they, so it was like a hail storm.


See little stuff that hit me but just with a little scratch. There were a couple of people that were hurt a bit with bigger bits of stuff coming down, but it was as good as a good hail storm at times, not always, but at times it was pretty grim.


It’s hard for us to even being to imagine.
I think its impossible to describe. There is all the ground firing going up and things like that, but it was one of


those things that we live here to tell the tale.
What were the conditions like in terms of the climate?
It was very cold at night in the main, dust storms were bad. You’d do a trip up to Benghazi and you’d get caught in a dust storm on the way home. You couldn’t see the radiator the dust was so bad, and dust coming in like that.


All the paint got stripped from the dust, so the dust storms were pretty bad, when you get a bad one.
What about your rations?
We had a tin of bully beef and a packet of biscuits most of the time a day. Usually three of us shared it. We’d have beef in the morning


saving us carrying it opened, and eat mine in the afternoon and Robin’s in the evening, we might eat my biscuits in the morning but that wasn’t every day. In the main there was a bit of rationing and the cook, he’d


take bully beef at times and make it into a stew. I did have in one of the old Rats of Tobruk magazine someone did write and put in the menu for the day and it was a bit alarming but it wasn’t quite true, I didn’t think, and I never saw it that way.


The commanding officer had to write to spend a penny a day on his rations per man to buy extra rations. Of course there was no place to buy rations up there. That was published.


The first time we were in Tobruk or possible the first couple of days we were down on the wharves, three airplanes came in and they were flashing and someone said, “They must have a dirty engine.” I think it was carbon. They suddenly realised they were


explosives and they came in the three and I had never seen anything like it before. Some ran away that were on the wharves and I just ducked to the ground and I think I just about tore all my fingernails – I tried to dig into concrete as these three planes came. There was a great stack of stores and a couple of chaps ran into that big heap of stuff for protection


and it was a stack of kerosene and benzene. They came in two four-gallon cases and they went in there; they didn’t know. After we wouldn’t have panicked like that. We got I’d say blasé about them. That’s not true


but I think like everything you improve.
You sort of become accustomed to it?
Yes, I think so.
Can you describe the trenches for us and the conditions in the trenches?


The only trenches I was in was either the slit trenches for protection – they were for the frontline soldiers. I was talking one time and saying some things and this chap said who he was and I said that I was with ordnance and he said, “But Bob, I thought you were are warrior.” And I suppose I had fired more shots but anyway that was just by the way.


Was there much illness were people suffering from illness?
Dysentery was number one with ever immediate rushes; there was quite a bit of that. Quite a few people got a bit bomb happy and they were evacuated with that,


and of course the soldiers they got wounded; there were a lot of them and they were evacuated. The destroyers use to come in at night-time. They had an area outside where the Germans use to bomb them and they use to call it Death Valley. They were able to get in and get out. So they came in and


unloaded their stuff and took any evacuation for the hospital and they’d go out. When we were all coming out and we were being relieved by the 13th Battalion they were to come in and they did come in but something had happened


and the destroyer had left too early and they missed the boat. That’s how you read about a company of Australians that remained right through until the complete thing.
Obviously people got wounded and killed there, how close were you to anybody who was wounded or killed?
Closer than you.


I saw a good thing in there. They had big rats about that big with long tails and there were big desert dogs too.


I don’t know whether you are interested in coursing, there were these two big dogs after this rat, beautiful course, and the rat got up into a lot of rocks on the ridge and got away from them.


A funny thing when we left we left on three destroyers and at about eight o’clock in the morning, or just after daylight, one of them got blown sky high. I had always heard that the navy never came back to look for people, there was a submarine


waiting to get them again, which sounds feasible. About eight o’clock we circled right around and we didn’t know where we were going, just beyond the boat, and we circled around because there were a few people in the water and we grabbed about seven or eight and the other surviving boat it did the same thing. You were mentioning religion


earlier, the Archbishop used to come home in Townsville and this particular day he was talking about something, and we found that we were both in Tobruk together and we both came out the same night. He was on the other ship, so it was just again the coincidence that the Archbishop of Townsville and him coming up and sitting at home and both of us


out at Tobruk, both coming out the same night.
How long did you spend there?
The siege started on Easter and I think we left there on the 19th or 21st November.


Ken started me to smoke. He use to give us a tin of cigarettes every week, fifty cigarettes, and before I started to smoke I used to give them away. I started to smoke and I started to smoke pretty heavily for a while. There is one photo that shows me with a cigarette in my fingers.


You started to smoke while you were there in Tobruk?
Do you think that was a result of…?
You’d light up. There was a shocking period from the time the alarm went until they arrived. It was quite a few minutes. I think at the outpost they knew that they were coming and they’d signal down


and the alarm would go and it would be a few minutes before. Sometimes they’d drone around up there for a while. You knew they would be coming from out of that line but you didn’t know when, but you knew that they would come.
During those few minutes, what would you do?


just wonder, wonder what will happen, been lucky so far old man.
You mentioned one of the men earlier who you called Lucky who was worried about surviving, did it cross your mind that you wouldn’t make it?
It must have,


but if it crossed my mind it crossed it very very quickly. I think if you thought about it I don’t think you would have stood up to it.


It was just an experience really. Just putting it back to you, you have no idea the number of planes that would be just flying around. People don’t, they just read about it. I was in New Guinea and


you never read about the bombing of New Guinea, never saw anything like it over there in Tobruk. That is just by the way.
Looking back on your time in Tobruk, what is the thing that you remember most about it?
This you will never believe,


getting a stack of mail that big, but I usually only got that much mail. The top letter was in blue and I’d just ripped it open, ‘My darling husband,’ and I knew it wasn’t mine so I sorted them all out and I did a couple from the family. This chap was


Muirhead and he came over with the reinforcements and apparently the people in the post when they saw Muirhead mail they knew he was up in Tobruk so apparently they just put it all with my mail and there it was. That I think that was one of the shocks that I got. The odd thing was his initial was CH and that was Dad’s initial.


I never paid any attention. I got all this Muirhead mail. That was the sort of thing I would prefer to remember.
How often did you get mail?
Regularly, I suppose we got it once a week. You usually got a bunch of letters at a time.


It was very funny to see the reactions of people when they got mail. This English chap used to go away by himself and read and he was really upset. He said the world was so unfair. He got a letter to say that his wife and family had been killed in a bombing raid in England. He was out here supposedly doing the fighting yet they were the ones that were killed.


He was really worked up. And of course I was single in those days and all I used to wish at times was that my two nephews never had to go through that.
What do you think gave you the strength to get through that incredible time?


I don’t know; it just had to be done. If we hadn’t done it I think a fellow would feel ashamed of himself for the rest, I don’t know.


When I got back to Cairo I was walking through a nice green park and a plane came low over and I dived along the ground and three Gypos [Egyptians] were there and they laughed at me and I went like that. When we got back to Telicomere we were


given complete freedom, there were only nine of us and a couple of them were officers and a couple were sergeants, but there were only a few of us that were diggers and we were given a bit of free time. The 2/2/had arrived and also reinforcements for our people, so I used to lay in bed if I felt like it and didn’t go on parades until about ten o’clock.


This day I’m in bed and the orderly officer sergeant major and the orderly sergeant came around and I’m in bed and I hear them and I thought, “I’m in for it.” That was a bit too rich. I had my head under the blanket and they got about as far from here to the


window away and I jumped up and said, “What the hell are you doing here? Can’t you let a man sleep? Out! Out!” The officer said, “That’s Muirhead. He’s just out of Tobruk,” so they all went away.
Can you tell us about the British Empire Medal?


As I said, we were with the English. Now I’m not sure about what I’m about to say, but this is right. An English major,


he got caught upstairs and spent a bit of time with me and as it happened a couple of planes crashed that day, and in a week or so I was told, I think it was early in July, I had been recommended for a decoration. “Oh, that’s good.” But I never heard any more about it and I used to think about that


a decoration, that would be good. I never thought much more about it. I came home to Australia up at Muswellbrook and we were the first returned troops at Muswellbrook and we were treated well. Frank and I made our way down, we had leave until two o’clock I think it was. Frank and I made our way down to


the surf club, naturally, we had kindred spirits there, instead of wandering up to the town and going to a pub. I was having a swim and there was a girl and she was drifting away and she wasn’t panicking, and I thought, “Gee, I don’t know how she will go.” So I swam out towards her and when I got out I realised she was just keeping up so I signalled


and yelled and they came out and rescued her. I got a bit of kudos for that. We were a bit late and missed the two o’clock. We were a bit late. It was about half past nine or ten o’clock when we went back and we weren’t very thirsty. The guard on the ship,


he said, “The boss wants to see you.” I thought, “This is it.” I went down and saw the old major and he got up and shook my hand and told me that I had got this British Empire Medal. He told me that the director he with his aide had come up from Sydney to Newcastle to congratulate me but I was away.


I had been promoted, I was a lance corporal and now I was a corporal and I feel that if I had been there I would have been promoted to a sergeant that night. That’s when I first knew and it was published in the Sydney Sunday paper – they had a list of decorations in there and there was me.
Interviewee: Robin Muirhead Archive ID 1600 Tape 05


Why did you get the British Empire Medal? What was the reason?
I think that we used a lot of ammunition there. What I really think happened was one of the English majors got caught up on the ground and they only had the bang bang from that.


I think he made a recommendation for us, now that is what I really think. I haven’t got the citation. I know that I had it as far as Japan and it’s got lost somewhere there. There is a letter written from this English colonel down to our colonel.


He gave us all a bit of a boost. I have seen a copy of that. I don’t know how this is awarded. There are certain decorations awarded for certain campaigns and I don’t know but I collected this. I mention when we got the notification


and this hasn’t got anything to do with how I got it, I don’t really know. I got it I think for general service more or less because in the letter it commented about all the officers in Tobruk and said nice things about me. But all officers in Tobruk never knew me so that was just a serious thing. Don’t think I’m saying that the colonel is silly because I don’t.


The thing about it, and I think its one of the unique things, it was awarded for service in Tobruk and the investiture was in Tokyo in Japan. I think that’s the strange thing. I can’t make a statement about it. Just why I got it, I was firing at several planes at different times when they crashed. I think it just happened. There were witnesses there to see it, that’s all.


What about the Polish Cross?
The Polish Cross, when the Polish brigade came into Tobruk they also had some people attached to the English. We worked in with them. They knew what I was doing.


