Archive number: 1605
Date interviewed: 09 March, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
So do you want to just start off just give us your life in a nutshell?
You want, well, I was reared in Doomben, and I went to school at
Hamilton State School and my first job, I left school when I was thirteen because my parents couldn’t afford a future education for us. And I went out and got a job at thirteen, was delivering groceries round Ascot and Clayfield on a pushbike. And the reason I took the job was, because I could never afford to buy a pushbike and I could ride the bike home. And I was paid
sixteen shillings a week for forty-eight hours. Then I left there and went to work in the shipyards at Kangaroo Point, oddly enough, building corvettes, which I finished up on. And there I was paid the princely sum of, I was an apprentice plumber, and I was paid the princely sum of sixteen and four pence a week for fifty-six hours. And I used to ride the bike from, I had a bike then, I used to ride
the bike from Doomben to Kangaroo Point. And I’d put the bike over my shoulder and climb over the turnstiles to save a penny, you had to pay a toll on the, there was a toll on the Evans Deakin Story Bridge then. I didn’t do it all the time but when I didn’t feel like paying the money, it was a terrible thing walking all down them steps with a bike on your back. Anyhow, we were building these corvettes and then the sailors used to come and man the ships that we
built and I thought, “Oh, this’ll do me.” Then I had a problem because it was a protected industry and I started off at seventeen, just after I was seventeen, to join the navy, I wanted to join the navy. And my father was a First World War digger and he wouldn’t let me. So then I kept at him and I found out that to get a special release because I was in a protected industry. And yeah, we used to work
56 hours a week. And at one stage, they offered me a job on one of the ships in the boiler room, putting the lagging in. And I, they offered thirty shillings a week extra to put this lagging in the boiler room, like the put the lagging on the wall, asbestos, put it on the wall and then they cover up with sheet metal. And I thought, “If I’m getting fifteen and four pence for fifty-six hours and they’re going to pay me thirty shillings a week,
there’s got to be something wrong with this,” so I didn’t do it. Someone else did it, I didn’t do it. And then when I was about seventeen and, seventeen and a half I did join the navy but I had to wait a while by the time I got free and I was, then it was February 1943 when I went down to Flinders. And I was in, oh, class fifty and we had a wonderful instructor, he was a permanent navy man
of course. And he was a marvellous person. And later on in life, many years later when I was on the [HMAS] Australia, his son came on board as a recruit and I knew who he was straight away. But anyhow, we went to Flinders and I was only down there, the 23rd of February I joined, I suppose I got down there by the end of February, and I was only down there a month and my brother got killed in New Guinea and they gave me a week’s leave because
I was the eldest son then. And hey gave me a week’s leave to come up here. And it’s a hell of a way to come from Flinders to Brisbane and back in a week. Anyhow I did come up and I went down to Flinders, and I finished my course and they sent me to Moreton¸ HMAS Moreton, which is the depot in Brisbane, waiting on a ship. And at that time I used to play rugby league for northern suburbs and I’d signed on in January for the under eighteens, which I was.
So I went down this day and had a game of football for North’s under eighteens and I broke my leg. So that was, put the kybosh to going to sea and I dearly wanted to go like everybody else, you want to go to sea. And then I hung around Moreton till March 1944 then they sent me overland to Darwin, which was not on the Ghan, might’ve been in Melbourne I’d have got on the Ghan. But they, we went from Brisbane to Townsville
by train and it wasn’t such a crash hot trip that. And being an ordinary seaman you weren’t game, like these corporals in the army and oldest able seamen, you weren’t game to talk to them. They’d tell you to do something, you’d have to do it. So then we had a night in Townsville, then we caught the train from Townsville to Mount Isa. We had two nights in Mount Isa then we went from Mount Isa to Larrimah
by road train, army convoy trucks, sleeping in trucks. Then we went from Larrimah to Adelaide River in cattle trucks on the train, in cattle trucks, and it was the same engine that John Wayne [actor] used to have in the westerns. But we were lucky, we had hammocks and the poor old soldiers and airmen used to sleep on the floor and we put our hammocks across these cattle trucks. So eventually we got to Darwin, I think it took it just over three weeks to get to Darwin, they got to Darwin
and I reported, oh, we got to Adelaide River, I’m sorry. We got to Adelaide River and then a navy truck picked us up there and took us to Darwin, there was five of us. And they said, “Righto, you’re for the [HMAS] Latrobe,” and I said, “No, I’m not for the Latrobe,” I said, “I’m from the [HMAS] Cootamundra, I’m here to join the Cootamundra,” and he said, “No, you’re for the Latrobe,” so do what you’re told, you weren’t game to question anything. So they sent me down to the Latrobe and I’d just done all my washing and hung it all up and the fellow came up and said, “You’re not supposed to be
here,” and I said, “Well I told them that.” So then I had to go to Cootamundra and I said to the fellow, I got a bit cheeky, when I got on there I said, “Look, I’m not talking anything till I hang my washing up.” So I hung my washing up, I come back and then I, then we went backwards and forwards to Thursday Island to Darwin, doing convoys. Then we came down to Sydney in June ‘44 for a refit and July, the beginning of July we went up to New Guinea, went
to Townsville and took a convoy over to Milne Bay. And then went, from Milne Bay we went further up north to Finschhafen. Then we, we were then taking slow, we weren’t very fast and we were taking all the slow convoys round about the track. Then we came back to Milne Bay and the one thing I mainly remember about
Milne Bay, I had a tooth pulled, filled in Milne Bay with the old treadle, the old dentist’s assistant. And it was the best one I’ve ever had, you know, and then we went up to Madang and we used to do from Madang to all the different places, convoying with all these slow ships. And then we spent a lot of time in Madang, oh, on and off, you know, we’d come in here for a boiler clean, we’d have to clean the boilers
and come in and out of there. And as they worked further north, we went further north. But a very sad thing happened in Madang. We used to get a beer issue every, well you’re supposed to get three bottles of beer every week but that never happened. And we did get a beer issue this time and see because they used to do the cruisers first, the big ships first, then they’d
do the destroyers, then they’d do the depot, they had depot ships scattered throughout New Guinea. They’d do them first and the poor old Coot [Cootamundra], he was only eight hundred ton, he was last cab off the rank. And we got on, well, you call it getting on the grog [alcohol], we had a couple of beers, we had a, a lot of us were up on the fo’c’sle. And when I joined the Cootamundra, there’s always someone to look after you, they call them a ‘sea daddy’.
And this fellow looked after me, he showed me what to do and all these things and, you know, because I was just like coming straight off the street. Straight out of Flinders, going on the ship and you’re frightened of doing something wrong because you’re the youngest bloke on the ship, and you’re the lowest rank on the ship, and he was pretty good. And we had these smoke with us, we used to call them Smokey Joes,
and we had this, this night. And the next work we all fell into work, this fellow’s missing. And the stokers that used to come and do, help with the boiler clean, they used to have belly tanks of aeroplanes, they made them into canoes, little canoes. And they’d paddle out to ships backwards and forwards, you know. And this belly tank that had been tied up the day before was missing and then someone said, he was half Chinese, Wong
was his name, and they said, “Wong’s probably gone ashore to see his army mates,” and they thought, “Well that’s it,” like “He’ll come back.” And then they used to go ashore to, I better say movies for the modern people, used to go to shore to the movies. And we had a little motorboat and a whaler, and you get about eight in the motorboat and then the rest would go in the whaler to go to shore to go to the pictures. And I was coxswain of the whaler this night, because I wasn’t allowed
to coxswain the motorboat. And this leading tell and I are standing in the port waste, just, all sailors look at water, no matter, even I do now, I still look at water, you know. And we’re looking over port waste like this and there’s a body floats past. So I said, this bloke said, “That looks like Wong,” so we had to get the boat to weigh down and go back and they used to have canvas and cane stretchers in case someone went round the bend, you know, and they
strap them up in this. So I had to go and on me geysers to get away, the boat’s crews and we got called away and went down to watch Wong, poor bugger. So we put him in a stretcher, put him in the whaler, we’re about twenty-five minutes late by this, getting down to the wharf to meet back in the wharf at Madang to get them back from the movies. And of course as we’re coming in they’re all abusing us, why are we twenty-five minutes late and the coxswain from the motorboat said, “Have a look in the whaler,”
and there was poor old Wong. So two days later they had a funeral, they buried him in Madang. It was probably the worst funeral, navy funeral I’ve ever been to because the army did it, you know, and they only had him wrapped up in canvas and it wasn’t very clean. But, and they conducted the ceremony and we all went back, but it was a pretty sad time for me because he looked after me. You know,
if you go to work and someone explains everything to you. So then that was, we still don’t know whether he fell over or if he was thrown over, so nobody knows. But we say he was thrown over, he fell over. So that was a pretty damper for a while, but I, when I joined the Cootamundra, I should’ve said this. I said to the fellow “Where’s my locker?” He said, “You haven’t got a locker,”
I said, “Why?’ he said, “Well there’s none left.” So one chap gave me a little part of his locker to put my toilet gear in and I said, “Where do I put my hammock, where do I sling my hammock,” he said, “There’s no hammock slings left” and I said, “Why?’ he said, “You just joined the ship and there’s no hammock slings left.” So I said, “Where do I sleep?’ and he said, “You can roll it out under the mess deck table.” Well, you can imagine, we were in two watches, say we go
on watch, I’ll split the watches up so you know what I’m talking about. The morning watch is eight a.m. to midday. You come off watch at midday, you have your lunch, return to start your watch again at one o’clock, quarter past three you go to afternoon tea, and then you go back on watch at four o’clock and you come off watch at six o’clock and you have your evening meal the. Then
at eight o’clock you go back on watch, which is called the first watch. You come off watch at eight o’clock at night, you go back on watch at four o’clock in the morning and at five o’clock, or half past five, they used to have dawn action stations so you do all your drills. Then you come off watch at eight o’clock and you have your breakfast. Then return to at nine o’clock and you work till quarter past eleven, then you go back on watch at midday.
So that, but they, four to six and six to eight are called dog watches and you split them so you don’t get the same sequence every day. And, but, oh, pretty hard at times and here am I sleeping under this mess deck table and there’s blokes playing cards and things like that. And you couldn’t tell them to shut up because they were all senior to me, they were all able seaman, I was still an ordinary seaman, I’d have probably got a kick in the ribs. Anyhow we
got used to that and we got over that. And as they went further north, you know, up round Hollandia and Biak and all them places we were still doing the slow convoys and we did a few bombardments at Baki and a couple of other places. Noemfoor was one, which is in the Dutch East Indies and then one night we had a contact for a submarine, I think, we dropped a lot of depth charges
and I thought the bottom was going to, the first time I’d ever heard a depth charge go up I thought the bottom was going to go out of the ship, boom, boom, boom. And, but we don’t, they couldn’t claim it because nothing come up anyhow and then we had a couple of air raids when I was on the four inch gun, on the fo’c’sle, and I was a loader on that. We had one four inch, oh about four
Oerlikons and that was it. And we only had about three air raids in that time. And when the Australians took Morotai, oh, before then we used to do, when they were getting ready for the Philippines invasion they were in a place called Hollandia, it’s now called Jayapura, it was on the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] recently. And we used to do anti-submarine patrols outside, they were all the big ships, the big
fighting ships were inside and the little ships were outside doing all the, and we’d do three days out and two days in. And go in and come out and then we’d have to go ashore. We had to go ashore twice to get some food, stores, you know. And by that time we were wearing all American overalls, shirt and jeans, of course they were, you could get them. I’m not sure how we got them but we got them. And we used to line up
in the American mess hall and at that, they used to take their Atebrin for malaria at a certain time, like when you were in the queue. And you had to keep a look at them first, you know, saying, “When do they take the Atebrin?” type of thing. And you couldn’t talk, you get, they had those mess trays and you get in the queue and you’d go along and as long as you take the Atebrin at the right time, “Here you are buddy,” say like whether they put the jam on the steak, you couldn’t say you didn’t want that.
And you went down and got out and sat down and have our, because we’d leave our caps outside, we’d get out and have our meal then get our stores and go back on board. But oh, I don’t think we’d even have to do that, but they were pretty strict on that, you know. And then we, when they took Morotai we had to go, we did about seven months, I think between Biak and Morotai, all these slow convoys because we couldn’t go to fast. We did sixteen knots with the galley range cut off to get
some more steam. And one day we were going up there and this American frigate come along and wanted a chart. Well the came right, came practically alongside and we fired a gun over, those big costean guns you sent a rope over and the old man, captain sent his chart over and he said, “I’ll see you this afternoon,” like you know, and about two hours this thing’s gone and wasn’t even on the horizon. And we’re plodding along and we got to, and we used to go back and, when we got to Morotai the
same old thing, you’d bring your convoy into harbour and they’d go into harbour and you’d go out. And sometimes you’d go and water, get water and oil. And that’s when you’d go backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards outside and then a convoy would be ready to go back to Biak and you’d go back to Biak. And sometimes we’d go over to Halmaheras and do a couple of bombardments and a couple of the fellows were lucky enough to go out on an American PT [Patrol Torpedo] boat,
on a raid one night. But I, being a junior bloke of course, I never came into those calculations. And I thought to myself “Gees, I wish somebody else would come on here,” you know, from Flinders naval depot, an ordinary seaman, like “Am I going to spend my life on here as the youngest bloke” and anyhow, after a while it was all right. The first couple of months was pretty hard but, being the youngest bloke and the lowest rating bloke
but when I became an AB [Able Seaman] I could put my chest out, like you know. Well I’m an able seaman, I don’t know why, we had nowhere to go. And once when we were in Hollandia we happened to be in harbour, was our nights in and Bob Hope performed there. There was Bob Hope, Francis Langford, Jerry Collona, and I forget who else was there, there was five of them. And we all went ashore, well, those that they could let ashore went ashore and saw Bob Hope. Another time we saw Gracie
Fields, that was in Morotai we saw Gracie Fields. So the same old humdrum life backwards and, all the other ships are going here and going up to Philippines and going here and there and we’re just running backwards and forwards and backwards and forwards. Then we’d go down to Madang and do a boiler clean, and then we’d come back up again and do the same old things. So you know it, but then again like some ships had
to do it, like we could’ve been on big ships, the big cruisers. But everybody had their own thing to do like, we couldn’t help it if other corvettes were up in the Philippines. So you got used to it and then it was getting towards the end of the war then, and we were still running then. When they landed, when they did the landing at Balikpapan, they had all the ships in Morotai
and we got to tow two air sea launches to Balikpapan. Which was a pretty good job except a little bit rough and the poor buggers were on the air sea rescue and, you know, we, they’d say we’d roll on wet grass and we got up to Balikpapan and they’re all blasting hell out of it. And we took, dropped these ASRs [Air Sea Rescue] there and then of course the same old job, mine
sweeping, you know, submarine patrols outside and got out, it was not really a big harbour there but where all the big ships were there we had to go out on the outside of them and do all these anti-submarine patrols. Then we went alongside a Yank [American] ship to get some fuel and our captain, I’ll never forget, our captain went on board and he come back, one arm, a carton of cigarettes under his arm, one bloke knocked a
carton off, he just pulled, he had about five cartons under his arm like this and one bloke just pulled one out just nice and gently. But we didn’t have to have, you know, cigarettes were cheap, that’s when, you know, nine pence a packet in those days. One and six for two ounces of weed and a penny for a packet of papers, but we weren’t getting much money, I tell you. Like, oh, no, I suppose in those days nobody was getting much money like even, oh, people working,
I suppose tradesmen in the shipyards, they’d get a lot of money but, in comparison I was on, when I joined up I was on four pounds ten a month and I used to send my mother thirty shillings a month. Because it was just after the Depression, you now, they hadn’t recovered from the Depression. And I couldn’t go anywhere because I had what we call boy scout’s leave, had to be back at half past ten. So, and I, they’d kick you out, I got kicked out of a couple of
pubs and I said, “I’m a big sailor bloke,” you know, “You’re not, you’re not twenty-one, get out.” But that didn’t happen later on. So then from Balikpapan we come back to Morotai then and then went back to Biak and back to Morotai and we were going to go to Tarakan but they didn’t, they sent us back to, oh, Wakde Island, it was
Wakde Island that’s in Dutch New Guinea those days. And we did a couple of bombardments there and escorted some ships back to Hollandia and Hollandia we took some more ships back up to Morotai. And then the, we were loading ship this night, about half past ten at night and they’re loading stores
and some ammunition and the news come through that the war had finished. So we were all screaming our heads off and sang and, but we still had to keep on, we knocked off for a while and then we went back and finished storing the ship. All the ships were firing guns and it was a pretty glad old, and I thought then of some friends of mine, their husbands were prisoners of war. As a matter of fact I wrote to my mother,
I’ve still got the letter. When my mother died and my father died they went through the letters over home and I’ve got in there, the only thing, there’s four pages and the last page is missing. I’ve got it inside there. So then that was, the 15th of, 16th of August was the next day. So then they said, “Well, you’re going down to
Ambon. You’re going to be one of the ships to go to Ambon to rescue the gold force.” And of course we didn’t know how many people were left out of gold force, there was approximately about thirteen hundred went down there. So we left Morotai and we got down to Ambon on the 16th of August 1945. And the [HMAS] Bundaberg was one of us, the Bundaberg, the [HMAS] Barcoo, the Cootamundra and there’s
another one, I can’t think what it was. And the Bundaberg went, and it’s a beautiful harbour round Ambon, absolutely beautiful harbour. Big wide, big harbour, and the Bundaberg went in flying a big white flag. And the Japs [Japanese] had six-inch guns on the foreshore. So they went in, the Bundaberg went in and we stayed outside near an island called Saran. And we tied up alongside the Barcoo
and I see a fellow walking along the Barcoo, and I said, “Hey, Laurie,” it’s a bloke I went to school with. Neither of us had seen each other since we left school and I thought, “Gees, what a place to meet you.” So the Bundaberg told to get out, was told to get out. And we got out, the Bundaberg came out and of course they were frightened that they’d murder, kill all the prisoners of war, they’d done a pretty good job up till then of getting rid of
everybody. So we went back to Morotai and oh, we just hung, went back to Hollandia I think. Went back to Hollandia and then we came back up to Morotai and we went back on the 10th of September, we could get back to Ambon and they let us in the harbour. And there was, I was on the Cootamundra, there was the Cootamundra, the [HMAS] Junee, the [HMAS] Glenelg and the Latrobe. And we were, we came into harbour,
a big circle, it was that big we could circle to go alongside the wharf. So went alongside the wharf and there’s these bloody Japs there. And they secured the ship and two were alongside a wharf, and the Cootamundra and I forget what it was, Glenelg I think were on the outside tied up there. And of course we all walked across the ships and all these prisoners of war, what was left of them, there weren’t too many there. And they were on
the wharf. And we started throwing them packs of cigarettes and chocolate and things like that one fellow didn’t catch the packs of cigarettes, well they were getting too many anyhow. And he slid down his mate’s leg to get this packet of cigarettes so then they were all ready and they started to come on board, we were taking them back to Morotai. And there was, oh, I think we had one hundred and thirty-four all told, we had nineteen
Yanks, nineteen Australians, nine Dutch and seven Yanks on board. Plus Mr Iki Uchi and he was the mongrel in charge of them and he was a terrible man, from what they told us, you know. And of course when they’d come on board and we’d all got organised we headed off back to Morotai. And of course the cooks had got all this good scran ready, you know, they were feeding them and the poor buggers were over the side like
they were feeding them all this good food and they hadn’t had a good feed for three and a half years. Well they’d had hardly anything to eat. And we got talking to them, I did, and I said, “Where’s the rest of them,” you know. And they took two hundred and thirty-four to Hinan which is off China and it only lasted, three days I think, they only
held, fought the Japs for three days and like there’s six thousand Japs and what, thirteen hundred of them, you know. And there was three hundred and nine out, I think it was three hundred and nine at the airstrip, at Laha airstrip. And when they surrendered they had them out there for a short time. And a Japanese minesweeper got blown up by a mine in Ambon Harbour, a Dutch mine.
And they demanded that the fifty-eight Japs that got killed on this minesweeper, they demanded, this is what I was told, they demanded a life for a life. And they said, “Well, go out to Laho airstrip, there’s plenty of fellows out there.” So they went out there and instead of taking fifty-eight they killed three hundred and nine. They tied them up with barbed wire, they cut their heads off, they bayoneted them to death, and they killed all the natives around there that
could disclose what had happened. And they buried them in a big mass grave. And these fellows still didn’t know what happened to them. They still didn’t know after the war what had happened. So we got them back to Morotai and unfortunately a couple of them died. And then we went back to Ambon with some, oh, this Iki Uchi I better tell you about him because he was on board, see, and he was a mongrel.
And we had him in a vegetable locker. Now the corvettes’ only eight hundred ton and the vegetable locker wouldn’t be much bigger than that freezer. So we got on, when we knew he was coming on board, we knew we were taking him back, and every ship that was in Ambon that day said they took him back. And if you ask him later on, ten years later they all think it, but I’ve got a photo up there of Iki Uchi on the Cootamundra, I should’ve got it out. And
we put him in the veg locker and at one stage he was, like we were guarding him, we had him locked up, was ridiculously little. It was just wire, you know, metal, four metal corners and wire round here to let the air go through. And old Iki Uchi in there in this, and I was guarding him this time, it was my turn sentry, you know, and he said, “I want to see the prisoners. This is what an arrogant bludger he was.
And I said, “They’re not prisoners now.” I said, “You are.” “No I’m not,” he said, he could speak a bit of English “No, no,” he said, “I’m going to Morotai to arrange the repatriation of Japanese troops,” and I nearly said to him “You’re going to Morotai to get your lolly lopped off.” But you couldn’t say that to him. He said, “I want to see the prisoners” and I said, “I don’t, you’re not allowed to anyhow.” I said, “You’re not getting out here unless you go to the toilet,” or that. We wouldn’t even let him have a bath
because we were only overnight trip. So when we get back to Morotai there’s all these army fellows on there and the MPs [Military Police] come on board and take him ashore. But he was a mongrel, absolute mongrel, you know. You probably, have you interviewed prisoners of war, you had to bow and he’d come up at people but looking that way, you know. They weren’t even looking at him, they were looking the other way and he’d belt them because they didn’t bow. And
he had some terrible punishments for these people. At one stage, the Dutch soldiers, because they had their families there, this is just after they capitulated. They got caught sending messages in bananas to their wives that were still on the island. So they got about sixteen or eighteen of these Dutch soldiers and
they got them in a big circle then they got a lot of Japs that were on the grog, they’d been on the saki for a while, bought them up and they let them get stuck into them with, baseball bats were the common term for them but they were probably big hunks of wood, see. And every now and again this Iki Uchi would blow the whistle, the game was stopped. And if someone had a broken arm they’d tie a bit
of material, bit of red material round there and they couldn’t hit him on the broken arm, they could hit him anywhere else of course, his legs or around, you know. So that went on for quite a long while and a few of them, quite a few of them died. But that’s the type of mongrel he was. Anyhow, after a couple of days there we went back and we took some occupation troops back to Ambon and we had the Japs scrub the whole
ship down, all the four ships they scrubbed it down and they were very arrogant, they were still very arrogant then even thought they’d lost the war. And we went out to the army camp, well the prisoner of war camp. It’s the only prisoner of war camp that was an army camp, a prisoner of war camp and a war cemetery. The war cemetery’s at
Tan Dui. And I went to the reunion with them in 1985 and they said, “Oh, we go back to Ambon for Anzac Day,” so 1986 I went back to Ambon. That’s a very sad time, they go through all these, where all these soldiers have got, well, not only Ambon but all the war cemeteries, “An Australian soldier 1939 to 1945, known unto God.”
And there’s others there, Damien Parer’s, have you ever heard of Damien Parer? He’s buried at Ambon. And when I was there, I went back again in 1990, it was a pretty good trip because we used to fly from Richmond to Hercules, go to Amberley to Richmond by Hercules, to Darwin by Hercules and over on a patrol boat. And that was the biggest shock in ’86, I went over to Townsville. And this sailor came up, he
said, they call you sir, he said, “What would you like for lunch, sir?” I said, “What do you mean what would I like for lunch,” I said, “In my day you just got it, whatever was on, that’s what you got.” “Oh,” he said, “We have three choices” and they have tea and coffee on all the time. And I said, “Oh, this is pretty good,” see, and of course being old sailors we, and the sailors got two cans of beer a day, so we got two cans of beer a day. And we weren’t allowed to pay
for it because there was about eight of us on there. And you’d wander in, and a fellow from Liverpool, he just died, he died in November, his father was buried there and I took his photo there alongside his father’s grave and was one of the saddest things I’ve ever done. And I was, he liked smoking and a bit of the grog, and used to have a couple of good grog parties over there but that was all fun. And there was, when
I was wandering round there in 1990, I come across this grave of an English sergeant major. And he was fifty-seven years of age and he died in 1944, which, well, he shouldn’t have been in the army. And they all have epitaphs on them, you know, “In Loving Memory,” and all that on the tombstones. Not all of them but most of them. This fellow said, had on it, I’ll never ever forget it, “See you in the morning,
Fred.” Like, it seems so odd, like there’s, oh, there’d be, there’s not only Australians buried in this cemetery, there’s English airmen, English soldiers, English sailors off the [HMS] Exeter, one of the ones that was sunk in Java, and Damien Parer [war photographer] and I thought, you know. So I went back again in 1991 and by that time I got very friendly with one of the fellows from Geelong and he
died unfortunately in December. And I could never find it again. If I could’ve taken a photo there and then of that day, I would’ve loved to have had it, but it seems so strange in a sad place, this cemetery. And this, with all these things on, this fellow’s got, “See you in the morning, Fred.” And I thought, oh, you know, but that was probably the saddest part, like down there. Or like, you know, my
service wasn’t great as a lot of people on destroyers. But someone had to do it I suppose. But Ambon was very sad. We, and then I was coming back from Melbourne once and I forget where it was and I was roaring up and this fellow had this 2/21st colour patch on a property, I had a sigma then, pretty big time had the sigma. And
the thought flashed through my mind, “Bugger this,” so I pulled up and my wife said, “What are you pulling up for?’ I said, “I’m going back here, I want to see this fellow and see if he came back on the Cootamundra.” And he did too, as a matter of fact, but unfortunately he was in Heidelberg. So I didn’t, I never did get back that way to see him. But some of the stories they told, you know, of the prisoners of war was very sad, like, you know, at one stage there our people were no better
than the Japs. There was one fellow there he did something wrong, I forget what it was, and so the Jap said, “What do you want to take, our punishment or yours?’ so he took the Australian’s. And these officers got him up there and they did the same as what the Japs did, got someone to belt him with a hunk, you know, baseball bats, so to speak. He died two days later. Very sad. And this
Russ from Geelong, he gave me a couple of good books, couple of books written on Ambon and unfortunately I lent one to someone and never got it back. And when the film Blood Hope did its premiere here in Brisbane he was down the Coast, so I went down and brought him up, like, you know, it was a little bit. And that, when they had those wartime trials down there, there was a Japanese admiral
came down from Japan, they brought him down from Japan and he was the one that said where these prisoners, where these people from Laha were and he took them out and showed them this mass grave. So they got the Japs to dig it all up. And you wouldn’t credit it, he came down with an American army major from the American legal service. So
and I don’t think they pinned anything on him.
Interviewee: Charles Hile Archive ID 1605 Tape 02
As far as you can, what’s your earliest, earliest memory?
Oh dear, oh dear, going to school, when I first started school I went to, with a little suit on and it had smocking on it, of all things, a boy going to school with smocking on it. It must’ve belonged to someone else.
Well can you explain that, what that is to me?
Smocking, do you know what smocking is? Oh, if I could find a photo of one of my granddaughters. It’s all
sort of fancy work down the front of girls’ dresses. It’s very, it’s really beautiful stuff, like Joan’s sister, she did it. Can I take this off? I’ll show you later. And it, I don’t know why I had it on. Anyhow, we said, because none of us had shoes those days and I’d often tell my daughters later on in life when I was growing up, you know, about eight or nine or ten or that
going to school, we never had raincoats, we never had much. And used to get an old potato bag and tuck the top in and put it over your head and they didn’t believe me. So once they had, you know Australia, years ago they had all about Australia and here’s these fellows with these potato bags as raincoats. I said, “Come and have a look at this,” I said, “That’s what we used to have.” And I didn’t have a pair of shoes till I was twelve, and then they belonged to someone else.
But everybody was in the same boat, you know, and then when you’re growing up and I had two elder brothers, who, the eldest one got killed in New Guinea, the other bloke got killed by a motorcar when he was thirteen. And we used to get sheets of galvanised iron and make a canoe out of them. Well, the big boys did and if we were good we were allowed to come down. And we’d walk down Nudgee Road and I lived near the
railway station at Doomben in those days, it’s not there now, it’s half way down between there and Whinstone. And we walked down the back wash all behind the river, where all those industrial areas are now was water, was the backwash of the Brisbane River. And we’d get down there and all the holes in the sheets iron and get the hot pitch of the road and plug up the holes, well, the young kids had to do that, the big blokes were carrying it and the young kids had to fill up the holes with pitch. And we’d get down the back of there
and they’d paddle round in the canoe and instead of taking them home again they’d sink them so that when they’d go down there next time they wouldn’t have to worry about taking them. I can remember my eldest brother, he graduated, someone got a sailing boat and he graduated to that. And I used to go down to Hamilton and watch him opposite the Hamilton pub. And there was a sandy beach there those days, you wouldn’t credit it, but there was. And they came in there and one day and the sail was ripped
and they told me to run home to get a needle and some cotton, I had to run home all the way to Doomben, they wouldn’t do it. So I ran home and told my mother I want some needle and some cotton and I took it back down and they thanked me. “You’re a good boy,” they said. And about eighteen months later I was allowed out in this boat as a bailer boy, well, you know what a bailer boy does, he does all the work, bails and when get a bit of water in the boat you’ve got to bail it out. But then of course school
you really didn’t have much incentive to get an education because, like your parents, there was only one high school in Brisbane, one state high school in Brisbane, it was down in the gardens. They called it Commercial High School. State Commercial High School. Well you couldn’t afford the penny on the tram to get there, or the train to get there and back, like a penny each way. My parents couldn’t have afforded that so really all you had to look forward to was finish school
and get a job. You had the scholarship and you had the junior and the senior those days. But you couldn’t afford to go and do the scholarship. So I suppose that was the hard part, like later on in life and you look back and you think, “Now I could’ve had an education,” like plenty of people did but then I realised that later on it was my own fault that I didn’t educate myself when I was in the navy. The opportunity was there but I never took notice of it.
