Donald Peirce
Archive number: 1684
Preferred name: Don
Date interviewed: 23 March, 2004

Served with:

2/2nd Battalion
6th Division

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Donald Peirce 1684

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Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:46:00

Can you give us a summary of your life?
Well, I was born in Wollongong, 1920, 26th of February. And the only thing I can remember about that is that my

01:01:00:00

mother used to always dress me in a bright red dressing gown because I’d chase fire engines and she’d lose me and I was only, when I was a little kid. And from there we moved, Dad was in the bank and he was, just got out of First World War, and he was second officer there. And then we, he was transferred to West Maitland as accountant and we moved there and we lived at a suburb called Lorne. And

01:01:30:00

a little school across the road from where we lived was called Nilo. And I must tell you this, me young brother went there, I was going to a big school, but there was a kid there that was always scratching Bill and that, and they called him Jazz Garters. And Dad told Bill in the end, he said, “Look son,” he said, “You’ll have to hit him, you’ll have to punch him in the nose if he does it again,” because Bill was coming home with... Anyway, they had a P&C [Parents and Citizens] meeting one

01:02:00:00

afternoon there and Mother was there, and all of a sudden there’s screams out the back and they run out and here’s Bill sitting on top of this little bugger, and he’s going ‘whoomph, whoomph.’ Anyway, they sep [separated]... he said, “Daddy told me I had to punch him in the nose if he scratched me again Mummy.” So, that was a story about that. And yes, and so from Dunedoo we got moved, from Maitland, Lorne Maitland, Dad got moved to Dunedoo.

01:02:30:00

That was his first branch in the Depression days and things were very tough there, tough for banking. I can remember the Australian Bank of Commerce went broke and the New South Wales Government Savings Bank went broke and they merged with the Commonwealth Bank and the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] merged with the Bank of New South Wales, the one Dad was a manager of at Dunedoo. And I got, went to school there and then I got sent to Dubbo High School, and I stayed

01:03:00:00

at some hostel there for a while. And Dad got moved from Dunedoo to Ashford and once again I went to Armidale High School and I was away from home, used to go home for all the school holidays. Bill got to the stage he was going to high school at Armidale too and they thought having two of us there, so Dad swapped with the accountant at

01:03:30:00

Armidale and he took over Ashford manager and Dad took over accountant at Armidale. And they made a home for Bill and I again so we didn’t have to go boarding anywhere. And that was the young life, but from there I started work in about 1936 in Uralla as a probationer with the Bank of New South Wales and anyone was lucky to get a job in those days, and I think I got the job not because of my

01:04:00:00

brilliance but because Dad was in the bank in a senior position. And from there I got moved to bank corner branch in Newcastle and whilst I was there I joined the militia. And I was with the militia a while and from there we got, I got transferred to Coffs Harbour branch and I joined the militia at Coffs Harbour, which was the 13th Battalion, the

01:04:30:00

13th Platoon, Byron Scottish Regiment. And I met May at Coffs Harbour. Quite interesting, one of the lads and I got off early one Thursday and we went down to Coffs Harbour jetty, they had a very good surfing beach at the jetty as well as Park Beach at Coffs Harbour. And there were two girls swimming in there and Jock and I went down and had a surf and of course we had to go out a bit further than the girls, being boys

01:05:00:00

you’ve gotta do that of course, but I don't think we got any better waves than them. And as we were going out after about half an hour or so, I saw the fin of a shark between the girls and us and I screamed out, “Shark! Shark!” And the two girls looked at us as though they were, you know, I was crazy. And of course they’d been born and bred in Coffs Harbour and we were birds of passage and that’s how they treated us. And the following Saturday I met May, and the Sunday, at a dance at the

01:05:30:00

jetty, and we arranged to meet on the Sunday and go for a bit of a walk. And we walked up Beacon Hill at Coffs Harbour and I over looked the place where we were having our surf and I told her about these two stupid girls and, because we’d waited just to pick up the pieces, but I think the shark must’ve swum out to sea. Anyway, May started to laugh like billy-oh and turns out that she was one of the two girls. And where’d we go from there? Yes, I was in

01:06:00:00

camp with the militia at Coffs Harbour in 1939 when war was declared. We were all paraded and told that Australia was at war and all those intending to serve take one pace for, on the command, take one pace forward. And he gave the command and everyone took one pace forward and I think only fifteen percent of the militia boys joined up for the first lot anyway. When we got back,

01:06:30:00

I don’t remember for a while after that but I, next thing I know was that we, those that had put their names in to join up... Why did I join up? That’s one of the questions you’re gonna ask for certain. I don't know whether it was for a little bit of experience, excitement plus a bit of loyalty, mix it all up and you most probably have the reason. But