They gave ten awards. They made a great song and dance about it, the investiture, the first time the war cross had been awarded to foreigners. I think it was maybe there was something they saw. I don’t know. I can’t truthfully say that I got this because of that.


I just can’t say. I think it was more or less general service.
How did you feel about being given that award?
When I was told that I had been recommended I felt ten foot tall. It didn’t arrive in a week or so and I was very disappointed, then I gradually forgot about it. But


I got the ribbon. I don’t know when I got the ribbon but before I was invested, because I was very proud to wear that. They were the only ribbons that were out when I got this one, the British Empire Medal.


Then there was the Africa Star and the 1935 medal and you could have both of them up and here I had a couple up. Sometimes very very gratifying. I was at one of the unit dances one night and I was there and a young AWA [AWAS – Australian Women’s Army Service]


just charged up and said, “What did you get that for?” I knew that she was just asking me to have a dance with her or something. I never said to her to go away. I got a lot of queries because I was the only one wearing one of these things.


I’m very proud of it.
What happened when you left the Middle East?
When I left the Middle East we went on the Mauritania across to Bombay and we spent about five days to a week there, and then we changed ship from the Mauritania into smaller ships and made around to the Indies somewhere and I don’t know where. I use to always sleep up on deck and if the ship was going to sink I was going to swim.


In the distance you could see the gunfire in the front and we kept going and I wasn’t happy, and then all of a sudden we turned around and made back and we finished up in Colombo again. We were there for a few days and we left there about half past eight on a Sunday morning and the place was alive with shipping at Colombo.


At ten o’clock I think the Japs put on a big air raid and did a lot of destruction but our ship was well away, and we then made for Adelaide. I didn’t know we were making for Adelaide but we landed at Adelaide.
Did you know you were going home?
We never knew where we were going, but when we were sailing south all the time we suspected


we were on our way home.
Were you excited to get home?
Yes I was. I think one of the worst parts of getting home was you were in Australia but you weren’t home. We were in Adelaide


and my home was up in south Queensland. We were billeted in Adelaide. We were billeted on two occasions and then we got into Muswellbrook and that was before the army quarters were established. We were bulleted in Adelaide and we received all the shipping goods into Adelaide and we had a great store house, or several of them, near


the race course. All these stores, no control over them, just dumped, and it was a very very big job sorting them out. Think about my story. I don’t know if I was a good soldier or a real bad one because I was one of the forty selected to take a load of ammunition around to Newcastle


and we were the first troops in Newcastle and we got a right reception there. We were on our way to Muswellbrook and establishing another depot at Muswellbrook.
What was the reception like in Newcastle?
It was magnificent. We were the first returned troops. Again odd things happened to me.


We went down to the life saving club. I’ve told you this, haven’t I, and no, I must have thought about it. I was in having a swim and I noticed a girl out in the water and she seemed to be drifting.
That’s right, and you brought her in.


Was it hard to adjust to Australian life again?
No, still all our associates were army. We were leading an army life but it was just happening in a different country, Australia, so there was no problem like that. We were in Muswellbrook there for a while. Incidentally, coincidence


again, I mentioned doing the Vickers school in the Middle East. There was a World War I chap and he was a corporal and he was doing the course I was. He said… Bear in mind because I’ve been a storeman and I know the Vickers, and he said, “Where is the wooden screws on the Vickers?” And of course there weren’t any wooden screws on the Vickers.


I told him so and he told me there was. I said, “There is no use arguing then. Show them to me.” The Vickers has a little handle and you grab it like that and you press the trigger with your two thumbs and these little handles are hollow and they have a little brush in it, and they have a wooden stem on the brush and that is screwed into the top. You can undo it and unscrew. And he showed me


the wooden screws, so I had a wonderful loss. The coincidence was when I was in Muswellbrook, by this time I was a sergeant and I was doing some instructing on some young people on the Vickers gun. I thought they were getting pretty good so I asked them the question, “Where are the wooden screws


on the Vickers gun?” and they told me that there weren’t any. I thought that I’d show them a great show but there weren’t any wooden screws because they had been changed to plastic, so I learnt a wonderful lesson then. I knew when I started to get instruction to becoming an instructor to always check your story and not get caught again, but just one of those comical cases.


When were you promoted to sergeant?
In Muswellbrook, I arrived there as a corporal and I was promoted there and I then took a group of fellows up to New Guinea. I took a group of fellows from Muswellbrook up to Brisbane to join


in with the group going to New Guinea. I was a sergeant with them and I went up with a captain and a couple of lieutenants.
How did you get promoted?
I think it was just my turn.
Was there a ceremony for the promotion?
No. If you are doing certain jobs


they carry a certain rank and I just happen to go up through it. I really do believe it made me… When I was commissioned, it really made me believe that I was a better officer than I would have been had I have been without that experience of going through the ranks. I never had many robberies under my lot because


a lot of boys, a lot of people think, “Fair go, pinch a bit from the army.” I knew that from a digger. I will tell you a secret about it. When I went into a new show with new people I would make up a bit of an assessment and find out if anything was a nice steady little loss, and that looks as though that is the leak somewhere doesn’t it,


and have a look at the fellows’ pay books. Check to see if there is money going in regularly, where is their money coming from? I knew that because I had been a private digger. What I would do was I would just call him in and say, “Joe, you have been in this place a lot longer than I have and I’m finding this stuff disappearing. There must be because someone is stealing it. I think you have got a lot of intelligence.


Why don’t you pass it around that if we will find the fellow who is guilty and tell him the old man is really sour.” It’s amazing how my little leaks disappeared and I’m very proud of that. It happened right up into Townsville.
No charges?
This was when


I was an officer.
So you didn’t charge them?
No. You can’t recover the stuff and you are just kicking up a lot of dirt and you are not really doing any good. When you compare with what some of the officers… I better not talk too much this way.
It’s interesting.
There are people who play up their position quite a bit,


so that’s just it.
What happened after Muswellbrook?
I went up to New Guinea and we arrived there and Moresby in New Guinea use to get bombed a bit. We were the Rats of Tobruk and they tried us with the ‘Mice of Moresby’. They never caught on.
What was


the Moresby?
The Mice of Moresby and the Rats of Tobruk. They never caught on. And I think it was early in 1943 was about the last big raid over the Moresby area. Don’t get mixed up because there were some nasty things going on in New Guinea but Moresby was the base. We weren’t in Moresby,


we were up in the hills a bit and it was a very interesting setup because all the transport was by air. The fellows up in the front, if they wanted anything they would send signals back to Moresby. The message would get up to us with the stores that would be required. We would have to have a bit of urgency


on this sort of stuff. We’d get the fellows out of bed and pack the stuff and race it down to the airport. We had a fellow down there doing a mighty job loading and superintending the stuff so that it all went to the right unit. It was quite a setup there.
How different was it when you got to Moresby compared to the Middle East?


Two entirely different setups. Just to give you an idea of a problem in the Middle East on the guns, they have got to hook onto the back. They were towing these guns and those hooks use to wear out. Now with the experience of the Middle East we sent


twenty-five guns up to Moresby. We’d send a portion of these things as replacements. But they were never told there was any sand. They were flown from here to there. There is just one of the little things from experience. There were lots of little things like that. They were two


entirely different things. We lived pretty crudely in the desert. They tried to look after us very well in New Guinea. We’d have potatoes and all these sort of things. The few that hadn’t been in the Middle East would give us a tin of the good old bully beef, the cook was supposed to handle all that. Now they have got wonderful food, they have


a special diet for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That was one of the things about New Guinea. The rain – there was a lot of rain. I was promoted there to a staff sergeant, then a warrant officer class two, then a warrant officer class one.


I was in charge of all the heavy armament and all the associated equipment there. Life had changed completely for me from being a carefree young private dig to a chap with a lot of responsibilities. I was responsible not only for the stores but I was responsible


for the digs that were with me, and make sure that they didn’t cause any trouble and that sort of thing. I think I had a good little group as anyone and they were good chaps.
What could go wrong in your area?
Firstly jungle juice, the fellow brewing the jungle juice, green coconut with sugar, and left for a few days and that changes into a liquid, and if you have a couple of those you


won’t fight Jack Johnson, so the boys use to get onto that a bit. Another thing was the weather conditions were hot, humid and wet. The conditions in the desert, it was cold at night


and dry and frequently got rain. The conditions were absolutely different and I think that was one of the problems. Of course the fear of the Nips [Japanese]. They were there and we were here. The night we were attacked.


When we were working there at one stage just after we started, we never had an officers’ mess or anything like that, they had a mess but they didn’t have officers’ lines. We had sergeants’ lines and that was where we were. Two of us were promoted to warrant officer class one and the old man, that was the colonel in charge, he


said that all his officers had to live together. These two tents became vacant so we decided to move out and we occupied them. It was on a ridge and around the ridge was where the sergeants’ line was. We used to have practice drills every now and then to see how they would reacted and had a practice alarm at two o’clock in the morning.


Nature, when you had to go to the latrine out the tent and a little way away. Just on dawn coming down the long grass six foot and they were shaking about five or six, “A nip patrol is coming in.” What am I to do?


I couldn’t ring the alarm because the people would say just another drill so I decided that I would wait. Incidentally, on one of the patrolling I found an old shotgun and the stock was all chewed away and I cut out a bit of a stock and fitted it and I could find it to work, and I found a mate in Moresby who was able to get some cartridges to me. How he got them I don’t know.


I was able to shoot a few ducks and everything was good and I had this shotgun, the pistol, and I decided that I would wait until I could blow one with a shotgun, then go bang bang bang and they most likely would be curtains and everybody would be alarmed and they would know that it was fair dinkum. I was watching and there was a little bit of grass about so high and


a bit of bare patch and there was one coming towards me, and as soon as he came in I would blow him to bits. He came out and it was a little wallaby. Just imagine if I had have rang the alarm. I think that was one of my many silly things.


So you didn’t blow the wallaby away?
No. That was one of the most worrying few minutes I had in my army days. If what I did wasn’t right and they had been in amongst a sleeping group of men, it would have been a bit of a shocking setup.


That was just one of the things and it is just a memory.
How was conflict from the Middle East different to the conflict in New Guinea?
I was actively engaged in this when I was on the gun in Tobruk and I never fired a shot in anger in New Guinea.