They were pretty hard old days then, but I’d say eighty percent of the country was the same, you know you couldn’t. I’ll never forget one day at school this, I don’t know whether this had got anything to do with it, this kid come to school and we used to have bread and beetroot or bread and dripping or syrup, you know, lucky we had bread. And this kid came to school and he had bread and butter
and cheese and jam on the one sandwich. And there’s, he’s sitting there eating it and all these are kids around him watching him eat this sandwich, you know, it seems so silly today but in those days like we couldn’t. We had jam, my mother would make jam, but cheese, you couldn’t afford cheese. Oh, you know, and my father, he was a drainer, you know, he was a trades man, he was a drainer, he couldn’t get work, you know people couldn’t get work. You might get
two days work a fortnight, you’d probably get a pound a day for that. And they used to give what they called the dole, not like the dole today, and my mother used to walk to Pinkenba. Now that’s a fair old hike with young kids and a pram, like you know, toddlers and one in the pram. You had to go down to Pinkenba to get the dole [unemployment welfare], why the hell they didn’t put it down at Hamilton, I don’t know. But and then we used to go over to the races and knock three soft drink bottles off and
get the bigger boys to go up the shop and get a packet of Cavaliers [cigarettes]. Buy them and get up in the drain in Hamilton, in Doomben there, there’s no drain there now. And it’s alongside the railway line and you’d get in. And then we used to catch lobbies there those days, you could catch lobsters, put a little bit of meat on a bit of cotton and then, oh, when I was about twelve I used to start parking cars
at Doomben racecourse, I lived in the street that ran down the into the ledger at Doomben. And you’d get two shillings a car. And we’d get about fifteen cars into our place. All the kids in the street outside our place, “Park here, park here.” And that’d be thirty bob, if you had a full house it’d be thirty bob. And I can remember my mother used to give me, if you got a full, because I was the eldest then, my other two elder brothers were, don’t know, they were there
but the big bloke, he wouldn’t do that, he wouldn’t park cars. And my other brother was dead and I was the eldest. And my mother had given me nine pence and we could go to the pictures. We walked down the Arcadia and just follow Windermere Road to Arcadia, it’s all shops there now. In those days the theatres had canvas and wooden seats. And the canvas were the big
time, like you know, you had money, you got in the canvas seats. And it was six pence in the pictures and threepence for an ice cream. So then a friend of mine was selling, at interval he had the old ice cream, lollies and chocolate tray, he said, “Why don’t you get into it?’ he said, “They give you a shilling in the pound commission.” And I thought, “Oh, this is all right, a shilling.” So I get there and you get in the pictures for nothing, and you have to leave ten minutes
before interval. And you get out there and these people do that, there’s five of us used to, and you get these trays around your neck and a tray in front of you and go round screaming “Peanuts, lollies, chocolates,” and of course the ones that had been there the longest, they did the canvas seats. And then you blokes got the wooden seats where all the poorer people were, like they, most of them couldn’t afford, like you’d be flat out making ten bob those days but sometimes you got a pound. And you’d get a shilling
I’d take that home and give it to Mum, she’d say, “Good, good,” like you know. So then I left school and I had this job. Really, I haven’t had many jobs in my lifetime but, oh, another thing we had to do. We’d get three shillings a week, my big brother, he had a paper run up at Ascot. Mr Pottman had them and he was behind Spatman’s butcher shop on
Racecourse Road which is now Baguette restaurant, used to be Spatman’s butcher shop. You had to go up there and you had the old bike with the kerosene tin with the side cut out on the front, you know. And none of this throwing it over the fence like they do now and you get a wet paper, you had to fold them up into a square, all these Courier Mails, fold them up into a square. And you put, every, sometimes in the dry weather you could throw that, but a lot of people didn’t want it thrown over the fence, you had to get off
your bike and take it in and put it in a certain place. And if it was raining, you had to put it, like they were all the old Queenslanders, you had to put it under the front so the paper wouldn’t get wet. And if the paper got wet and next morning you went there and Mr Pottman would say, you know “You got me into trouble because they rung up and said that.” But, so then I went and, was a grocery boy then. Used to, as I said before, the only reason I took it because I could ride the bike home and I used to big note myself on the weekend riding round
on this pushbike. And then my brother was working at that age and because he was, I’m seventy, eighty, he’d be eighty-three now, he’s five years older than me. And he bought a Massey bike, Massey the sport shop, was the big timer Masseys. He bought this bike with a carbide light on it and I think he paid nine pounds six for it, which was a fortune, you know, nine pounds six
I wish I had the carbide light now, it’d probably worth ninety dollars sixty. And so that, so I stayed there, stayed there and some of them people were terrible, you know. Used to be Tristram drink people, this was a long, long time ago, like you know, there were Cottees, I used to serve Cottees and Tristrams. And they were the biggest drink people in Brisbane, they were, you know, they had, in the factory at West End, that’s a market today, that was Tristrams
drink factory. I went up to that and it was hot as hell, and they had a housekeeper of course. And I said, “By Jove,” I said, “it’s pretty hot today, I could do with a drink of water,” I thought Oh, this’ll be all right, I’ll get a soft drink here.” So she went to the tap, got an old mug, went to the tap and poured water out of the tap and said, “Here you are, son.” And I thought, oh. Fair dinkum you look back on these things, but that, and they were the,
they had plenty of money like there was Tristrams, they were the biggest then there was Hellodon. Hellodon drink factory, you know down the bottom end of Roma Street there’s a park over the road from the fire station, that was Hellodon drink factory those days. But that’s how big they were when you look at the, oh then, there was another woman there, I won’t mention her name. She was a doctor’s wife anyhow and she lived in Oriel Road. And you’d ride
the bike down there, down the gravel driveway off the street and the house was miles back you know, well wasn’t, you’d think it was miles, you know. And you had to leave the bike down there, you couldn’t ride the bike up, you had leave the bike down there and walk up and knock on the back door where the house maid would answer it, see. And often she’d ring up and she’d say, “Could you send the boy up with a small packet of Craven A?” There were only ten cigarettes in a small
packet. And you’d get on the bike and they couldn’t refuse, see, because like a customer. And you’d get on the Malvern bike and you roar up there and you’d be swearing to yourself, pushing the bike and get up there and get off and walk up and the house keeper would come out and you’d give the small packet of, and a docket, give her the docket for it. Oh, she was a pain. And then another lady, this might seem funny, there was another lady, she was a lovely person
and I’d roar round with the orders, you know, and you’d have to go round one day and get all the orders in the book and the next day, or the afternoon to deliver them all you see. And this lady, she was a lovely lady, and she used to keep me left over sweets from the night before. It might seem strange today, like if you told, like I’m telling you know. But we never had sweets, my people couldn’t afford sweets, and
say, “Here you are Charlie, sit down at the table.” I’d roar around and get about ten minutes up my sleeve so I could sit down there. And, at that time, my father still wasn’t doing a lot of work so you’d go down along the Brisbane River and there’d be hundreds of fellows down there catching, fishing, you know. Catching, could get bream there now, you wouldn’t get half a dozen bream in a year down there now. And then he used to go out as a
bait fellow, help a bloke and they’d go out deep sea fishing and he’d get fish and sometimes if they got a lot of snapper and that he’d say, “Take this up,” and I’d take it to Mrs Hills, this snapper. I’d go there on the way to work, you know, and give it to here. As a matter of fact, her daughter joined the navy. But it was just the difference in those people, you know, Tristrams they had plenty and these people had plenty of money too, you know. But it’s just the difference and you couldn’t do anything about it, like, and nor could my boss, you know, if
someone ordered something and you send the boy up “Send the boy up,” of course. She had a car of her own, she could’ve come down and got it but they didn’t do those things them days. I wasn’t sorry to leave there but I was sorry, I still went back and saw Mrs Hills for a few years, like, you know, when I come home and then after the war when things, or when, they went and moved then. And, but it just shows life, you know, different people in life. Oh dear, then I went,
then of course I went to the shipyards.
Charlie, how many roads in Brisbane at that time were actually ‘bitumised’?
Oh, most of them. Footpaths? No, no, no, footpaths, no. Doomben wasn’t, there were no bitumen roads in Doomben. Of course Ascot, Ascot and Clayfield, it’s still the same, you know, where the upper echelon live? And Hamilton Heights and all that. Now I lived in Doomben for, I was born
in Swan Hill actually and I lived in Doomben when I was a baby more or less. And today Doomben is finished, it’s called Ascot, simply, and Hamilton is Ascot. Most of Ascot now is called Clayfield. Like if you read, the real estate do this, it’s the real
estate people have done this. I saw an ad, I read all the paper back to front, you know, and I was looking in these houses one day “Silver Street, Ascot” and I thought, “Gee, this is a bit rich” those days. It might have been up there and in those days you used to walk around, you know and everything, and here it was in Doomben. And then I’m looking another day and there’s this Jackson Street, Hamilton. It was just near Hamilton school, Jackson Street.
And I thought, “Oh,” so that’s what they’ve done, they’ve put them upmarket. Like, you’d get more money for a house in Ascot than what you would in Doomben, same as Hamilton. Like, Hamilton was from Racecourse Road to Nudgee Road. And Doomben was from Nudgee Road down to where the, oh, who’s down there, used to be,
the oil company, down near there see. And then on it was Eagle Farm down to Meandarra and then to Pinkenba. But now of course they’ve done that. But oh yeah, you know, those days like, just say racing, you know, people going to races, there’d be thousands and thousands of people at the races on Saturday. But now they don’t have to go, all they could do is sit in the TAB [Totalizator Agency Board – betting shop], a little board here and watch all the movies.
And everybody got dressed up those days, well, those that had clothes always got dressed up. You know, the men wore suits and hats and that went on for many, many years after the war, oh. And another thing about the races, they used to sell big pies there, like a bread and butter plate. And they were six pence. And after the races all the local kids, Ascot and
Doomben, you’d get over there a bit early and we’d front up and then when everybody’s finished, cleaned up in these cafeterias we called them, at the races, they’d put all the pies that weren’t used on the counter and all the local kids that went. And my eldest brother and I we got three each one day and we took it home, six pies, and I think my mother thought it was Christmas, six pies. And then when I was about
fourteen I used to go up on the rail line between Doomben and Ascot and watch the races for something to do. And there used to be an SP [Starting Price] bookie up there, and he had the cycling gear on, see. He’d come along with the shoes, the special shoes and the old little white bag over the back, none of this, and not as flamboyant as they were today but still had the gear, see. And he used to have,
and Marky’s had a telephone outside their shop and every now and then he’d, binoculars, and he’d get over on the tote and get the prices off the tote. And he had arrowroot biscuits, this is true as I sit here, he had arrowroot biscuits shaved so he could write on them, see. And he’d write away after he, after he got the prices off the tote he must’ve ring the SP bookie up see, and one day,
all us kids, and another thing we went up there because we could slide of the railway line on the old palm fronds. And another day the coppers raided him. Someone said, “Hey, here comes the police” and he giving us kids his arrowroot biscuits. We’re wolfing down these arrowroot biscuits with the prices on. But it was a lot better than eating paper, anyhow, you know, it was a lot better than. Oh, he was there for years and years and his old bike and that and oh dear, his shaved arrowroot
biscuits. Just shows you how smart these, are some people. Yeah, and the old pie, they’d have pie carts outside the racing of course but, when we used to go in and get these pies. Yeah, and we got six one day, my eldest brother and I, oh dear, and they were like a bread and butter plate, not like the ones you get today.
What about the Brisbane River, Charlie, what was that like back then?
Oh, clear. They, as I said, opposite the Hamilton pub Davison’s had a garage there. You know
where the big restaurant is there now, it used to be Davison’s Shell garage. And I right opposite the Hamilton pub was a park and had a sandy beach. And all the kids would go, we, that’s where we learned to swim. And just up off Riverview Terrace, you know, the topside of the Breakfast Creek Hotel? That’s where the dredge wharves used to be and we’d swim up there. Like when you learnt to swim on the beach, you could go up with the big boys and dive off the dredge wharf. Because I
had my elder brother there to look after you like you know, they’d look after, whether you had a brother or not, someone would look after you, if you got in any trouble. And there used to be a fellow there used to fish every Saturday and Sunday, he fished there for years and years and years, as a matter of fact, he was still fishing there after the war. And that’s where the dredge wharf was but it was the deeper water, but down there was a lovely beach. And of course when the Yanks come, they built a, extended the wharf along there and of course that’s all gone by the board.
And there used to be an old fellow lived on his boat down there, I forget his name now. He had a boat shed and he had his boat tied up there and he used to live down there. And you could get fish, you know, and the river was clear and everything because there was nothing, there wasn’t a great amount of traffic like before the war, there wasn’t a great, you get the liners and you know, the P & O [Peninsular and Orient] liners. And I lived in Onslow Street in, I lived in three streets in Doomben. Not midnight, they used to do
the midnight flit them days when they couldn’t pay the rent and they were a bit behind, they’d do the midnight flit. But we never did the midnight flit, not that I know of, but I’ve been in a few houses. And there used to be a fellow, George Studders, along, my father had a war service home from the First [World] War, and he lost it of course. And George Studders had this riding school next to us. And you’d get all the plums come up off the P & O boats and we had a little cattle dog
bitch. And these blokes would be doing the old pancake, riding down the street and we’d say, “Out Blue,” and out she’d go and she’d nip at the heels, because it’s all dirt roads round there those days. And the horse took off. But he was a very cruel man, old George Studders with his horses. He belted and belted a horse there one day, anyhow, finished up the horse kicked the bottom out of the cart. He was a real mongrel, with horses. But, you know, you had to make your own fun
because, you know, not like my grandchildren or, you know, they can sit in front of the TVs [television] and all that, you know. But the river was good and a lot of people don’t know this today, Sunday football was started in Brisbane just after the war down at Meandarra. There used to be, it’s all industrial now. And they had
old railway carriages down there, where, for the changing rooms. And a lot of A graders of that day used to play down in this Winnamatta, for excellent Sunday competition. And they left there and they went down to the corner of Nudgee Road and opposite big produce store on the corner there, I think they’ve scrubbed it now. And, but that’s where it was, down there on the, sometimes you
got a real big king tide you couldn’t play because the water would come up the creek and flood the lowlands. And we used to walk down there, there wasn’t, I don’t think you wanted to go there. And those days, they used to hold the Sunday school picnics, the Anglican church, St Augustine’s in Racecourse Road used to hold their Sunday school picnics down there. I didn’t go to church. And they had really wonderful days then, but of course today
that doesn’t happen, that’s one thing that’s gone. But we used to make our own fun. Like, you had to because you didn’t have any money, your parents couldn’t give you anything, and used to have the shanghais. Half the kids that have a shanghai today want it made for him, you know. And we used to make our own tops to play tops and play marbles. And we used to play another game, it was a bit dangerous, we had a little bit of wood about six inches long, it was sharpened at both ends and it had the numbers on it. Four
numbers on it and you’d hit one end and as it’d fly up in the air you’d belt it with a bit of stick. And wherever it landed that was your score, see. But they were pretty dangerous, if you ever hit anyone they’d hurt, like in the eye or anything like that, but oh, yeah. But no, it was a pretty hard life, I suppose. But everybody else was living like that. Well, eighty, ninety percent of the country was living like that but
it was a wonder, like making your own fun was wonderful. Like everybody, all your mates would do it and that and you seemed to, and everybody knew everybody and you never locked the house up when you went out, all the windows open, the front door would be open. You know, and none of the women worked and all the kids got to know each other in all the suburbs. Oh yeah. I’ll never forget when we were playing football, you know,
I was about twelve at school we played football. And we’d have to go to Eagle Junction to get weighed, Eagle Junction State School to get weighed. And it was a penny each way. Once I couldn’t go because my mother couldn’t afford the tuppence. Yeah, I had to go over there and then I started going to, I used to walk to Bishop Park. Oh, Oxton Park, you know, when I started playing for North’s. But I used to walk down there and back of a night.
And of course when I got the job I could ride the bike down there and that, you know. No torch, no helmets, we never had helmets but I’d ride the bike down there and back when I got my job but oh yeah.
Can you tell us about your dad, Charlie?
Can you tell us about your dad? Can you tell us about your father?
Oh my father, yeah, he, oh I haven’t got it here. He served in the First World War, he was born in, do you want to know that?
He was born in Corinda in 1897. He joined the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] in 1915 when he was eighteen, went to Egypt, then he went to France and he was in what they called the 5th Pioneers. And no wonder he finished up a drainer, because he was the bloke
who used to dig the trenches and lay the dust boards and all that. And when he came back, he was in Fromelle, as a matter of fact I’ve got it all in there, I got it from the archives of all places. I wrote, I had his discharge papers and when we shifted to Newmarket I must’ve mislaid them and I also mislaid a couple of albums, photo albums
of mine. And I wrote to the archives to get a copy of it and they said I can’t get a copy of it. Four six three eight was his number. And his parents had died, I don’t know when, because he never ever spoke about his family. And I never ever, well later on I thought, “Well if you don’t want to tell me, you don’t want to let me know, I don’t want to know.” And his parents had died and apparently he was fostered by these people. And of course they signed his enlistment papers at eighteen and he was in Fromelle. He was in Fromelle and La something, La Hamel, La Hamel. And he got a bit of gas there, somebody, he said. And he served over there until
1918 and he came home in 1918 and I think he never went back to Corinda, never ever went back to Corinda. And I think he and my mother were married about, oh, 1992 I think in Brisbane. And then he was an odd job man, he couldn’t get a drainer’s, he became a drainer later on and then he stuck at that
for the rest of his life. And he was a bit unlucky, when the Yanks came here he was working for the council and got, like they manpowered him, otherwise he could’ve gone and worked for the Yanks and got four times the money what Brisbane City Council were paying him. But he was a pretty good man, he was a great man, like he was a very quiet man. He never ever spoke about, sometimes he spoke about the war, to me but not to my other, I have another brother and sister. And
he never really spoke about it much. As a matter of fact, until I got all this from the archives, I never knew anything. I never knew a thing. I knew he was in the First World War and this is when I found out about, that his parents had been, were deceased. Apparently he lived with, these people fostered him in Corinda but he never ever went back there.
Whereabouts is that?
It’s near Tamworth
in the New England. And so then he passed away a few years ago. He was a pretty good father but never, like he never mistreated us and he did what he could for us. He never took us fishing or he never, well, he was probably too busy looking for work, but he used to go down the river and fish in the Depression. They’d sell them to the Chinese seamen on the boats, like threepence a bream,
like they’d catch a fish. And he used to use, that’s why we never had cheese because dough and cheese was the bait for the bream, like and you got threepence a fish and that but it was pretty. No, he was a very good, my mother was, oh, well she was a good woman I should imagine but, you know, later on in life I sort of queried the way we were brought up in life and that. Like, until I joined the navy and I accepted the life I had, but
when I joined the navy and especially post-war and you see how other people live, and I thought, “Gees, I’ve missed out on something here.” But I suppose I didn’t, like, they gave us all the love and attention they could but they couldn’t afford to give us too much.
What can you tell us about your mum?
What can you tell us about your mother?
Oh. Oh my mother, she was a good mother but I don’t know, I might be misjudging her. She lost a lot of interest, like my
first brother was killed when he was thirteen, he got knocked over by a car. My father was working for the council at Newstead and got of the tram and walked behind a tram and walked behind the tram and unfortunately got hit by a car. He was thirteen. And you sort of give up a lot then. And my brother joined an American, he tried to join the navy well luckily he didn’t because he would’ve been on the [HMAS] Perth with a couple of his mates. And
he joined this American merchant marine. And then after my brother older than me got killed when he was thirteen, she sort of give up a lot, like, you know, and then me joining the navy, she didn’t want me to join the navy no way in the world. But anyhow they signed it and away I went and of course I’m only away a month and my eldest brother gets killed in New Guinea. And I think she threw the towel in then. Well, I know she did because
I had a sister and she ruined my sister’s life. Absolutely ruined my sister’s life. And I think that was one of the reasons why I went back in the navy.
In what way do you mean?
Well, she never let her do a thing, she never let her do a thing. Never let her go out with other girls, never let her go out, never had a boyfriend in her life. And she mixed with older people, she mixed with the people of my mother’s age. All
my mother’s friends were my sister’s friends and I could see this wasn’t going to do her any good. And I had a few words. So I thought, “Bugger this, I’ll go back in the navy and I’ll be away from it all.” I used to be home on leave but, you know, she ruined my sister’s life and now my sister’s in a home. You know, she never had a thing in life, not a thing. You know. I bought home some beautiful clothes
once from Hong Kong, well they were good, and my mother wouldn’t let her wear them. You know, these lovely jackets, you know, silk jackets and they had these little jackets that fitted over them in different colours with all very fine work, you know, and they weren’t like a shirt they were sort of a lacy thing. And she wouldn’t ever let her wear them. It was years later that I said, you know, “I’ve never ever saw Madeline in those things,”
“No,” she said, “I wouldn’t let her wear them.” You know, I thought it was, I did what I could but she wouldn’t take any notice of me. So then she’d just give up and had no interest or anything else like that and my sister was ruined, absolutely life ruined. So I couldn’t cop that, but I still go and see my sister but she’s not mental or anything else like that. But she doesn’t know anything else, like, you know, she’s
never had a life, what, how old’s she? Seventy, how old am I, I’m seventy-eight, nearly seventy-nine. She’d be seventy-four, seventy-five, she’s never had a life. I think only ever been to the pictures twice in her life. You know. My mother’s gone, she’s been gone for years and there’s my sister with no life, no life whatsoever and I didn’t like that. But that’s,
what can you do? You know, you can’t do, go against your parents, like, I think that was one of the reasons, that was the big way of me going back in the navy. I got out of the navy in May ’46 and I went back in ’47.
Sounds like you had a pretty happy childhood but?
I did have a happy childhood but it was later on that, like my father, he never took us fishing. He used to go fishing but he never took us fishing.
Did he bring fish home for you guys there?
Oh yeah, he had to. That’s why he went
down there. What they didn’t sell, they’d keep and bring it home. And he was a good gardener, though, he was a good gardener, good veggie gardener. He was a good man really. And you know, and I thought it was pretty sad with my sister but, you know, something you can’t do anything about.
How did your brother dying at age thirteen, how did that affect you?
Oh, what, I was only ten. I know I wanted to go to the hospital to see him. He didn’t get, die
straight away, they had him in the general hospital. And my eldest brother wanted to give me a doubler up on the bike. Like, you know, people wouldn’t credit you’d do these things these days. And this woman in this street said, “No, you can’t go up to the hospital,” my parents were up there. She said, “You can’t go up to the hospital,” my eldest brother said, “Well, I’ll give him a double up on my bike,” and she said, “No, you’re going to come
over to our place.” In those days you did what you were told. Like, you know, nowadays they’d tell them where to go. And I regretted that, that I didn’t get up there, I was only ten. But that was sort of the decline of my mother, you know, having a lot of interest in life and that. And of course me going in the navy was something she didn’t want me to do and my eldest brother getting killed a month after I went in the navy. And as a matter of fact it was only recently, my
eldest brother getting killed, I was reading a book on Oro Bay, that’s where he got killed in Oro Bay. And I was reading a book about an Australian corvette, the [HMAS] Pirie, it is. And it’s the last big air raid in Oro Bay and they had seven fellows killed on the main gun, the four inch gun, there’s only eight on there and they had seven killed. And the shell went through skipper’s cabin and that. And they said there was a three thousand ton
American merchant ship that was blown up and that was. And I, and that’s only within the last six weeks that I’ve read that. And that’s the only thing I, and I’d never got to Oro Bay, all the time I was running around New Guinea I never got to Oro Bay, I never got to Lae and I never got to Port Moresby. And that’s odd that it was six weeks ago that I found out how, well, I knew how he got killed because his ship got
bombed and blown up. But I’d never had a report of it, you know. And the ship was called the [SS] Masaya, I remember that. And that’s what that thing out there is, signed by President Truman. Might be able to flog that. No, no, it’s, my second daughter wants that. Well, I’ve got enough of the others, the others can have that and as a matter of fact my second daughter’s got,
you know that thing I’ve got out in the garage? I’ll show you, I’ll bring it in and show you. Have you got a minute?
We’ll have a look at it.
I’ve got one done exactly the same with his medals and a photo of him in uniform in the First, it was taken in England I think. The same, like his medals and you take them out, like you can take, like on Anzac Day, can take them out and put them in.
And that Peter, he was the bloke that made that for me. And it looked like being a bit of a stink about who was going to have it. So my second daughter, I said, “You better take it now and that’ll sort the problem.” We right?
Interviewee: Charles Hile Archive ID 1605 Tape 03
Charlie, where did the family used to get the main stable food, like bread and milk?
The milkman used to come round twice a day, those days, when I was a little fellow. And the baker would come round once a day and we, he had a horse and cart of course, and they had a step on the back where you used to step on it like after he’d deliver to one house he’d drive down the road and we kids used to sit on the step and he’d pull up and give us
a kick and thump us and get us off there. But the milkman came in the morning and afternoon and they used to have these measures, these aluminium or steel I suppose they were those days, these measures. And we had a local grocer shop, there was a lot of local grocer shops around the track. And as I said my father used to go fishing and he had a wonderful vegetable garden. And at one stage,
we couldn’t afford the milk so a relative of my mother’s had a son on a dairy farm at Meandarra. And one of us boys used to have to walk down there in the morning, which wasn’t the best in wintertime barefoot. And we’d get a quart pot full of milk and bring it back home. And I think one thing I can remember, when my mother was in hospital,
when my mother, she had a sister in hospital, we had another woman looking after us and she used to water the milk to make it go further and that was oh. We had bread and milk, you know, you ever had bread and milk? Cut up bread and milk on it, that’s all you could, of course bread wasn’t that much, it was only threepence a loaf I think in those days. And you used to have bread and milk for breakfast or bread and treacle. Well, you’d have bread and syrup
and when you couldn’t afford syrup you’d have treacle. And when you couldn’t afford the treacle you’d have molasses and they feed cattle molasses. And just on bread, no butter. But, oh, we survived like of course there were thousands of us doing it, but it was a very hard life. You know, I suppose the hardest part was for your parents because they couldn’t give you what they’d like to give you. But we got by, pretty hard but I don’t think
I’d like my family to go through all that again. No.
Where was the rest of the family, like the extended family, aunts and uncles and cousins?
Well, we’re a funny family. I knew nothing about my father’s side of the family, nothing. All I knew, he was born in Corinda and served in the First World War. My mother was born in Rockhampton and I had a,
I never met this uncle, he was killed in the First War. One was killed in the First War, I think there was about five girls and three boys in my mother’s family. I’d met all my aunts at some stage or another but we hardly had anything to do with them. We rarely ever saw them because I know one was in Rockhampton, one was in Gayndah, one was in Sydney,
two were in Sydney. And one of my uncles, he lived at Gaythorne which wasn’t far away. And another uncle, I only ever saw him once in my life. He used to work for Charlie McLaughlin, the horse trainer and the other fellow was killed in the First World War. But we weren’t a close family, like we weren’t a very close family. I can only remember seeing my mother’s parents once,
they lived at Moorooka, in Keith Street at Moorooka. We went out there, only ever once did I see them but I did see my two aunts in Sydney when I joined the navy because they came down to Central Station, I went to one of their houses that day and that was the only time I ever saw them, I never saw them again. But we weren’t a close family, nobody, you know, I don’t know why. Like, other people had people, like Joan’s family was very close, well they’re nearly all gone now
but they were very close and did everything and things like that. But we never did that, I don’t know why, I don’t suppose we, we took it very, weren’t encouraged to do because my parents didn’t do it so I suppose we never did it. But we weren’t, so like I’ve had a funny live, you know, as far as parents. I know nothing of my father’s side of the family and my mother’s side I’ve met some,
I’ve met my grandparents once. And I’ve met my aunts probably once or twice and that was it. They never visited us. Well if they visited, if my mother visited she wouldn’t take the kids. So it’s a, you know, it’s a funny life. Like, when you, this is what I found when I joined the navy, you know, people all going here and going there and come home and they’d have relatives there and other people I grew up with, like they led a totally different family life to what we lived. But I thought it was, you know, the
circumstances of the day when nobody had any money and you couldn’t afford the fares to go here and there. But oh well, I suppose there are a lot of people like me but maybe, you know, I think later on in life that’s where I, we children missed a lot because I, out of all my cousins, I did know them. As a matter of fact, two of my cousins I got on very well with
and they were in the one family. The boy was in the army over in the Middle East and he was a loner and after the war he got out and went back to Herbert and tin mining and my, one of my cousins she married an American and he got killed. And when the war was over she went to America and she came back here. And she
died reasonably young. And my other cousin in this family, she eventually lived in Western Australia and used to come over quite a bit and see us. And she come over here eventually, and she come over here to see her nephew, like the one that died, her son was a pilot with TAA [Trans Australia Airlines] then. And she come over to spend because she was dying of the cancer. And she came over here and we saw a lot of her,
like my girls saw a lot of her and we saw, naturally, we saw a lot of her. And she thought a lot of Joan, she saw a hell of a lot of Joan because I don’t know why, like Joan met her and I used to go and do a lot of work for her, she lived in Oriel Road, Clayfield. And I used to go out and do work there, put a, I remember putting up a laundry line on the back patio instead of going downstairs, it was quite high. And then she wanted
to go back to Perth to die so she, they paid for Joan to go back with her. And of course she was a, what do you call it, stretcher case then so she went back there. So they were really the only two out of oh, the Irish family, plenty of them, but they were the only two that we ever really worried about. And she was, their mother was the only one that we ever really worried about. She was a funny old sod, she was a little lady, she was a funny
lady. She had a violin. Her eldest daughter died in New Guinea before World War II. Her husband was secretary, administrator of New Guinea. And she had this violin. My aunty Nellie she carried it around, until the day she died, she must’ve carried it around for fifty years, this violin. I’ll never ever forget her, she was a funny lady. She was about five foot nothing and she used to smoke and my mother hated it when she’d go and stay. My
mother, she hated that. Old Aunty Nellie, there was hardly anything of her like you’d see, if she was sitting in this chair, all you’d see, at night you’d see the dark, the red glow of her cigarette. And she was older than my mother and she was a lovely lady but they, you know, family wise, they were the only ones we ever really mixed with. We didn’t, oh, I had a cousin one day, I met her in town once and she was with a Yank and she didn’t want to know me. And next time I
saw her actually was up in Tokyo. But I didn’t want to know her then so, but
And Charlie, when you were at school, that’s when you went to the shipyards?
Yeah. After grocer shop, yeah.
So tell us about that, going to work at the shipyards.
Oh that was, well, he had about eighteen apprentices. I didn’t want to be an apprentice plumber because a couple of my mates were working for the Yanks and they were getting big money. Well, for those days. But my father wanted me to be a plumber, become a plumber and work with him in the draining
afterwards. And I was there and there was about eighteen apprentices. Why wouldn’t there be at sixteen and four pence a week? Cheap labour. So about four of them got all the plumbing work and the rest of us were labourers and then, and we’d work on the ships and that was when I got the idea of, you know, I wanted to join the navy then. And as a matter of fact, one of the first ships I worked on was
the [HMAS] Ipswich. And a very, very good friend of mine now commissioned the Ipswich, he went to Flinders when he joined up and come back and then he went over to the gulf and didn’t spend four months over there, two and a half years. And I suppose I worked on about eight corvettes, and
Where were the shipyards?
At Kangaroo Point, you know where Dockside is? You see the dock there? That’s where they built the corvettes. And they had
the fitting out basin down below, they’d build them up there and then they’d launch them and they’d bring them down to the fitting out basin. You know where that very old home is they use for an immigration centre and there’s a big kafuffle about it now they want a heritage and they want it turned, anyhow, it was in front of that and the side of that was the fitting out basin. And you’d have to walk, we had a big shed where the plumbers were in. And I’d always go with a plumber, we’d always work with a plumber.
And one day, I didn’t particularly like this plumber I was with. But those days you couldn’t get too cheeky. And we were working down in the supply store on this, I forget the name of the corvette. I worked on ten of them and I finished up on one. And working by electric light, you know, the wand and lead. And the light went out.
He said, “You’d better go on the,” the store was on the wharf, he said, “and get a bulb.” So I went down the store and bought a bulb, I was only away about five or six minutes, you know, and when he come back he’d lit a candle to keep on working with, this is how keen he was. So I blew it out. I got in a bit of trouble over that, but you know, he abused me and things like that. I said, “Well, you could’ve had five minutes break,” like, you know “you don’t have to work all that time.” But it was a pretty interesting job,
apart from when they wanted me to work on the lagging, you know, put the asbestos on the wall and that, I wouldn’t be in that.
So what did you actually do every day at work, what was your job?
Oh, you’d be working in sheet metal shops, helping them make the ducting, the air ducts and the shelving. All the air ducts were made out of galvanised iron and the shelving in all the stores and that were made out of black iron. And you’d be working all the press, he’d
measure it out and put it in, and you’d be doing, working on the presses, he wouldn’t be working all the presses. Nor would I, I suppose, if I had been a plumber. And that’s, oh, different jobs on the ship. And of course if you were working in an area you had to clean up when you left it, of course I had to do that. And I used to go to college two days, one day a week, one afternoon a week I’d go to college. And you’d get different jobs, sometimes you’d be working with a
plumber and he’d be down working, as I said working the store. And other times you’d be with a plumber and you’d be putting the air ducts through and the punka louvres. They had punka louvres in the air ducts like that and you’d turn them, you know, and get the air through. And then sometimes I worked with a fellow and he made the air vents that stick out through the porthole. I was working with him once. And
then another time I was working what they call the tiller flap, down aft and they were getting the mine sweeping gear in. You know, the, building putting in the big planes for the mine sweeping gear. That wasn’t too good a job.
