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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.