What was happening at that time? Where were you supplying?
The Kokoda Trail was on first but after that all those northern New Guinea places the stores were coming into Moresby and brought up to us, and we were packing and they would be going back nearly into Moresby to the aerodrome to fly up to where they had to go up


to the northern shores of New Guinea.
Who was supplying to the Kokoda Trail?
We did, but the Kokoda Trail, when we went out we were supplying the Kokoda Trail from Moresby. When we moved out, this group would move in further. The Kokoda Trail had finished.


When the Kokoda Trail was on there wasn’t the big air force lift over New Guinea. The air force was at Moresby so it was quite easy to run the stores from Moresby. When we moved up it would come to Moresby and there would be a message relayed there


and stuff taken back down there to be flown over. I had a very unpleasant experience there but fortunately I knew the machine guns and I knew that a number nine director was one of the aides


for the Vickers gun. By this time we were all using twenty-five pounders, the number seven director was for the artillery. We got a message one night and it got to me because I was in charge of the section that supplied them that they needed a number nine director for the 2/1st Field Regiment.


I checked with the person who had given me the message, all done by phone, and I said, “Is this right?” and he said, “Yes.” I said, “Before I do it, check back and confirm it, will you, and I will be waiting for your message,” or words to that effect. I was only a staff sergeant at the time


and it got right up to the big chiefs. I made the suggestion. There are certain stores that are called controlled stores. You need special authority to release them and both these directories were controlled stores. I suggested that I would be needing them because I wouldn’t be asking why and they said,


“Sent it to them,” and, “They wanted two. They can send the other one back.” No harm done. The lower officers wouldn’t and they referred it and referred it and apparently the one chap got on to the brigadier and said that I was playing up, and the old brigadier came down and asked me what the trouble was and I told him.


He was a bit sneaky on getting out of bed I suppose. He said, “You send the one that’s right, and if its not right you will be a private tomorrow,” and I thought that was a big unfair. I sent the number seven and I never got a medal for it but nothing was said. It was very lucky that I knew it could have gone to practically any other chap and they wouldn’t


have had that knowledge, so they were very lucky there. I went to New Guinea and I got out of there by going to OCTU [Officers Cadet Training Unit] and I had a lot of people up there who had a couple of years and they were going on leave. Some of them went home and they would wrote to their mates


that they had gotten married. They’d say to me, “Joe’s gone home and he’s got married,” so we use to say to a chap that went home, “Don’t get married like the others.” I used to wish them all luck on their leave. Some were going home on transfer.
Why were they all getting married?
I think just because they wanted to get married. I


don’t know. Lots of the chaps had girlfriends right through and they came away and they had been there just on a couple of years and went home for a while so let’s get married. I did exactly the same thing, the first jolly girl


I spoke to really was Heather. A comical setup, isn’t it?
Where did you meet?
Heather was in the orderly room and I was reporting in from New Guinea and I walked in and saw this corporal there, I think she was a corporal,


and this orderly room clerk asked that I was to report direct to this major and I said, “Is Major Longs there?” and she said, “No, but can I help?” and I said, “No, tell him that Sergeant Major Muirhead has reported in,” and that was it and I just went away.
How did you pursue her?


How about changing that around?
She said that she didn’t like you at first, you had to do some sweet talking?
While I left New Guinea I had done an interview up there for promotion to attend OCTU Officers Cadet Training Unit and I qualified. They were graded in different grades – immediate, further training


and back to unit – and I got one of these good ones, immediate, and I went down. So we are now at the stage where I have said goodbye to her. I go down to the sergeants’ mess and I met a fellow, coincidence, I met a fellow from Nambour, and he was in an accident with a team of footballers and a couple of them got killed where the driver


hit a post on one of the bridges and this chap got his leg broken. He had a stiff leg but he was in the sig [signals] corps. I played a bit of footy, I was in the surf club and a bit of cricket I was pretty well known in sport so we had one of three. I also met his own little cronies


so I was accepted. They were living in a tent up in New Guinea and I went into this long barracks into bed about four foot off the ground. After I retired at night I needed to get up so I saw the door of the lock and staggered through and I knew I had to turn around, and of course I turned around and tripped and landed on my shoulder.


My shoulder was sore so I went to the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] in the morning and he reckoned I had a broken collarbone and put it into a sling and the next morning I said, “Good morning sir.” He finished up saying a couple of words to me, “What happened to your arm?” and I said, “I fell out of bed.” And he said, “Drunk again?” and I said, “I might have been,” and Heather thought it was a bit imprudent.


I went to Broadmeadows in Victoria to do pre OCTU. The ordnance had a school for the girls and the girls came down and they camped just next door to us and they trained just next door to us, and all the chaps there knew the girls but I never knew a soul. I only knew Heather.


I spoke to her and because we were in uniform we could go to the races free and I was keen on the races and I said, “Would you come to the races with me?” and she said, “Yes, but I wont go out at night.” I said, “What, you can go out at night,”


and we saw each other a few times. Again I learnt something. When I came back they had brought in all the new regulations and they counted back and didn’t count the leave that I had overseas Cairo and I had one hundred and eight days’ leave due to me. When I got


my commission it was worked out that I only had sixty-four or something, but I had to report to the army every week. Hazel, my sister, lived in Sydney and I had a great affection for Haze and I use to go down to Sydney and talk to her and she’d talk to me and eventually this is what happen. That was the story about that setup.
What did you do? Did you go out on dates?


How did you get to know each other?
I don’t really know. We went out a couple of times to places. I used to start going to her place and I got on well with her brother and I got on well with her father.
She was quite a big younger, what did you like about her?


I just liked her because she was a nice kid. I reckoned during the war I would never have gotten married but I was thinking when I met her and thought, “Why shouldn’t I?” I was going away again and I knew that I was going away again, and that was after OCTU,


and we became a bit friendly. If I did happen to get skittled she would be right for life and get the war widows’ pension and she was willing to marry me, so why not be together for a few weeks while we had the chance.
Why didn’t you think you would get married when you were in the war?
I didn’t want to get married because I didn’t want a wife worrying about me.


You saw some of the poor fellows who were married and they were getting letters and all sorts of things. They’d be getting a letter where, ‘Little Joey is doing very well, but little Peter, he’s got some ache or pain’. Not too good. So I reckoned that I would never get married, but I did and I thought it was that way and she would be right for life


and because she accepted me. Somehow, and I don’t know how it all happened, but the colonel, he knew her and helped Heather organise the engagement ring and blah, blah, blah and she wore the engagement ring. It was a great commotion. One of my previous COs [Commanding Officers]


was at a conference up in Sydney and congratulated her and she said, “Do you know the chap?” and he said, “Oh, Bob, one of my men in New Guinea,” and they put their heads together and he said I could get away, so I’m on draft to go away again.


Northern Command with a lot of communications said, “You’re not going back south.” These people brought in all the big forces and I was able to get down. But before I was able to get down it was cancelled again from Northern Command about four times and poor old Heather, she had a very worried time. It was on and off until our ordnance people won,


I think we had five days for a honeymoon. I went back up but Heather being in the army she saw some of the documentation but she didn’t know where I was. She’d asked one of the officers who had been up to Morotai and he brought home a lot of


documentation and said, “Do you recognise that signature? He’s all right.”
When did that happen?
That was early in 1945.
This happened after you were married?
She didn’t know where you were?
No, didn’t know where I was. I didn’t know exactly where we were going at first.
Interviewee: Robin Muirhead Archive ID 1600 Tape 06


We understood at this stage that there would be an assault right up as far as Tokyo, as far as Japan, and we were preparing with a lot of stores. Before that there had to be a wiping out of the Japanese in Borneo and Morotai was our staging area. We arrived, a lot of stores and a lot of work and building and we were


allotted areas. I was a lieutenant at this stage and I was allotted 3 Sup Depot – that is all the tech [technical] stores. It was very bushy and I was right at the end of the ridge and just over on this side there was an American camp and we had to clean up the area. We had a bottle of whisky,


being an officer, and I went down and spoke to the engineer. I met in New Guinea some Americans and they were very very cooperative. I spoke to these engineers and they said, “We will put on something for you.” We gave them the bottle of whisky and they put on a couple of dances, swept out all this underground and it was beautifully clean and all the other chaps were working.


Our storehouses were to be two tank shelters – a tank shelter is a huge jolly canvas arrangement. I put one here facing that way and the other one opposite and I got a lot of saplings and put it across and then a tarpaulin overhead. I used this for the reception area. And as the trucks came in they could back in and when they were unloading the stuff and the stuff that went group five went this way and the


stuff for group six went that way. As the stuff was coming in it was getting sorted and everything was going pretty well. Our CO came down and he was a good chap but he did panic, “There’s so much work.” And I used to tell him to go back and have a rest and I got all my stuff. He said that I wasn’t fair to the other


officers, which I was unhappy about. While the brigadier came out, the same chap who had told me that he would sack me if I didn’t do anything, he was very happy and he did this in my ear and he told the major to leave me be because


I know what I was doing. Then I got really popular – I got a couple of prisoners there. There were supposed to be a few Nips about. Just on evening I decided to go for a bit of a walk on a track into the jungle. I saw about half a dozen or so little monkeys on the ground so I threw my hat over


and dived after them and caught two one in each hand. Do you know, as soon as I touched them they turned into little piglets. Here I was with two pigs and dead scared that the old sow would hear them and she would come after them. I had my revolver and I wondered what I would do with them so I took them back up and I thought that I would play a joke on the orderly officer. I had a phone connection


from my place and I got on the phone and said, “I’ve got a worry up here. I’ve got a couple of prisoners. Listen to them when I twist their arm,” and the pigs screamed. He made a bit of a fuss and he said, “What are you doing with them?” I said, “I’ll tie them up and put them into a box here or something,” and I said, “and the big brass can tell us what


we can do with them tomorrow.” Half an hour later up arrived the brigadier, colonel and major – he had gone through and rung them and reported that I had a couple of prisoners. The old brigadier had a very very good straight face when he told me that I must have had a laugh about it.


What happened to them we put them in the kitchen to be fed, one died. Before that one died and before I left Morotai I took twenty-eight ORs [Other Ranks]. It was a draft that was to go into Borneo. They still had the two little piglets.