Oh no, it was too hard.
Why was it hard?
Well, they brought the mine sweeping gear on they call the double L sweep,
which I found out later on, I did a fair bit of time with them. And you had to wind it up on this big drum, oh, about six foot in diameter, you know, the sides of it. And it was all man-draulic, see, all done by hand. You wind these things on and then another time I got, why I don’t know, I got put with the boilermakers and, on the riveting. And
they wanted me to catch the rivets. I only lasted about two minutes on that, I couldn’t catch these hot rivets. They’d have the burning, they’d have the hot rivets in and a bloke had a pair of tongs and pick one out and throw it and you were supposed to catch it and then you’d put it in the hole in the deck and the old riveting gun would go vrrrrrrm. I only lasted about two minutes on that. But oh then they’d have you up on the bridge, you know, any metal work that had to be done or down below, like originally when the first
ships would come down for fitting those days you’d be putting all the pipes down in the bilges and things like that. You know, you’d get down in there and pull all them down in there. Then they took me off the corvettes and they put me on this floating dock. They built a floating dock there. It was about 1942 I think they built this floating dock, could’ve been earlier. Anyhow they, when I was all finished they sent it to Darwin and
I don’t whether you’ve seen this, in the Darwin air raids there’s a photo of the [HMAS] Katoomba in this floating dock. And I was telling Peter [interviewer] before, I was down in Sydney a few years ago at Garden Island. Oh, about five year ago. They’ve got a corvette memorial on the corner of Garden Island in Sydney, well it’s, it should be in the water but I don’t think much of it. And the old floating dock was, they’d just brought it back to Sydney about a month before then and that was
from what, say 1942 I suppose and that was 1998, ‘97, ’98 and it was still going. Yeah. Because, and then sometimes they’d, you’d have to go up to the dock where they were building them, you know, before they were launched and put pipes in up there. And they used to have big, like a big, oh, big brazier, you know. And they’d fill these pipes, when they wanted to
bend them, they’d have the template of course. And they’d fill them full of sand and put a wooden clog in both, plug in both ends. And they’d get it in this huge thing, you know, and this particular, one particular fellow was in charge of all this. And when it got at the right heat and that they’d pull it off there, oh, there’d be sixty or something if it was a big pipe there’d be up to sixty of you on there. And they’d
put it in these big, they weren’t exactly vices but they were fittings that they could move, you know, and they were up like that. Then they’d, you’d get on one end and bend it and bend it and keep bending while it was hot. And then he’d get, put it back over the stove, over the fire if it wasn’t quite right and when he got it right, that’d be it. But some of them were bent all different ways, some just had one bend in, some had two or three.
And they were always the heaviest pipes. The others you had a pipe bender and you could put them in a bender and do them. They were quite easy to do. But all the big ones, they got done by, they were done by heat. But that was a pretty hard job and you’re sweating like, you know, and you’d have overalls on and no shorts and that so. But it was very interesting, you know, so at least when I went to corvette I knew my way around. And
but you know, we worked from twelve minutes past seven in the morning to six minutes past five at night and you had half an hour for lunch. And you had two smokos [break], ten minutes for a smoko morning and afternoon.
Why was it twelve minutes past and six minutes past?
Well, to get the fifty-six hours in. You ask someone today to work fifty-six hours, they’d throw a mickey [be upset]. But, well they had to get them done, like, this was
happening all over Australia in the shipyards. I don’t know whether they were working fifty-six hours a week, I suppose they would’ve been. And I think we built about eleven up here in Brisbane. And Maryborough, they were building them at Maryborough. They were building them at Morts Dock in Sydney and, oh, Poole and Steegle in Sydney built some. Some were built in South Australia at Whyalla. I think they were built in Melbourne, I wouldn’t be quite
sure, there was fifty-six, there was sixty actually built.
And were they all being built for the Australian navy?
Yeah, fifty-six for the Australian navy and four for the Indian navy. And each ship was named after a town. Whatever town put the most money into war bonds, those days, they named a ship after. So that’s how the Cootamundra got named. See, there was fifty-six of them.
Can you explain what a war bond is?
Can you explain what a war bond is?
Well, a war bond is what the government, how the government got their money. You buy, well not too many bought a ten pound war bond, like the average people but. Now Cootamundra they bought, I’m not quite sure but I think it’s a hundred and fifty thousand pounds. A war bond is a negotiable note so to
speak. Like if I’d have bought a ten pound war bond, when the war was over and they were working out all the post-war finances, you could go and cash your war bond and that’s what you’d get back. Like, they got the value of the money and the, well, the money paid for building the ship. Instead of the government taking, say,
a couple of hundred thousand pounds out of their coffers, the treasury, to build a ship, these cities put that money in and they got to get a ship named after them.
Could private citizens buy war bonds?
Oh private citizens had them, yeah. And you had rationing cards. I meant to find a rationing card and show you, you would never have seen one.
Tell us about that.
Well, they used to have petrol, tea,
sugar, clothing, butter, I think they had butter, I’m not too sure with butter. I know they had tea and sugar, butter, petrol, even had petrol rationing well, in 1947 I think they still had petrol rationing. And you were allocated so much. But of course, you know, the honest people used it properly but like everything else in life there’s black market and things like that, you know. Clothing,
clothing, yeah, you know, you had so many for shirt and so many for a pair of trousers or a dress for a woman or shoes. Every, I suppose it was GST [Goods and Services Tax] in reverse like, you know, you pay something. But you know, you get so many and you’re fortunate, I suppose, the families were fortunate. Say we weren’t big tea drinkers and you had a family like say of three or four
working men and they drunk a lot of tea well we could give you what was left over at the period, I think it was every month. Not too sure, every month. Say we had five or six coupons so we could give them to you and you could use them because we didn’t use them. And a lot of that went on, you know, sort of a barter system but there was a black market and of course when the Yanks come that was open slather. And a lot of the women, when the Yanks finally come out here,
I had my first taste of Pepsi Cola, I’ll never forget it. We were up on the railway line between, they had Ascot racecourse and Doomben racecourse and I lived at Doomben. We were up on the railway line, these Yanks are pitching their tents and they’ve got these Texas hats on. He goes “Hey buddy, you want a drink?” I said, “Yeah, what is it?” he said, “Pepsi Cola.” I’d never heard of Pepsi Cola, never heard of Coca-Cola then. And I said, “Yeah,” so he, so “Here.” So
three of us had this drink of Coca-Cola, bottle, I wish I’d kept the bottle. Anyhow, a lot of women used to supplement the money then by doing the ironing. Washing and ironing for the Americans. In fact everybody round Doomben did it. My mother never did it. But a lot of people made a lot of money out of it, you know, they employed people to do the washing and ironing and that. And of course the old Yanks had plenty of money. We couldn’t afford to pay people, like in the navy.
But they did and they created a lot of employment. You know where the, oh, you wouldn’t know, the original airport, that was where the Yanks were, like they had the airport there. And they used to run, like people complained about jets flying over them, you know. They used to run the engines down there twenty-four hours a day, day and night, it’s all you could hear. Like I heard it before I joined the navy because when I broke my leg the first time I had
off six months. I came home, like, I went to depot, when I came out I was in Rosemount Hospital, in Bowen Bridge Road. And they sent me down back to the depot and they said, “Oh, you might as well go home,” so I got a living at home allowance. Which suited, I give it all to my mother. And I’d be there and some days I’d get jack of being home, you know. And I knew a couple of blokes, I knew what pub
they’d be in so I’d get on the crutches and get on the tram and go into town and get off and go round and have a couple of beers, I couldn’t have any more than a couple of beers, because I was frightened of falling over. And the Yanks had Lennon’s Hotel. And I lived at Doomben and they called it Camp Doomben, Doomben racecourse, Camp Ascot and Camp Doomben. So instead of going home in a tram, I’d go round near the Lennon’s
Hotel on the old crutches in my sailor’s uniform and it always worked. “Hey buddy,” he said, “what happened?’ I said, “Oh, got a bad leg,” “Oh,” he said, “where you going?’ I said, “I’m,” I’d say to them “You going to Camp Doomben?’ he’d say, “Where you going?’ I said, “Camp Doomben.” “Okay,” he said, “this car’s going here, this guy’ll take you” and I’d get in the American staff car and away I’d go instead of riding on
a tram. But sometimes it didn’t work. And then when I did come home on the tram they’d all get up and I heard one Yank say, “Look at that poor young guy, he’s been wounded already.” But I didn’t let on I’d broke my leg playing football. Like, it wouldn’t have done a thing. So yeah, she was a, but it was a pretty boring life, I’d joined up, I wanted to get out there and get into that war. Like, it was no good sitting here with a broken leg.
What do you remember of when war actually broke out?
Well, I was up at the local grocer’s place. And they had a daughter my age and a boy. They had a boy and a girl and she was my age and she was my, the boy was my young brother’s age. And I used to work there. I used to deliver the afternoon paper, oh, not when I was, but when I was a kid. I used to deliver the afternoon paper and I’d weigh the potatoes and salt and sugar into bags and I’d get two shillings a week
plus any specked fruit, you know, fruit that was going off and broken bikkies. And I’d take them home and Mum would think it’s be great. And I’ll never forget because they were only one or two people in the street that had a wireless. And I was up there this day, I think I was seeing this girl, and we listened to the radio and it came on, see. Oh, so as soon as it was all
over I roared home and said to my parents, I said, “The war’s started, the war’s started.” And I went down to, there were some English people down the road and they had a wireless. Because we used to go to, the whole street would go to this house to listen to test cricket in England because nobody else had a wireless. And I went down, Mrs Edmonds was her name, I said, “Mrs Edmonds,” I said, “the war’s started,” “I know Charlie,” she said. And unfortunately her daughter’s husband finished up a
prisoner of war. And, he came back, and “Oh” she said, “the old country,” like those days, the people that had money, they always wanted to go home. You know, people would say, “Oh, I’d like to go home,” they’d never been near England their bloody life, like, they were Australians but they, that’s how the monarchy was those days. But she was English, she was, her and old Fred. And
he joined the volunteer defence force, that used to be, but their son-in-law, they only had the one girl and her husband finished up in Malaya. And yeah, it was odd, yeah, and I wondered, you know, and of course I told my father and he said, “Oh,” he said, “this is not good, boy,” like, you know, “I don’t like war,” he said. And I said, “Do you think it will last long?’ and he said, “Yes,” he said, “I think it’ll last years,”
he said, “because Germany’s been preparing so long for it.” But oh well, my big brother, his three mates joined the navy and he got knocked back, he was medically unfit and he was very, very disappointed about that. And that’s how he come to be on this, he joined the American merchant navy. They were taking people her and, but he only did three trips to New Guinea and back and then of course he got killed.
So then, like, you know, I went to work in the shipyards and I’m working on these ships and I see these sailors in this suits, like, and they’re going on, I thought, “This’ll do me, I’ll get into this.” But I had a lot of problems, it took me about nine months to get out, ten months, nine or ten months. First off my problem was my parents wouldn’t sign my papers and then I took a long while to get my apprenticeship annulled because I was, not annulled
but held over because it was a protected industry. So then I went down to Flinders and I enjoyed that. I’d never been out of Brisbane, the only time I’d been out of Brisbane, I went to Gayndah once on the train. I’d never been out of Brisbane. I didn’t know anything, I wasn’t worldly wise, or anything like that, you know, and my aunt, one of my aunts met me in Sydney. That’s the first and last time I ever saw her since then. And I spent the day in Sydney with them and then I went down to Flinders and then
get down there and you walk in the depot and they’re saying, “You’ll be sorry, you’ll be sorry,” everybody says this. Like, you know, I was saying it later on. “You’ll be sorry” and you get up there and you get your kit, you’ve got to go and get your kit and you go and get your kit and you come back and you lay it all out and “Gees, how am I going to wear this? How am I going to put this on?” you know, jacket and you put the trousers, the old jacket, you know, you had an idea and then the shirt had to go under that and
then your lanyard and your silk. I haven’t got any of these things now. And these bloody big boots you had, and they wrapped all your clothes up and sent them home to your parents. Like, all your clothes. Now the next morning, that’s when they start barking at you. And away you go and you get all the needles, you get lined up for sick bay and you get a needle for this and a needle for that and a needle for that and then I think they give us the afternoon off because we were all crook like
anything. Never had a needle in my life. And then right, the next, we had the afternoon off and the next day, half past six in comes this petty officer. Oh, and he was this fellow I was talking about before, he was build like a ram rod, straight like that. And when he marched, good marcher. And immaculate, his clothes were immaculate, you know. “All out, all out” you know, and
one bloke said, “Gee I’ve never been up this time in my life before” and he said, “Well you’d better get used to it.” Out we go, in the shorts and a shirt, around the parade ground, running around the parade ground, half past six in the morning. Imagine, Flinders naval depot, what’s it, forty mile out of Melbourne. Round and round we go “Righto,” that’s half an hour, that’s over. Get back, have a shower and get changed, go to breakfast. Eight o’clock, yeah,
the old bugle goes and you get out in front of the, I was in C block. And there’s hundreds of them, there’s all these recruits and there’s all these fellows doing gunnery courses, torpedo courses and stokers and they’re all lined up there and the band’s there playing. And then the band started playing, we all marched down to where you’re going to go, I think the first day we went down to the wharf to learn how to pull a whaler. Like, a whaler’s the lifeboat on a ship.
And we get down and we get in the water and we’re pulling away and pull away and about half a day there. What did we do then? Oh, then we started doing some drills then, we started the drill work, you know. We did that for a fortnight straight. Eight o’clock in the morning to midnight, midday and one o’clock to four o’clock in the afternoon. And you, if you misbehaved you had to do another two hours extra work for it, you know, so nobody misbehaved.
And we had a fellow in our class, I was in class fifty, in February ’43. And this petty officer, he was a good fellow, you know. And we had a fellow in our class, Keith Niddrie, I’ll always remember him, he was from South Australia and he had two left feet. Heard of that? Two left feet? He couldn’t march. He could not march. And this petty officer, he had a big stick there
and he put it down on the ground, he said, “Niddrie, out the front.” Poor old Keith would get out the front. He’d put one foot there and one foot here, “Now,” he’d say, “you take this foot and put it up there,” and old Keith would put it up there and then he’d increase the tempo a little bit and the poor old bugger, like, we were all standing there and we weren’t, felt sorry for him. But you know, recruits course was three months, see, he never ever learnt to march in three months. Impossible for him.
And so then after, we still, we drilled more or less all the time and then they’d take you down to PT [Physical Training] school, see. And how many of us would’ve down PT. And the bloody rope there, tied right at the top of the tower and “Up you go” he’d say, everybody of course not only me, “Up you go.” “Righto.” I got up there and I come straight down. And oh, they used to bark like anything, these petty officers. They wore white T-shirts with a
little blue collar and they had crossed dumbbells in here, see, and they were gods. When they were in that PT school, they were gods. He said, “What are you doing down here?’ I said, “I went up and come down,” he said, “Get up there again,” he said, “Stay up there until I tell you come down.” I’m up there and I’m hanging on by grim death in the finish. I was up there about ten minutes. So about a fortnight later we were down there and he says “Righto, up you go,” oh, we had to get up the rope and stay down, you know, stay up there
and we stayed up there. “Righto,” he said, “turn round and come down head first.” God, I’d never, I’d fall, like you know, and here am I thinking “If I come down here I’d better be, I’ll hit my head on the wooden floor.” We all got down eventually. And then the petty officer come round one day and he said, “We’re going swimming today.” “Going swimming today,” “Oh, good” we thought, see. And no indoor pools them days, they had an outdoor pool with
the salt, seawater. We get down there and we had duck suits for working in, duck suits. And we all, he comes up the block and we’re all there in shorts and shirt and “What’s this?’ he said, “Oh,” I said, “we’re all going swimming. Swimming in shorts,” ‘No you don’t,” he says, “put the duck suit on.” Get down the pool in this bloody duck suit.
And I smartied up see, I got, towards the end I’m tipping up and down, we had to swim two-thirds of it and then tread water for five minutes. And I smartied up, I’m jumping up and down on my toes, see, I’m thinking I’m smart and he woke up to it. “Get out in the middle,” he said, “All you fellows there,” he said, “out in the middle.” And we couldn’t tiptoe on the bottom, we had to tread water properly. So “Righto, up the other end,” see, we go up the other end, “Yeah,
you passed your swimming test.” And some of them couldn’t swim, a lot of them, a lot of sailors can’t swim. A lot of sailors, you know, you’d be surprised how many sailors can’t swim. So that was our swimming, so back we go and we get changed into old, and we’re in these blue suits all the time, you know. And back on the parade ground, then they take us to the gunnery school and it was hopeless, we were hopeless,
you know, they’ve got these guns, laying them and traying them and loading them, you know. And they were fifty-six pound prodgies they had to lift up and lay and throw in the barrel, close the breach and all that. I learned all about it later on. And then if you played up, you know, you got cheeky or something, he’d give you one of these shells, say, “Righto, up the other end of the field and come back.” And gees, it used to kill you, nearly killed you.
You’d have to go about five hundred yards up with this fifty-six pound prodgie, nursing it like a baby. And get up there and you knew we had to turn round and come back again. He said, “What do you think of that?’ I said, “I don’t think too much of that, sir.” Had to call them sir. He said, “Well you know to behave yourself in future,” I was getting cheeky then, I was in the navy, what, two and a half months, getting a bit cheeky. But I soon learned to forget all
about that. So then, and they had a wet canteen in Flinders and only the old sailors could go in there, like no recruits. Used to me Murphy’s Bar, they called it, Murphy’s. And it was terrible beer. And another fellow said, “Listen, I’ve got a mate here,” he said, “he’s an old sailor” and he said, “If we go over to the canteen tonight,” he said, “We’ll get a beer,” you see. I’d probably only had about six beers
in my life before then with a bit of bravado I thought, “Oh yeah.” So away we go, see, and this fellow brings out a beer and just as he gives it and walks back in, we’re sitting here like in the dark with this glass of beer and a fellow come along and took them both off us. And he was a two badge, that meant that he’d been in the navy for over eight years and they were gods too. And he said, “What are you doing here?’, and I said, “Oh, having a beer,” he said, “You’re not allowed drink. You’re in recruit school, aren’t you?’ and
we said, “Yes sir.” We called him sir, we called everybody sir. “Yes sir, yes sir,” he said, “You’re not allowed beer,” he said, “I’ll confiscate them” and I think he drunk them. Anyway, he walked away with them, and he said, “And you get back to the blocks,” he said, “or I’ll report you.” So that was the finish of the drinking at Murphy’s. So then it was time to go and we finished our course. Three months. And they drafted me to Brisbane to await a ship. They went to Melbourne then went to Adelaide and then went
to Perth they’re like ship to shore or someone the sent them in here and they sent them, see. So that’s when I broke my leg playing for North’s. Oh, that was it. But it was a very hard life, but they were very fair, you know. They were very, oh, I suppose they got worse than that in the pre-war days, like, you know, they got worse than that. But it didn’t do us any harm, all the discipline, but you know, they couldn’t do it today. Let’s face it, they couldn’t do
it today I think. You’d get, I can remember when I was on the Cootamundra it was my turn as mess deck. You know, when you’d come off watch at eight you’d have breakfast and if it was your turn for mess cook.
Interviewee: Charles Hile Archive ID 1605 Tape 04
Charlie, we’ll just talk a little bit more about when the war actually broke out, you would’ve been about fourteen?
Were you, at that time were you wishing that you were old enough to enlist?
Not really, not really, no, I wasn’t wishing I was old enough. That didn’t come till I started working and saw them sailors in them uniforms. No, at, I didn’t wish that but we didn’t have much activity round where I was. Like in my
area, like out at Gaythorne and Enoggera, that’s where all the army camps were. And the navy was down in the bottom end of George Street where the new parliament house is. And, I suppose you realise that you were too young and you wouldn’t, but, the only way you’d get in was if you altered your age but my parents, well, they wouldn’t let me go when I was right on seventeen. But we used to, oh, I suppose you’d go round
no doubt and you could see these soldiers. Every now and then the army would march through Brisbane. But that was only a recruiting drive, you know, to and they all looked funny, some of them wouldn’t have been in the army very long and all their uniforms were a bit daggy and things like that. And we didn’t see many of them. I’d say the people that we were more or less mixed with were Americans because they took over Ascot racecourse
and they took over Doomben racecourse. Well, in Doomben you’d see these army trucks going round everywhere and all the Yanks walking around everywhere. I suppose we were more used to American servicemen at that, in that particular area than we were to our own. Although this cousin of mine from Herberton, he called in a couple, before he went over to the Middle East. And I didn’t see him again till well after the war. I did see him once but that was when I was in the navy.
But, you know, it was really away from us and well, lets face it, if you wanted to hear about the war you had to go up to one or two places in the street and listen to the radio because my parents couldn’t afford to buy a newspaper. They were only threepence but they couldn’t afford to buy a newspaper everyday. And this English lady, Mrs Edmonds, we’d get everything off her because she lived over the road. And then
gradually, like, as my father started getting more work, you know, we started getting papers then. But otherwise it was just what other people told us.
Do you remember Brisbane changing much when the war started?
Do you remember Brisbane changing much?
Oh yeah, they used to have all, they had air, they started putting in air raid shelters. They were all in Queen Street and Elizabeth Street and Adelaide Street, they had all big water mains all down one side of the street
for seawater from the Brisbane River. As a matter of fact, there was an air raid shelter at the fig tree, you know, down at Creek Street, it was there for many, it was still there in the 50’s, I think. The air raid shelter. There’s still probably a couple of air raid shelters around the track. And we, you know, they started having blackouts and things like that, you know, going to, they had air raid wardens and then they had practice blackouts. And of course when they bombed Darwin, they really got into them then, about you know,
the safety of the city. And all the cars had little headlight covers and they were made out of galvanised iron. And they had a little slot about an inch wide where the light would come through. And then as the petrol situation, the rationing, you know, then they put gas burners on the back of the cars with coke. Yeah
see, and they, this car going along and they’d have these big, the taxis would have these big gas burners on the back with coke to get this thing, like and then a lot of them started on petrol and run them on kerosene. The cars, if they want to go, but they had these big burners and they reckon these little headlamps, these little covers over them. They’d be about an inch wide, the little gap that you’d look at, that the light would come out.
And even all the American trucks driving around Doomben and Ascot, they had them. Every car, if they wanted to be on the road, they had them. And of course they commandeered a lot of cars, they commandeered a lot of cars. A lot of boats they commandeered, like I know my, this friend of my father’s he used to go out, he had a forty-five footer called the [SS] Moruya and they commandeered it. And other boats. They commandeered
the [SS] Cooper. Now the Cooper was a pleasure boat that ran between Brisbane and Bribie Island. The Cooper and the [SS] Doomba. Now the navy got hold of both them. But pre-war days the Cooper, that was the big occasion, go to Bribie on the, well, I never went to Bribie on the Cooper because we couldn’t afford the money to get into town to get on the Cooper. That was the big outcome,
you know, big day out if you had the money to go on the Cooper or the Doomba go down, and they used to leave Brisbane, call into Redcliffe and then go to Bribie [Island] on the Cooper. So the navy took the Cooper, they took the Doomba and they took a lot of other ships too but they’re the, this Dave Brough, it’s a beautiful boat. Forty-five footer and they took it, the Moruya. As well as others. And
If your boat or car got commandeered, did you get any compensation or they just took it?
Oh, I don’t know, I
wasn’t in that then, they just took them. You know, for the national well-being. And of course, a lot of people couldn’t afford to run their cars, see, if they had a big car, like the old Yanks run cars, plenty of cars. But a lot of people sort of, oh, I suppose they forfeited them, you know, they gave them to them because what was the good of them. They couldn’t get petrol, what’s the good of having a car. I know the old fellow next door to me, he had an old Huptmobile and he couldn’t run it, it had steel wheels. No spokes,
all steel wheels on this Huffmobile. God, I wish I had it today, it’d be worth a lot of money today. And no they, a lot of them put their cars up on blocks, see, because you couldn’t, you had to have special, I know that Joan was on a farm then outside of Toowoomba and her father wanted a set of tyres for their car, being country people. And he had to get onto the local
member and had to go through Canberra so that he could get a set of tyres for the car. Like it was, the farmers of course they were, they could get it probably a lot better than the city because they were so isolated and they were doing, they were feeding the nation. But a lot of people, they just put them up on blocks until the war finished or their, a lot of them, their cars they took them, they give them to them. Like, what the hell, they didn’t want them, what’s the good of it. And not too many people had cars, I might add. And
those were the days you could park in Queen Street all day and nobody would do anything about it. And, but rationing I suppose was hard for people, well for everybody but more so for people with young children. Like, it was different for me, I was working. But I didn’t get much pocket money, like I, those days, most of the boys of my age used to give their parents all their money, like they’d, I think I got my tram fare.
If I wasn’t riding a bike I’d get, and you could buy a weekly then for six shillings to go, I’d get off at the Customs House and I’d get the ferry across, it was a penny on the ferry. And come back and get the ferry across, another penny and get on the tram and that was, what did that cost me? That was one and tuppence a week for the ferry and six shillings for the, because I had to pay adult fare. And God help you if you sat
on someone’s seat on the tram of a morning when all them working people were going to work. A bloke threw me out of them one day, “Get out of here,” he said, “I’ve been sitting here for ten years.” I thought, “Oh, well,” those days you couldn’t say anything. I didn’t want to be too cheeky, he’d probably hit me. And so I learned, you know, not to sit on someone’s seat. But you know, we, what could we do, we had nowhere to go, you go to the pictures, you couldn’t go to the pub. Well you weren’t game, you weren’t allowed
anyhow. Like those days, if your parents said, “You’re not going to go near the pub,” you didn’t go near the pub but we’d go to the pictures, well, the pictures were only sixpence.
Can you tell us some more about the air raid shelters?
Oh, the air raid shelters, they were big concrete structures and they had a lot in the city, they had a lot in the city. And people in the suburbs built their own. Like, I can remember we had one
two doors from us, my father, of course he was pretty good on the pick and shovel. And they all, well, the people in the street went there and there was a fairly big block of ground and I suppose about twelve people could get in it. And if need be they could all get down in the air raid shelter and stay there while the air raid went. But in the city of Brisbane itself, there was a lot of air raid shelters. Well, there had to be because there was that many people working in the city, whereas the suburbs, like if it was the day time, if you had a raid during the day, well,
most of the men would be away working. It’d only be the, the kids would be at school. And we used to have air raid drill, like, we didn’t but they did it, used to have air raid drill at school. But they were quite big, oh, they’d be, oh, twenty-five foot long and about ten foot high and twelve foot wide and built out of concrete. They had quite a lot of, around Brisbane,
well, they had to have them, as I said they had to have them because most of the people were in there. And blackouts of a night time. But, you know, as the war wore on things got a bit tougher, and you know, and there weren’t a great lot of, naturally, there weren’t a great lot of young men around there. A lot of older men, they did,
worked a lot longer than what they should’ve. But, and then the younger people, but of course that’s people like me but unless they were in a protected industry they just joined up. Like that’s the natural thing to do, those days, for King and Country, but you wouldn’t get that sentiment today. And I suppose out of these eighteen where I was working, there was only five of us left. Joined the navy, we all joined the navy, five of us, over a period of time,
like two went before me then I went and another couple went afterwards. But that was the only five out of that, about that eighteen that was there. So, yeah, they had the air raid shelters and they had these big water pipes. And it’s not that long, I suppose, oh, thirty years, forty years, that they got rid of those water pipes. Sometimes you think, you know, the way, why they didn’t leave them there. They were huge pipes, they’d be oh, twelve or fourteen inches in
diameter. All steel, like big water pipes and they’d run up and they used to be in Elizabeth Street, King Street, I think, Adelaide, all the main streets had them, you know. And they had big air raid shelters up in Albert Park, up the top of Albert Street. And that’s where the Yanks had their officer’s club up there. They, the city council had a building up there and the Yanks took it for their officer’s club. And they took over Stuart Home for a hospital.
Stuart Home was the hospital, now we’ve got a granddaughter there. And where else did they take, well, they took everything they could, anyhow.
Did you ever see much animosity towards the Yanks?
Not a great deal, it was there but it didn’t surface much a lot. Oh, they, a bloke I knew in the navy, he got shot by a Yank in a club on George Street. There was a bit of a fisticuffs and he went away and came back with a fistful and shot him. And they
named a street after him in Ascot. Noel Dibby. He was an old sailor, like, he was about twenty-two. And there was a lot of animosity at times like, especially when the fellows come back from the Middle East because, I don’t know whether you’ve heard this expression, the Yanks, they’re over here, they’re overpaid and they’re oversexed. See, and they had plenty of money, like money, the American dollar those days was. And they could get,
you know, as far as the girls, they’d get nylon stockings, they’d get chocolates and they’d get cigarettes and everything, like all the money, what our fellows couldn’t afford. Well, but that didn’t stop our fellows from getting girlfriends and marrying them and girls like that, but there was a big blue in Adelaide Street, I don’t know whether you’ve heard about it. There was a big stink in Adelaide Street one night. There was a big, oh a huge brawl, it covered two blocks and it was started by Yanks.
Well I suppose our blokes helped it too. And something happened, they were going to the, they’d been drinking in the pub, I don’t know whether I got this right. They were drinking in the pub and they went up to the American canteen. The American canteen was on the corner of, it was Eager’s show when they took it over, on the corner of Creek Street and Adelaide Street. Opposite where Qantas is now, you know there? That was the American canteen, get in there, you know.
Anyhow one thing led to another and the MPs come and a shot was fired, a bloke got killed, one of our blokes. And then it was on for young and old. I think that was in 1943. And they were, blocks and blocks, Queen Street, Adelaide Street up to George Street, down to Wharf Street, it was all on. But then after that they sort of segregated them a lot, you know, made a,
segregated them to make sure they wouldn’t mix a great lot. Because they all had their pubs, everybody had their pubs. Like, some pubs would only favour the Yanks, you know, because they were the big spenders and they’d leave all the money and the old, we was called tight wads, like, you know. And a lot of publicans favoured the Australians and this caused a bit of resentment, you know, especially a bloke would walk into a pub, an Australian soldier. Mainly
soldiers because most of the sailors were away, like, you know. And there weren’t that many sailors compared with the amount of soldiers. And you’d go into a pub, see, and the barmaid would be serving the Yanks and of course they’d get up them, you know, “What about me, what about me?” And it was like, it was a real pig swill, you know, they were only on for a couple of hours, the grog was only on for a couple and you can imagine the pub would be full and they’re pushing and shoving and some bloke orders six and he can’t carry six to his mates,
spilling beer over them, oh, you know. I wasn’t in that. Because I was too frightened. And I always reckon a live coward’s better than a dead hero. And but, there was a lot of resentment then, you know, because the Yanks used to say, “We’re over here to win the war,” you know, and our poor buggers have been fighting over in the Middle East for about two and a half, three years, you know.
Well, 19, yeah, over two years, nearly, over two and a half years then. They went away in ’39 and the Yanks come in December ’41. Two years, and you know, they’re here to win the war. Old Homer and Elmer. And that caused a lot of resentment of course and they were winning all the hearts too. Well, that’s fair I suppose, if you’ve got all the goodies and no one, and you’ll win a heart before the bloke that’s got nothing. And they were better dressed
and they, to a certain extent, they were better treated than what our people were. But, by the same token they were, what would you call it, very harsh on their own troops. And the Negroes, oh, what do you call them, Afro-Americans I better say, I suppose, they weren’t allowed over the Victoria Bridge.
They had to stay over the other side of the river. And afro-Americans, they were mainly the truck drivers and the menial workers, they only did the menial work. And they couldn’t cross the Victoria Bridge. And they used to drink over there, there were some pretty tough, pretty crook pubs over there them days, there was the Palace and I think, oh, what was the other one, you wouldn’t walk in there with an armed escort. And
they’d have the MPs, like you know, and they used to treat them very harshly. They’d even treat their own, like they’re very cruel to their own servicemen. And they shot one bloke one night on the Victoria Bridge.
Well, he was trying to come into town so they shot him, they would get the, “Get the old forty-five out here,” boom. So that fixed him. But there was a lot of trouble over that too. But they were very cruel to
their own people. I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen From Here To Eternity. Frank Sinatra in it and that. It’s about jail in Pearl Harbour, like pre-war Pearl Harbour. Cruel, you know, sadistic they were to their own people, like especially these MPs. But they had good uniforms, see, they had nicely fitted uniforms and all the creases in them, they had the fitted caps and our poor old soldiers, they had the old daggy old uniform and that. But
that’s what caused all the dissention was that they big, of course, they’re well known for big mouthing off. They never (UNCLEAR) and you know, they were here to win the war, it took them a long time to come into it and when it, like, you know, and that’s what caused all the dissention. They were winning the girls’ hearts, I don’t suppose you can blame the girls, like the way they were treating them and that. And they were here, see, and our fellows
most of the young people were all away, they were away fighting. And of course when they came home on leave, but then I believe, where was another place? I think in Rockhampton they had a big stink in Rockhampton too. The old train goes through the main street of Rockhampton and one thing, I believe one thing led to another and these blokes going up north to go to New Guinea and the Yanks were there and they thought that was on in Townsville and Cairns, it used to be on there all the time. But
they had knives. Like they, we’d never heard of a knife attack or anything else like that. Never in our life, like, in my lifetime. Like, in my lifetime, getting on, you know, we never heard of that. And they have a tendency to provoke people by going round armed. You know, we as a nation, even today,
we’re not used to people walking round. Like, you see these police today, they’ve got more stuff on them than Dick Tracy. You know, we’re not used to that, we weren’t used to that those days. And I suppose America was a more cosmopolitan place like they were probably more advanced, they were more advanced than us in technology and way of life and all that. Like, we just led a nice peaceful life, you know, just a monarchist type of life, you know, sort of the
King and Queen as and, but I think that the navies of all, not because I’m a sailor but I think the navy got along better than the soldiers of any nation, you know. Although this was a Yank that sailors shot Dibby Wren like, he beat him in a fistfight and went away and got a gun and come back and killed him. What’s the name of the pub? Oh, the Lands office, I don’t think it’s there now,
the Lands office down in George Street. And that caused a bit of a stir. But.
Charlie, as the war progressed, what was the thing that made you decide to enlist?
Well, I’d had friends that had enlisted and people had got called up in the army and I thought, “Well bugger this, if I get called in,” although they couldn’t touch me in the protected industry but you never know.
And I thought, “I don’t want to be a soldier. I definitely don’t want to be a soldier and work,” like all these sailors like, “Oh, this is it, this is the life for me.” And I didn’t, well, I didn’t think I’d have the education to be in the air force because the air force is top tech, even in those days, you know. And I didn’t want to be in the air force and I didn’t want to be in the army with the idea of marching. And I thought, “Well the navy will do me” and I had done a bit of
sailing. But and, I had a couple of good friends that joined the navy and I, one of mine was, one of them was sunk on [HMAS] Canberra. He lived, he survived. And then another two of these friends of my brother’s were sunk on the Perth and they didn’t survive. Oh well, you know, if I’ve got to join up, well, I’ll join the navy. So that’s how it come about.
Before you had enlisted, the job you were doing was in a
Had you ever encountered any, we’ve heard a couple of stories of people being given white feathers and things like that?
Oh no, but it did happen, it did happen. I don’t know why, like people can’t help it, like me being on, I was talking about being on the Cootamundra, now say my war, Second World War, compared to Peter, you know, the Peter you talked to this morning, are totally different. Like, what he did and what I did but it just happened that this
ship you get sent to, now, I’ve got a very good friend of mine, he joined the army in 1939 and they sent him up to Cape York. He spent the whole war in Cape York, in the army. You know, it’s just the luck of the, no, they, the white, I’d say the white feather was more in the first war than the second war. But they were, you know,
there’d people that had a go at you but that’s life. There’s people like that, like it’s happened in World War II, it happened in Korea, it happened in Vietnam and, well, the blokes aren’t away long enough in the Gulf [Persian Gulf – Iraq Wars]. But you know, people abuse you, they abuse you, you get abused when you come back, you’ve been away and you come back and I had a bloke said to me, “You’ve been up there killing all them people,” like, you know, I said, “No I haven’t.” He said, “You’ve been firing guns
at them,” I said, “I know I have, but they’ve been firing at us too,” you know. And, but they’re in a minority, they are in a minority, like in, these Vietnam blokes they’re talking about getting spat at, everybody gets that. Like, I can remember when Darwin was bombed, the wharfies went on strike. The wharfies went on strike when Darwin was bombed and then the dockyard workers of Garden Island, they went on strike. And like and these fellows
later, these Vietnam blokes say, “They wouldn’t load the stores,” that happens in all wars. I just, and as far as being abused, that goes back the Sudan War, I meant to, I read a book recently and I just forget what they said but the whole, it’s about four lines in this thing. And these people come back from war in Sudan and they hadn’t fired a shot, they were Australian. The first thing, the war the Australians ever been in. And there was something, something and then about
they didn’t get their powder wet, those days it was the powder, you know. And they didn’t get their powder, well, that’s the same thing as, and that happened, what, 1860 or something like that. But no, the old white feathers, some people got them but I think they’d have to be sick people to send it. But you do get abused and, you know, that’s only a minority of people do that. Now, I know it’s got nothing to do
with my life story, but I know the [HMAS] Shropshire came down from New Guinea, big eight inch cruiser, all the battles, the Shropshire lands, and the dockies [dock worker]went on strike. The crane drivers went on strike on Garden Island. So Collins was the captain of the Shropshire and they were putting new barrels, eight inch barrels, they had eight inch turrets and they were putting new barrels in the A and B turret up the front, up the bows.
Because they’d been doing that much firing, the ream had gone, you know. So he just got a crew, they put a loudspeaker over there “Anyone drive a crane?’ “Yeah,” this fellow said, “I can drive a crane.” So he got a party together, about twelve blokes with rifles, took him down under guard, put him up in the crane and stood guard round the crane and they finished the job that way. Like, so you know, these,
and how long ago would that be, what, 1944, that’s sixty years ago that happened. So, you know, like people do that, they think that they’re doing that, like, they might think that they’ve got reasons to do it, you know. But, oh, it’s hard. Nobody knows what happens. When there’s a war on, nobody knows what’s going to happen,
you don’t know how people are going to act. Like, you know, even people on the ships you’re on, like, I was scared stiff on the Cootamundra, all the time I was on there. Especially after poor old Wong went over the side, well, he either fell over but I’ve got a pretty good idea he got thrown over. You know, and there was a fellow on there, he’d just spent two and a half years in the Mediterranean. They bought him home, he had three weeks’ leave and then
came, he was on the Cootamundra when I got there. And he was going round the bend. When we got to New Guinea after about six months he was going round the bend. And I wasn’t the only one who was scared, there was a couple of fellows on there and then another fellow, old Dook, they used to call him the Duke. You know, he was over on the Australia over in Dakar in 1939, like he was a pre-war sailor. And he was a wrestler too, he
was huge, he was a wrestler, like you know, come along thump you and you couldn’t do anything about it. And this other fellow, little fellow, he was fit, mad fitness fanatic. And I’m not exaggerating, one of the fellows on there he was writing a letter one day, and this fellow come up, he had a knife. Because your senior seamen had knives for cutting rope and that. We had an issue knife but that wouldn’t cut butter.
And this fellow’s writing a letter and going brrrrm with the knife alongside in his hand and then he’d say, he didn’t keep watches, this was the hard part about it, he didn’t keep watches. And he said to me, “I’ll get you one night, I’ll get you one night,” and here am I, I’m only having a couple of hours sleep in between watches, see. And I got that way that I couldn’t go to sleep, I’d come off watch at eight, and probably you’ve got to clean, when you come off
watch at eight, I forgot to, we had to clean up the mess deck for rounds. Then they’d through at rounds, see the mess decks were clean then you’d get back and you’d be up at quarter past eleven. And I’d watch this bloke called Heome actually, and I’d watch and watch and watch and think “Would he be asleep now?” and I thought I’d go off then. Like, sometimes I was that tired I wouldn’t worry about it. And he and this other fellow used to get on the folks and they’d spar, they were both good boxing and old Duke could wrestle too. And they’d spar like that and said, “Do you want to have a go?’ I’d say, “No, no, not for me,” and then he’d abuse you,
like, you know, gutless and whatever. Then one day, a fellow that, I wasn’t there, this fellow, I don’t know how he did it, he must’ve tied himself with it, he was pretty fit, and his head come through the porthole. And he had a knife in his mouth and his arms come through and he said, “I’m a pirate.” He was
going round the bend, you know, he was nearly off poor bugger. You know, “I’m a pirate,” and I tell you what I didn’t sleep that night. I didn’t sleep that night. But he didn’t keep night watch, he didn’t keep any watches, he was, he had a special job on board. Like, there was about three people on board didn’t keep night watch. Oh, and it was worrying, like, you know, he’d, either of them would thump you any time of the day or night when you were walking past and they’d have a go at you. What could you do? This Duke Neal he’d be about
oh, he’d be over twelve stone them days, like, you know, and built with it. And then he would go around the bend too. It was a terrible thing, like to watch them do it in the coxswain, he’s the chief on the ship, he’s the chief seaman on the ship and he was going round the bend. See, he’s like the sheriff on the ship and I was the after lookout one night and of course it rained all the time in New Guinea. And the decks would get wet and there’s little pools of water.
I could hear this bare feet going through water. And I’m lookout, after lookout. We had one on either side of the wing as a breach and one down aft, see, the lookouts. And this voice said, “How you going?” I nearly jumped over the side, it was the coxswain. He never had a stitch of clothes on, and he’d been paddling round. We got rid of him about three weeks later. And he’s
a bloke been in the navy long before the war, but it got him, same as this other, this Bobby. See, he’d been three years in the Med [Mediterranean] like and oh, they copped a hiding over there. You know, and they give him three weeks leave and put him up here. And he was all right when we were on the Darwin run but after about six months in New Guinea he started and this Duke started going round, like, you know. And we had another fellow, we used to call him Hickey because he had a lot of pimples. And he was on the Australia with this Duke over in Dakar. And he said, “You’ve got to watch old Duke,” he
said, “you’ve got to be careful how you handle him,” like you know. He said, “I think he’s going ‘round the bend’ [crazy],” well like I’m only eighteen, what nineteen by then, like and these blokes are old, they’re twenty-three and twenty-four. Oh it was, but luckily he didn’t do anything really, like you could be sitting there like that and he’d come and thump you in the arm, give you a whack across the head. And you were too scared to say anything like because, you know, they were the older seamen. But
it didn’t go on, a lot of things went on on different ships that didn’t go on on our ship. But you know, one bloke threw a hand grenade in a motorboat on one ship. Because he thought someone was in it. Threw a hand grenade in it. Just as well he wasn’t on the Cootamundra. But those days, like, I suppose we were young and innocent, like kids of eighteen, nineteen today, like they’d know better than that. It was just the environment that you grew up in.
How did you
get out of the reserved occupation for the old CMF [Citizens’ Military Force]?
Oh they sort of, what do you call, deferred my apprenticeship. See, when the war finished, I went back there, not for very long. And I would’ve been a fifth year apprentice then. Well, I would’ve been just out of my time so they paid me a plumber’s wages but they
didn’t, my firm didn’t pay me, the government did this to everybody that had been in the services, see. And after about a month I got a bit jack of this and I said, “Hey, when am in going to learn some plumbing,” I was still labouring. And they said, “Oh” he said, “you ex-servicemen are all the bloody same, like, you know, you come back here and you want the rest,” and I said, “Oh, okay.” So I give it another month and I went up again and asked
him and he put the same old story so I told him where he could go and I pulled plug. He didn’t worry about it then, so. Then I had a couple of other jobs and I thought, “This is no good to me,” and you know, I couldn’t see my family life improving any more so I went back in the navy.
When you first went to enlist though, was it
When you first went to enlist, was it hard to get permission to do it, being in a reserved occupation?
What to get out?
No, no, to leave the shipyard and join the navy.
Yeah, it was, it had to go through the
government. Had to go through the Commonwealth government, like they call it, wasn’t reserved, it was a protected industry they called it. The same thing but a protected industry. And you had to get the government’s permission for them to, they didn’t cancel your apprenticeship but they just put it to one side until, but a lot of people were affected like that. And as the war went on and more younger people went in, they found it harder and harder
to get out of protected industries. But it wasn’t only in the shipyards, it was on the wharves, truck driving, more or less every industry that was working for the war effort, like ammunition factories and things like that, it was a protected industry. But they got paid good money those days, well, they should, like a tradesman, fifty-six hours a week. But I had no regrets when I got out really
I suppose I was a bit pleased.
How did your parents react when you came home and said you wanted to enlist?
Oh, they wouldn’t sign the papers “I’m not signing the papers.” Not signing, that’s it, straight out. And my father said, “I don’t want you in a war,” he said, “I’ve been in one,” I said, “Well this’ll be different to yours,” because I’d read all about the First World War and I didn’t want to be in a war like that either. And my mother didn’t want me to go, she said, “I’ve already lost one son” and of course
lost the other bloke later on. How is that ringing?
Oh hang on. So how did you convince your parents to sign the papers?
Oh, I kept at them. At them, at them and at them. As a matter of fact, I told them that I’d go somewhere else and get my mail sent somewhere else, because my mate down the road was joining up too, see. And his mother had a different idea of life than what my mother did and I don’t suppose I can blame my father in a way, like, what he went through in the First World War, like,
that was horrendous. But anyhow, they eventually weakened and so that was why I didn’t join up till, I started off in what, in May 1942 and finished up in going in in February ‘43. Who knows, if I’d gone in in May ‘42, I might’ve been dead now, you never know.
Can you tell us about the actual day that you went to enlist? Where did you go to
Where did you go to enlist?
In Moreton, HMAS Moreton down in, QUT’s [Queensland University of Technology] there now. And I enlisted there and had to go and do a medical, had to go to the dentist. I don’t think I’d ever been to the dentist in my life and I went down, I had to get two teeth out. And I come home and I said, “I’ve got to get two teeth out or they won’t take me.” So I went and got these two teeth out
and I went down there and one of the tests was an eye test and they had this book, I’ll never forget it. They had this book with all these little coloured dots in it and in these dots they had numbers, you ever see them? And they had numbers in them and by gees they’re hard to read. So I got through all that and I got through the medical and they said, “Righto, we’ll let you know,” so they let me know and I got down to Moreton and we got over to South Brisbane station, oh, we must’ve looked a sight. We marched from
Moreton across, there was about sixty of us. We marched from Moreton across Victoria, up Queen Street, oh, big fellows going, you know, like, and we got over to South Brisbane, my parents were there, and like every other’s parents and away we went. And that was it, down to Flinders. Oh dear. We had the day, as I said before, we had the day in Sydney and
we had to change trains at Albury and you got, walked the platform, so then we got to Flinders. That was a revelation, Flinders, all these fellows singing out, “You’ll be sorry, you’ll be sorry.” They’d probably only been in the navy a week themselves. But you could tell the people who had been in the Middle East or been in England. They were big noting themselves like, so would’ve I, I suppose, and they had black caps. They had black caps in England
for the, you know, for war time where the, wouldn’t show so much. And these fellows were getting round Flinders, and oh, they were real old sailors, some would be twenty-two I suppose. But we said them people, like, when I joined up I thought someone, well, most of us would’ve, twenty-eight, they were old, real old. Like, twenty-eight, gees, by God they’d be old. But oh, no, it was a revelation. My parents didn’t
want me to go and I wanted to go and I suppose more so they felt it, like when my elder brother’s killed on the, 23rd of March I joined up and the 28th of March my elder brother was killed in New Guinea. So I suppose that they really felt it then, they really would’ve felt it when I come up for that week. Probably, you know, in hindsight I should’ve stayed at Flinders. You know, okay? Good.
Interviewee: Charles Hile Archive ID 1605 Tape 05
Actually you were just telling us about being posted to your first ship.
Yeah. We had to train from Brisbane to Darwin overland. Yeah. It was a good trip but you wonder what hits you when you first, like, it’s like everything else, even a job or something like, you know, especially when you’re an ordinary seaman. Everybody you’ve got to, you still can’t forget to call everyone sir but I was lucky with this particular
chap that took me in and showed me the ropes and that.
How does the, the process with sea daddies, how does that work?
Well, they watch all the, well, they didn’t’ have that much to watch but they watch all the new recruits when they come on. They have a look at them and if they’re not going too well an old sailor will help him along, like you know, guide him on the way a bit. It’s, you know, they, you don’t have to do their dobing or things like that for them but they
sort of gravitate to you and see that you’re on the right track and make sure you’re doing the right thing. Because everybody’s got to learn no matter what part of life they’re in and these fellows, they sort of take you under their wing until you know the ropes and that’s it. They’re wonderful people and they’re nearly always senior able seaman that do this or whatever branch you’re in, you know, they help you immensely.
Is there a dark side to any of the
No, no, no. They were only there just, it’s mainly in work time, you know, that say you could go up on the fo’c’sle and you’re dropping the anchor so he’d explain what happens next and what we do when we drop the anchor. “Knock the pin out of this jackal,” and away goes the anchor and how it’s marked. All the depths are marked on the anchor cable and, well, I was always
fo’c’sle part of ship. And when you haul it in, you know, different things and sometimes we had to drop a buoy with the anchor, in case we had to get, scoot through in a hurry and just break the shackle and leave the anchor there and come back some other time where the buoy was and retrieve the anchor. If it was water that was, the anchor was retrievable. And, but that’s all they were there. They call them sea daddies but there was nothing else, it was only
helping you with your work, that’s all.
And what position, action position did you have on the ship?
I was a seaman. I started off as an ordinary seaman, second-class. You can’t get any lower than that. And I was an ordinary seaman then after a while, I think it was about six months, eight months, I sat for my exam under the chief bosun’s mate and he said
“You’re passed for an AB.” So I become an able seaman then, I was big time then. And, you know, once you become an AB and you’re like sort of more accepted then than what you are as an ordinary seaman. Like, you all have, no matter where you are in life, you all have your station. Then I was a loader on the main armament, we had a four-inch gun on the fo’c’sle and I was a loader on that. And every time we’d come in,
in and out of harbour we had sea duties, whatever part of the ship you worked in, that’s where you were when you come into harbour and put the lines on. But we normally anchored, we rarely went along side wharves. We did, we used to in Finschhafen. We’d go into Finschhafen and we’d get water. We’d go alongside the wharf to get that and sometimes there’d be a ship in there, an American ship. And we’d have to berth on the outside of whatever
ship was on the wharf and get out water that way. And sometimes we’d, if they were unloading stores, American stores, we used to drop the motor boat before we got right up to this American ship. And the motor boat would sneak under the wharf and we’d have a look at what was in the boxes, these cases of foodstuff and we’d give her a nudge or a little kick and they hit the water and the boats close
there to pick it up. As long as it was tinned food, tinned stuff, pretty heavy, like they had to get it straight away and they’d pick it up and put it in there. And other times I’ve seen us in Finschhafen jump onto trucks and throw stuff off because, like the old Yanks, they got better tucker than us. And oddly, the times we did get meat off them it was first class Australian meat. Was the old, in those days they had the blue, the
red and the yellow. And we were getting red and they were getting yellow. And, once we were, another time when we were in Finschhafen we wanted some stretchers to sleep on the upper deck with. Because it was that hot at night, get out of where I was sleeping but a lot of them used to put our, sleep on the upper deck. So we wanted to go ashore and get some stretchers, so we got a couple of bottles of beer and we knew where this big stretcher place was, where they had all these stretchers
and other supplies and we’d give the Yank a hot bottle of beer and we got our stretchers. Then we just, no one’s supposed to go in but after a hot bottle of beer it was all right, we went in and we got a stretcher. There was six of us, we got a stretcher each. But they were a bit of a nuisance when it rained, you had to roll your hammock up and then your bedding up and you had to fold the stretcher up and get rid of that. But, oh, no, we used to do different things like that. But when you’re up in the, like, on your part of the ship
your action station was really where you worked. Like, if we had to do a bombardment, all of a sudden we were going onshore to do a bombardment, you’re working in that area. Or, if you’re cruising along and they get an air raid thing, well, the fellows who were up on B deck, or something, we called it B deck, like, where all the anti-aircraft guns were, they’d be working round that area, where the boats were and that. And down aft, but we had the depth
charges on the stern and the seamen didn’t, well, the seamen torpedo men handled the depth charges. But we didn’t have anything to do with them, well, I didn’t because I was up on the fo’c’sle. But they were just a special crew, seamen torpedo men. If they’d have been on a big ship they’d have been looking after torpedoes as well as the, destroyers as the depth charges but on there they looked after the depth charges. And as I said before, they give a bit of a ‘wang’ when they go off, I tell you for the first time. Yeah, they shoot
out in the air, they don’t because they’re all obsolete today. But oh no, it was pretty hard work a lot of the times but we didn’t have the discipline that they had on the big ships. You know, on the cruisers and that you had to wear caps all the time and when the captain went past you had to stand to attention. We never did that. We weren’t that, like there was, they were built for eighty-seven,
that’s the maximum, eighty-seven. I think we had ninety-seven and I know of one had a hundred and twelve, it was a survey ship. Of course with all the survey gear and like, it was really packed out. We were pretty well packed out but we had ten or twelve over than what we should.
Can you explain to us this, the relationship the sailors have with their ships?
Yeah, they love them. Like it’s your home, see, it’s your home. And a funny thing, like, you could be
up on watch, say you’re a lookout and you only did an hour on and an hour off. Like you did an hour lookout then you go down on your part of ship and relieve some fellow, he might be chipping the deck or doing a bit of painting, and he’d go up and do the hour and you’d change over later on the whole ship. Or you might do an hour lookout, an hour on the wheel. Normally on a watch there was, you were on the wheel, two of you just did the wheel you didn’t do any lookout, you’d have an hour on and an hour off. And I think, you know, it’s your home.
That’s where you’re living, like, that’s why you feel that way about it. And then it’s a funny thing that you could be lookout and peering out to sea all the time looking for different, in case anything pops up and then when you, say you’re on the afternoon watch and come off at four o’clock and have a smoko and you go out on the upper deck and all you’re doing, you’re looking at the water again. Like it’s a madness, you know, even now, like all these years later I go and look at the water. We went to,
where was it, recently we went to Yeppoon I think, somewhere there and I went and had a look at the water and other times I went down the coast and having a look. Always go and have a look at the water. You know, I think it’s just something that you never forget. But you get, well, there are some ships you like and some ships you don’t like. But that’s got to do with the ship’s company, it’s like every other part of life. If you work with a crew you thinks a pretty crook crew, well,
you don’t seem to like it and then, but, those days the ship’s companies never changed very much. You know, now, I joined it in March ’44 and the next fellow to come on was in 1945. I just can’t remember what time, but, and then another fellow come on in July ’45. And that’s, and I didn’t leave the ship until 1946. And that was the sole change over of the crew yet others, other ships come in that had been over in the Middle East, the corvettes, those were over there and Colombo and them places, when they come back to Brisbane, back to Sydney or wherever they, yeah, Sydney or Perth they changed, practically changed the whole crew over.
And then they’d go on leave, they might do and do courses, go on leave and then they’d do courses and then they’d get drafted to someone else, it might be another ship. They might even go back to the one they come off. But I stayed on there, we finished in Melbourne, oh, I suppose in November, December. We, after we took the occupation troops down to Ambon,
we had a couple of days with them, we came back and then we towed a boat, one of these boats that had been requisitioned, it belonged to Arnott’s biscuit people. We towed it all the way back to Sydney, which wasn’t such a hot job. But, oh, no, you get to like the ship you’re on and mainly because of the ship company, the people you’re working with. Some ships you didn’t like. I only ever found one I didn’t like but
it might’ve been me. But that was later on in life. But I think, you know, everybody, you get so used to it and you’re in such a confined space.
Can you tell us about your position on the gun?
I was a loader, a gun loader. They had a layer and a trainer. The trainer wheels her around, the layer puts the barrel up and down. And you have a captain of the gun and when we’d load the produce in, the shells, we used to call them produce, better say
shells. You lay the shells in, he slams the breach shut and he fires them. So there’s three really got the top job on the gun, on a single four-inch. And there’s four of us loading and you’ve got ready use ammunition, like, it’s just there, about six foot away from you. And then others come up from down below. But you’ve got to have the ready use lockers there to get cracking straight away and then just pick them up, throw them in the breach and push them in and
step back and he closes the breach, pulls the button, presses the old doodah and away she goes. And then the next bloke. So that’s continual, you’re just walking around, you pick up a shell, throw it in, get round and back the other fellow, it’s just a rotation of firing like that.
How many rounds per minute could you fire?
Oh, I’m not quite sure now. I think about, you’d probably, at the top you’d get twelve.
Like you’ve got you realise, you’ve got to pick it up, push it in, let him close the breach. But as soon as he closes the breach and it fires, it pops out the back and you’ve got to get out of the road of that. And then the other, he’s standing at this side see, and it comes straight and he’s, as it’s out another one’s going in. You can do twelve, I suppose, good ones. You might do a little bit more but.
And what happens to the empty cartridge cases?
Oh, give them the deep six.
You’re not supposed to, we did, kick them over the side. I’ll tell you another story about that later. But we were, we never worried about saving them, like, you’d fall over. You could go over the side if you fell over the side, if you fell over one of them you could scoot, probably the guardrails would hold you but on some ships you had to drop the guardrails to fire. Like to get down, to get the depression on the gun to where you get into where you wanted to put them you had to drop the guardrails down.
But oh no, they just write off, kick them over the side. If they got in the road you’d kick them over the side. But you know, we more or less, we weren’t like the big ships, you know, bombarding shorelines for troops to go ashore. We’d go and, you know, the army would get hold of you and they’d want a bit of help. And like, a four-inch gun can do a lot more than a mortar or something and we’d just go in
these little places. More or less the backwash of places and you know, the main fighting would be well ahead here. And just go in and support them. So make it easier for them, you know. You get some four inch shells lobbing in amongst you, you know its. But then we had Oerlikons, like, when we had a couple of air raids, you know, we had Oerlikons. One air raid, we were in to Morotai, wouldn’t let us use the four inch,
like the four-inch was a dual purpose, anti-aircraft and surface and they wouldn’t let us use the four-inch, I don’t know why. But we could use the Oerlikons.
Once you were in a certain position on the gun, like, when you were a loader was there the opportunity to advance, to become a layer?
No, no, no, you were just a loader. Well, I wasn’t in it really long enough. Then later on I did and you could become a gun layer, you could become a trainer or you could become captain of the gun, they
used to, the fellows used to close the breach was called the captain of the gun. He was a quarters rating, quarters rating and the trainer and the gun layer, they, in my day, early days, they called them gun layers, they don’t call them that now. Well, they don’t have them now. And you’d do a course and you’d be an LR3 [Gun Layer Third Grade] or an LR2 [Gun Layer Second Grade] or an LR1 [Gun Layer First Grade], same as the anti-aircraft, you’d be AA3 [Anti Aircraft 3 Grade], AA2 [Anti Aircraft Second Grade], AA1
and QR1 [Quarters Rating First Grade], two and three, like that. But the layer, the trainer and the captain of the gun, they have the main jobs on the gun. Anybody could load a gun, well, seamen, they always used seamen, they didn’t, like the supply assistants and the store people, they were in the branch, miscellaneous branch. Sick bay, supply assistants, they were, the cooks and stewards, they were miscellaneous. Well,
on a lot of ships they were down the magazines, like, they were sending, or the sick bay. Sick bay bloke would be, he might have a couple of stewards with him and a medical party. But a lot of supply assistants and cooks, they were down the magazines sending the shells up, because you couldn’t keep that many on the upper deck and they’d send them up.
So when you’re not on duty, you’re not on guns, you’re not sleeping, what do you get up to?
Oh, just sit around and play cards,
write letters. Nothing much. Like, there’s not much else to do, like, there’s nothing, like, you’ve seen all there is outside, you know. But you still go out there and sit up on the fo’c’sle and have a look around and watch, we used to watch the flying fish. See how far they’d go, you know, this one would go further than the other one and that. And the fellows that used to sleep down in the waste of the ship going towards the stern they, sometimes, you know, they’d come in
board and wake them up at night. And when you’re the bosun’s mate on a ship, always a seaman, it was your duty to go and wake the people for the next watch. And you couldn’t shake the officers. You couldn’t touch the officers. You could go and shake the blokes in the hammock, thump their hammock and say, “Righto, it’s time to wake up,” but when you went to the officers, you had to be nice and gentle and say, “Excuse me sir, it’s quarter to” or, nearly
always quarter to would give them time to get up and get dressed and that but anyone else you could give them a thumping. And if you were a bosun’s yeoman, when, on my ship anyhow, you had to pump the water tank up before you come off watch, see. And you get out in the, it was in the starboard waste and you get on this pump, some ships had electrical but on this we were man-draulic [manpower]. And you’d be pumping away and pumping away and then you’d,
and the overflow, it would come down you’d hear it going and down through the scuttles, like you know, and this particular night I’m pumping and I’m pumping and I’m not getting anywhere. And I thought, “Bugger this,” so I go round the bathroom and we had always had good bathrooms on there, no matter how small a ship it was they were good bathrooms. And here’s two stokers having a shower, like, they’d come off watch, they’re dirty greasy and they’re having a shower and I’m out here pumping up the old water, pumping it up. Anyhow,
when they finished it didn’t take long to pump it up then. But that was at night time, you only did it at night. The stokers did it at daytime but not at night. You know, stokers were in a different mess to us. The stokers had their own mess, the seamen had their own mess, the miscellaneous had their own mess and the communications people, signalmen, wireless and I think the radar too, I’m not sure, radar,
anti-submarine, they were down with the communicators, the anti-submarine people. But we had our own mess decks, but the bathrooms were quite good on there. Like for the size of the ship. I’ve been on other ships and they’re not that good. And we had good cooks, really good cooks. And the size of the galley on a corvette is a lot bigger,
not a great lot bigger but it’s better laid out than on a Q class destroyer. So, and we had, always had bread, good bread. A lot of times you didn’t eat too well but everybody wasn’t eating too well either, you know. We’d either get served red, what we called red, lead and bacon, or yippee bean, I won’t eat them again. This red lead and bacon was like canned tomato with about four tins of tomato and about six tins of water
and one slice of bacon, and red lead and bacon, oh god. And then every Saturday morning you’d get one boiled, if you had fresh eggs, no matter where you were in the navy, you got boiled eggs and coffee. Because it was captain’s rounds day on a Saturday and you had to, you know, the cooks couldn’t have, spend too long cooking breakfast and you didn’t want the mess cooks in the mess deck spending too long washing
up and that so we had boiled egg and coffee. We didn’t have too much in New Guinea but if you were in port you would if you were in port. But we were never in. I think the only time we ever went alongside was Finschhafen and we went alongside the Seeadler Harbour once, and Morotai a couple of times. That’s all the time what, from March, June, July ’44 to
September ’45. Oh, apart from when we went, twice when we went alongside the wharf in Ambon. That’s the only time we went alongside a wharf. When we’d be in Madang we’d anchor in the harbour and they used to send these working parties out for the boiler cleans and that. But we used to, because when we come into harbour, we had two booms, forward boom and after boom for, you know, putting the boats on when they were in the water
and we had nets, and we’d put them down and we’d play water polo. Without cossies [swimming costumes, bathers]. I’ve got a photo there of that, like, you know. And oh I, you know, you play football a few times, you know, games of football against other ships or army. But there wasn’t much, well, everybody was in the same boat, you know, you couldn’t go and play hockey, tennis and things like that, that was, nothing like that but play football.
Did blokes run Crown and Anchor rackets or that?