One of them did die and the other one they fed up and I believe they had a great feed out of him. We had a rehearsal and a practice of the landing with the twenty-eight boys and we were going to land on D-Day [Allied landing in Normandy]. I didn’t know what to do so I went and saw the EO, that’s the executive officer,


and fortunately I had seen a little bit about the Americans in Japan and I said I had twenty-eight chaps, and I said, “I know that you will be wanting duty.” I said, “But I have a warrant officer and a couple of sergeants and you will have big jobs like guard duty and the cookhouse, and I’ve got these people and your chaps will be able to work in very well with them and be in command. Instead


of calling on a couple of Australians one day, let them take over and let the unit do it.” He said, “That’s a good idea,” so what did he do. He gave us the cookhouse and we lived pretty well. They looked after us very well. And we went back after seven days’ training back to Morotai and they wouldn’t let us off


the landing craft so we had to stop on that. On the 1st July 1945 we arrived at Balikpapan. At six o’clock in the morning they started the bombardment and that lasted until nine o’clock. Then the first wave of our chaps went in and ninety minutes later I took in my boys.


You talk about a worrying time, I was an officer by this stage and I had a bit of responsibility and I had no say in this. We travelled in a landing barge and a lot were in the big boats and we were fifth back from the front, and I reckoned what a wonderful setup. The Jap submarine, to just get that timed nicely, so when he did fire it wouldn’t miss.


It was not a very nice thought. He didn’t fire because there were none there. We landed there in the first wave of infantry and we had quite an interesting time there.
Can you describe that landing for us?
The bombardment lasted and superimposed on the bombardment were several aerial raids.


The bombardment was so severe that the town was totally destroyed and all nearby. I have got to say, before this we were setting up a place for the stores and I was to do the cleaning up and getting ready for all the stores coming in in five days’ time. We selected a great area the whole services, the ASC, engineers and ordnance, and


we selected this big area, all a flat area with a gentle slope coming into it, wonderful nice green grass, and we were to go there and this was our object. Our immediate thing when we landed ninety minutes after we had a four hundred yard stretch where we had to do some searching to see if there were any


booby traps and all that sort of stuff. They had booby traps in about a 44-gallon drum of petrol. Not petrol, but explosives, operated with a funnel down the middle and a big weight here with a hook through here with a bit of wooden stick through here with a great tripwire out here and way out here. They had these all


intermingled and I don’t know how many we had. Our job was to locate them and stick up a red flag so that the engineers would know where to come and delouse them. The engineers never come and they knew a bit about explosives and I decided that I could delouse them,


this was a beautiful thing. Why I say that, they said that it would be okay for me to go and do it but I must keep a record. I had a pencil and a piece of paper and I had my arm down a hole like this doing something and then writing down what happened. You know if anything happening and you are relying on a drum of jolly high explosives


and you are writing down so that the people could research to see what I had done, so I did that. In the afternoon a chap raced out of the hills. He was bomb happy and he had a long stick with a big knife attached to the end and started to scream that a couple of Owen guns opened up on him


and he didn’t get very far. A couple of mornings after a plane came over and I got two jokers killed and three wounded; it was a bit of a sticky little place.
What happened in that incident?
An airplane came over and dropped a bomb among our boys and two of them got killed and three were wounded, so it wasn’t very good.


Of course the forward troops advanced and we moved up into a nice area to take and setup. But when you walked across this nice level green flat you went up to your ankles in mud. All the aerial photos and all this research wasn’t worth two bob. That left the engineers, the


ASC, and they look after all the food stuffs and the ordnance people they never had a place. We looked around and they were in the same position. They were sort of forward troops for the main body coming in and they were two majors and I was only a lieutenant. I found one place, the bombardment was such in


Balikpapan in my opinion I never saw a piece of timber more than four feet long – it was absolutely devastated. I reckoned that I could clear that up and make it a good place and it would be satisfactory and we could have a camp right on the ocean and the boys could have a swim every day, and me. When I had to explain it I had to go up to the brigadier’s conference


and the engineer officer, he got up and said he was claiming it so I lost that. There was one place and it was nice and flat. I wouldn’t take it but then suddenly I got a thought, “Why have the Indonesians


developed it? Why haven’t the Dutch? Why haven’t the Japs? There must be something wrong here.” I thought about it a bit more. It was a pretty obvious place and, “Why haven’t those other two?” I didn’t know. It was just enough for me not to take it. When the major came along and he was a


bit trussed with me because he expected to find a place all ready for them to go into and I explained the matter and I thought that it was unfit. We did a drive around and he made a bit of a fool of himself I think. We ran into a Nip and he told the driver to stop,


and instead of telling him to get out, and of course we jumped out and unfortunately there was a bit of a ditch there. It was a good thing because some of the fellows from the 12th Battalion opened up on the Nip and wiped him out, so that was a good thing. I did my turn a bit and told him that I had been through the Middle East and New Guinea and here I was being killed by a rabbit


like you and not veering off, but anyway we got out of it.
What exactly happened there? You were driving along?
Yes, and this machine gunner opened up and had a couple of shots at us. The major said, “Stop and get out,” where he should have said, “Drive like hell and get away.” There we were and suddenly there was other bursts of fire


and they stopped it and this battalion wiped out this machine gunner, so that was all right. I never won any friends with him by telling him he was mad and that sort of thing. He decided on this place. They built a big tank trap near it and that tank trap had pieces of cross across like this, a foot square and about twenty feet of long pieces laid through these.


It was magnificent. I had been in New Guinea and Morotai and wet weather and I believe in keeping stores off the ground, so I got the lads to cut them so wide and we had beautiful dummies to put our stores on. This old major, he told me to stop it. Well I didn’t mind because I got everything that I wanted.


We found out why this beautiful flat land was surrounded by a hill like that. When the rains came the tide was high, there was eighteen inches of water and there were my stores two feet out of water, so I wasn’t very happy. That was


one of the things that we had there.
Can I ask you before you made that landing at Balikpapan, what were your expectations of what you would see there or what sort of oppositions there might be?
We didn’t worry about it at all because we would find out when we arrived, just be absolutely certain that you’re fit and ready to do whatever you were called on. And nobody can tell just what you are going to find;


you have to play it as you see it.
What did you know of the previous landings in Borneo?
They were up on the far end and we knew they were pretty savagely resisted, and I think that was one of the factors why the high authorities gave that three-hour bombardment. I think that I can’t verify that. I was very low down in the setup.


There has been some criticism about those Borneo landings that perhaps some people have said that they weren’t necessary, particularly the last one at Balikpapan. Were you aware of that?
No, but I have seen a bit of criticism, but I don’t know why when they were talking of preparing to go to Japan why we should have had a place in Balikpapan. Bear in mind it was a big centre


for the Japanese. So I feel that if they had of developed the northern end there could have been a problem for anything in the south, but I don’t know. This was it. There was a free landing still in the north and one later on in the south and that was the one that I was involved in.
How did that experience


compare with your experience in the Middle East?
It was entirely different. The only similarity was that we were in the same uniform.
What about the enemy? What was your view about the Japanese, say, compared to the Germans?


I can tell you that there is nothing too bad that I wouldn’t believe about the Japanese. If I hadn’t have gone to Japan with the occupation I would have been the most bigoted person going. If I hadn’t been through New Guinea and Borneo I would believe that these fellows that went to Japan


and they’d say what charming people the Japanese are. They don’t know what they are talking about. To give you an idea, the first three months when I went to Japan I slept with my pistol under my bed under a pillow – that’s how nervous I was. Thinking that if the Japs had landed in Australia there would have been Australian people cruising about


the place or at least Japanese sticking a knife into them or something like that. I thought that the Japanese would have done the same, but they were cooperative. As a matter of fact, a vice admiral used to carry the cot, little Heather Jean, the baby, onto a work boat that we use to go and use on a Sunday. There is a thing that not


too many people know about this. I have only seen one report. In the forestry in Queensland they used to have a notice about so big talking about the timber that was there and to watch out for bushfires. About the same sized notice was in Japan written in Japanese, the old vertical writing.


I know that it is factual because I have seen it, the interpretation. I can only tell you what I have been told but the gist of it was it appealed to the Japanese to work with the occupation because they might have lost the struggle of one hundred years. That was briefly the instructions. That the Japanese people being a law abiding group


that they obeyed it. I know that I am digressing a little bit but we had an old flat with the Japanese but there was fronting with them, they were the only people, they were a small group and they were the ones that they were to beat the Japanese. They weren’t supposed to flat with us either, so it was a two way thing.


I don’t care what anybody tells you, the Japanese are capable of it. But that’s me anyway.
What did you personally see of those atrocities that you are obviously referring to in New Guinea or Balikpapan?
I wouldn’t tell you.


Okay, we won’t talk about that.
I will tell you one thing, this was nothing but it will give you an idea. When we got into Balikpapan and the war had finished there were still some natives working and there was a group of them, you used to see them, and they use to have wounds in their feet. I told you the bayonet


used to be stuck in their feet so they wouldn’t be any good for us. I don’t know but I know they had that. I had an interpreter with me and there was a group of about eight or ten sitting on the side of the road and they had a bit of trouble with their feet. And there was an elderly lady. I don’t know how old she was, she wasn’t that old that she couldn’t walk.


I did something and all of a sudden she started to scream. I didn’t know what happened and I asked the interpreter and he stopped. I must have brushed my hand… As he said something about shooting, I must have brushed my hand on my holster and she must have thought that I was going to shoot her. That was the feeling they had with the Japanese.


You can easily understand the Japanese doing it, from what I saw.
In terms of an actual enemy fighting, was the war against the Japanese in New Guinea and Borneo very different in terms of fighting against the Germans?
I was never involved in that physical business so I would say entirely different.


Climatically timber growth, opened in the desert but timber in New Guinea and Borneo, but I’m not in a position to judge that.
Do you remember finding out about the Japanese entering the war?
The first I think I knew about it was the bombing of Pearl Harbour.


That was the first I think that I knew about it.
Where were you when that happened?
I think I might have been in Australia, I’m not sure. I’m only hazarding a guess. I don’t remember much about that.
Do you remember your thoughts at the time knowing that the Japanese had done that and had entered the war?
Yes, I was concerned on that.


When the Japanese entered the war I think I would have been in Egypt because we used to go to a place in the warriors’ rest and we used to stop there. We used to always say goodbye when we were going back to camp. When we said, “Goodbye and see you next time,” someone said, “There won’t be a next time.


You won’t be coming to Cairo any more.” When we got back there we found the closed camp and we would be getting ready to go somewhere, so that was where we would have been working in hindsight.
How aware were you of the risk to Australia in terms of the fear of invasion?