Not on my ship. Not on my ship. They did on some of the others. And yeah, they did a lot on the big ships they ran them, but not on my ship, there weren’t enough of us, you know, to do those sort of things. I played football in Madang one day and I split my head open, I dived into a split trench, well a bloke tackled me and I went into a split trench and hit my head on a bit of rock. And they took me up to the army place,
the army doctors and they put two stitches in my head, you know. And said, “Whatever you do, don’t get it wet for a couple of days” and went down this pontoon jetty, like you know, finger jetties, pontoon jetties, and they were, all the boys were down there, they’re all swimming in there, you know, and I’m standing on the pontoon jetty. And I’m thinking, “Gees I’d like a swim,” and then the doctor said, “Don’t go in the water for two days,” in the finish the two days went by the board so just stripped off and dove in,
had a swim and got back so it was all right. But that’s the only, oh, you could go ashore, in a safe place, you could take your whaler for a sail, you know. I’ll never forget, one of the corvettes, they went away for a sail, it was supposed to be safe. And they went away for a sail and they thought, “Oh, we’ll go in here, a little sandy beach and have a swim.” They only got a couple of hundred yards of it and the old whaler’s, the old sail is getting torn to shreds.
So they got the oars out then, the sails wouldn’t have got them out as quick as they could. But, oh, that was the only thing, you could play cards or some guys used to punch the bag and these other two would spar but mainly you would write letters. Well, there’s not much to do, you know, if you didn’t play cards, well really there was not much to do, no gambling.
How often would you get mail on a ship?
Oh, every Pancake Day. When the supply ships would come up,
oh well you, like, they could probably fly to Moresby or Lae or Morotai, you know, when they got to Morotai, when they took Morotai, but we didn’t get mail too often. Didn’t get it too often. You know, especially second-class mail you had to wait for supply ship to bring it up. But you did get mail, it all depends what area you’re working in. You know, say, when we were working between Lae and Morotai, we got mail quite frequently because the army
planes would, air force would fly to Morotai, you know, from, probably went to Port Moresby or Lae. And they sent it up from there. But.
What stands out in your mind of your World War II service in the navy, what stands out for you?
Oh, I think the friendships that you make, that I made. Of course the saddest thing was Ambon. And you know, I’ll never ever forget that. You know, you can forget people
you know, like lots of people I was with, I can’t even remember their names now, you know. But we have our reunion in Cootamundra every two years on Anzac Day. We go back there on Anzac Day every two years, but that’s gradually going by the board now because a lot of them are falling off the perch and some of them can’t make it. And, but it’s wonderful, you know to renew old friendships when you go back down there and you, well, you start talking of sixty year ago, you know,
when you were all seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, you know. I think was to being lucky enough, apart from a couple of fellows, you know, to have a pretty good ship’s company and, you know, to get on with a lot of them. Like, we never had any fights or anything else, like, only these two blokes that thumped you, you wouldn’t take any notice after a while, anyway, yeah. But they could be pretty good too but yeah,
when they wanted to give you a thump they’d do it. But this one particular fellow, he was really round the bend, you know, he was too dangerous, he shouldn’t have been on there. But they did get rid of him but it was too long, you know, they kept him too long. They were like, I felt sorry for him because he had all this service in the Mediterranean and he come back and they put him on. But a lot of, that happened to a lot of people but some people can take it and some people can’t take it. But the old
coxswain, he went round the bend but I don’t think anyone else went round the bend. They might have acted a bit funny ha ha at times but, yeah, I think that’s my part of World War II, you know, I don’t think I worried about the time because I knew, we all knew, we weren’t going home anyhow, like, we weren’t going to go home and if you, where you were you had to make the best of the situation. But I suppose I was
fortunate that I wasn’t on one of the big, the Australia or something like that and all the air raid and the kamikaze planes and things like that. Like, I had a couple of fellows in my class killed on the Australia. If I hadn’t have broken my leg, I probably would’ve been on the Australia, so I mightn’t have been here now. You know, so it’s all in the lap of the Gods. But I really liked the navy, you know, even then, you know, I was only just a raw recruit and it was only for what, three years, more or less.
And we were, like, there’s a big difference between permanent navy and hostilities only sailors. There’s a big, big difference.
Can you talk about that for us?
Yeah, well, see they were permanent navy and we were hostilities only. And they were the cream of the crop and we were the, what do you call them, ‘broccoli of the crop’, you know.
Oh, but some worked it to death but a lot didn’t. You know, we had a couple, we had about six on there that were permanent navy. But they could tell, you know, “We’re a perm [permanent navy – regulars],” you know, “I’m a perm.” “You’re only…” They used to call us rockies. “You’re only rockies, we’re perms,” you know.
Do you know where the term rockies came from?
No, oh, not really, no. And,
well, they had different terms. When you first joined the navy you were called macaroons. That was after a chocolate, there was a chocolate bar, macaroon. And they’d, that’s what they called you, macaroon, “You’re only a macca,” like, you know. And of course later on you could put your chest out and say, “Well you’re only a macca,” like, you know, yeah, I think it was reserves, you know, something out of being naval reserve. Because a lot were in naval reserve when the war started and that’s what they called you. Something to do with that. But then some of them old
terms, boy oh boy, it went on for many, many years and years and years.
What kind of tension did that create amongst the?
Oh, not really a tension, it was just that they’d let you know, you know, they’d let you know that they were in the navy pre-war. Pre-war days, that was, see and they’d been over in the Middle East and this whacko had been in Dakar and they were in the Atlantic and you know. And I said to one fellow one day “Well, geez,” I said, “if I’d have been your age, I might have been over there too,” like you know, I said, “I’ve only just turned eighteen.”
But well, they had quite a few ships when the war broke out but, you know. But a lot of them in that early in the piece they were over in Africa, I know on the Australia, it was at Dakar. And the destroyers were in the Middle East with Tobruk runs and things like that and some of them went out in to the Atlantic. And then the other corvettes, this group of corvettes that
went over to the Persian Gulf, or they were in the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, and they were there for two and a half years. Which was pretty rugged, like, there was no air conditioning like they have today but still we, that’s what we grew up with. You know, we didn’t grow up with air conditioning. And they used to, especially ships in the Persian Gulf, and we used to do it too, like in the heat, you know, a lot of the times we used to get the water hose and run it all over deck, let them run all over deck, that was the air conditioning we had, like and open up the
portholes and put the wind scoops out to get the air in. Well, it’s good things too that they have air conditioning and things like that, you know. But World War II I think the people were used to hardship, see, it was just accepted then. All your life, all your young life, that’s all you had, hardship. Well, ninety percent of the country that’s all they knew, was hardship. Even people on farms there was, wasn’t flowing smoothly
for them, you know, it was all hardship. You grew up with that so you accepted whatever you got, you know. But some ships were worse than others, like, for discipline and some worked a lot harder. Like the survey ships, they worked bloody hard, really hard. But…
At that stage, had you signed on for a particular period of time?
Yeah, hostilities only.
At the end of the war, you were going to get out of it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Had you thought about
what you might like to do once the war ended?
Oh, when the war was over, I was going back plumbing. Well, I thought I was. I did go back actually, but I didn’t stay there very long. Then I drifted around a little bit and I rejoined the navy. I think I rejoined in the February, I got out in July and I rejoined in the February. In fact they were the same date, February ’47. So I, oh, no I suppose I was too young, really. I’d led a pretty sheltered
life, I’d never been out of Brisbane, I’d only had the two jobs, grocer boy and working the shipyards. And maybe the, I suppose the only entertainment, you’d go down the river and have a swim in the Brisbane River. Like, if you wanted to swim in the Valley Baths, you could walk there and a penny to get in and have a swim. Penny? Pennies were a bit tough them days, I tell you.
So Charlie, was the Australian navy,
was it really based on the Royal Navy?
Yeah, it is.
In what way could you see that?
Well, what Nelson did, we did. You know, it all comes back from Nelson, you know, and we had a lot of English officers, you know, in charge of the navy for what seventy, oh, nearly eighty years, 1912 we become a navy of our own. I think in, or it was ’22 or something. And the senior officers
were Royal Navy on loan and then oh, early ’20s or late 1900s they started up the naval college at Jervis Bay and they go in there at thirteen years of age. Collins was one of the first, Admiral Collins and Farncombe, they were the two most notable of them that come and then
we sort of, like, the army was the same and the air force was the same. They all had English hierarchy until we got on our feet, like growing up, you know, and then we decided to take our own, got our own navy, got our own army, got our own air force. We probably had our own army all the time, but the navy was still run for many years and we still had these English officers in charge, as a matter of fact, we had English admirals of the fleet in the Second World War, they were
Yeah, I was talking to some navy blokes that had, still had the odd British officer on their ship and even the British sailors as well. Did you have any of those?
No, no, no. No. They’d be big ships. They’d be big ships. You know, they’d be cruisers and
So how did the other ranks get along with the officers?
Oh, pretty good, pretty good, because they were all rockies too, like they were chocolate sailors and different things like that, you know. Our gunnery officer
was a salesman for Cadbury’s, yeah, he come from Western Australia. Yeah, and he was pretty good too and our captain was the merchant navy captain. He was a wonderful person, he went round the bend a bit in the finish, went round the bend, not completely but. And all the officers were reservists, like civilians that came in the navy. But the bigger the ship the permanent
officers, like you know, and a lot of the officers in World War II were midshipmen and sub-lieutenants and lieutenants, well they became our future admirals, people like that. But we never had any RN [Royal Navy] on board, I think it was too small for them to come on board, but the big ships would’ve had them.
How’d the permanent go, taking orders from reserve officers?
Officers. Oh well, they were, well, we used to call them pigs.
That was the general term for an officer. Some of them were too, and oh no, you just took it, like, they’d give you an order you just did it. But mainly the orders came down through the chief bosun’s mate. Like, the chief stoker or the chief bosun’s mate, they’re, they were the most senior seamen on the ship and he was, like even
officers, you know, they’d rely on him. He was the key man, he was the key man for the guns and working of the ship and the chief stoker was the key man for the engine room and boiler rooms.
So that would be like the army equivalent of a warrant officer would it?
Yeah, yeah, you know the, are you listening? I won’t tell, I won’t say it then.
No, you’re right.
It was king of the shit or shit of the kings.
That’s what we used to call him, chief bosun’s mate, yeah. But I had hopes of becoming one once. But they, or the chief stoker, like they were the ones like, you know, they, even the officers would defer to them, they’d go and ask them, like, you know “What do you think about this?” Especially, you know, they’d make sure all the work was done on the ship and here there and everywhere.
And when we dropped the anchor we’d have the stoker PO [Petty Officer] up and working the windlass, you know, working the capstan. We couldn’t touch that part of it, that was the stoker’s.
And what about boiler cleans?
Oh, the boiler party did that, no seamen did that. The stokers did that by gee we never done that, and you know, we, the only time we ever did one away from New Guinea, we did one in Cairns,
you know, we came down in oh, I think it was November 1944, we come down for twelve days in Cairns. We got five days leave each at Innisfail. That was, yeah, November 1944 and that’s the only time we ever did a boiler clean. When we were, mainly in Madang and they’d have, like people drafted to the depot in Madang. Well, were ships there, depot ships and then when the ships would come in for
boiler cleans, to give our blokes a spell they’d send the working party out and they would, oh, that was a gin of a job, you know. They’d get them in there when the boilers hadn’t cooled down properly, you know, and get them in there and do the brickwork and that’s when I was pleased I was a seaman.
Did you ever go down into the engine room on the ship?
Oh down the engine room boiler room, yeah, go down there, take the washing down there and hang it up in the boiler room, she’d be dry in no time. But I didn’t spend a great lot of time in the engine room, like it was a bit of a no no,
like a seaman down the engine room, and the stokers wouldn’t let you in the boiler room, like you had to go through double doors, see. You go through one door and you close that and you go, because you couldn’t let the air get in and the heat in the boilers. But, you know, if you were pretty good mates with a stoker you could get him to go down and hang your washing up down there and dry it out. But you know, they never, they didn’t have anything to do with
the upper deck work, like the seamen’s work and stuff. We didn’t have anything to do with theirs. But they never helped us when we were loading ship or ammunition ship, they, it was like us with the boiler clean, “No, no, no, the poor old seaman,” like, he was the work, nobody else helped the seamen load ship. Nobody. We would’ve liked them to, we used to say, “You all eat it,” like, you know, and getting stores. I suppose we didn’t help them do boiler cleans.
Interviewee: Charles Hile Archive ID 1605 Tape 06
I know it.
Tell us about it.
They have no grave but the cruel sea, no flowers lay at their heads, a rusting hulk is their tombstone, avast on the ocean bed. And then they go in, “They shall not grow old as we grow old.” So that’s the first, like it’s the normal ode, but that’s the part of it, that’s the navy one. And very few people, as a matter of fact a friend of mine,
from our church at Kelvin Grove when we used to live at Newmarket, she teaches at a high school. And we went back there one day just to revisit the church one Sunday and it was getting near Anzac Day and I was talking to her and she gives lectures on Anzac Day, you know, before Anzac Day. And I said, the ode, she said, “I give the ode,” I said, “Do you ever give the sailor’s ode, the navy ode?’ she said, “No, I’ve never heard of it.” So
I got a copy of it and I sent it, I dropped it into the letterbox for her one day. Yeah, very few people know that, you know, they, I went to a funeral recently, one of our mates, and the president of the local, his RSL [Returned and Services League] gave it, but he didn’t, you know, he didn’t, he was an army bloke so he didn’t know how to put it of course. Am I biased or not, but that’s.
Charlie, when people are killed in
action in the navy, are they buried at sea or?
Oh yeah, if they’re at sea they are, buried at sea. They get sewn up by the sail maker and put, they usually put a prodgie, a shell in with it. I’ve never been to one buried at sea, but what they do, they sew them up in canvas and they put a shell in with them and the last stitch is through your nose. Like, they
stitch them up, the canvas all up and the last one is through the nose. And if he’s not dead, he’ll make a noise, won’t he. Now, this goes back in the navy to time immemorial. Like, before Nelson and what they, I don’t know whether they do it now but they used to do it. And away they go. As a matter of fact they buried an admiral at sea recently, oh, in the last, a couple
of years ago and he didn’t go down. I don’t know what happened. They had all his family on this ship and he didn’t go down. No, the only one I’ve, burial I’ve been, I’ve been to navy burials, I’ve been to two. This poor old Wong in Madang and later on the [HMAS] Tarakan got blown up in Sydney, or some petrol fumes or something exploded and six, eight fellows got
killed on it. And one of the stokers I’d been with, I’d served with and one of the seamen I’d served with were amongst the two that got killed. They all go to Rookwood cemetery in Sydney so we went out there. But that’s a lot different to burial at sea. But that’s how they bury them at sea, they sew them up in canvas and put a shell in with them so that they’ll go down.
Charlie, when you were on the Cootamundra, part of your task was to go over and do the anti-submarine patrols?
How did that actually work?
Well we have asdic, what they call asdic. It’s underneath the ship, it’s a, oh, it’s a huge thing underneath the ship, it’s anti what is it, Anti Submarine, anyhow, asdic, we call, it’s asdic. And on the bridge there’s an asdic operator and he’s in this little cubicle, on the corvettes it’s little, I tell you. And he’s in that little cubicle and they have
a screen and they’ve got dials among, you know. And like I suppose it’s sonar, what the Americans, it’s sound waves, you know, that go down. And when you get a submarine you get a different ping like you can, these asdic fellows, they can tell what, whether it’s a log or rocks, the bottom, the floor of the ocean or something like that. As a matter of fact when we did get the submarine, he was sure of it,
he’s just died too, old Bert, he lived out at Camooweal. And he was on duty, we used to have four asdic operators because all the pinging in their ear all the time, they had to have a spare one. With all this, it’d go ping, ping, ping, ping all day, like the whole watch they’re on, they only did an hour, that was enough, like, you know, they’d change over in that hour, after the hour. And they’d get this ping in there they can,
I didn’t really take any notice of it because it didn’t interest me, I was a gunman, I was working on that, my action station was on the gun. But when you were the helmsman steering the ship you could, you’d be standing here and steering and that’s where the radar, the asdic cabinet was there. And the radar operators would be down below the bridge just near the captain’s cabin. And they’d do that, and you know, and it was a pretty hard job for them, you know, because they had this pinging
in their ears all the time. That’s when they did, they only did an hour, an hour on and then they’d get relieved, another hour and someone else and then they’d come back again later on. And yeah, so that was the anti-submarine. It was a huge thing underneath the keel of the ship that, as a matter of fact a couple of them wiped them out once when they hit rocks and that. You can imagine, like it’s highly, even those days it was highly technical,
it was like a big bulb underneath the ship. And that’d send these sound waves down and the asdic operator would be sitting there and going bing, bing, bing, bing and then if he got a ping. But we got a couple but this one particular day, he was definite that, see, logs could give you a, you know way out, pretty deep water, you know, you’re going into pretty deep water. And you’ve got to be certain of what it is. Like, you can’t be throwing charges over the stern all the
time. And, but we were definitely, this fellow was definitely sure we had this submarine. But some of the corvettes did sink them, one sunk one off Darwin and one sunk one over Ipswich, sunk one over in the Mediterranean. We were sure, but like a normal seaman, he didn’t, these asdic operators were seamen before they did this asdic course and when they did the asdic course it put them a little edge away from the people that work on the upper deck, the gunnery
related. There’s not as much in the, you know, you’re a bit more technical being an asdic rating than a gunnery rate, you know. Anyone can throw a shell in a gun but nobody can, not many people can do, they were like radar rates. We had radar rates and we used to carry a radar mechanic, a fellow called a radar mechanic and he was normally a petty officer because it was such a complex thing that.
And to be quite honest, if the allied people hadn’t have had radar, they wouldn’t have beat the, if the Japanese had had radar like we had, we wouldn’t have beat them on the sea. I don’t think so, in my humble opinion. I’ve learned a lot from reading about it later on but, like, we knew where they were and everything else like that with radar but they didn’t know. Like, they had an idea if they had planes up like we, cause we could pick them out.
And we were never really on the corvette really in the, well not on the Cootamundra, were dangerous as what a lot of these other, some of the others had pretty hectic times. But yeah, that was the anti-submarine, they called it asdic, the same as what they call, they don’t call it asdic now. It’s Americanised, all the navy’s Americanised, sonar and all this jazz but.
So when you did the anti-submarine patrols, was it just your
corvette out there or where there?
Two of us. If there was, like in Hollandia, especially in Hollandia where they had they had the big fleets, you’ve got no idea of the size of the fleet they’d go and invade The Philippines. There were ships everywhere, there was, our ship, there’s the Australia, the Shropshire, the [HMAS] Manoora, the [HMAS] Kanimbla, and there was, one particular time there was Latrobe, the Cootamundra
and the [HMAS] Rockhampton. And the Latrobe was the senior ship so he’d do three days in and two days out. We were the junior ships so we’d do three days out and two days in. And we’d just go up and down, up and down outside like a, pretty boring. And up and down, like we had a designated area to go because they’d try to get in there to sink some of these ships.
And it was the same as at Morotai, we did anti, we took a convoy up there and we’d do the anti-submarine patrols outside.
Can you explain the convoys for me?
Oh, there’d be, oh, anything up to about twelve or fourteen ships, slow moving, slow ones, like fast ships could leave us for dead. But slow convoys and there’d be a couple of corvettes with them but we’d be still mainly, mainly it’d be anti-submarine
still. We’d be roaring up and we’d be going up and down and around them with anti-submarine, like had the asdic working all the time, like when we were convoying, like the asdic. We never had, like the gun crews really had nothing to do unless we got air raid when we’re doing the convoys because it was mainly the asdic. They were looking out for the submarines because the Japs had huge submarines, huge. And
in the latter part of the war, they were running troops to different places like Bougainville and that, they were running troops in these submarines, like hundred, a hundred troops or something in these submarines. And really I don’t think that they were too interested in sinking old cargo boats and things like that because getting the troops down to where they were wanted was more important. But then again it didn’t stop them having a go if they wanted to. And that, that was the main thing, even all those convoys it was, we were
escorting them in case any aircraft came but the main thing was submarines, anti-submarine. We’d run around and around submarines.
What sort of ships were in the convoy, were they?
Old merchant ships, you know, civilians, merchant ships. You know, oh, they wouldn’t be any bigger than, oh yeah, they had Liberty ships, they’d be about ten thousand ton and a lot of them were Liberty ships. And old coasters.
Were they transporting cargo?
Yeah, all, oh well,
all war equipment, you know, trucks, planes, things like that. But it was a pretty monotonous job, but I suppose it was a vital job. Like, you couldn’t, like all convoys you can’t send them without because the submarine menace was that bad. But that’s what we used to do. You know, we had no fear from shore batteries and that because we were so far out, we’d stay out. But sometimes we’d, shore batteries would have a go at you and a few times
shore batteries had a go at, you know, you’d get in close and that but mainly it was submarines and aircraft. But, you know, well the latter part of the war the aircraft were too far away from us and you know, especially when they invaded the Philippines. But we still had the Australians going, like they had Morotai, they had Balikpapan and they had Tarakan. And even when we went to Balikpapan and we dropped these two ASRs off, we went out, straight out for
anti-submarine patrol. Like the big ships were in there, the cruisers and that were in there and we were out, right out the back running up and down. There was three of us, there was the Latrobe and the Junee and the Cootamundra, we were three of us up there, like, they were all in like close in shore and we were out the back. After we bought these ASRs up we were still out the back doing anti-submarine patrol because they thought they might, the subs might come in and have a go at them, you know, while they were doing it but they didn’t.
But it was a pretty monotonous job running up and down, up and down, up and down, ping, ping, ping, ping. Especially if you were on the wheel, like, you could hear it the same as the, like it was, the captain, it was in the loudspeaker so that the captain could tell what was going on or the officer of the watch that was on the bridge, he could tell what was going on. But the asdic operator, he could only hear what was coming through his phones but the rest went out
onto this little loudspeaker. Or a speaker, it wasn’t actually a loudspeaker, it was a speaker. And if you were on the wheel you could hear it and the signalmen could hear it and the officer of the watch could hear it. A lot of the times, the captain spent a hell of lot of time on the bridge, a hell of a lot of time on the bridge. I think all the captains did.
Was there a fear of the kamikazes?
No, not really, not with us because they
didn’t come into it with the Philippines. But we did have air raids, but nothing like a kamikaze. But I suppose any aircraft is bad, you know, and we did have air raids. But the kamikazes, like, they were in the Philippines see, things were getting pretty desperate from then. Like, I lost a couple of good mates, well, fellows I joined up with on the Australia. See, they lost eighty-seven on the Australia in one hit
when the kamikazes came. But they were, you know, we were far removed from there. Although there were some corvettes up there, there were a couple of corvettes, survey corvettes up there. They were up in Lingayen Gulf before the invasion force came. They were doing all the surveying so they could come up there, you know. But no, not the kamikazes.
Charlie, when you collected the POWs [Prisoners of War] from Ambon, did many of them
speak very much to you or did they keep to themselves?
No, no, well, I suppose they got jack of us talking to them, I suppose, you know. We probably didn’t need, we did after a while, you know, we could see that they were, you know, they didn’t want to talk too much. At first everybody wanted to talk. It’s like meeting your relatives you haven’t seen for years and years, you know. Every one of them wanted to talk and we were getting them cocoa and Milo and the cooks made these special
meals for them and took it out to them. They were sitting on the upper deck or they’d brought them in the mess deck, you know, and the poor buggers, they’d put it over the side within a quarter of an hour, you know. But then we left them alone because we could see that they wanted to be on their own and they wanted to talk amongst themselves. So we just left them there. You know, we were walking around and they were mainly on the
quarterdeck as you could see in that film there, they were in the quarterdeck. Or the crook ones were in the sick bay, not, well, the sick bay is a big place I tell you. It was like, it was as big as that, it was a bunk, bunk about that long, that big. That was our sick bay. We only had one sick bay chippie and they put them on the, like, the mess decks were, in the mess decks we had our lockers going along there and they had cushions on top of them and that’s where we used to sit. Well, they put some people on there that didn’t, you know,
once it got out to sea she started to get a bit of a swell, you know, it was a bit rough and they didn’t take it too kindly. Well, I can’t blame them because we were used to it and they weren’t. But most of them sat out on our deck, they wanted to get out and just sat out and they’d talk amongst themselves and they were going home and wondering what this was and wondering what that was and then they were very worried about there of them because they were very ill. As a matter of fact, one fellow died
the next day or the day after. A terrible thing, you know, endure two and a half years of bloody brutal, inhumane treatment and die a couple of days after you get freed. And, no, no, we, but then we had this reunion in 1985 and that’s how I start, went back three times to Ambon on Anzac Day. But I think at first they were quite happy
to talk to us and that, you know, and then they just wanted that break. Maybe we talked too much to them, but of course we still had our jobs to do, you know, and you could only talk to them when you were going past. They were a bit liberal with us, like the coxswain and them, they were a bit, if we wanted to go down and talk to them, they saw us sitting down there talking them and they didn’t say anything. But I was on the fo’c’sle part of the ship, see, so I really had no need to go
there, wanted to go and talk to them. Although we had old Icky up on our part of the ship, he was in the bridge locker but nobody wanted to go and talk to that mongrel.
Was it a highly emotional experience?
Yeah, it was. I still feel it. As a matter of fact, I was under a psychiatrist a while ago for it. Well, it wasn’t that, a psychologist and a psychiatrist over at Greenslopes but
I didn’t think I was getting anywhere so I give them away. But there’s not a day goes past that I don’t think about, I don’t know that you could ever forget these things. Like it was, the part that I thought, man’s inhumanity to man, you know, it’s like, they treated civilians and everything like that, you know. But I tend to watch a lot of World War II and things, I’ve been watching the Japanese ones on Japan and that but
that was their thought, that’s what was instilled in them. That, you know, don’t surrender and if anybody surrenders they’re nothing, you know, they’re nothing and I could never understand why they didn’t put Hirohito on trial as a war criminal because if they’d have got Hitler they’d have tried him, if they’d have got Mussolini they’d have tried him. But they never put him in trial because they wanted to use Japan as a bastion against communism.
And they’ll be just as bad the next time they come down. They will come back again, but they were they were very arrogant, you know. Even I was in Japan years after the war but they had no regret about doing all those things. You know, they thought it was a big joke, you know, like we were nothing. You know, they, like just to go, they’d belt these people up just for nothing.
You know and treated them inhumanely, treating you know, and many of them were surprised that, as a matter of fact, at one stage they, at Ambon, I can only talk about Ambon, they shifted the bomb dump to within the prisoner of war camp between the prisoner of war camp and the civilian, Dutch civilian women and children. And of course it got raided and they got bombed. And at the finish they were starving to death. These
fellows said two more months, there’d been none of them left. What they were doing at the finish, they were getting them to carry a bag of cement from point A to point B, over hills, and that was to kill them. Like, they didn’t want to shoot them they just, if anyone said, if we’d have gone there and said, “What happened to all these fellows?” Oh, you know, work, they’d reckoned they’d died from hard work. And, but I can only talk about Ambon, oh, there were
some other mongrels up around there too, there was one fellow up in Mindoro [Island], I think it was. He used to get them to bury, dig a big hole in the sand and he’d put them in there and then come along and lop their lollies off with a sword.
Charlie, on a ship like that where it’s a bunch of young blokes and you experience something like that, how do people express their emotions?
Oh, I think you keep it within yourself, you keep it within yourself. It was
pretty hard, you know, it wouldn’t have been as hard on the other three corvettes as on ours, on the Cootamundra because we had the number one Japanese war criminal on board. You know, and what we were told and what I’ve read since, you know, what I’ve been told since and what I’ve read, you know, it’s. You know, if we’d have known, you know, how bad, they wouldn’t talk about him or what,
we did at first, “I see you’ve got that mongrel up there,” you know. But then they forgot about him because they had other, more important things on their mind than him. And I think if I’d have been on one of the other three ships it may have been different. But knowing that he’s up there and these poor fellows are down here and I, like in your working day, it’s only an overnight trip from Ambon, it’s only about six hundred mile I think.
And we, you’ve got to walk past him all the time like you can’t, like, my part of the ship was the fo’c’sle and that’s where it was. He wasn’t on the actual fo’c’sle but he was on the upper, the top part of the upper deck. And you’re working round and that’s where the boats were and if you were working on the boats forbs or something like that or hosing them down or things like that and then you had to do your sentry duty on when your time, I only did two watches on him, yeah. That was split up among so many people but,
like I, it affected me well, I was only what, going on twenty. And I was the youngest on the ship. There weren’t too many much older than me but I was only young. And I suppose there wouldn’t have been too many blokes on there over thirty, you could’ve counted them on one hand I think. But it affected me, I, there’s not a day go by unless I think, you know, something crops up and I think about it. I know I shouldn’t do it but
I do it. And, well, I saw this psychologist and psychiatrist but I just said to him, I said, “I’ll never get rid of it and that’s it,” you know. Maybe I should’ve kept going, I don’t think I would’ve got rid of it anyhow and I don’t think he was doing me much good. So you know, some, a lot of people think you know, “Well, why should you think this way,” but I suppose we were relieved the war had finished and was very sad that we went down there, we expected thirteen hundred people.
And what did we get, a hundred and thirty-four, well the others were in Hinan and I think we only took a hundred and thirty-four off there. And say a hundred and sixty up at Hinan. So we lost about nine hundred.
In a situation as sad as that, in a situation as sad as that the blokes ever cry?
In a situation that’s really sad like did blokes on the ship ever cry?
Oh yeah. We cried when we saw them.
They say grown men don’t cry but when you, you know, you see on the movies they look pretty good but they’d been fed up for like, they’re only the fit ones you see coming on a ship like that. There were plenty others around that weren’t that fit. And see, they’d been feeding them up, they’d been allowed to get into the rice store. There was enough rice store there to keep them, they could’ve been in good health for all the time they were there. But it makes you cry, it’s like, you know,
it’s a very sad thing. I suppose I’m not a hard person so I suppose, others wouldn’t have but I had tears in my eyes, you know. Especially when we threw these cigarettes to this fellow and he had to get down his mate’s leg. You know, yet they would’ve worked him to bloody death in a day, if he didn’t work they’d belt him with a baseball bat or an iron picket or a rifle butt or something like that, see. You think how could people do it to them, but I suppose I was only young, like I hadn’t, really I suppose I hadn’t grown up.
You know, I was what, just seventeen and a half, just a little bit over seventeen and a half when I went in the navy and I’d been away and I hadn’t been anywhere. And I had no, well, I hadn’t really lived an adult life. I did on there, like, you soon grow up but you know, you hadn’t seen, all you knew was the navy you didn’t know any outside world, like outside working areas, meeting with all different types of people, oh, you’re meeting the sailors but it was very sad.
You know, and especially when we went back again, you know, and all these arrogant bloody Japanese there, you know. But they themselves, they didn’t do anything to the Japs, the prisoners of war. Well, they couldn’t, weren’t fit enough for starters. But they felt that, you know, it was over and they were pleased to get out but they, like the hatred was still there. But I know one fellow got square. He told, he didn’t tell me that ‘til 1990 that he
What did he do?
What did he do?
Oh, he slipped into this Jap. He give him a bit of what they give him. But, you know, it was highly dangerous, he said he was a fool for doing it but of course they could’ve come out and you know. And the second time we went there we went up town and it’s quite a nice town, there’s some nice churches in there but they’ve all been
burnt down now the Christian churches. And they had some comfort girls there, you heard of the comfort girls? They had some comfort girls there. You walk past this house and they were there and they wanted us to go in, good god. Like, you know, I’d never ever taken a girl out in my life before, not that they want you to take ‘em out. But we no, one bloke, one of the old blokes said, “Don’t go anywhere near them,” so.
I’ll never forget, they were playing a game of I don’t know what it was. But they were probably all Korean. But yeah, you know, and I don’t think that’ll ever leave me till the day I die. But they were very good people, like when I got to know them over in ’85, ’86, ’90, ’91. But as I said before it was very sad when I took this, the fellow that died in
November. I took his photo alongside his father’s grave, you know, and he’s, he would be over forty then, this fellow. You know, he was crying, I was crying. Then we walked round, you know, and he, then I come across this English sergeant major that had, you know, “See you in the morning, Fred,” and then we got onto Damian Parer. And I meant to take a photo of Damien Parer’s grave and I couldn’t
find it again, it was like this sergeant. But you know, I think out of World War II like not that I was in any big action or anything else like that but the normal thing was just normal, you know, mundane type of work but I think that was the saddest. I think that’s the saddest part of my life really, that I, up to now, you know. I’ve had a pretty good life but it’s, but that would be the saddest part of my life,
you know. Just to see men like that, you know, how and aside you know, I still read, I’m reading a book now. I don’t suppose I should, I’m reading about an English in the Burmese, prisoners of war in the Burmese prisoner of war camp. I’m only reading it because there’s a fellow up in Strathpine he was a prisoner of war in Burma and want to read them. When I go and talk to him I’ll
explain him, you know, I’ll get the, between that. I suppose I shouldn’t do it but I just can’t help myself.