When you returned to Australia, for example, was there a sense of fear that the Japanese would invade Australia?
As far as I was concerned and what I remember, there could be an endeavour and it was going to depend on the support that we could get from America, and we would need a pretty strong


air force and a pretty strong navy to save it. I never thought of the possibility of losing the war, so I think that may answer the question that I could be conscious of what could happened but never ever did I think that we could lose.


Were you in Balikpapan when they surrendered or before that when the bombs were dropped?
Yes. We were in Balikpapan when the last bombing went off because they landed in our lines, but


when the war finished I didn’t believe it because in our little scrap down there in Borneo the Japs were bust straight up, but I didn’t believe it. It was night-time when the word came through and I didn’t accept it. The next day it was confirmed.


It was a rumour the first night and I didn’t believe and didn’t accept it. I couldn’t see it, although we had won our little bit there were so many more phases of the Japanese. It was a surprise. But when I got to know about the atom bombs I could easily understand it. When I went to Japan I could easily


understand it but not when I was in Borneo. The Japanese were the starting race, practically. They put everything behind them and those two bombs put the finish right on. If they hadn’t have fallen I think the war would have gone on for a lot longer, but that finished it.
On that day when the


end of the war was confirmed, what was the mood among the troops?
I don’t remember anything drastic in our little crowd. There was a bit of cheering. There was no social activity or anything like that, so I can’t remember any great ‘whoopee’ business.
In that invasion at the landing at Balikpapan,


that was a three-hour bombardment. During that main bombardment, where exactly were you?
Sitting in a landing craft five back from the beach.
You could see everything?
No, we could only see a certain type. They had a big multi thing firing at a whole group, and they were like


three-inch mortars firing altogether and this great mass of things that go ‘shoo shoo’, and then there were all these naval guns plonking all over the place, airplanes coming in and dropping stuff. It was pretty good not to be under it.
What was the noise like?
It was pretty bad but nothing like we used to get when we were in Tobruk. It was more open


in Tobruk. There were some buildings around.
How long did you stay in Balikpapan after the end of the war?
I think it would be about December.
Where did you go from there?
I went from there to Sydney and I stopped in Sydney for a few months. I was married and


there was no housing so we were stopping with people and I was stopping in camp. Then there was the thing about going to Japan and there was free accommodation and I spoke to Heather about it and she was agreeable. So I made an application and they wanted to get rid of me again so they let me go. So I went up to Japan and Heather joined me about six or eight months later.


We didn’t get all the details of that story about Heather of not knowing where you were?
She knew the area where I was but she didn’t know what I was doing because one minute I would be ringing her and telling her I was okay and the next minute I would be ringing saying, “I can’t get down. They won’t let me go.” Her branch of officers, they pulled


their rank and eventually I got the leave granted so that I could go down.
It was while you were in Morotai?
I was on draft in Brisbane waiting to go away.
I thought there was some story about her not knowing where you were when you were in Borneo?
That was after we left and she didn’t know where we were going or anything like this. There was an officer from Morotai


who came back and Heather made a point of going to see him and asking him, and he was able to say, “Do you recognise this signature?” That was the story there.
Did you write to Heather very much while you were away?
I wrote to her every now and then. I believe one message, ‘Darling, I’ve been in the mess’, and she could hardly read the rest.


Why would that be?
I don’t know. I think it was the mud or the earthquake.
You came back to Australia after your time in Borneo before you went to Japan?
It didn’t occur to you that perhaps after all your time away to stay in Australia?
I would have stayed in Australia but the accommodation was tough and I had a chance of going to Japan


and getting free accommodation. But it wasn’t free – we found out we had to pay. It was a wonderful experience for both of us.
What were your thoughts though of going to Japan after your experiences with the Japanese?
I was dead scared. I wasn’t real happy about it but it had to be accepted that there were all these other people going, “You can’t be right, old chap.”


What were you scared about?
I was scared of this fanatic Jap that would say, “Here’s a chance for me to give this guy a jab sixteen times with my knife.” That was what I was scared of.
Can you tell us about your time in Japan?
It was wonderful. I had lots of jobs, and I started off with looking


after the clothing section. You need to understand that our depot consisted of Indians, Englishmen, New Zealanders and Australians so we had people. I wasn’t an original there but they were still working on it.


We had the idea of working with the officer would be an Australian, the sergeant major would be a New Zealander so that we would be intermixed. It sounds good.
Where were you based in Japan?
Can you describe the setup there for us?
A flat


gravel of rusty iron, that was the major part, hills with entrances to them where the tunnels had been made. A nice clear area with a couple of good buildings where there was headquarters,


but that was a bit scarce and it had been destroyed by fire and that was typical of practically all the cities of Japan – it was ruined. Just after I was there I had an occasion to go to Kobe – that was where the headquarters of the British force were. The Australians had the bottom end down at Kaitaichi. That was protected.


I went there and all the places were just the same – just rubble. We had sixteen hundred Japs working for us and they were just skin and bone and we were told not to work them too hard, and that lasted for about six months. There were no dogs or anything like that in Japan.


What about Hiroshima? Did you see Hiroshima?
Yes, I was going to Kaitaichi and that was only about eight or nine miles away.
Can you tell us what you saw?
Yes, again just a flat mass but appreciate this about Japan – the villages. When I say Hiroshima was the


big place but they have got their suburbs, like the ordinary Japanese, they were made of straw and they were so close together that I couldn’t walk through between them, I had to turn sideways to walk through. But I don’t know that about Hiroshima because it wasn’t there, but this was typical of the Japanese


suburbia. The fires that had started would just wipe out the whole thing. The bombs blew everything away. There was a bit of an archway, and I forget what the building was. I think it was selected as a memorial. Hiroshima, the Japs recovered little


bits of shanties and there was a big fire that went through those afterwards, and you never hear about that but they did that. Hiroshima now has recovered and was recovering well when we were there. There is a good story about the black market in Japan.
Interviewee: Robin Muirhead Archive ID 1600 Tape 07


Tell us about that experience in New Guinea, where were you when that happened?
I forget the name of the little place.


It was in an open area away from the bottom of, on the side of, it was towards the end of the


approach and this chap, there were the ashes of the fire and his body was there and it was identified quite easily. He had been cut from about shoulder blade and slit right down below his buttocks. It was assumed that he had been eaten.


That was the worse thing that I saw in New Guinea. Borneo, I won’t talk about that. All that I can is there was one place and it was known as the death house, there were so many people. Some apparently


had died naturally and some apparently had been shot or stabbed and that was in the village. We had the task of cleaning those out.
Where did you take the bodies from there?
We went to a central area and they were destroyed.
Were they local bodies? What nationality were they?


They were Indonesian or Borneo, they were Indonesians.
At the time when you are asked to do a job like that, how do you deal with it?
You haven’t got much of an option and it’s worse for the soldier. I was an officer then and it was worse for the soldier having to pick you up and your arm falls of because you’ve been sitting


there for days, no.
That death house, where was that located?
In a room. Sometimes there’d be a couple in the room. That was in Nikka village, I think.


I can’t describe it, truly.
Do those images sometimes come back to you, some of those more gruesome things that you experienced?
When I first came back I was a bit of a shocker and I had a good long spell, but the last couple of years they are coming back more


frequently and I don’t enjoy them.
How do you push it out of your mind?
Not to go to sleep, come home and have a good old Ballantynes (whisky], a couple or three of them. I can’t help it.


But usually I can switch off and think of something else but those times when I’m having a realistic sort of a dream they are a bit shocking.
How did you help younger men deal with those experiences, because you were quite experienced with death by the time you got to Papua New Guinea and Borneo?
We saw a few killed


up in the desert. Today they go in for counselling we had nothing like that. I’m wondering if before you go in unless a person has been through I don’t think they can give


a true picture. There’s a fellow and there’s a bit of his body, here’s a spread of blood, you can’t, things cut from here to here and this parts here and there’s another part near the door. You can’t express that feeling to kids today


unless you have seen it, you can only image it. In my opinion it is far far better not to talk about these things. Don’t phase out war by any means. I will repeat a story with the desert when all those prisoners were being taken and we had one chap


and he reckoned that the Australians weren’t bad, he was a prisoner but one captain was no good. I can vouch for what he is telling us. He reckoned that he had a beautiful ring, and an Australian captain got out his knife and cut off his finger with the knife. True or false I don’t know


but I do know that he never had a finger. It could have been cut but I don’t know. He accused an Australian of doing it. I don’t want to talk about those sort of things, I prefer not to, let other people who have, let them tell, but me, no.


When you were in Japan you said there were some black market activities?
I can’t tell you too much because I wasn’t involved in it.


I have to be a bit careful here because some of the people will be.
You don’t have to mention any names.
I was orderly officer one night and I got a message from the orderly officer to send two trucks down to the wharf and


I refused. I said, “Get your own men to do it. Do it to your own men, not to mine.” We had a couple of words and he came back and said one of the higher people said that I had to do it and I said, “Tell him I’m not doing it.” After


speaking to him, and he was a higher rank than I was, I was told to do it and I said that I wouldn’t. Then a very high ranking officer got on to me and I said, “Yes sir.” So I got two boys and sent them down there with the trucks.


They went away and after they came back I asked them what happened. What happened was the two trucks were loaded with sugar and


they were taken and left at a place and they were taken away to have a bit of supper. When they came back their trucks were there nice and empty and they returned, and that was what was required.


Two truck loads of sugar. Imagine how that would go on the black market. The worse case I know was not a truck load. While they were rebuilding Hiroshima a train load of cement disappeared between Kure and Hiroshima. Just think of the organisation


of being in that sort of thing. This is what I’m saying the black market was huge. The black market down among the boys, and the one I like about this is two fellows with their kitbags full of cigarettes and that sort of stuff. The black market was in Hiroshima.