Where did you take the POWs to?
Where did you take the POWs?
Overnight to Morotai and they kept them there, oh, they kept them there for three weeks or a month, I’m not too sure about it. But at least three weeks and fed them up, you know, medically got them all and then they took some back to Ambon,
and they wanted to start, you know, picking the Japs out for the war criminals and that and this Russ, he wanted to go back. But his nephew was in, a lieutenant colonel in the army and he stopped him from going back, you know. He wanted to go back and find out a few, and he was a cheeky little bugger this Russ, you know. And I said to him one day “I bet you give them bloody Japs some cheek,” he said, “Yeah,” he said, “but I knew when to stop,” you know. And,
but we went back a second time and we took all these occupation, we didn’t have that many occupation troops as a matter of fact, we didn’t take that many. But they stayed there, oh, I suppose until they got organised, you know, working out who to charge and who not to charge. And then they brought them home, I think they flew them all home, I’m not quite sure.
Did you also take occupation forces to Japan?
Did you also take occupation forces to Japan?
No, no, no.
It was too small a ship.
Did you, I saw that it said in our information that you had been to Hiroshima?
Yeah, and Nagasaki.
When did that happen?
1947. See, I went back in the navy. You want to get onto that part.
Well lets talk about how you finished World War II.
Yeah, I went after that, after second trip to Morotai, down to Ambon we picked up the [MV] Leilani was the boat that belonged to Arnott’s, the biscuit people, that they’d
commandeered and we towed it all the way to Sydney. And we got off Port Stephens and it was rough. And this, they had a couple on board there and oh, it was terrible, really terrible. It was worse than that. So we had to get taken into Port Stephens otherwise it would’ve sunk. Oh, it was terrible weather. So we took into Port Stephens, then we, next day it had abated a bit so we took it into Sydney then we
went to Melbourne and tied up in Melbourne, Port Melbourne. And everything went then, you know, the older blokes got discharged and left all those young fellows on there because we didn’t have many points. You had so many points for years of service and all the old fellows, they left and then we called what we paid the ship off, we took all the stores, all the ammunition off and just left a skeleton crew on there and then I got sent up here to Moreton.
And there were still, I still wasn’t eligible, I just, I still didn’t have enough points for the amount of people that were, well, people in the depot had more points than what I had. So I had to hang around here in Moreton for about four months, three or four months, waiting. And I got out in July, that’s right, for six months, I got out in July 1946.
And I went back in in February 1947, I think practically the same day as I joined up in 1943. I could look at my, I think it was the 23rd of February. I think both days were the 23rd of February although there was, what, thirteen years difference.
Do you remember the day you got discharged?
Yeah, yeah. I scooted home, I was happy to get home, “Bugger this place,” I got all my gear and I
got a cab. I got a cab from Alice Street home, I’ll never forget that. Had plenty of money them days, or I should’ve had because we’d been away for so long. And I was happy and I think I had a week off and then I went back to work and then of course one thing led to another at work and I was dissatisfied and I could see how things were going elsewhere. I thought, “Well, there’s only one place for me,” that was back in the navy.
Actually, I should’ve stayed in, I should’ve signed in instead of getting out. You know, I’d lost that time. But I, yeah, you know, and well, you want to go onto that?
That was 1947, February 1947. Then I got, we called them drafts, you know, they get postings in the army and the air force but we get drafted. I got drafted to the [HMAS] Quiberon Q
class destroyer in Sydney, Garden Island. And we were there, I joined the Quiberon, actually I got several, old Fred, Freddy Fox, he was my best man. Turned out my best man later on and I was his best man. And old Fred and I, he’d just re-joined too so they sent us to Melbourne actually to join the Quiberon.
We get down to Melbourne, they said, “Oh no, it left yesterday,” and, “So we’ll send you back to Sydney.” So back to Sydney we go and the Quiberon was in Sydney. So we get on board the Quiberon and I think we went down to Jervis Bay then and we went out doing gunnery exercises and it was working up to go up and they used to do six months in Japan occupation duty.
And I forget the ship, I think it might have been, oh, it might have been the Arunta we were going up to relieve. Anyhow, we went to Japan and we went straight to Kure, that was where the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces, that was their main base. They had them all over Japan but that was their main base. So then we were in Kure and we went to a port called Sasebo in southern Japan, it was an American naval port, huge port.
And I got into, we’re going into Sasebo and I saw a ship there and I thought, “Gees, I know that ship.” And it’s a Japanese ship and it had what they call a teardrop bridge, like a teardrop, the bridge was made like a teardrop. And I thought, “I know that ship, I’ve seen it,” you know and I started thinking it was, and then I woke up what it was, it was a
Japanese hospital ship that they, two American destroyers escorted into Morotai in, oh, towards the end of the war. About June ’45 it was, and it was full of troops, fully armed troops. No wounded on there. The [NK] Takasago Maru was the name of it and I thought, “Gees I know this.” But anyhow, I used to do, we used to do harbour patrols, see, round the ships at night time. We’d have all the ships,
American ships, English ships and our ships. They had about three, one from the Yanks, one from the Poms [English] and one us running around the harbour, you know, for security. And I said to this fellow, “I’m going up here to have a look at this ship, I’m sure it’s the same one,” and it was too, it still had the name the Takasago Maru And there from Sasebo we went to the straits between Korea and Japan because a lot of,
well, they called them illegal immigrants, were coming from Korea to Japan. Because the Japs hadn’t really given it back by then. So we used to go over and get all, chase these junks and go alongside them, you had an interpreter and you had, they take the forward, you know, some decking up and here there would be these Koreans like birds in a nest looking up at you like this, you know. There’d be thirty or forty
people on these boats, these junks, because it’s not that far across. So then we’d have to, they’d get in touch with Sasebo and find out what to do and mainly, most times we’d just drag them, chase them back to where they came from. And we did a lot of that, going around the bottom part of Korea, not North Korea, well it wasn’t North Korea then. And then
we’d travel around Japan and of course from Kure where the main place was, we could go to Hiroshima, it’s not that far, you get up. The army used to provide coaches because everybody wanted to go and have a look at Hiroshima, or Hiroshima as they call it. And we went up there, I suppose we were fools in a way because all, I’d say that ninety-five percent of the army blokes that they sent up there were bulldozing and all that, they’re all dead, they all died years and years ago from leukaemia from the
radiations there. Even though it was eighteen months later, you know, these blokes had been up there long before then. And then we used to sort of drive, you know, go around Japan and do exercises with the Yanks and go to Yokosuka or Yokosuka as the Yanks call it. That’s the big navy base in Yokohama. And when we used to go in and out of Kure, there used to be this huge battleship up against the
coast on the way out of Kure, it was about sixty-eight thousand ton, this ship. Huge, biggest thing ever built. Anyway, didn’t get to see it. That’s where, the American bombers got it. And then we’d go up to Yokohama and we’d do exercises with the Yanks and we’d show them the flag more or less, it was, you know, and we went from Yokohama to
Kobe or ‘Korbay’ as they call it now. Where they had that earthquake up there recently? They’re saying, “Korbay,” and I said to Joan, “I wonder where that is,” like, you know. Then they had it on, K O B, I said, “Oh, Kobe as far as we knew.” And then we went from Kobe to Nagasaki, of course, you had to go and look where the bomb was there. And I went to a strange for us, we used to always hit the
pubs, but this day we went, a group of us went to a Japanese opera company, the Takarazuka Girls Opera Company. I had the programme for many years and it’s the first time I’ve seen a revolving stage. Each scene would come round like that and they have three groups, one on tour, one in the headquarters and one training. I don’t know how,
I don’t know why, but we were just curious, that’s why we went there. And it was a wonderful performance, like, if you can put up with that but, you know, and then from Nagasaki we went down to a place called…
Interviewee: Charles Hile Archive ID 1605 Tape 07
So what did you think when you first saw Hiroshima?
Oh, it was pretty devastated but I didn’t have any sympathy for the people. Probably the young children but the grown ups, because if we, if the allies hadn’t have landed in Japan they’d have lost millions of people, millions, millions of troops. And when you come to look at what happened all over the
Far East Asia with all the prisoners of war, well it was justified. It justified the fact that it saved probably a million lives on both sides. It didn’t make a, I think there was a lot bigger, more damage in Hiroshima than Nagasaki. But of course there wasn’t, Nagasaki was round the shipyards and Mitsubishi, this is what they wanted in Nagasaki.
But oh, it was really flattened but like they, you think, oh well, I suppose your first thoughts are, “What a mess,” you know, “How did this happen? Why did this happen?” And then when you start to think about what you see and what you know what happened well, it sort of squares itself off. If they hadn’t have dropped them, they had have landed and tried to take Japan they’d have, would’ve taken years and they’d have lost
millions, millions of troops, millions of them.
Can you describe what it was like?
Can you describe what it was like?
Oh, it was, how long ago was that, fifty-seven years ago. Oh well, there was very few buildings left standing. The main building that was publicised was the town hall, there was quite a lot and the railway stations were gone, all the houses, see most of the houses were made out of paper and pine. They were all gone
and the rivers were all polluted. They were still polluted then and that was eighteen months afterwards. And it was just rubble, you know, the whole place was, there were all these buildings, there were very few buildings and what buildings were left, what few buildings were left were lucky they were standing up, you know. There’s a couple survived but on the whole there was nearly all, you could
say it was all rubble. And they lost, there was nine American pilots killed there when they dropped the bomb, they were being held in a dungeon there in Hiroshima and of course they went up with the bomb. But as I said before, you know, a lot of Australian soldiers went up there straight away to run bulldozers and that, a lot of them died of leukaemia. As a matter of fact I worked with one fellow that was there ad they, but
I only ever went up there the once, I felt, you know, I wanted to see it and see what the damage was done and that was it. I didn’t want to go again, I didn’t.
Did it have much of an affect on you?
Not really, not really. I suppose I felt sorry for the children and that that were in it but as far as the adults I didn’t. Well, the male population probably I didn’t, I had no qualms about them going by the board. But
you know, not really, I suppose when you think of what they did to the people in the east, far east, like China and Dutch East Indies and Singapore and Malaya and that, well, you couldn’t have any sympathy for them. Because if they’d have landed in Japan they’d have had to fought every man, woman and child. Every one, they would’ve all been at it, you know. They, I’ve read, as a matter of fact I’ve got a
piece out of a newspaper what could’ve happened, what they’ve surmised what would’ve happened and the plans for the invasion. There was one in, the first was to be in November 1945, and I forget when the second one, I’ve got it there amongst all my papers. I read these things and I like to keep them because if I decide to tell someone about them, well I can’t, my
memory’s not that good so I’ve got it out there. No, no, I had no qualms about them because I don’t think that, actually I think that that’s what they deserved. Maybe not the women and children but the, I mean you can’t separate them in times like that. So and then we went to Nagasaki I don’t think was as bad. But I don’t think the bomb was as big that they dropped on Nagasaki as they what they dropped on there. But
these places, you know, like they burn, like the normal ordinary Japanese person, all their houses were only built out of paper and pine. I know because Tokyo, like we went to Tokyo, first time we went to Tokyo was this, what two years after the war finished. And there was still a lot of damage there and a lot of damage, a lot of vacant places, you know, just razed, absolutely razed to the ground. And they hadn’t
got there, so you know. But, no I don’t have any worry about, I never think about it. It doesn’t affect me in any way, not like it did down in Ambon. When you think of Ambon, when you think of up there, well you think it’s pretty just desserts. But oh, we went to, we went to another place at another time called Fukuoka and
they had Australian prisoners of war there working in the mines. And I’d read this, you know, this fellow said, “Oh, they come from Fukuoka,” so we went, we went ashore and they, the Japanese provided us with a big ocean going tug. Normally our little boat, like can only hold about twenty, you’d tow the whaler and, but around in Yokosuka and
Sasebo we’d get a landing barge, all landing barges (UNCLEAR). They give us this big ocean going tug so we could all go up at once. We went off and another two fellows with me, we said, “We can’t find out where this mine,” they were living in a mine. So we made a few enquiries and found out where it was and we got a Jap to take us out there in a cab. And
we paid for it with a saccharine tablet that were stuck in our socks. We used to pay one and six for saccharine tablets in Sydney and sell them for the equivalent of three pound up there, black marketing. And that’s how we paid for our trip out in the cab and in this taxi out there. So we went out in the mine and got to the gate and this other fellow
was the leading hand, leading seaman. And he did the negotiating so we went in and had a look around the mine and that. We didn’t go down, we only went down a little way, we didn’t want to go down any further. But it was pretty horrific the way they treated them there, you know, a lot of people died there. But, I don’t know whether it’s, you know, I wanted to see those things. Whether being in Ambon and the prisoners of war that we got
and that sort of stayed with me and just wanted to see those things. And so we all got on the grog then and somehow or other some houses got set alight and quite a lot went up. I don’t know how it happened. And we were coming back to the ship and, on this tug and we were all pretty full and some fellow got the big, the big rope on
board and threw it over the siren. And we were going out in the harbour and back to ship and this and the siren’s letting forth and the Japs are running around trying to pull this great big manila rope off the siren and as soon as they got near it they’d get pushed away. So when we got back to ship the siren was still going, so we heard all about that the next day. Well, I suppose a bit of fun I suppose we called it fun then but never mind, it annoyed them
anyhow, that’s the main thing. But we did, that was the only three places. But really, well, Nagasaki they had prisoners of war in Nagasaki and they had in Fukuoka. And that was the only time I ever went there, we only ever went to Fukuoka once, we only went to Nagasaki once, went to Kobe twice on that trip.
And then we went back over in between the straights between Japan and Korea chasing these junks, well, catching them was the thing we, they couldn’t get away from us. Not on a destroyer. And we had army interpreters they, they speak Japanese, like the Koreans speak Japanese. And so we got a few of them and then we came back and went into Kure and the, by that time five months was up like our,
five months running around Japan. But we did spend a lot of time in Sasebo, it was, we spent probably more time in Sasebo than in Kure. Because Kure was the British Commonwealth Occupation Force and it was all army, nearly all army. There was only, well, I think there was only, about six sailors stationed in, it was called HMAS Commonwealth and so then we came home with the goodies and the customs
come on board. And they always come on board when you come back from foreign trips. And one fellow had a bonsai plant that he’d knocked off up there. It was a beauty too, it was about, oh, it was about that high. So it finished up in Sydney Harbour. And this customs went through us pretty thoroughly when we, first night when we were going ashore and the next night, then the next day they came on board. Went right throughout
the ship. I think they may have suspected some of us of getting drugs from Hong Kong and bringing them down, you know. Pretty easy to get in Hong Kong those days. So then we had leave and I came home to Brisbane and then I came back to Sydney and then we hung around, running around Australia and went to Hobart and Melbourne and went up to Spencer Gulf, went to Adelaide and up to Wallaroo and Port Lincoln. Showing the flag.
And then we came back and we were doing exercises, always doing exercises, gunnery shoots and then I decided to, well I didn’t decide they decided for me. They said, “You can do a gunnery course on board or you can go, get your draft to Flinders on the main gates, one of the main gates entries.” So I said, “I’ll do the gunnery course on board.” So I did my gunnery course on board and I become an LR3, a gun layer. And that’s where I stayed
and I was a gun layer and then we, more or less we were sort of semi in reserve, we didn’t go anywhere. After about twelve months we didn’t go anywhere oh, for about eighteen months, we were alongside this Garden Island, it was pretty boring, I tell you, you know. And then in May 1950 I got a draft to the [HMAS] Bataan and I went on the
Bataan and then in June we were going up to Japan on an occupation trip again. And we got to within eighteen hours of Kure and the Korean War broke out. So we went, we got sent to Okinawa. So we waited in Okinawa for an English aircraft
carrier, HMS Triumph to come from Hong Kong. And another American destroyer was there with us. And even then in Okinawa, that’s June 1950, all the, what they called alligators, nobody know what alligators are and that, they’re just craft that go off landing ships and they go straight ashore. And there was, oh, there’d be a hundred of them on the beach all rusty, like you know, from
Okinawa, from when the Yanks landed at Okinawa all that time ago. So then we go from Okinawa we went to Sasebo that’s in the southern and this is where the big American naval base is. So we go round there and we refuel and we had plenty of ammunition. Fuel, we had plenty of stores because we’d stored in Hong Kong on the way up. Then we escorted this English aircraft carrier over to the west coast of
Korea. Then we run up and down there for a month, they were flying and we, when the aircraft carriers are operating they have to have two destroyers with them. One on the port side, one on starboard side, sometimes they have three but one on the port side and one on the starboard side, when they’re steaming along. And when they start flying, one
goes up ahead, slightly ahead of the ship and the other one drops back just to stern of the ship. So that if a bloke ditches when he takes off he’ll come up under, like it has happened, they go out and they come up at the back of the ship. And we were there in case a bloke prangs. Like, a big prang taking off into the drink. We had our whalers
especially, with special gear in them, you know, rescue gear in them. And they were always out, they’re, normally they’re taken in board and strapped down, frapped down is the word. But now when we’re working with the carriers they’re out. They’re not swinging loose but they’re near enough so that they can just knock a little pin and the crew jump in and away we go and rescue the pilots. We didn’t,
we rescued one fellow one day and he was always, summertime, see everything was all right summertime, beautiful summertime, hot as here, like, you know, a pair of shorts and sandals. And we rescued this English pilot and he was floating around in his rubber duckie, he was in a rubber duckie, a little raft, you know. And brought him back on board and of course the skipper took him down below and whacked a whiskey into him or a rum or something like that and someone
knocked the rubber raft. I never ever found out till about thirty years later who knocked it off, but I did find out who knocked it off and then they’re searching the ship looking for this rubber raft, this life raft. And they couldn’t find it anywhere. Anyhow, we got rid of this pilot, we got him back on board. And then we used to do about a month out and come into Sasebo or Kure, it all depends. Like, this first trip we didn’t do any bombardment so we came into Sasebo.
At the time (UNCLEAR). And then they were sending troops to Pusan, a place called Pusan in Korea. It was an overnight trip, they were using old Japanese ships, you know, Japanese ships. And we’d escort them over to Pusan and it was typical American ‘hoo-ha’. They’d leave Sasebo, as we were going out of the harbour, it’s not a big harbour too, Sasebo.
As we’re leaving the harbour they’d have a barge with a big band, a big American brass band and playing away like, you know and oh, spangled banner and all that. And these poor buggers there lapping it all up, the good old USA [United States of America]. We’d get to Pusan the next morning and they had the trains waiting on the wharf for them. They’d get straight off the ship into the trains and three hours later they’re into it.
It was only three hours away, the fighting, on the train. But of course I forgot to tell you, when we got to Pusan there’s another one of old Uncle Sam’s bands there, you know, playing blah, blah, blah, blah, the old heart beating fonder for them. And we just turned round and come back to Sasebo and probably the next day we’d have and the next night away we’d go again. And oh, about, after about a month of this, we, yeah, it was just getting
into August, the 1st of August, just before then, end of July it’d be. We went up the west coast and the Belfast English six-inch cruiser, you can see it in the Thames in London, the [HMS] Belfast. And she was up on the west coast and we were up on the west coast, there was a lot of ships up on the west coast. Yank, Belfast. But the Belfast and the, we were the only Commonwealth ships there.
So we’re going to a place called oh, Haegu or something, it’s in the book. And I don’t know what happened for some unknown reason we were fired on. We were fired on by shore batteries. And you could see the shells landing on either side of the ship see, and the water’s spouting up and one of the ordinary seaman, it’s his first trip to sea, like, you know, he’s come straight from Flinders and joined us and he said, “What’s that, look at that funny water,” he said, “the waves are breaking like that.”
And I said, “That’s not funny water,” I said, “They’re shells landing there.” He said, “Where are they coming from?’ I said, “Well, they’d have to be coming from there,” we were close, you know. And we went in, for some unknown reason, the skipper went in stern first. Why I don’t know. Anyhow, we’re going in stern first and the steering went on the blink, steering motors, something happened to the steering motors. And the next thing, someone told me because I didn’t see, I was on A mounting, we were closed up at battle
stations. Action stations, I won’t say battle stations, that’s American. And we had A and B turrets, X and Y turrets. They were twin four-inch mountings, they weren’t turrets they were mountings, twin four point seven mountings. And I don’t know why he ever went in stern first but anyhow, the steering motors come off the blink and one of the fellows on X gun, he said, “Oh, they’re stuck up here,” he said, “it’s roaring down aft,” into what they call the tiller flap. With the tiller, you know,
tiller flap where the auxiliary steering was. And it’s a little round wheel I suppose, oh, seven inches in diameter and you’ve got to have a wheel spanner to, it was all tight and you had to have a wheel spanner and only the stokers had wheel spanners. There was one hanging on the wall but anyhow, (UNCLEAR) touch it, you know, and then of course he loosens it and then he’s steering with this little wheel. Like this is a three thousand three hundred ton destroyer, you know, and we’ve got,
and the shore batteries are firing at us. So they fixed it up, it didn’t take long, five minutes I suppose, we stopped the ship, we did stop the ship. We didn’t keep going. So the thing we had to do then was get out the road. We were still lobbing a few of ours, luckily they didn’t get us. So we got the steering motors going. We started them, when they got the steering down aft they started at slow speed and then they got the main steering motors going
and then of course we’ve got full bore then, we’re doing thirty-two knots. And we get out and we’re going up and down like this, see, and they’re firing at us and we’re firing at them. And we knew, like the time we were there that we’d knocked three of them out because they weren’t coming from that direction. Then the Belfast come up and through the signallers and that, you know, they said, “Oh, there’s….”
We worked out there was five by the amount of shells coming at us and where they were coming from. There was five shore batteries there and we got three of them. And the old Belfast with six-inch guns, you know, that was the finish of that. That was the finish of that. But I can never understand, I never ever found out why our captain went, and he was a marvellous man, he would be the greatest officer that I ever served with.
And I served with plenty. And didn’t know what to do. So we went from there, oh, up near Inchon. Inchon is a famous landing, like its, like in Korea it’s equivalent to landing in the Philippines. So we went up around Inchon and we were doing some bombardments and we didn’t know it then but they were going to land in, they had it all planned to land in Inchon. So we get back,
we finished that and we go back to Sasebo and we used to stay, oh sometimes three nights, see, you’d have one night duty, we only had three watches, you’d have one night off, two nights off and one night on duty. And, you’d only been there that long and you’d get to know them and they had a mail courier used to come from Kure, one of our blokes. And wherever the ships were, he’d go there with the mail and take the mail off and take it back to Kure and they’d take it out to Iwakuni
where the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] were and they’d send it home. I knew this bloke, his name was Basil McCrum, big tall fellow, a leading seaman. And old Baz would come down with all the mail and give us all a buzz and it was a pretty good job really. Like you know, he’d get a few duty free cigarettes and he never had that many as he walked off the ship, he never had that many when he got to Kure. Because they were a bit expensive, like, you know, the old Japs couldn’t get them.
And so then we went out and we were doing some exercises out of Sasebo with American ships and they used to have what they call drones and they used to, little aircraft, radar controlled aircraft for target practice. They used to have drogues, we had drogues, which is like a big wind vane, you know, you see up at airports? We used to have drogues. But they had
drones. So out we go and they only used to have three and we shot two of them down, out. But when you get a hit, ‘whatsernames’ come down and they’d float down in the water. The drone ship parachute comes out and the drone ship goes out and picks them up and we shot two down in the first two salvos. So they didn’t know whether they were going to let us have
another go at it and they said, “Oh, we’ll let them have another go again.” So they put this one up and it went too. So then we never had any more drones. Any time we went out, we’re doing exercise shoots, exercise shoots out of Sasebo, we never had drones. So, but they didn’t, they used to be getting them up out of the water on these cranes they’d take them in and dry them out I suppose. And then we kept running back and another couple of trips back to Pusan with troops and I’ll never forget it. On the wharf where they used to
load these ships had a big sign, oh, letters as big as that, “Through this port pass the best damn fighting men in the world, the US [United States] Army,” I’ll never forget that, this bloody great big sign, you know. And the band would be playing there as they’re getting on the ship and they’d get over to Pusan and the band would be playing, anyhow this lot we took they didn’t get to Pusan. And we got down
the southern end of Korea and they all joined forces, there was the bloody [USS] Missouri, the big battleship and cruisers and aircraft carrier and I forget the name. The Bataan, I think it was the Bataan, it was an aircraft carrier. My ship was named Bataan because it was a tribal class destroyer and the [HMAS] Warramunga and the [HMAS] Arunta are named Aboriginal names and the Bataan was to have one. I can’t remember, I could have a look at the photo and tell you. And Mrs MacArthur launched it in May
1945 so that’s why they called it the Bataan. And we didn’t know where we were going with all these troops but when we saw all the other ships and that and some more come round the north of Japan, come round the north of Japan and come round that way, well we come from the south of Japan. We had this great fleet, you know, and we said, “Something’s on,” you know, and, “Where are we going?” like we’re trying to find out. They used to call it buzzes, get a buzz, see the signalman, he’s the bloke you got the buzz off because he’s on the
bridge. And sometimes they think they’re officers. And we know where we were going and we were saying, “Oh, we’re going up here, we’re going to Indochina,” and going to somewhere else and all this. Anyhow, we were going to Indochina, there were twenty-six thousand troops all told. And we landed, but we went in first, we all had our little dig at it, you know. We had four 4.7s, double barrel 4.7s, twin 4.7s
blasting away. Then the cruisers would be behind us and they’re blasting away then the Missouri’s behind us and, well, she could shoot at twenty-four, twenty-eight mile. And then they started to go in and we had to go in and being destroyers we went in close in shore and closer than what we originally were. And to help them like, support them when they were landing. All these ships had landing barges and they got in their barge and away they went, see.
And that was all right, they didn’t strike a great amount of opposition then because all the North Koreans they were down, they were getting rid of Seoul down the southern part. And he, MacArthur put them in behind there. And this is how this bloke’s, Inchon, he’s got Inchon tattooed on his shoulders, like you know, he’d been in Inchon. That’s why we called him Inchon Tom but he wasn’t on the ship I was on, he was on another ship. And after that
we all went back and got into, between Korea and Japan and doing some more patrols for, because they thought they might infiltrating in junks, you know, little old junks and nobody would take any notice of them. So we’re ready and expect all these junks when they came across and that. We got one and this interpreter that we had on board, he told them they were all North Koreans so, I forget where we were,
I don’t remember a lot of the names. So he went on board, a couple of blokes went on board armed, they took them inshore and they dropped them off and they brought the barge out and we sunk the barge, the junk, we sunk it. But then we went back to Sasebo then another two or three nights and then out, they start up again, start escorting again. And then we’re doing Pusan
again, it got pretty monotonous, I tell you. Overnight and then one particular convoy, there was two destroyers, an American destroyer and us. And we had fourteen ships. All right, we left Sasebo, we’re going all right. The next morning, during the night the fog came up, this is colossal this, the fog came up and they’re using the foghorn, see. All night long, fog horn, foghorn, foghorn,
see. And about eight o’clock in the morning it started to lift and they go round counting the ships and there’s only twelve. So they’re wondering where the other two is. Didn’t bother too much. And we go into Pusan into the harbour and here’s these two ships alongside the wharf, they were Japanese of course, they were alongside the wharf and we’d spent all night running around in the fog blowing fog horns. So then
we went back to Sasebo and we didn’t escort any more ships for a while. And we went up, way up the east coast then, a place called Wonsan. And we give it a bit of a hiding and they landed some more in Wonsan. So then we went right down, right round and we go up the west coast, we’re up near the Yalu River.
And you can’t go any, really, like that’s it, the Yalu River and then you’re in North Korea. But we did, for some unknown reason we did. We went north with the Yalu, I forget the place, way up, you know. And someone, we had these lights one night, we’re there and all these lights and someone says “Oh, that’s Vladivostok, you know.” And we were talking here on, like, we’re all closed up on the gun you know, there’s what,
like one, two, three, four. There’s twelve blokes on the gun, see, and we’re all talking “That wouldn’t be Vladivostok would it?’ “No, no, no, no,” like and the buzz goes round the ship that it was Vladivostok. It was a phenomenal place, like Sydney Harbour lit up, you know I thought, “What in the hell are we doing up here?’ we’re up here on our own. Anyway, it couldn’t have been Vladivostok. We turned round, I don’t know what we were up there and then we come down, like I could’ve been something that they had to
go up there, like normally they didn’t tell anybody, like you know. So then we come back to the Yalu and then we get back down to Seoul and this is the second time it’s, they’ve given up Seoul and it’s all burning. The whole place is afire and there’s smoke everywhere. And all the American ships that are there, destroyers, cruisers, they’re all going into Seoul and they’re
whacking up the stores, you know, because they’re going to burn it. And our captain, his name was William Beresford Moffatt Marx, that was his name oh, but he was, we’d have followed him anywhere. So he decides to go ashore, gets the boat, gets onto the boat and the boat takes him ashore and he sees the Yanks and he
said, “What about letting us come ashore?” All we’ve issued, realising it’s getting winter time, see, by this, and we’ve seen all the good gear the Yanks have got, you know, the great parkas with all, beautiful. We had nothing, not a thing. I did, all the old hands did because they’d been up in Japan the wintertime before. I had army boots and I had big socks and I had football jumpers and a leather jacket and these poor recruits, all they had was their
burby, their good overcoat, you know. A burby, like you paid pounds for it outside, that’s one good thing they give you. And, you know, when you go up on deck at night on, we used to cruise on X gun, that’s the one above, oh, B gun, that’s the one, second one up on the fo’c’sle. That’s the one above, I was on A mounting and B mounting’s my next deck up. And we had star shell on there so if anything happened you could whack it off and light up all the sky and see what’s going on. So
he said, “I’ll get ashore, we’ll get some stores.” And we’re all old, all the old hardy heads, I was a hardy head by know, like, you know, I’d been in the navy, what, five, three, five years, you know, I was getting my own back. And we’re thinking, after we’d seen all this good American clothing, we thought, “We’ll get in there and get (UNCLEAR) ours and we can be right,” like you know. And this American, unfortunately for us he said to the captain, he said
“I served with you guys in New Guinea for two years, in World War II,” he said. This is the way the Yanks talk, you know, and he said, “I’ll send your stores out to you.” And he said, “If you go alongside this wharf,” he said, “your boys would be straight in that warehouse.” So they sent it out on a barge, on a small landing barge. We got all the food, a lot of food stuff out there in the barge and then
I was telling Peter before, all the meat we were getting off American ships was blue, first class. And we were getting second-class, like, our Australian government was issuing us with second class and the Yanks had first class Australian meat. And if we were out over sixteen days, up to sixteen days and running short of supplies, no matter what it was, had to get it off a Pommy ship. So we’d go the eighteen
days and we could get it off a Yankee ship. And the old bottle of beers come in handy again like you’d be down in the store, the captain’s cabin. That was his job, take a coldie over to the bloke checking out the stores, like when you were walking between your ship and you’ve got the board out, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” They were dry then. So were we, like the officers had grog but we didn’t. Anyhow, we used to get around it that way. So, then
it was really burning, it was a terrible sight, like all this smoke and explosions and everything else (UNCLEAR) went back to Japan. Of course a lot of the times in between we’re running backwards and forwards in troops and escorting aircraft carriers, like English aircraft carriers, American aircraft carriers, and working with other destroyers and Canadian and English and American. The Canadians had three over there, the [HMCS] Athabaskan,
the [HMCS] Cayuga, Athabaskan, Cayuga, and I forget the other one [HMCS Sioux]. And then we, you know, we run, this was taking a lot of time like you know, and wintertime’s well on us now and it’s bloody freezing. The sea would freeze up, like it the middle of winter the sea would freeze and you’d be steaming through this and you’d see the wake of the ship, that’s the only thing,
clear place around you. And the poor people that lived in the decks below, like seamen were all right, they lived in the first deck. And the stokers and asdic and radar and radar control and all them fellows, they were all down below, supply systems, they’re down below. And like living in a refrigerator because the sea is ice. And under normal circumstances the water would be at, any time the water’s
outside the hull where they live. And we never had a heater on board, not one heater. Not one heater. So I was all right, a few of us, there was about twenty of us, seamen, that were all right because we’d been there a couple of times before in the wintertime in Japan. And I felt sorry for these young fellows and anyhow, the skipper, he got jack of it. And we come into Kure and the minister for navy came on, he was up from Canberra, see, big noting himself. And he came on board and he said
“I saw your sister ship in Hong Kong,” and the skipper said, “I don’t think you did,” he said, “Why is that?’ he said, “The ship you saw in Hong Kong’s a frigate,” he said, “this is a destroyer, tribal class destroyer,” which it was too, a frigate’s smaller than a tribal class destroyer. And he said, “While I’m here,” he said, Trunkie told, this is his cabin, he used to listen in, old Trunkie when they had, in the skipper’s cabin, like he was his cabin hand. And he heard a lot.