These two lads arrived and went on the train and got off the station at Hiroshima and the provos [Provosts – Military Police] picked them up. At Hiroshima there was also a Japanese orphanage for people who had lost their parents


and we took a great interest in it. We used to bake cakes and we used to go down, we went several times and I use to collect sporting gear, the old tennis racquets and cricket bats and the occupation did a lot. These two lads were approached by the provos and when they were approached they said, “What are you doing with this?” and quick as a flash one said, “We are taking it down to the orphanage.” One of the provos


said, “Good. Get into the jeep and we will drive you there.” I don’t know what happened to the orphanage. I never heard what did happen to that.
How did you become involved with that?
I really don’t know. I think that someone in our unit


had an interest with somebody and asked about this and that’s how we became interested in these little kids, scar-faced and a lot in a bad way. Quite a few of the wives in Hiroshima and also Heather, and they made a lot of cakes and took them down and the little kids used to really like to see us. And I wondered how they got on with


the loss of the support that they got from BCOF [British Commonwealth Occupation Force].
What were some of the other things that you had to do while you were in Japan?
I had a variety of jobs and one of them I thought I’d enjoyed. I was the officer in charge of the internal stock and checking


and stock-taking, and to see that all the documents are right and that the stock agrees with the records. I had a staff of Australians and they were great copiers and they would copy anything. May I digress a moment? People used to get materials and get clothes made out of them, and one of our officers


who got some clothing and he got the Japanese to copy an old pair of trousers, and he had a burn in the pocket here and that’s where they put dart in it. I don’t know if they were sewed fair dinkum or just a little bit of get square effort, I don’t know. That was one of the setups.


I know there were some very big things going on. I’m not clever enough to cover my tracks and that sort of thing and I didn’t want to be involved in anything like that and never have been.
How did the Japanese people that were working for you respond to you as their superior?
I had an interpreter


and you may imagine I didn’t like the Japanese when I went there and I wasn’t going to lower myself and try and speak Japanese to them so I had my interpreter. So what it was was my interpreter – I don’t know whether I got any respect for it or whether I was treated as a silly old joker – but when I became prominent at Kaitaichi I had the responsibility of the whole jolly thing,


the whole camp. There was a fair bit of robbery and I understood that it started to get a bit of a worry and the Japanese had something among them. I could go fishing with the Japanese and I could go shooting and I could I ask the Japanese where the pheasants were. But at the depot around work I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t understand a word of Japanese.


The Japanese would be having a yabber, I wouldn’t understand it perfectly but I would get a rough idea and I would pass it onto the intelligence people and we caught quite a few people out at Kaitaichi. One of the things, night-soil was sold. Heather, have you got your bucket over there?


The night-soil was collected and it would go out to the farmer. I found and I had reason to believe that that was how they were getting the stuff out. It finished up from me that we had the chief of the COB [?]


down there and several Red Caps [British Military Police].
Wow, what is this?
That’s the soil and they would cart it out to the farms in that. They’d use an old cart. They found this and they got the idea, this was particularly on the


number 1 Sup Depot, and this was motor cars and these were spare parts that were disappearing and we got them. But it was how were they getting out? It was loaded into the night-soil. At the gateway one Friday night I was there because I was the camp prominent and the provo marshal and a number of provos there and we had the chief of the Japanese


out with a number of his force from Hiroshima, and I want you to appreciate that I don’t usually associate with the chief of police but up there I was a big officer at this stage. We stopped these people and no-one wanted to investigate. The old Japanese inspector, he had a bit of a roar


and when they went in they found some tools. When I say tools, they weren’t tools, they were a lot of bolts and nuts about that long, so I was very happy with myself. The Kaitaichi area was


one hundred and fifty yards wide and three hundred yards this way, a rectangle an entrance in here and an entrance down there and inside there was a garden house. We use to get a company of the battalion out there to do guard duty. We had a roving picket up there at night-time, a roving picket across there,


a roving picket across there and a roving picket across there. Of course the one there was always a stationed picket and another roving picket going up and down the centre. We had some robberies and on this particular case at one of my stores, the end store way back here. Before we even settled down in the morning our store


house was opened and the corporal came to me and said that there was something wrong, and somebody had gotten in by breaking the door at the back. You have to understand that there was a wired fence outside. Seven stones of barbed wire at an angle like there with three stones of barbed wire. They could see on the cement floor that tools


and trolleys had been used to load this stuff. We could see that a track had been used. We had these people up and down, across, across. When this was reported our colonel he got word back from headquarters in Australia,


“Why wasn’t there an officer in charge?” I was camp prominent and I also had the responsibility for number 2 Sup Depot and why wasn’t I there? I got on very well with the colonel and he called me in and showed me the letter. He said he wanted me to write a letter to him


in answer to this and then write a letter for him to send down to army headquarters. I did that and did the other to the best of my ability and I stressed the security that we had and my final sentence for him was, “I would like to invite your attention that no matter what security you have, even bags get robbed,”


and I never heard any more about it. That was the sort of thing.
Where would they have been taking the stolen goods?
To the town. There were so many towns. I went to a place, the only place where I was badly treated. We had our own jeep up there and we used to drive around, and we had a house girl and the house girl was


our interpreter, and we got up there saccharine was a great thing. Apparently these couple of chaps from one of the units got there and got a good order for saccharine and they got a couple of big jars about so big. What they had done was they worked in a little place where they could make little moulds


and you use plaster of Paris and sewed these great things to it, but they put in a couple of packets of saccharine on top – here, sample it. I arrived in the town a little bit later when they got through and found all this stuff. That wasn’t all the thing that went on. People were buying stuff in Australia


and selling it to the Japanese for five bucks. When we came home I had been told that if you slung five pound to the customs they would let you go pretty quickly. Heather was born and little Don was only young and I waited for our turn and it wasn’t coming. So I went to a fellow,


he had a couple of those clips and I eventually said to him, “How long will we be?” and he said, “It might be a while,” or something like that. And I said, “I was told if you make a donation to a charity down here you will get attention pretty quickly,” and he said, “Would you be prepared to do that?” and I said, “Yes,” and I knew it was in reason. He said, “Well see what you can do,”


and within a few minutes I was through. But he looked at the two charts and said, “Oh, you are not here.” One chap we knew was a good black marketer taking a whole lot of stuff out. He had it all opened on the wharf. I will tell you a funny thing about it. There were half a dozen or so people that were well known


in the black market and everyone of them had died and some very horribly. There was one chap who had a property in the Hunter Valley and he appeared to be escaping and he got wiped out in the flood. So it’s something I believe because I haven’t heard of any of these people that prospered.


A chap in the army, when the war was finished, a major, he packed up a lot of tools to be sent over so that when he returned it was to be collected by him at the ordnance depot in Australia. When he got them there was a great screw. They were all rusty after a little bit of checking here and there and I think I was trusted by most of them. He wasn’t very popular and they got some salt and poured it into the packages


before they were sent. There are lots of get squares.
How did Heather adapt to life in Japan?
She loved it. There was a good social life, the domestic life I think I heard her say that she had four house girls and a gardener. It was quite easy.


It was a very good living there.
Was she involved in the army as well?
No, she was discharged when she went to Japan. No, she was plain Mrs Muirhead up there.
What was the place that you lived in like?
The place had been built, the first one we went to it was very long and in the centre


there were two centres up like this and each of those were units, and at this end and this end were units. That was for people of lower rank or many families, some of us had two single units if you had a bit family. Then there were single cottages and if you had a certain rank you got into one of those.


If you had a couple of infants, we moved from one to another when Donald arrived. There was lots of social activity.
Was it difficult Heather having a baby in a different country? What were the hospital systems like?
They were Australian hospitals. They were all Australian doctors and Australian nurses, so there was no problem there.


Some of the experiences that you had in the Middle East and moving up into Borneo, were they still really fresh with you at that point when you were in Japan?
No. Until only a couple of years ago when I started to do all my course, because I thought that maybe little Heather might want to scribble down her life.


I think you can’t build things with your imagination and I had had an unusual life so I did nineteen ninety-minute tapes and I forgot a lot of things too.
That was when all the memories started?
If I was to do it again I would do it entirely different. I just tried to think and think


but what I should have done was to have divided it up into sections. I did decree one section to sport because I was a bit of a sportsman.
Did you play a bit of sport in Japan?
Yes, we had cricket, tennis, and golf. The Komodo Hotel, that was a place that was built for the headquarters


for the Japanese, and they were to host the Olympic Games before the war and that was one of our relief centres and that has two eighteen-hole golf course on it. Chick Chin had been the south-east Asian champion and he was the head coach there and you could get lessons for two bob an hour. I never played before that but


I got caught in it one night in the mess, but it was very very good.
How was it after such a long time of being single and being in all those different countries and living all over the world? How did you adjust to married life in a foreign country?
No good. I don’t know how hard it was for Heather


because she had only been a single girl for a short time and suddenly married with a husband away. When she did have a husband he was still out at night with the boys. “It will be right when I get home.” It took years and years before


I became incapacitated. It took me a very long time but the army life things would improve it, the mess life I would call in for a couple of drinks after, and if something happens you’d stop there a bit late and didn’t arrive home in time for dinner and that sort of thing.


That must have been very very hard, looking back in hindsight. If something was happening you didn’t even think about it.
What did you to for fun in Japan together?
We used to have people come out and have dinner with us.


Then I had a friend and we use to shot pheasant. Then we’d go to mess functions – nearly every week there was a mess function. There were people that we played cards with once a week at their place or at our house. We weren’t idle there.
You said before really early on in the interview,


we were talking about VD and cases of VD in the Middle East, that became quite a big thing in Japan didn’t it?
Yes. This was one of the things that was greatly, in my opinion misrepresented. The figures showed that Japan was very very alive with VD. I had a couple of my boys who had VD.


One had it a couple of times. There were so many cases recorded like twenty thousand troops with x hundred numbers of VD cases, a high rate. The worst I know was a fellow who had it seven times, and that’s one man seven times, six other people became a statistic


and quite a few people had it two or three times. So the numbers of people that were alleged to have had VD I would say from what little I know was at least double the number that actually had it. It may have been even less. There were some pretty sad cases. I wasn’t there very long and we got our first lot of reinforcements and I always used to interview these chaps.


You met all sorts of fellows. Some chaps had just joined the army and this fellow was eighteen and the first time he was away from home and he came up there with a group of people and within a couple of weeks he had VD. It was sad because he was a real nice chap. It wasn’t long after, about two or three trips later,


the same thing happened to another fellow and I decided that I had to make a bit of a stand then. The older chap I never worried, I would say “G’day,” to him but these young fellows I use to give them a pretty tough lesson on catching VD here.