And he said he said to the, I forget this fellow’s name, it was the Liberal government anyhow, it wouldn’t have mattered what government had been in. And he said, “My men are freezing,” he said, “There’s absolutely no reason why,” he said, “The Yanks have got good clothing, the Poms have got good clothing,” he said, “the Canadians have got good clothing,” he said now “winter clothing,” he said, “and we’ve got nothing.” He said, “When you get back there you better organise warm clothing, winter clothing for this ship’s company,” he said
“and make sure any ship that’s coming up,” we thought we were going to be relieved in five months, see. And he said, “Make sure that any ship coming up is adequately clothed for the wintertime,” like “if it’s going to be here over wintertime.” So apparently he did because about six weeks time we came into Kure and we got all this winter clothing, of course naturally we got too much. We used to have big boots up to here, I didn’t wear them because if you went over the side you’d be gone.
We had long johns, they must’ve knitted them with meat skewers they were that thick. And we had big duffel coats. We had leather, like they used to wear on motorbikes years ago and all you had out free was your mouth, your eyes, everything else would be covered up with these little things and your duffel coat top come over that. And big gloves and mittens. The gloves were all right if you weren’t working, but if you were working
they were no, and they weren’t any good to me or any of the guns crew because we had to have our hands free to work the things. So that was one good thing about it, that we got all the winter clothing. So on the next trip out we go up near the Yalu River again to a place called Chinnampo and we had to evacuate people from there. And the Warramunga,
Interviewee: Charles Hile Archive ID 1605 Tape 08
Righty oh, so you were about to tell us about the, doing the evacuations.
Yeah, a place called Chinnampo and it’s, it was one of the furthest places you could go before you got to north, you know, across to Pyongyang. And there was the Warramunga, the Bataan, I think the Canadian Athabascan and there was an English C class destroyer with us. And the
Warramunga ran aground but it came, got back off again. We went up there and they were, and the idea of it was, anyone, they had orders to evacuate by five p.m. And they had ships there to take troops and civilians. And if anyone wasn’t on the ship, the ship was leaving the wharf at five p.m. and anyone wasn’t on there by then, they were deemed North Koreans.
See, they had ample opportunity to get on these ships and there was a lot of American army, a lot of American army. So away they go, they go out of the harbour, they get away from the wharf and we’re at anchor not too far off, about half a mile off the shore and then we let fly. All up, all the mountings, we had four mountings letting go, the Warramunga had come up by then and we thought the Warramunga was up to relieve us but that wasn’t the case.
And she’d been up there about a month, I suppose, and when we heard it was coming it was “Oh, good, we’re going home,” like, “We’ve got six months up, we’ll go home.” Anyhow, that didn’t happen. So we oh we, I suppose we fired for about an hour, we never stopped for about an hour, blasting this place and we blasting the oil refineries or where they stored the oils, oil
stores and blew the wharves up and we blew the radio station up. Well we could’ve because we were only half a mile off shore and we had no opposition. You know, and it was a, and we didn’t have to rely too much on the director, it was mainly all myself, like I was a layer, it was mainly up to me. And the director just kept and eye on what we were doing but we were only half a mile, we’ve got big powerful binoculars with gradients in then and you know, you just pull the
trigger at the right time. And the trainer had to be on the right as well. And we stayed there about an hour or more and we’re letting fly. So in the finish, after about an hour they said, “Well, we’ll get out.” So we all turn around and we get out. And we pick these ships up outside and we took them down to Seoul, down to Seoul and we left them down at Seoul and let them go and, took them into the harbour at Seoul, and
well near Seoul and then we went back out again. And we went up, oh, I forget the name of the place we went to, we did a couple of bombardments, the Warramunga and us, we went up and did a couple more bombardments somewhere. See, it all depends where the Yanks were, where the United Nation forces were. Sometimes we would be firing behind them and sometimes we’d be firing in front of them. So then after that we went back, I think we went back to Kure
then and we had to ammunition ship of course. Pretty well out of ammunition. And we had plenty of anti-aircraft because we hardly used them. We didn’t have any planes attacking us and we could use them if we got close in shore but we didn’t do any inshore. So then we were all thinking “Oh gees, it’s time to go home,” like you know, five, six months, she’s right, seven months “Yeah, we better get, we’ll be next, yeah.”
So we’re back out doing the same old humdrum things in Korea, escorting a ship, bombarding, escorting and bombarding and then in Japan they, with the aircraft carriers, you know, being with the aircraft, we didn’t do any bombarding when we were with the aircraft carriers, we were too busy. And of course in wintertime, you know, like bloody sleet and snow and we used to run the gun, you know, elevate them and depress them ten minutes ever hour. So the oil wouldn’t
freeze up. Anything that had oil running through it had to get run through ten minutes in every hour. Otherwise it’d just explode. And you get all this dressed up, you know, and if you ever went over the side, you’re finished, they’re gone. And you get up on the upper deck, like you know, you get on B deck and just after winter started they used to eat kai, chocolate, hot chocolate, and it’s bloody terrible stuff. But you drink it like in the middle of winter and it’s bloody freezing, like you know. And you’d be
climbing up these ladders, you had mittens or gloves on and all the ladders are covered in ice, the gun mounting’s covered in ice. And I was the leading seaman by then and I sent a fellow down, like if they wanted to go to the toilet, like you could only let one away at a time, you know. One away at a time. And then the cooks put on hot kai,
“Oh, this is good,” like you know. So I sent a fellow down and they had containers, you know, for the wheelhouse, the people in the wheelhouse, the bridge and B turret whichever was closed, it was only B turret closed up of a night with the (UNCLEAR). So this fellow goes down and get a kai and by the time he got up here it was as cold as a, have you ever tried to drink cold chocolate that’s crook in the first place? So we didn’t drink
that and then they decided to put on soup and that was the same too, by the time they got it up, so we didn’t, we had water or something like that, you know. It was only, it was a four-hour watch, you know. And but oh, but the weather, I used to feel sorry for the soldiers, see it’d get down to thirty below ashore and they couldn’t, but you’re fighting the Chinese by then as well as the North Koreans and they could trip, dig slip trenches,
they get any rock or that and hide behind them. They couldn’t bury their dead because the ground was so hard. And here we are, we’re only putting up with twelve or thirteen below. But when you went on watch, say you had the middle watch and got woken at quarter to twelve, you’d have to lash your hammock up because if you didn’t and come down at four o’clock it was too cold to get into, see, so you’d sleep on the deck. And, or on the cushions but everyone couldn’t sleep on them.
But, oh, it was cold. I never ever want to see snow or ice again. But and in the morning, you’d go to your own action stations, like we’d crews on B gun of a night time and then, but doing action stations, you go to your own action station. And you’d get the damage control axe out of the fo’c’sle locker and get up, and you had to open the siding port, see, so you could look out. And you’d get the old axe and you’d wham it on the
big siding port and all the ice round the siding ports. And of course you get them open, then you had to belt all round the mounting to get the ice off so it’d melt quicker because there’s too much weight on the ship, like, you know. And oh, so eventually, twelve months is up, we’d been away twelve months. And another ship come up, I think it was
one of the frigates, it might have been, I forget the name of it. [HMAS] Diamantina, I think it was, no, [HMAS] Murchison, it was the Murchison. So away we go, we’re going home, we’re coming home to Sydney “You beauty,” like you know. So we pull into Hong Kong on the way home and away we go, we’re home. We got six weeks leave and I was first leave. The Sydney natives always had second leave, see, because the interstate natives went on first leave. So I went on first leave and I come back.
Do you know what the reasoning for that was?
Do you know what the reasoning for that was?
Well they were the closest to it, see, they could get home of a night, see. Even you’d have, like, one out of three nights they’d be home. But you take the West Australians, see, they’d get home and they’d, like Sydney natives could see their family the day we got back to Sydney. if they were duty, someone would, like I did the duty for a bloke because I lived in Brisbane and he lived in Sydney he was duty, well I did his duty that night.
So that was the idea and that, let the Sydney natives off first. So they went off and then the second lot of leave they went and about a week before they came back we started doing trials again. We could do trials with, you know, a skeleton crew and that. And we blew the boilers, the boilers went on the blink and we were going back to Korea again and that must’ve been in September. We come home in July
and September we’re going back again. It didn’t worry me, I didn’t, might as well have been up there as in Sydney or Melbourne or Perth or somewhere, and I didn’t want to be in Brisbane. Well, I couldn’t have got to Brisbane, anyhow. Of course that was a little bit of a, you had to be in the know to get to Brisbane. So then there was thirty-eight of us off the Bataan and we got crash, what they call crash draft. We’re there one afternoon and they said, “Right, all you going to [HMAS] Tobruk tomorrow,” thirty-eight of us.
Away we go to Tobruk and they, it took our place to go to, so we get on Tobruk and about, oh, I suppose a week later we’re on our way again, see. There’s the Tobruk, and there’s two ships companies on this ship. There’s thirty-eight of the Bataan and the rest of the, about a hundred and thirty, commissioned to Tobruk. And they’re what they call themselves the
bruk boys, they’re the bruk boys. They’re the cream of the fleet. And they said you know, “You come off an old tribal,” you know, “we’re off a mighty ship,” you know, “you’ll take a while to get used to it,” you know, they said. “It doesn’t worry me,” I said, “all I’ve got to do is pull the trigger when they say, from director bing, the alarm goes, I pull the trigger,” I said, “I can do any work on upper deck. We didn’t get along too well on there though, we didn’t like it. But after a while, by the time we got to Japan it was all right, a lot of them.
So then we started the same old caper again. Escort, escort an aircraft carrier, bombarding. We did a little bit different then, we used to get the supply trains. We’d go up the coast, we’re going all along the west coast of Korea and the supply trains used to come down the west coast. And we’d go along an afternoon and we’d blow up this tunnel. Of course the train’s coming this way. So when he comes out of that
tunnel and he’s getting down towards this tunnel, he can’t go anywhere, so we blow up that tunnel, and he’s in the middle. So we blow him up. We did have a few times blowing up these supply trains, but we’re still doing bombardments and escorting troops and all this jazz and going, running round and round and round. Escorting, and that’s where that photo of the [HMAS] Sydney was taken. That was in the typhoon off the west coast of Korea. And
so we went up there in September, the beginning of September I think it was. I don’t think it was late in September, it was the beginning of September and we came home in February. And of course I was stupid enough to play football in Singapore and broke my leg because, it was a bit of a blow because if I hadn’t have played football, I would’ve got the mail courier’s job in Japan. That was a two-year draft. And
I had no girlfriend or anything. And this Basil McCrum I was telling you about, he used to bring the mail in and he got run over by a truck in Kure, so someone had to go and take his place, see. And I got it, and I’m lying in the sick bay in Tobruk with my leg in plaster and the coxswain comes down, he said, “Oh, you got a draft.” I said, “Yeah,” he said, “HMAS Commonwealth,” he said, “you’re going up to relieve Basil McCrum.” I said, “Oh, gee when?” He said, “Oh, it says in a month’s
time.” They had one bloke up there, they got an army bloke doing it in the meanwhile. A month’s time I said, “I don’t think I’ll be doing it,” he said, “No, you’ve blown a good draft,” I had too, you know. Would’ve been a peas. But I don’t think out of, that was finishing, like the Korean War finished in 1953. So then when I come out of, you want to keep going?
When I come out of hospital, that was when old Ma King used to come through the
hospital. Or to visit us, I’ll put it that way. So then I couldn’t go back to sea, so they sent me down to the air station down at Nowra. So I get down to Nowra and this twiggy, we used to call them ‘twiggy twigs’ or ‘birdmen’. They’re not too popular. Not with seamen. And this lieutenant’s there and I get down there in the evening,
see, I get down there in the evening. And, “What’s your name?” I said, “Oh, leading seaman Hile,” I said, “I’ve come down, I’ve just been at Balmoral naval office and I’ve had my leave and they sent me down here.” I thought, “I don’t know what I’m going to do down here,” that’s because I’m a gunnery rate, see, top branch of the seamen, a gunnery rate. And he said, “Oh, you’re here to relieve leading seaman Wilder.” I knew Bob Wilder, he was on the Bataan with me the first thirteen months
in Korea. And I said, “No, I don’t think so,” “Oh yes you are,” he said, and he got it out and he pointed to me, “there you are, leading seaman Hile, leading seaman Wilder.” I said, “Oh, someone’s made a big mistake here,” he said, “Why is that?” I said, “Well he’s radar and I’m gunnery. And I’ve got no idea of his job” and I said, “and he’s got no idea of my job.” “Oh,” he said, he’s only young English lieutenant, pilot, you know, doing duty officer. And I said, “Oh,” you know,
he said, “I don’t know what duty to give you.” So I said, “Well, I can’t order naval airmen around,” I said, “I’m general service.” You know, I said, “I’m gunnery rate.” I said, “Have you got a bosun’s store,” he said, “Yeah, yeah,” I said, “Oh, well I’ll work in there, that’s where seamen work,” you know. So I finished up in charge of recruits working parties down there. I used to get a few recruit working parties in the morning and salute the officer and take them away and get them working, you know, cleaning up the huts or cutting up the wood. It was funny there one day, I couldn’t find about
half a dozen of them, I track, you know, I used to keep a pretty good sharp eye out for them and I couldn’t’ find about half a dozen of them. And all of a sudden here’s a spiral of smoke coming out of the wood heap. They’re in the middle of the wood heap having a cigarette. They forget that the old smoke comes up. But I didn’t do anything, you know, they, I got them out of there and told them not to do it again. So then I put in to see the commanding officer and I requested a draft to sea. And he said, “Do you really want to go to sea?” And I said, “Yeah.” And his name
was Buster Crabbe, he was a wonderful man too. And he said, “You’re not the only one,” he said, “I don’t like being here either.” But of course he was a commander. So within three weeks I got a draft to the Australia. A big eight-inch cruiser, I’d never been on a cruiser in my life before. And I get up to Garden Island and see the Australia and I’m looking up, after being on the corvette and the destroyers, I’m looking way up there on the deck, like you know. It only had, during the war it had eleven hundred on,
we had eight-seven and of course, we’re thinking. Big eight inch turrets and this stuff, up I go and report on there and they said, “All right, go up the mess deck and you’ll be fo’c’sle part of the ship.” So that, so then we went around and we, Slim was the governor-general then and he wanted to go to Hayman Island. So the put the Australia at his disposal to go to Hayman Island. Just imagine. So we’re going up there and she’s a bit
rough. And it’s calmed down and before we got to Hayman Island there was a mayday from a Dutch LST [Landing Ship Tank] out in the Coral Sea. Broken down and the weather, the weather’s always rough in the Coral Sea. So away we go and the old Australia was built in 1927. And we’re doing thirty-two knots, eleven thousand ton going through the water at thirty-two knots. And up comes the equerry of the governor-general and he said to the skipper,
he was on the bridge most of he time, he said, “Can you slow the ship down?” he said, “Vice regal party are getting very disturbed,” like and he give a real old sailor’s, he said, “When there are sailors in peril on the sea, it is my duty to get there as soon as possible and that’s what I’m doing.” And we got out to Coral Sea and pick up this, oh, late at night it was when we picked this Dutch LST up and the poor buggers are,
you know, they’d only be about two thousand ton, you know, like a big landing craft. And they’re wallowing around in the Coral Sea. So what do we do? So we get, I was on watch, I was on watch of the sea, my job at night, that night was sea boat’s cox, cox of the sea boat in case anything happened and we had to send the boat off. So I go down the quarterdeck and commander’s there and he said, and we had costean guns, you know, fire the costean gun over first and you put a bigger line on and a bigger line.
So we fired a costean gun over and they took it and we put a bigger line over and a bigger line over and we took them in tow and we brought them back into Cairns. And as soon as we got into Cairns, no sooner had we got into Cairns there’s some Commonwealth cars alongside the wharf and the governor-general and his party all went off the wharf. They went off, got a commercial flight to Hayman Island. But another thing McNicol, his name was Captain McNicol and he was a wonderful, he was as good as Harpo Marx [comedian]. They were about the two top ones.
And when we’re going up, after we left Sydney, like, he didn’t like having them on board and he got two seamen, one to stand on either side of the bridge. And if any of the vice regal party came up either side he’d go down the other. And he used to go round, with shirt, no shirt, shorts and sandals and a cap, see. Of course when he had the vice regal party on board, he’s all done up to the nines, like fully booted and spurred. And he got,
“If you see any of the vice regal party coming, tell me,” and he said, say the bloke on the port side said, “They’re coming on the port side, sir,” he’d be over the starboard side and down the ladder and he’d be away. And then I’ve even seen him get up in the sail maker’s loft to escape them and he’d come back down and away he went. But he was a marvellous person but, oh, they, and, you know, in tropical weather we used to wear sandals, shorts
and shirt, shirt too. Well, when we had the vice regal party well we had shirt. We nearly always wore shirts but we could wear sandals. And Slim said while his vice regal ladies were on board, like out of the vice regal party, the men would have to be fully dressed, with shoes and socks on, long sleeved shirts, they could wear shorts. And McNicol said,
“The rig of the day, shorts, shirt, short sleeved shirt and sandals. If they haven’t got sandals, they’ve got to wear shoes and socks,” and he said, “That’s it.” So that, and later on, it was 1953. And in 1954, I said, we went to New Zealand and I’d met Joan in 1953. So 1954 we went to New Zealand, half way to New Zealand to pick up
the Queen, she was on the [Royal Yacht] Britannia and brought her back to Sydney and we, Joan and I decided to get married then, we got married in Sydney because her parents were on the pension and my parents were on the pension, I thought, “Oh, bugger it,” you know, save putting them both out, come to Sydney and get married. We got married and the beautiful, I wanted to be there the night the Queen came because they had the whole harbour, you know, how they had fireworks all over the whole harbour. I was on duty, but it wouldn’t have made any difference, you know.
And it was a wonderful night and anyhow, two days later we got married and it was September that year, we paid, what we call we paid the Australia off, she was decommissioned. And I got drafted to Flinders naval depot to do an LR2’s course. I only had about thirteen months to go. And I get down there and this gunnery officer that, you know, welcomed us all
and he said, “Is anybody really not interested in doing this course?” And of course I was stupid, put his hand up. He said, “Why is that?” I said, “Well I’ve only got thirteen months to go and,” I said, “I think it would be a waste of money training me because by the time I’ll get out of here,” I said, “I’ll only have nine months to go.” He wasn’t too happy about that. Anyhow, I put up with four months in Flinders naval depot. And before I left the Australia there was a bosun on there, a bloke called Jim Donnelly.
And he was a real big fellow, oh, he was a huge man. And he was a seaman bosun. He only had one ring, like he was, he didn’t go through the officer’s school, he come up through the lower deck. And I said to him “Listen Jim, I’m leaving and I hope I never see you again.” I said, “You’re not a bad bloke,” I said, “but you rub me up the wrong way all the time.” So then I finish in Flinders and I get a draft to [HMAS] Warrego. I get up to Balmain, the Morts Dock in Balmain, the boat
comes alongside the Warrego and who’s looking over the ship’s side but Jim. So we were all right. Anyhow, the Warrego was a survey ship, I don’t know, you’ve probably never heard of survey ships. They go all around the coast of Australia, like, you know, oh, and the first trip we leave Sydney and we go up the coast and we go to Percy Island up here off
Mackay. And I was in the tide pole camp. Three of us go ashore and we measure the tide for a month. Live in a tent and cook your own food and all that. Then we went from there to a place called Martjanba Island up in the Wessells. And it was pretty good up there because they’d mined for bauxite and they had all, just flew out and just left all the gear, you know, huts and all that so that was pretty good. So then we had about four months up there surveying. Pretty
hard work, surveying. The tide pole camps were all right but when I was on board I was doing all the wire splicing. And we used a hell of a lot of wire and a hell of a lot of ropes, all the splicing ropes and that, you know. We had two thirty-five footers and smaller boats and they’d lower the thirty-five footers in the morning and pull them up at night and lower them every day, and of course the ropes would wear, and you’d turn them round once a fortnight and replace them once a month. And we had dam buoys to wire and everything, and it was a pretty busy job, which was
good because we were nowhere, right. And we came down to Sydney and then we loaded up and then we went round to Montebello for the second atomic bomb test. And we lost two boats off the quarterdeck one night going, that one night going across the Bass Strait and we were thinking, you know, I think most of us thought we might tip over, like, keel over with all this timber we had on board because that’s what all the marker buoys and markers up everywhere are. You couldn’t get on the island, you weren’t allowed on the island. But
it didn’t matter, if you went within a quarter of it you could, you’d still get it, but that didn’t matter, you weren’t on the island. And we spent a couple of weeks there and then one day we had a sports afternoon. It’s ridiculous, you know, the radiation was still there, like it’s all still there. And we’re, we go to this island half a mile away to have a sports afternoon. You know, you don’t think of these things. And then we
went up to Onslow, we went up to Onslow.
Just there, did you see the test itself?
No, no, no. I would’ve if I’d have stayed on the Tobruk or hadn’t have, if I had have got that draft to Japan and I had have stayed on there Tobruk, we would’ve been over there for the first test, this is the second test. So then we go up to Onslow, and that’s real big town, I tell you. Twenty-seven people lived there when we were there. And then from there we went up to Exmouth Gulf,
all surveying all the time, everyday, seven days a week, like other ships you have weekends, you know, you don’t work much on a Sunday or a Saturday afternoon or that. But you work six o’clock on the morning to seven, eight o’clock at night on there.
Were the Yanks still at Exmouth at that time?
Were the Yanks still at Exmouth at that time?
No. And well, we didn’t go right in, we were on the, we stayed at Exmouth but we were outside, you know. And then we went up to Darwin,
certainly saw around, I’ve been all around Australia by water. And then we went to Darwin and we came down to Brisbane. Now, on the way down, and I said this to Jim, I said, “Listen, I did a job,” I, this chap I had with me, my mate, he come from a place called Gillingarra, that’s out in the west, a mine in Queensland and you’d swear he just got off a horse, this bloke, the way he walked. A fellow called Jack
Mann, a good bloke Jack. And instead of lowering the boats and hoisting them up all the time at night, day and, night time, he decided to make three inch strops, what they call strops out of three inch wire. And we had to put a block and tackle on them and pull the strands through. Oh, gees, it was blooming hard. Anyway, we did it and they hoisted the boats up on the forbs and they’d hook these on, they were about that long. And they were solid steel islets in them and all
that. And that’d save them going to all the trouble of bringing them in and putting them in. And I said to him “Listen,” I said, “When we get to Brisbane, I’m going straight off and I’ll be back half an hour before we sail,” “Oh, oh,” you know. I said, “Jack Mann and I,” I said, “we’ve been working daylight to dark down there” and I said, “and it’s a pretty hard job.” And we had a sail maker on there, Muscles Burke, he’s built like a sparrow, he was.
And he, Jim come to me one day and he said, “I want you to canvas the hand rails in the engine room,” and I said, “You’ve got a sail maker on here.” But of course, seaman had to know a bit about sail making too. Well you had to pass the test when you’re going for leading seaman or petty officer. And I said, “Why don’t he do them?’ he said, “He gets sick down there.” This fellow’s standing on the upper deck, it’s a wonder he didn’t get blown over the side. And I don’t know how but
sail making in the navy was the cream of the cream. It was next to seamen torpedo men, actually. And he said, “Oh, no, no, no he gets crook,” I thought, “Bugger him, I’m not doing it.” Anyhow, I finished up doing it and Jack Mann and I went down and did it and we had to, with this canvas the hand rails where they go down these ladders and had to put what they call ‘turks heads’ on them and that. And when I got to Brisbane I got off, because we’d
had Deborah by then, I got off.
How long was it from when Deborah was born to when you actually saw her?
Ten months, oh, I saw her when she was born, I deferred my leave, see. Instead of Flinders, instead of coming first leave, I went second leave and she was born the 19th of January and I come back the following September.
How hard was that?
Pretty hard. Would’ve been hard on Joan. Yeah, the end of August, that’s right, I come back the end of August, nearly September.
You know. So then we went down to Sydney and that was it, that was my career. I come up to Moreton, pay off, I had to go to the dentist again. Got to get a tooth fixed up. It cost, I don’t know what it cost, oh, some dental surgeon up, and they wouldn’t let me out until I had this dental work done. So I had the dental work done, so I got out then, I got out in
was it May 1956 and I started work Australia Post just after that. So I started work in the 1BOD [Base Ordnance Depot] down at the army place, down at base ordnance depot down at Meandarra while I was waiting to get into, so I could keep the continuity of my long service. So I’d had twelve and a quarter years long service from the navy and I started in Australia Post. And I pulled the plug
on the 23rd of May 1985, one, another big mistake I made. I should’ve pulled it on the 23rd of June, of July because it cost me two thousand three hundred bucks extra in tax by going in May. And I’ve been retired since the 23rd of May 1985. And I must say that if I hadn’t have married Joan, I probably would’ve done thirty years in the navy because, you know. But I liked the navy, I
loved it. I actually did. I like, it was in pretty hard times but the longer you’re in it, the road’s easier to hoe, you know. You get used to all the lurks.
So in what way did Joan influence your decision to leave the navy?
Well, we had Deborah and oh, what do you mean my, happens to everyone. You know, I didn’t think it was fair on her if I was going to go away for ten months every time.
Like wartime’s a different thing, you can put up with that. Like, you can both put up with it but why should she put up with it. And you couldn’t get a, I couldn’t get a draft to Brisbane. That was the old coat behind the door job, you know. What? That’s true as I sit here. You had the right amount of money you’d get up here. That minister for navy I was talking about, his nephew, he was a driver up here for three and a half years.
I know blokes in Flinders, I knew a bloke in Flinders. He’d been in the navy nine and a half years and he hadn’t left Flinders. You know what job he had? Chaplain’s runner. Nine and a half years and a chaplain’s runner. You know that was like, I forgot to say, like, the bookmaker, we had a bookmaker on the Bataan. He was an AB, he was an anti-aircraft gunner, we call
them AA [anti-aircraft] rates. He come home with six thousand pound in 1951. July 1951, we left in June 1950 and came home in July 1951. And he’d come home with six thousand pound. You could imagine what that’d be worth today. Yeah, you’d get Radio Australia. Oh, he had to sling a bloke on board, like he was on watch or closed up. A couple of blokes he had
ready, you know, the telegraphists would copy down all the fields off Radio Australia and his other mate would collate them all together like Sydney and Melbourne. Never worried about Brisbane races, Sydney and Melbourne, like you know. He come from Melbourne this bloke. Yeah, six thousand pound, how’d you be? I think I got, I was, when I was on Tobruk, I won’t tell you about that, there’s five days there I won’t
talk about. And I was the leading hand, senior seaman. We didn’t pay tax, like when you’re in the war zone you don’t pay tax. And I was getting twelve pound six a fortnight. Now that was a lot of money them days. And you’d be at sea for a month, in for three days, out for another month, six weeks, in for three days, four days. I just
thought of something, I should’ve thought about it when I was on the Bataan, talking about the Bataan. Christmas Eve, are you still on? Christmas Eve 1950, we’re coming back from Korea. And we’re coming down, we’re in the straits between Korea and Japan. And we’re steaming along at night time, you know “Oh beauty, we’ll be in Sasebo for Christmas, be able to get on the grog and,” like, “after Christmas.” And all of a sudden, crunch, we ran into a Jap, Korean,
Japanese fishing boat. And I was on the fo’c’sle and I come down from B deck, I didn’t even see it, none of us saw it. Coming down from B deck and we’ve got the bull, what they call the bull ring is where the anchor goes out the front, you’ve got it going out both sides but sometimes they put it out through the bull ring. And they’ve got a horn on the bullring, a little piece going up like that. And here’s the stay of this fishing boat. Anyway, one bloke got the damage control axe and this Nip
he’s performing, like he’s jumping up and down on his boat and yakking off and yakking off. And this bloke got the old damage control axe and slashed it and cut the wire on this mast. And we had a great gash, oh, about fourteen foot long and about six foot deep on the port side. And we had a hole, and we had, oh, big eighteen-inch hoses they put down there to pump out with, you know. And they’re pumping out and the water’s coming out of here,
and we get back to Sasebo, it was the closest place. And our captain, he was a marvellous person, I think he kind of put it on a bit, see. The Missouri’s in there, see, and normally we used to come in on the port side of the harbour and the Missouri’s over the starboard side of the harbour, see. So he goes right over the other side of the harbour and then the Missouri’s on his port side, normally it’d be on
his starboard side. And here we come in, we’ve got the big eighteen inch hose sticking out and the water’s pouring out of it and all the bow’s a gash and everything like this. And you could hear these Yanks “God damn, what a day she’s,” like you know. And we went to Kure then, we went to dock in Kure. Big Japanese ship yards, that’s where they built that big sixteen thousand tonner. So we had a port, three weeks in dock
there getting repaired and they gave us a week’s leave each at a place outside Tokyo, a place called Kuna. It had an eighteen-hole golf course there and beautiful big hotel, beautiful big. And it used to cost one and nine pence a day to stay there. The Australian army had it as a rest and recreation, whatever they call it. And I played golf there, two and six to have a game of golf, including a caddie, a female caddie.
And half the ship’s come and had a week each and then we went back and oh, within a month we went to Hong Kong, they’d finished. And it’s unbelievable, we had to go to Hong Kong to get that certified by the British navy that it was fixed up properly. And they’d just built, they’d built a sixty-eight, and I don’t know how many destroyers and submarines and cruisers and a sixty-eight thousand ton battleship and we had to go to Hong Kong. That was a funny time. We were in this Hong Kong hotel, what they
used to be like, it’s probably still like it. And we said, thought, “Oh well, we’ll go to the Hong Kong hotel and have a beer.” Instead of going to the NAAFI [Navy Army Air Force Institute] club for hot beer, like Pommy, you go to the Hong Kong hotel, three of us. And we’re sitting there and these women near us said, in a loud enough voice to hear, “I can’t understand how they allow these colonial sailors in here.” That’s as true as I sit here. And this bloke, we’d had a few by this, and this bloke he’s a bit of, he wasn’t
afraid to come forward, he said, “Listen madam,” he said, “we’ve been up fighting the war in Korea for the last seven, six months,” he said, “and we’ve got plenty of money. And we’ll come in here if we want to.” Another time, when I was coming home on Tobruk, this is what they’re like, you know. We’re walking in Singapore, this is the day before I broke my leg. There’s a poor Indian walking ahead of us and there’s a Pom coming down here. And the Pom pushed him off the footpaths
instead of walking round him. You wouldn’t credit it, would you? So we pushed him off the footpath. But oh, you know, that, all that, I used to feel sorry for the poor Pommy sailors, like, you know, it was all that, even then, even those days, the chief petty officers’ wives wouldn’t mix with the petty officers and the leading seamen and the able seamen, you know, like privates and all that in the services. It was, a lot of our
pigs were like that. Oh, I suppose in all my life I only met about four that I really detested. One bloke was a good bloke but he got drowned on the [HMAS] Voyager. Duncan Rupert Stephens, he was the captain, he was the first lieutenant on the [HMAS] Quiberon when I was on there. So that’s the story.