You get home and you’d see these fellows who had been in Japan and speaking to your mother or your sister and you wonder, would you like to do that to your friends or foe? I was a bit crude at times with them.
Was it just the women in the brothel or was it rife?
No. I mentioned about this notice applying to most of these places and most of the people did,


but there were a number of people who would not obey the law and the same with this thing. But I believe that half of these cases, including these two boys, they never went up there looking for a girl. They had a couple of beers and were half full, “We know where you can go,” and so out they’d go. These Japanese


girls belonged to a group that didn’t obey the law, they were prepared to make a couple of bob on the side, this is what happened. I got so convinced on this that I spoke to our colonel commanding and I suggested that the idea should be lengthen the drinking hours


because the boys had just had enough. They were grown men and they’d just have enough and not care and they’d just want more grog. Give them another two glasses and most likely they’d just go to bed. If you don’t give it to them they started off and after they have gone a mile or so walking and instead of having a couple of beers and if they don’t get the beer they get this saki


and so they’d drink a few spirits and the girls pop up, so VD. He put it to headquarters of the Australian section and it was knocked back. Went around our chaps with the corporal in charge of the canteen – they finished the keg


of beer that they had on and that was closed then. Our VD rate dropped quite a bit but that’s only my idea.
What would you say to the young men coming off the ship?
I’d say, “You’ve arrived in Japan. How do you like it? Well that’s good.


What did you do before? He’d say, “I’ve only just joined.” I’d say, “Now that you are coming up here, what do you expect to do?” They’d give me some story and most of them didn’t know, then I’d say, “You are with the best part of the VD. We don’t want any funny business from you, we want to keep our man good as the best subsection in the place.”


When we went after those two chaps I’d give them a burst along the line of, “Some of the things you’d find if you started breaking the laws, going out of bounds,” and that sort of thing. “You will be meeting girls.” I’d say, “These girls, they will be with soldiers all the time and you don’t know with what Japanese they have associated with so you are a very foolish young man.” I’d say, “I did away with that and played sport. Why don’t you?”


I’d say, “I took on footy and joined the football club.” Then I’d say, “What sport do you like?” And this was the way that I treated them when they came in and I was quite pleased. I was lucky because I played cricket with the boys, I played football with them and I was thirty-three years of age when I played A grade in Sydney so I had a long spell


and I coached the team up there. So I was with the boys and I could hear things. Two of the boys would be talking about some other chap and you’d hear it and you could get a bit of an idea. I had my little way of not telling them that I knew, but telling them what you did, and that they were all under suspicion at one time. “If you do anything, you have got a good name, soldier. We don’t


want you and you will be unpopular.” A lot depended on the class of fellow I had in front of me. I treated them all different but I thought that was the best way and make them good boys and I never had much trouble with them.
Interviewee: Robin Muirhead Archive ID 1600 Tape 08


Can you tell us about the famous women you met in Borneo?
There were a couple of them. Lady Mountbatten and the Lord, they came there. They came up to us and had lunch in the mess with us. What they were doing was there had been a release of a lot of Indian prisoners as good POWs [Prisoneers of War] with


the Japanese and they were just camped along side of us. The Lady and the Lord were coming there to interview them and to be present. Some of us were invited down to be with them when they were speaking to the Indian who were then very bedraggled. That’s how we met the Lady and the Lord.


As I said, they had lunch in the mess with us.
How was that for you?
I felt mighty proud because I always thought that they were two wonderful people and I felt extremely happy about that happening.
How would you describe them? What were they like?


The lady was a charming lady and very attractive. I would describe the man as being well built, a fine looking man, and I’d think he’d be very definite with his opinions. I enjoyed their company, the little I did have with them.
What about the other famous lady in your life?
That was Gracie Fields and she came and organised a concert, or the concert was organised for her.


It was an open-aired thing and we had a wonderful theatre and we lined up all along the ridge. There were many many soldiers and I don’t know how many but I think every chock in Borneo and Balikpapan was present unless they had a job to do. She sang and she sang and it was magnificent in the open air.


I don’t know how many times she indicated that she was finishing singing, but she’d get more applause and it was great. She never came up to our mess or anything like that.
Looking back on your time in Japan again, what was the highlight for you?
I think the highlight would be little


Heather Jean coming on the scene. Heather just said the investiture. I had been invested with the British Empire medal in Tokyo.
Was that a highlight for you?
Yes, the aftermath really. At that ceremony


there were Chinese generals and Russian generals and they sat back and you came out and got the gong hung on you and the band played. After that we were invited, Heather and I, to the British Embassy for lunch and I was the only person below the rank of a half colonel there. I was pretty proud to be able to say that I had lunch with the high dignitaries


in Japan. They were highlights but there were so many things. Possibly one of the highlights was when we won the premiership in football. I was coaching them and I was a pretty experienced player and to see the other teams that were likely to beat us and there was only one.


I thought of a battle plan and he was a Tasmanian Aussie Rule players and we use to get them up in north Queensland and they played football and they were magnificent markers and kickers, but they took a ball differently to the league player. They had their strong point was the Aussie Rule fullback, and I decided our job


was to go and steady him up. A couple of forwards had to race through and put the pressure on, and they did and they did it pretty well and we won the match. I went back to the mess after that just to have a shower and get out of my football clothes and I had decided that there would be no one upstairs and upstairs was the officers’ mess. I went up with my greatcoat over my football gear. I had taken my boots off, of course.


Who should be there, the only two in the mess, our colonel and the colonel from the opposing team, so I had to come to attention and salute them. Our colonel introduced me to the other colonel and he congratulated me and when the other colonel congratulated me he said, “I’ve never seen Benson play such a poor game,” and I said, “He was a bit off, wasn’t he?”


That was a highlight too. I had another highlight and still on sport. One day we use to have a bit of fun with each other and this chap who was brigadier, I said, “This is Brigadier So-and-so.” He looked at me and said, “I’m a general now.” This voice changed completely and I realised that I had made a mistake, and it was a brigadier.


He said, “I want you to come up and see me,” and I wondered what on earth had I done wrong. I dialled the adjutant while I was there and I had the ring from the brig [brigadier] so I went up and I went in. He said, “Sit down,” and then he said, “Have you been following the boxing here?” and I said, “Yes sir.” He said, “Did you know that we fought the Americans?” and I said, “Yes, but we didn’t do very well.”


He said, “We have a return bout coming on. Do you think that you can train our team?” And I thought, “How on earth? Why?” but I never said that. I said, “I don’t know,” or words to that effect. But to make a long story short, he said that he was going to change the other trainer and he wanted me to do it. How he got to know that I


was a bit of a broken down old pug, I don’t know. I had to agree of course because I couldn’t disagree with a brigadier and I said, “I want no interference from outside from senior officers.” I was a lieutenant and I said, “I would like to pick my own team.” I use to go along every Monday night and we use to have boxing and I knew who I thought was good and who I thought was poor.


He said, “Yes,” and I said, “What I would like is to have them segregated from all the other people so they can train together and talk together and practise and live together.” He said, “Yes, we can do that,” and he did it all. We had ten fights. One chap who was a heavyweight, he was the heavyweight champion for New South Wales, Moody was a middleweight champion of Queensland and the chap, Kelly, from the English navy,


he fought for the Empire Title, so they were pretty experienced and I liked them When I say I picked them, I wiped them from my section because they knew I had these others. I said, “Unless you meet someone good you will be going out with your straight left.” I said, “That’s wrong.”


I used to do a bit… I will digress. One of the farmers that we sold to at Montville was an English family. The prices of citruses wasn’t too good. One of their sons, the eldest, he had been a professional fighter in England. There were a lot of English boys who came out about 1924, 1925, and 1926 on an arrangement where they got


jobs in Australia and a lot of them were up in the fruit country. They were New York punks and we use to have boxing matches and Dad showed me as a young chap the straight left and that sort of thing. I was lucky enough to have made a bit of a name for myself. This English guy was going to train me and also two of the brothers were going to play football


and they told me what the older brother was doing and asked would I like to come and train with him – I was just another Pommy. I went up and there and there was a guy who was shorter than I but pretty wide. I said, “Yes,” and we put on the gloves and had a spar. He said, “You can hit as hard as you like and as soon as you are hurting me steady up.” I had no chance


of going anywhere. As I did, he slipped one in and punched me over here. I ran about a mile and a half because I was training all the time. They took me over for a cup of tea afterwards. They never said anything and I said to them, “Do you want me to come again?” and they said, “Yes, you can come up.” So I went up a


couple of times a week to Montville and I learnt a lot. Then they got to know me and he fought the world’s title so I was in pretty good company. I was only beaten twice in twenty-odd fights. One was a crook fighter that I never knew, but I was young


and the promoter said to me words like this. “If you can knock this chap, don’t. Give the crowd a run for their money.” I could have knocked him easy but I lost the decision. I found out years later the promoter had backed the other chap to beat me. He would never have won if I had have known that. The other fellow I fought in the Queensland Amateur Titles and I got beaten.


Our heads clashed in the first round and I got my nose broken and I carried on, but today I wouldn’t have been able to because the blood bank stops this. The chap in the corner put the smelling salts up my nose and gee, tears came, but I lost it on points. One of the funny things was I met a


six-foot tall and he was a big man and I had never tackled anybody like that. I could see that he was going to lead, I couldn’t hit him, and he couldn’t hit me and bingo, he opened up across my cheek somewhere and I landed one up around the ear and I hung on to him. The referee broke us and I grabbed him again I was getting clearer and instead of trying to run away I met him coming out


and I got him a beauty, and his head came down and I whacked him there and whacked him a third time and he went down and the referee went one, two, three to count him out but the gong went at eight. So here was I thinking, “Wasn’t I unlucky?” But he wasn’t able to come out for the second round. The policeman said to me, “Where do you come from?” and I said, “Montville.”


And he said, “How are you going back there tonight?” and I said, “On the Glen night horror.” That was the train. He said, “Let us know when you are going.” After a while I went in to see how he was and a couple of his mates were there, he gave a bit of a struggle and I said, “How do you feel, old man?” or words to that effect. He said, “Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?” That was his reaction to me.


I did these novices and I taught them to cover up and whack and straight into the ribs. We won seven out of the ten fights and drew one. The old brigadier was very happy and because I had done pretty well at coaching the football team the offer was, the sports officer at BCOF was retiring


and they wanted me. I would have liked to have gone and I was quite willing to, but the ordnance people wouldn’t approve of the transfer. I’m very pleased that they wouldn’t because I would have had to have transferred to a different corps and had to retire two years later because of my age. It gave me a wonderful experience


and that was another highlight.
Can you tell us about coming back to Australian and sort of adapting to life back in Australia?
Again I didn’t settle down to a normal life. I was left to finalise in BCOF.


I was down in Melbourne to finalise the unit and Heather was in Sydney so I didn’t have a family life or anything like that. It was a bad return to Australia really, but I had to do this. It was remarkable to get rid of all your stores, receipts for everything, cleared everything,


pass everything in and they were accepted. The last thing you do is march yourself out of that unit and you go into the transit area, you are the last man out, BOD [Base Ordnance Depot]. BCOF became the BOD career so that was a remarkable experience too.
Tell me a little bit more about that experience


of being the last one?
I had to gradually get rid of all the materials, all the documentation and all the stores, and return it to the right sections of the other ordnance depots. This was all returned from Japan and it was returned to a central point in Melbourne and directed to wherever. When I got rid of all that and I got receipts back that had been cleared and accepted as correct and I had to presented it all to


army headquarters to the financial people and then they’d accept it and say okay. I was doing nothing but waiting for those few days and when they gave the okay I just marched myself out and away I went back to Heather. We still hadn’t found a house and Heather was still staying with her mother at Montville,


so we came back to Montville.
When did you finally settle down into your own home?
I spent quite a while looking around and I found a home at Geebung close to the station and close to the school. It was a very nice little place so that was the start of our own home.
Looking back on all your war experiences, what is the thing that you


are most proud of?
I’m proud of practically everything I did. I’ve got no reason to worry. You can ask me that question and I can even think about what was I most proud of, and then ask me the question again in two days


and I’d give you a different answer. The things that I had done with the gun, I know I never ever claimed shooting down an airplane


but I know I will claim that I put a couple of holes in many of them because it’s impossible to miss an airplane when they are within a hundred feet of you, isn’t it? So I know that I put quite a few holes in them and I’m quite proud of that. We took over from some people who were prepared to run away but they don’t want that in there.


If I’m going to be proud of something, it’s got to be that.
At what point did you met up with Frank again?
We were together for the Middle East, we were together right through to Muswellbrook and then I went to New Guinea and he


didn’t – he was kept back. We were a few years apart and we never ever met up again in the army. It was if we saw each other I’d stop at his place and he stopped at our place and that sort of thing.
Are you still friends today?
In what sense do you consider your friends from that war period? Are they special relationships in some way?


I can’t think of anyone but Frank. I don’t know the number of people who were survivors but I would be very happy to met any of them. I never


met a chap that I wouldn’t be happy to met today, I will put it that way.
Is your friendship with Frank special in some way?
I was treated like a brother, I think. We both played football together against England for North Queensland in 1936 and we were the only two forwards that played against England that made the 1937 tour.


Then in the army we played with a team in Palestine and that contained three Australian internationals that were in England. That is rugby union at the outbreak of war and that was Lenny Smith and he captained Australia at League and he became our best man.


I just don’t know.
You were in Montville after the war when you were back in Australia and then at some point you were transferred to Townsville?
No, when we were in Brisbane they had a detachment up here in Townsville and they were having lots of trouble.


I had been transferred from Brisbane to Bathurst to a depot down there and I said that I didn’t want to go and I put on a tear jerker and said, “I had been away for so many years, blah blah blah, and my daughter had started school, blah blah blah. We have just bought a home so please let me off.” That meant an immediate promotion also to


acting rank, anyway I missed that. Then I got a letter back accepting that, saying, “Do not expect to be called on for service anywhere else.” There was a bit of trouble up here in the north. There were three officers here before me and a two-year


posting and none of them saw the two-year posting out. The last chap did a bit of a silly thing and the old brigadier said, “If you don’t get a replacement up here in seven days I will have this job out of the place and have it court-martialled and no-one wants it court-martialled.” He spoke to me about it and I said that I wasn’t happy


but he said, “But who else can I send?” He was proud enough to say, “No-one.” So I came up here and no-one wanted to come here much, and when my two years were up and they asked did I want to stay again and I said, “Yes.” We had bought a home and Heather and Donald were both going to school, I think, by this stage.


Then I still had the last two years to serve and it was accustomed to send them down to a school, but after four years in the tropics going down to Canberra or Melbourne wasn’t too pleasant. General Daly, who had been in Tobruk, he wasn’t a general in those days,


I met him when Donald went to Duntroon. We went down to one of his first anniversaries or something and who should I met but the old general, but he wasn’t a general as I said when I knew him. He spoke to me and asked me what I was doing and he asked me, “What do you want to do?” and I said, “I wouldn’t mind stopping here until I retire.”


I don’t know whether that had anything to do with it but I stopped here until I retired. When I retired, the chap who took over from me, he was a major also, and he had to do all the same examinations and he wrote to me. He was in Western Australia. He wrote to me and asked, “What should I bring to Townsville?” so that he could live decently.


I wrote back and said, “There are forty-odd thousand people here all living decently.” I had my last six years in Townsville and then I became a civilian and then I wrote safety.
What does it mean to you to be a Rat of Tobruk?
I’m a curio,


proud to be associated with the organisation and proud of the part I played in it.
Do you often get together with other men who were there with you?
No, we did have a sub branch administrator, and I was a member of the sub branch


but they have all died off until we were down to three left. Then the Queensland branch wouldn’t support our sub branch. They have all died. As far as I know, in the north here there is one in Townsville,


maybe two on the Atherton Tablelands, I’m not sure, and me. I would say there wouldn’t be ten in north Queensland. We all were in different units and for years we went up to Cairns for one of the big days


and we all went there. They were great days but everyone has passed on. Tobruk finished in 1941 as far as we were concerned, and that was a few years ago and there weren’t too many eighteen-year-olds in it so they are going to be well over eighty.


I think that is one of the reasons. Many years ago we had an anniversary dinner over in Western Australia and a couple of the fellows went from here, then they started another one in four years’ time.


Then I think it was about 1978 or something, I’m not sure on that. There was one in Sydney and we went to that and it was wonderful; it was a surprise to me. I remembered the fellows as young chaps and here were these old fellows who were fifty and sixty;


it was a very big shock to me. Then we started annually and we had one on the Gold Coast and other one in Sydney and people were getting thinner on the ground all the time, and the older ones were surviving and it was decided that we’d never have enough effort to carry on with these reunions.


The one in Sydney we had some Englishmen out. They have an English organisation over there and they in turn were able to tell us. They were able to tell us that the Germans have a Tobruk’s association and the English Rats would go over and visit the Germans and the Germans would come back to England, and they


would have it every two years. This German, we had the pleasure of sitting at his table when he was here. Most of the time when you had dinner you never had the same people all the time; you would get different people. The caterers made certain you went with different people.


During those reunions did you talk to each other about your war experiences?
As far as I was concerned not unless they brought it up, and then if I thought it was a bit morbid I would bring in something that was a bit of a laugh.


I think you will see that I don’t like the sticky side. It was a wonderful experience for me, the whole thing, and I appreciated it very much on what I’ve learnt.
Why do you think the Rats of Tobruk hold a special place in the hearts of the Australians?
Firstly, because it was the first place where the Germans got


knocked back, the Germans went right through everywhere and it was an Australian force that did it. In the history of World War II, the first time the Germans got repelled was because the Australians defended them. I think they maybe, maybe we had some good public relations then, I don’t know.


With your experiences in the Middle East and later in New Guinea and Borneo you were soldiering with some other nationalities as well. Is the Australian soldier different in some ways?
The Englishman. This is my thoughts regarding the English. They are solid, dense


and they can’t add up two and two unless they are told to. I mean that by they couldn’t do anything unless their corporal told them. They had no initiative generally and


they lacked the sense of humour in the main. I don’t think they were show men. The New Zealanders are very much like ourselves. The Poles, we only saw a few of them. I will tell you a case, I got a German bayonet one night about that long and I was proud of it. It was a souvenir.


I was showing it to the Poles and there was a big fellow there and he looked at it and said, “Bosche.” He throw it on the ground, jumped on it, swore at it and kicked it. It was the first time that I had seen national hatred. It gives you a completely different opinion when you hear nationalities against each other. There was this Pole,


it was just a bit of steel, he kicked it and swore at it. But it didn’t do him any good. The fact that it just turned him on for a couple of minutes, I don’t know. The Americans, they are a bit flamboyant. If something goes wrong, like if a little bit of a wheel breaks,


they have got no idea of any implementation. They have got to be able to get the full thing. They are great but they have got to have everything made for them whereas the Aussie, if he is short of something he will find a way of getting around it. I may be prejudiced but that’s my way of seeing them.


You were among those people who helped to win that war. Have we won the peace?
No, I don’t think so. There is too much strife in the world at the present moment to say that we have won the peace. We are talking about World War II. Look at the people who have been killed in the wars


or warlike actions since then, no sir. We are a much smaller place. We can get in a plane and be in England in a matter of hours. We couldn’t do that sixty or seventy years ago. What happens in China today affects us, what happened in China seventy or eighty years ago,


what happens in South Africa affects us. What happens anywhere has some effect, maybe not so great but a little effect. Look at the articles that you pick up maybe in China and we are trading with them. I’ve said this before, just think of the chaotic conditions


that would exist if suddenly somebody waved the magic wand and said, “There will be no more wars.” That would stop all the armies, navies and air forces. It would stop all the military armament material. Just think of the millions and millions of people that would be out of work. I think that there are wars to come.


After your war experience that was so incredible, does that sadden you to see wars that are happening in places like Iraq today?
No it doesn’t. I don’t know


the cause of that. I can read about what is supposed to be the cause but something somewhere along the line, and you have to give the benefit of the doubt, is very very wrong or has been a very very clever effort in hiding all the things. I don’t know.


I’m just a common old chap and I can only just think about these things and I dread to think there is going to be another war. I read a book, Australia’s Role in a Future War. What if they raided or planted in the major centres like Townsville?


And I suppose that is because the army is here. Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne, they were named that they would be infected with some illness – it wasn’t going to be fatal but only for a short time. When the major effect takes place, wherever it may be, there would be so much loss of life


and the impurities that would be left of the chemical world warfare that the land wasn’t able to be populated. So the winning team, there would be no winning team except the two great nations. So the survivors of the winning team would need some place to spread


and so they have made Australia, controlling efforts sick and they’d just walk in and take over control. Quite an interesting thing.


Have you got a final comment for us?
Thank you very very much and to all the Australians that I know, I haven’t seen the completed article but you will find it very interesting because of the many many interesting old fellows that are left that have a tale to tell.


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