Is there a story about Captain Marx, Christmas 1950?
Listen, can you hang on for a sec? You going to hang on? Yeah, yeah, he was
a commander then and he was a big man, he was about six foot three and he’d be about thirteen stone. He was huge, a big man, you know. But he was a wonderful man and on this night that we, this particular night that we hit this Japanese or Korean, Japanese trawler I suppose you could call it. And it was Christmas Eve. And our ships were dry, like a lot of
people think we got a tod of rum like the English navy, well we didn’t. And he sent round to each mess, two bottles of spirits and it’d never ever been done in the navy and I don’t think it had ever been done again. For Christmas, you can imagine what it was like up there in the winter time, you know, it’s about fourteen below, and he was the only person that ever did that. But, like you did the right thing, but if you ever did the wrong thing with him, like you
lost him. But he was a marvellous person like you know, you could understand. I know fellows who have gone to him with problems. You can see the captain privately, you know, you don’t, put a request in to see him privately. And I know a couple of fellows had a bit of matrimonial trouble, you know, they got ‘Dear Johns’ [letter informing that a relationship is over] while they were away and he, they saw him and they seemed to have, you know, got used to the idea after they spoke to him.
And he said he’d do whatever he could. So he was a marvellous man, you know. And our first lieutenant was, on board there, he was a halfback in the football team, he was a halfback. His father was the captain of the Sydney when it went down. A fellow called Burnett, Pat Burnett. And Captain Burnett was the captain of the Sydney when it was sunk.
Interviewee: Charles Hile Archive ID 1605 Tape 09
Can you tell us a bit about Ma King and Kanimbla Dot?
Oh, dear oh, dear, you really want it?
Well Ma King used to be a madam and she had about five girls under her control working from the [Kings] Cross. She’s a middle-aged woman and dressed rather drably
and always wore sandshoes, always wore sandshoes. And she used to come and, when I was in Balmoral Hospital with my broken leg, when I come home from Korea the second time, she used to come through the hospital, visiting. And as she’d come through and the word would get around that Ma was coming through, these fellows would be in their bed, they might have visitors, I wouldn’t know who they were, wives, mothers,
grand, you know, girlfriends or what, anyhow. And you could see them sliding further down in the bed and the sheets just coming further up and they’d be up near the eyebrows, they’d just have their eyebrows out of this, like you know. And every now and then she’d pull the sheet away from them, like you know whether they had visitors or not, Ma said, “Don’t you want to know me now, it’s all right to meet me up the Cross when you want a sheila [woman].” It didn’t
worry me, I wasn’t, I knew her but I wasn’t really, I wasn’t, I don’t know, I probably drunk too much, that was my problem.
What was Kanimbla Dot’s story?
Oh, she was a lovely girl, she was going with a sailor, what was he on? I forget what he was on. I better not try and think of these ships. I think he was on the Australia those days. She
was a lovely girl, she came on the Australia and I don’t know what happened, she got off in the wrong crowd in the Cross and sort of got on the game. The [HMAS] Kanimbla, that’s right, he was on the Kanimbla, maybe that’s why the call her Kanimbla Dot. She was a beautiful girl, absolutely beautiful girl. To see her walking down the street you wouldn’t credit that she was this type of person. Anyhow this, she married this bloke on the Kanimbla and then the marriage fell through. I won’t tell you why, not on
air, and it wasn’t her fault. And then eventually she met a Kiwi [New Zealander] soldier, she got married and went to New Zealand. She was a lovely person, lovely to talk to, I used to talk them, I knew them and used to talk to them all but I never had anything to do with them, probably because I was half full all the time. But you know, a lot of blokes, that sort of life didn’t worry me.
Is it fair to say its part of the navy culture?
Well, it’s part of any service culture, it’s part of any
culture. Like, you know, like there’s certain girls that go where certain, where the navy goes, there’s certain girls that go where the army goes, there’s a certain group of girls that go where the air force are. Same as in civilian life with the young people, the businessmen and all that it’s, I suppose its just part of life.
So the girl in every port story?
Yeah, some of them had two.
They’d leave a wife in Sydney and pick one up in Melbourne. I did a sub for a bloke in Sydney one night and he said, “Gees, I’ve got to go home,” he said, “and see the wife,” he said, we were going away for about a month, “will me a sub,” and I didn’t like doing subs, I did enough, you know, doing duty when I didn’t have to. I said, “Yeah, I’ll do it for you,” get down to bloody Melbourne, straight to Melbourne, here’s a sheila on the wharf waiting for him. I said, “Gees, you’re a nice mongrel.”
“Why’s that?’ I said, “You just left your wife” I said, “and I did your sub,” “Oh well,” he said, “you know what it’s like,” you know. Terrific, terrific, plenty of people like that, plenty of people like that.
What about the drinking culture in the navy?
Oh, it was pretty solid them days. Pretty solid, well, you could afford to do it them days. But they all did, you know, it didn’t interrupt your work, like the next morning you had a bit of a hangover, you just turn to and do your work and that. But
I don’t think the, oh, the notification of gay people it wasn’t around then. Very, very few, like, you know I could say out of my twelve years I suppose there was two that I could, I had an idea were but that’s about all. Like I’m, like I served on what, half a dozen ships,
the big ones. But it was, there’s plenty of instance, not plenty, but there are instances, especially on the Australia during the war there was quite a thing about that on the Australia. But I don’t know, like, on all the ships, like you know, this seems to be the thing now, like it’s out in the open and everything else and that. But I can’t recall, maybe I would’ve had my suspicions about two people
out of all the hundreds I served with that I could. It never worried me, I wouldn’t have known if they were or if they weren’t but, like if you had to lean one way or the other I would say that. but of course now it’s a totally different thing. Like, there’s a case in the paper now this last week, his kid joined the navy, was sixteen and he was out by twenty, he’d been sexually abused by one bloke ashore and then sexually abused by another bloke. And that was twenty-four years ago.
And now he’s got a TPI [Totally and Permanently Incapacitated pension] for post traumatic stress disorder. I wish I’d have known that was around when I was going out, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But, you know, I can’t see that, you know, like all my experience, because my experience is now, been totally different to what goes on now. Like you don’t, we were told to do something, we did it,
we never queried it. It’s like these people going to the Gulf and knocking back the anthrax needle, like, we used to go to Japan and get a needle, and if you were up there six months you get another set of needles. And when we were on the Bataan, we had three lots of needles in thirteen months. And then of course we’d come home, we come home in July 1950 and we left in September 1950 so we got another whack so we more or less got four lots in the one-year. And like, they don’t give you these things, they don’t give you these things
for detriment, they give them to you to save you. And yes, you do get, what do they call it? Repercussions from it, no matter what kind of needle, you get the repercussions from it. You know, we used to just line up and I know on the Quiberon you’d line up and put the old arm out like that and they give you the, jab, jab, jab, jab. Some blokes would keel over. Like, you know, but they’d keel over if they were civilians and that but they definitely don’t, like we had a
diphtheria epidemic in Southern Japan once when I was up there, I was on the Bataan. And they gave us, they brought out serum from America and it was a bad, it was bad, like the after effects of that was probably worse than any other, like encephalitis, the sleeping sickness one, it was a pretty tough one. But it was only a couple of days and you were over it. So I don’t know.
What about this initiation business that seems to make the news every time?
No, no, no. That, going. crossing across the equator, well that’s been going ever since there’s been sailors. Some, but I, we never did it, we never did anything like that what they’ve done, what I’ve seen on television. But that is the culture of the modern person, that’s not the, that’s the culture of the people that join the navy. They’ve got that culture before they go in the navy, it’s not, they don’t get in the navy, I don’t give a bugger what they say. Like,
see, we never had grog on ships. Well maybe these blokes, well look at that bloke that went off the [HMAS] Darwin, they had a big Smokey Joe down the radar room, something that should never have happened, they shouldn’t have been drinking down there. They get a beer ration and they were drinking spirits and he went over the side, he could’ve fallen over the side. Poor old Wong, he went over the side. But the navy today is totally different to the navy we knew because the culture is different, the
civilian culture’s different. And this is, these things may be acceptable in a civilian culture and they think that they can do it in a navy culture. And another thing I don’t agree with, well, I can’t do anything about it, is they don’t wear their uniform ashore, they don’t wear their uniform ashore. They go up in a T-shirt and a pair of jeans and nobody knows who they are, see. So, and like what, I was proud to wear the uniform, I was proud to wear it and
of course we were, and you were always neat and, there were very few scruffy blokes in the navy. Very few scruffy blokes. Like, if you get a buggy bloke on a ship you were quite entitled to man handle him out the bathroom and give him a doing over, like you know. I was on a ship once and the leading hand got, went to this fellow’s locker, got all his clothes out and threw it in the bathroom and turned the shower on. And he come storming in and he said, “You
wash it, instead of wearing it stinking,” he said, “you wash it.” I did the same thing myself to one bloke, not for that. But he’d get into his hammock, this was on the Bataan, he’d get into his hammock in his overalls. You know, come down off watch and straight in the cot in the overalls. He’d been working, you know, working in them all day long, say he did the last dog come down and he hadn’t had a wash. “As soon
as I get a hook I’ll get him out of here.” So I did, when I got my hook I thought, “I’ve got this bloke now.” Probably, it was probably a bit vindictive but I got him out and said, “Don’t you ever bloody get in, while I’m captain of the mess, don’t you ever bloody do that again.” And he didn’t either but he was pretty chatty. He was about the only one that was really chatty in all my time in the navy. We used to have a, because a lot of blokes used to call it ‘use the rainbow’ so the bathroom guy, that’s the bloke that used to look, they used
to get rainbow soap, you ever heard of rainbow soap? Well you have a shower, see, and you run the soap down and you leave it behind because it’s not much good for the next one. Well one bloke might be using Palmolive and one bloke might be using Lifebuoy and another fellow might be, and the old bathroom blokes would pat it all in and you’d get the rainbow soap. And he’d get all the razor blades, this bloke on the Bataan he’d get all the razor blades like he’s “I haven’t bought a razor blade in months,” like you know, and he’d keep iron them up in the, yeah, rainbow soap.
What are your thoughts on women in the navy nowadays?
No, I don’t, no. They were all right ashore but not on ships. Not on ships. Although then again ships are different they can, the whole culture’s different, like you know, they equal rights and all this but I still don’t’ think they should be. But then again it’s a totally different navy to like, they’re not loading guns with fifty-six pound shells or working in
Eight-inch turrets or things like that, you know, they’ve got all the, just press a button and away goes a rocket. But I don’t think it would be a completely happy ship. Not because, I’ve got nothing against women in the services but I just don’t think they should be at sea and I don’t think they should be in the front line. Not that over there in the front line’s very dangerous today, like they’ve got no submarines, no aircraft, no you know, shore batteries at them or anything like that.
Probably the biggest worry they’ve got are mines and they’re big enough anyhow. But, no, I don’t believe in them going to sea. I believe in them, if they want to join, let them join. But as, you’d never stop it, like you can’t do much, they’re all officers, there’ll be an admiral, woman admiral soon.
Speaking of the uniforms you were speaking of a minute ago, did you have a tiddly suit?
Did I ever, thirty-two inch bottoms. Whoo hoo. Have a look at this, I’ll just.
Oops. Up there,
that’s me. Eighteen. Thirty-two inch bottoms, mate, because, well I had a big foot.
So how did you get your tiddly suit all organised?
Well you used to get it from the tailors ashore, see. The suit they gave you was pretty drack, now the tiddly suit, but you had to get it in, you couldn’t get it in too light a colour. Because they wouldn’t let you ashore. But if you got it nicely made, you know, without it being exaggerated and the V cut very low, you had to get it,
the same cut, like, you know and instead of wearing shirts we wore a dicky front, what they call dicky fronts, have you heard of them? Like a little bib? They were dicky fronts, see, and then in winter time the jumper you’d cut the sleeves out of it and cut around there. Yeah, I had a tiddly suit, I’ve got nothing left of suits, I, my third daughter’s got my, I gave her my sick suit, my white suit. I don’t know what she done with the top of it, she made a pair of slacks out of the pants. And I gave my
youngest grandson my badges, my gunnery badges and my good conduct badges and my hook. And my third daughter, she’s got my gold badges, you had the good gold badges for number one suit. See, you number one suit was your good suit. And number three suit was what you were supposed to work in, if they said, “Righto, work in rig of the day,” number three suit. And you’d get all dressed up as though you’re going ashore and work in that. Oh, tiddly suit, my word, thirty-two inch
bottoms, mate. Because I had a big foot then.
Tell us about the typhoon you were caught in?
Yeah, yeah. Well that was with the Sydney. I’ve been caught in a couple. That was with the Sydney and we had this typhoon off the west coast and oh, it was a big typhoon. And it was very, very rough and they lost some planes off the Sydney and they had water coming down on the mess decks and they’re, what, sixty-foot out of the water, the flight deck.
And we were, I think, I’m sure it was a Canadian destroyer on the starboard side and we were on the port side. And oh, dear, we spent more time under the water than out of it and on top of it. But, and we were still escorting it that night, you can see she’s flying off, like you know, there were planes flying off. And another time we left Sasebo, this is on the Quiberon in 1947, we left Sasebo to go, come home
after our five months. And we get out of Sasebo, a couple of hours out of Sasebo and we’re heading down the southern end of Japan and this American destroyer’s coming like a bat out of hell, it was going. And the skipper sent a signal over, you know “What’s your hurry?” “There’s a typhoon warning, I’d advise you to turn back.” And the skipper said, “Oh, no, we’ll be right, we’ll get down the bottom and go up on the lee side of Japan.” Well we didn’t make it. Oh, I can honestly say, even the Sydney, the typhoon
in Sydney and then we had another big blow one night in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, when they get the big typhoons come in, all the ships have got to get out, all got to get out of the harbour because they might drag your anchors and crash into each other. All get out of the harbour and you’re better off out at sea, you can handle it better out at sea. And this particular time when I was on the Quiberon, we didn’t make it down the far end of Japan in time. We did get round there eventually but oh gees, but out of all that rough weather I think, you know,
taking typhoons away which is not really normal, the roughest weather I’ve ever struck is off Newcastle.
Off where sorry?
Newcastle. I was on the Quiberon then too. We were going to Japan then, we were a bit unlucky that year, we got bad weather off Newcastle and we got bad weather when we left up there to come home. But in Hong Kong, often get turfed out of Hong Kong with blow coming. But they, you can ride them out better at
sea instead of in harbour. Even we left, I think the Sydney, we left Sasebo once in Sydney and all the Missouri and all the Yank ships left out, “Get out, get out to sea.” And you’ve got more chance out there, you can ride it out better. Oh, no.
During your time in the navy, how did you see the navy change, like with modernisation and stuff?
Well it didn’t really change
a great lot. See, I got out in 1956 and I suppose it was early ’60s that it started to, or late ’50s they started to bring, oh that thing that went over the top, I forget what it was, instead of having depth charges they had this squid, that just started coming in. And instead of having depth charges they had this squid up the bows and they’d shoot out, it’d go out ahead of the ship. And then of course the gunnery and then they started getting ships from America and that from America that was it, you know.
I think we could’ve built just as good a ships, we do anyhow, we built it now. And they’re only one screw, see, oh, I might be old fashioned but two screws are better than one. And, but the whole world, the technology of the whole world has advanced that much that the services have got to keep up. If they don’t keep up they’re just like, you know, it’d be like fighting a war today on World War II terms with World War II
machinery, you know and armour. Well, apart from the big guns but, like the last big naval battle was in the Surabaya Straits in the Philippines, that was the last one. Like our naval, we weren’t really in naval battles in Korea because they never had a navy. And we were mainly a bombarding, escort duties and bombarding.
With regard to bombarding, how, with the gun, you’re aiming it, do you account for the pitch
and the roll of the ship?
Well that all comes from the director up the top and then the radar plot down below and all that and then it goes to the director and the director sends it down to the gun. But when we were in that Chinnampo harbour, that was mine, that was my, it was up to me then. But we never had a pitch and a roll but you’ve just got to, you know, fire on the way up and do all that. But you have
instruments in front of you. All you’ve got to turn the handle up and down and it’s coming from the director. So it’s the director that does it all, apart from that day in Chinnampo when we could see it, like, and let’s face it well, we were too low or too high it didn’t matter, as long as we hit something. And those trains that we used to blow up, well, we’d be that close inshore, like even the Bofors, like the forty millimetres
would have a go at them too. Like, they got into the act, we’d start off first on our way in and then when we’d get in, oh it was, out to where the car was, it was that close on that fly.
I was going to ask you in, back in World War II, one of the last air raids that was against you guys, you
That was in Morotai.
Was that the one with the Liberators?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Did you hear about that?
Can you tell us about that?
was the last air raid in Morotai. They were Zeros actually and most, they came in and of course it wasn’t that far away from where the Japs were. The Japs used to come in and watch the pictures on Morotai of a night time and then go back out, back to their place. But they’d still fight, like you know. And you had this, there were very few aircraft left in that area and then these Zeros come over, I forget how many there was. And they started strafing the ships, and they did a bit, dropped a couple
of light bombs, they could only carry light bombs. They dropped a couple of light bombs and when they started strafing the ships, they strafed us. But we weren’t allowed to use the four-inch gun, I don’t know why, for some reason we weren’t allowed the four-inch guns. Anyhow, Alan, we shot one down as a matter of fact, Alan Rennie, he’s dead now, he was a leading seaman, Alan Rennie. And he was on the forward I think and he shot one down, one of them. Anyhow, when it was all over, it was just all
over, just finished, like you know, just finished. And for some unknown reason, I don’t know why, one of our stokers, our engine people, he got some shrapnel, well he told me he got some shrapnel. “Gees, how the hell did you get shrapnel,” you know, because he’s normally, and I heard of two other fellows got shrapnel. We didn’t get it because we were on the fo’c’sle and we had the gun mounting, you know, we it’s so they couldn’t get us. And if, we stood
out, we could’ve. And just as it’s all over, they’re all, they got shot down and in come these Liberators. Like, say we were here and we were firing this way and this way and in come these Liberators. And they’re all coming in and all of a sudden all the ships in the harbour they turn round and they open fire and they’re going, on these Liberators. I think it was four, I’m not too sure of the numbers, I think we say four Liberators come in. And gees, they did a quick
U-turn, I tell you. And I’ll never forget, there was a little American tug there and it was only little, like you know, would’ve been about a forty footer, you know. It only had one gunner and it was, oh, gees it was funny. There’s some funny sides, you know. I’ve seen an American destroyer in Korea with the bows blown off on the line. They took it back to Hawaii and fixed her up. Just
steamed her back. They brought an American cruiser back here during World War II stern first to be repaired in Sydney. The bows got done by torpedo I think and they, she came back stern first.
Before you joined the navy, did you ever see the subs, apparently they used to prepare the American subs in Brisbane, did you ever see that?
No, oh yeah, yeah. Well they did before I got in the navy, over at Newstead, you know where all them apartments are at Newstead, that’s where they were. There’s a plaque there as a matter of fact.
On that side, on the wharf, that was the submarine base. As a matter of fact, a girl in my street married one of the submariners, well, she’s a lot older than what I was. She married a submariner. Yeah. That’s where the submarine base was, you’d see them going down the river and coming back, coming home, going down the river. That’s where the submarine base was.
Was there a name for rumours in the navy?
Buzzes. Getting a buzz, get the right buzz. Yeah, get the right buzz.
And was there many of those going around?
Always, always. You know, you get the buzz, like especially when you leave harbour and you didn’t know where you were going, you know, “Where we going?” Even down here now, “Oh, where we going?” Some will say, “Oh we’re going to Melbourne,” and some will say, “We’re going to Adelaide.” Anyhow, they were usually right. Like, you know, your signalmen would have the right buzz because they’re on the bridge and they’ve got to handle the signal. But then again they’re not supposed to tell you, unless, you know. We used to, like,
we, like when we were doing all that escorting them slow convoys and that, we never knew where we were going. Like, you know, we knew where we were going but when we finished we never knew where we were going to, to pick up a new convoy. Well, for seven months it was Biak and meet, and then sometimes we’d go, instead of going to Morotai we’d go to Akas Island or Nuntha, a place called Nuntha. And we’d go back to Hollandia, that’s now called Jayapura.
That’s a beautiful big harbour, Hollandia, oh, you could, all the ships in there. Especially that Philippines invasion fleet, oh, battleships and cruisers, here we are we’re only little fellows running up and down outside. But they had to have them because the submarines were still around, you know, and we could’ve got them with the charges we hoped. But yeah, and then we towed a water lighter out from Hollandia. Oh, we must’ve towed it
about a hundred mile out to sea to pick up some, pick up an American tug that was with another part of the Leyte invasion force joining up. So we towed it out there and they joined it up and that was it, that’s the last we saw of it. So
What about seasickness in, did you see blokes get seasick?
No, oh yeah, of course I did. Of course they do. I never got seasick, I got sick out fishing before the war, but we had a bloke in Japan spent two days in the life
boat locker, we had life boat lockers around the ship, he spent two days there and he wouldn’t move. Jesus Christ couldn’t have got him to move. Old Harpo come down, we used to call him Harpo. Old Harpo come down, “No, I’m not going to budge,” he said, “I’m not moving from here.” And he was there two days and he wouldn’t move, old Harpo didn’t do, like normally he could’ve run him in and charged him, you know. But he wasn’t eating, he was drinking, blokes would bring him out a drink but he wouldn’t move. “No way in the world,” he said, “I’m not
moving from here, not in this weather.” It was pretty rough, like you get a lot of rough weather but a lot of it, you know, we, before the weather got rough, you knew it was getting rough. We used to run steel cables from the quarterdeck to the waste where you’d come out from the mess decks and you’d have a life buoy attached to the steel cable. One on the port side and one on the starboard side. And that’s how you, that’s how the officers go, the officers were down aft, although the captain had a sea cabin. The
officer all down aft. As a matter of fact I was a bosun’s yeoman on there doing the splicing and the rope work and all that. And I had a spare officers cabin for my, and I used to give out the cleaning gear and that, you know, for the mess decks, soap and washers and all that jazz. And it was pretty comfortable too, but you know, this, he was a wonderful man. I was going to say about this Pat Burnett, he was the navigator and he was our halfback. He got hurt one day in
Hong Kong. Everywhere we went we had to play football, you had to beat them too, if you didn’t beat them you had to play them again. And he got hurt, Pat. I said, his father was the captain of the Sydney. And old Harpo, you can imagine in wintertime, you know, you’ve got this bloody great big coat on and he raced out on the field and picked him up and he carried him off like a baby. Of course there wasn’t too much of Pat, he was only a little fellow. He was only young too, he was about twenty-two, he was a good navigator, a wonderful person to talk to.
And we only had one snag on there, a fellow called Norris Smith.
Can you tell us about superstitions on the ship?
No, no, I don’t think so in the modern navy. I don’t think so in the modern navy, the older navy yes, but they had superstitions everywhere then didn’t they, you know. But not in the ones I was on, you know. Not in my time.
So when you look back on your time in the navy, is it all
one big chapter or do you divvy up the World War
Oh no, I think it’s just a great, a part of my life that I really enjoyed. I really enjoyed it, my word. We had a few rough spots but a lot of good made up for the rough spots. No, I really did. As I said before, if I hadn’t have married Joan I would’ve stayed in. Like you know, I liked it that much, well, I was getting good pay and I was getting a good life. Like, I’d ironed out all the wrinkles after twelve years, all the wrinkles all
ironed out, you know, but I wasn’t as smart a cookie as a lot of them were. We used to have a bloke on the Australia, they had the movies on the quarterdeck, in the waste, in the waste you had movies. This bloke was smart, he got in with the cook’s hand, he’d get the bread rolls and he’d sell the hamburgers after the movies. Of course he was friends with the butcher, friends with the baker and he’d sell these hamburgers. He got the, I don’t know how he ever got the okay but he was a real
shrewdie, you know, he never did much hard work. But
So how do you see your navy career as having an affect on the rest of your life?
Oh, it’s made me a better person, definitely made me a better, I don’t think that I would’ve been the same person if I hadn’t have joined the navy. Like, I’m a pretty moderate sort of person, I’m not a violent sort of person, I’m easy to get along with, I’m probably still a bit, I’m a bit soft, you know, I’m not a hard person. Like,
stuff would affect me before it affects someone else, you know, I look at it that way. But I really think it made a better person of me, like I can, I’ve got a better outlook on life and probably made me a better father and better husband. I think. Well, I’m sure of it. Well, if I hadn’t of married Joan, I probably wouldn’t have got married at all. I think it had a big influence in my life and, you know, when I went to work, like in the
workforce, fortunately there was a lot of ex-servicemen there. When I went to work in Australia Post there were a lot of ex-servicemen there. And when I finished there, there weren’t too many. There was a few modern day navy people that I didn’t get along with. But that was just the change in the guard I suppose but it, and they were good workers I met. I really enjoyed that, that part of my life up to the last five years.
And then it affected Joan, like work I was a supervisor, overseer, like sometimes supervisor. And I’d worry about who I had working for me when I went to work and bludgers that wouldn’t work and discrimination and victimisation and all this modern jazz. You know, I used to love going to work early in the piece, I used to love going to work. And everybody would help everybody else. You know, you were a
big line and you were on a small line, you’d come and help me and then I’d go and help you and that all went by the board. All on the easy lines, when they finish just fold the old hands and sit there. We used to play cricket down the laneway in Creek Street and the post office in the back there, in the lane, play cricket and then the mail would come in and we’d give up the cricket and go and work. And when we finished working at midnight, two of the supervisors,
he’d ask for volunteers to stay back and if they went at half past two in the morning, we were there till six o’clock, they went at half past two in the morning and you stayed back the next morning, no matter how much work was there you went at half past two. But gradually that volunteering went by the board. And then, so then they had to roster people and all that. You know, they, people started to get too selfish, like they were only there to do X amount of work. And
Joan said to me “Give it up,” you know, “you’re no good to me and you’re no good to yourself, give it up.” So I went to my doctor and got a certificate and got out. But it was terrible, you know, compared to, it’s like the navy, you know, compared to what it was when I went there. My workplace, and that’s why I got out in May, I just couldn’t cop it, just couldn’t cop it.
What are your thoughts on Anzac Day?
Oh, I’m the
caretaker of the naval corps, Royal Navy, Australian navy corvette Newstead, memorial in Newstead Park. Go down and clean it up and polish the brass work and I also got the Royal Australian Navy banner, Corvette Association banner out in the garage. I’m the banner man. Take it there. The time before last when I left one leg back at Newstead. Two legs, see, and we’ve got it that way,
it’s pretty full, you know. But we’ve got holes drilled in there where, you know, where we can put bolts in them, things in them so that instead of having the cadets hold it up, we bolt it on there. Like I’ve got to get down, Joan and I have got to get, we have a service there at eight o’clock every Anzac Day down at Newstead. It’s a corvette one but now it’s become a complete navy one, like all navy.
And they’re putting a logistics, Sydney logistics support one next to it now but then that’s got nothing to do with Anzac Day, they’re not going go there at Anzac Day. So I do that and we’ve got four corners and Joan’s put plants in there. We’ve put bougainvillea in there but it went. We used to put plants in there earlier and they’d take them out and throw them into Beckra’s Creek. So we put bougainvillea in there but that didn’t work too well so I’ve got other plants in there now. And I get in there about
quarter past seven on Anzac Day and Peter that you’re going to run him, he gives me a hand and we put it up. Then we dismantle it and I’ve got a big bag, like a golf bag that we had made and I can carry it over the shoulder. Then we take it up to town and do the march and that, so I think, you know, that eventually like everything else it’ll probably die. And,
although they, the younger people, like I had my little grandson one day with me for a little while but maybe later on, but I know now, I go to Cootamundra which is a small country town in New South Wales. And they never had a navy cap there. They had an army cap, an air force cap and they never had a navy cap. So I got a navy cap one, the second time I went back there and give it to the shire clerk and put it
up one night. So now they’ve got a navy cap. But they have a lot of younger people there, you know, young children that fall in and march behind, they don’t march with them, they march behind there. And I think just by observation I think they get more people now than they’ve had for years and years, you know, in the march. But we’re first off this time anyhow, so that’s the only hard part.
Charlie, with your navy career, with all the different ships you served on, why
is it that you associate with corvettes more than any other ship?
Well it’s my first ship. But I’d say that my favourite ship is the Bataan. With the whole crew, like the corvettes and the Cootamundra’s my first ship, well it’s like anything else, you know, the first thing you do. And that’s where I got my grounding, you know, I was grounded. And then of course by the time I, that was 1944 and six years later I joined the Bataan with a wonderful crew, we only had
one officer and a couple of blokes out of the whole hundred and fifty-seven that were really, they were all branches, there weren’t any snags. And that’s what I think, maybe because I spent thirteen months in Korea on it and in all types of weather and all that. But it is the one that I have the fondest memories on. Although the Cootamundra is a special place because it’s the first ship. You know, the Tobruk, I couldn’t care less about it.
back at your navy career, what was the lowlight?
The low? Oh, I think lack of good food was the worst part of it. Oh, and some of the discipline was all right but some of the things we had to do at different times, like if we’re tied up along, when we were tied up along side Garden Island, and a weekend, work, you know. You work in
work clothes during the week, you know, when you’re working you’re working. And at one stage there, if we wanted to go up and hang our washing up on the upper deck, on the clothesline on the upper deck, we had to get into our full suits, like the rig of the day and go up there and hang the washing up like you know. And little things that irk you and I think they become big things. But that was a small, a little thing, like how long will you be up there hanging your dhobiing [clothes washing] up like, you know. And you had to get, you couldn’t go, like if it was after working hours you couldn’t go in your working clothes. You had to
get into the rig of the day, the same as the people that were the quartermaster, and he’d be watching out. You had to go out and things like that. The little, just the little thins that bug you, you know.
What was the highlight then?
What would be the highlight then of your career?
Oh, the highlight of my career I think was rescuing the prisoners of war. That was it. You know, because I was just oh,
I was only twenty then. You know, and I suppose it made me grow up. Like it, you know, you grow up pretty quick when you, I don’t think I could’ve lived as a prisoner of war. Like, I know there was blokes on the [HMAS] Perth at seventeen and a half and eighteen taken prisoner of war. I don’t know how many survived but just by knowing what happened there, and what happened there happened everywhere, I don’t think I would’ve survived. And they said, like these fellows in Ambon
said it was the older person that lasted the longest. Like, the younger people they just give up. Well, a lot of them do, you’re not going to cop beltings all the time are you, you know, and starvation, they really, but I think that was the lowest point. And I think the time, the best time was really my time on the Bataan, that was the best time. Like we
had a wonderful ship’s company. I think, well I become a leading seaman when I was on the Bataan and I think all, going through all that weather that we’d never ever struck before, like you can imagine sitting up on the gun in the morning, like at four o’clock in the morning and it’s covered in ice. And you’re sitting there at night, now on the Tobruk they had a Bofors, a little Bofors, forty-millimetre Bofors. And in the morning there’d be a square block of
ice, a big square block of ice, and a long, thin block of ice pointing out that way. And this is what I had photos of this in the, in these albums I lost. But they’re different between the Tobruk and the Bataan though. We had four heaters, it was a turret, fully enclosed. And we had four heaters in A turret, I was layer of A turret. We had four heaters in A turret. There was only three of us in it, we could operate
with three. A layer, a trainer, and I was a leading hand so I had a loader. The trainer was an AB so he had to load his own, and unfortunately he put his hand, he got his hand caught in the breach one day and that stuffed that. And we never had a heater on the Bataan, not one, you know, and when you’d go up on the mountings in the Bataan you had to go out in the elements. But when you’re on the Tobruk you’d be sitting here and you’d walk into there, into gun bay, climb up a ladder, put yourself
down in the layer’s seat, and if we were doing bombardments, press the old button here, put her into auto, third change of revs, put her into auto, sit back like this and boom, boom, boom. And I had a loader to load mine. And was separate ammunition, you get the shell up and then the, and poor old Stormy West on the other side, he had to load his own because he was an AB. I think that was the reason, like, that I did that, yeah.