01:07:00:00

then anyway we, all those around about forty of us I suppose were going to join up and we were paraded in the old showground. And there was an army chap there and a local doctor. And the army fella gave us our attestation and our army numbers and the doctor examined us all to see if we were fit and proper people to join the army. And his name was Doctor David Hawke,

01:07:30:00

a particularly fine man. And the hotels used to close at six o'clock every night and Doctor Hawke used to love to get over and have a couple of noggins before his tea and go home. And he started to look at his watch and it was getting very close to quarter to six at the time and he started hurrying through these fellows and, you know, get him, “Cough. Come. Cough.” And he got to one chap, chappy right at the end and

01:08:00:00

I know I was in the line, anyway right at the end, and he said, “Well, all I want from you’s a specimen,” and he was a banana grower, a good lad. And he said, “A what?” He said, “A specimen, you know, a specimen of your urine.” He said, “You what?” He said, “Urine, piss.” He said, “See those little buckets, little tiny ice-cream things over there,” he said, “Piss in one of those will ya?” He said, “What, from ‘ere?”

01:08:30:00

Anyway, that was that. And there was another good one there, that same day, I was, we were lined up early and one chap tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Hey Don, will you do it in this for me,” he said, “I’ll never get in if you don’t,” so I did, and he got in the army without any trouble. Where do we go from there?
If you can try and give us just the headlines...
Abridge them a bit.
of your life, and we don’t need those detailed

01:09:00:00

stories just at the moment, I just wanna have a little mini biography of your life, sort of where you went and when and then the progression till now. If that’s possible, we’ll see how it goes.
Yeah, righto.
So you were in the militia and then...
Then we went in a train that started, anyway, train down to Newcastle and picked ’em up all the way, the digs [Diggers –Australian troops] that were going to join up. Then from Newcastle we went to Ingleburn which had never, never, never had a, any

01:09:30:00

troops in it except the guys that were preparing water and sewerage and that. The troops, we got to the siding at Ingleburn and I can’t tell you what happened there because you won’t let me. So what do we do, anyway?
We will, we do wanna know that story, yeah.
Will we, yeah. We got, we eventually got some uniforms, we got giggle suits but we never got a hat until about the end of December and it was nearly the time we... Oh yes and we, one of the big things there was

01:10:00:00

we changed from forming fours into doing everything in threes. And anyway we marched, first ones ever to march through Sydney in sixes and, two lots of threes of course. And then we, on the, we were marched down to the railway station, the train took us all the way to the, onto the wharf and we got out and boarded the Otranto, to sail over

01:10:30:00

seas, on the 9th of January ’40, and on the 10th of January ’40 we sailed out. A lot of stories I’m not allowed to tell you in there but...
Well look, why don’t we give up on that idea of giving the biography. let’s go back and we’ll just tell all the stories in detail. Let’s go back to the beginning of your childhood and I know we’re back tracking here but then this way we can just go into the details as you feel comfortable. Can you tell me a little bit more about your childhood

01:11:00:00

and growing up with your father who had been in World War I, what was life like during the Depression?
Oh, life was, we were lucky because Dad had a permanent job. But in those days it was commonplace for most ladies to have a girl, a servant, call it,

01:11:30:00

what’s a nice name for it? Anyway, I know that they, and it was impossible for em to get work, so I know that Mother took a fairly elderly lady who did most of the lackey work I suppose. I don't know if she paid her more than about two [shillings] and six [pence] a week or something but she’d have done it for nothing just to have a, good meals and a home to be with and

01:12:00:00

everywhere we went we took her, I mean she was part of the family. And Bill and I were too young to appreciate any snobbery or anything like that. I know Bill and I’d still get our penny to go to the, or threepence to go to the picture theatre, and we’d go into the penny aisles and as soon as the lights went out, we’d duck up into the threepenny ones. And oh, we used to do

01:12:30:00

same thing when the show was on there, the old man’d belt us if he knew. But we used to always sneak up under the tent in the boxing tents and that and go for our lives and hide from them, get caught sometimes, get a good kick in the tail. But oh no, it was a, life was always interesting. I can’t remember a, we...
What did your father tell you of his experiences in World War I?
Nothing.

01:13:00:00

That was a good answer wasn’t it. No Dad was a very good father, Mother was the one that kept the house and kept everything spick and span, the one that we wouldn’t have done a thing to hurt her and loved her. Dad, he provided the money and he provided, we never missed a holiday, and the one thing that he drilled into us all our lives was that you

01:13:30:00

must take your annual holiday, no matter what you sacrifice, and I’ve done it all my life. And most of them have been in tents, second hand caravans, but we’ve never missed out on an annual holiday in our lives. And the girls loved it and still talk about them and wouldn’t have missed it for quids. Dad was a very good

01:14:00:00

father, never a friend. Always respected. If you got a belting you deserved it. But no, he never told us anything about the war. Now where do I go from here?
Did you know anything about what he had done in the war, did you find out anything later even though he didn’t...?
Oh yes I found out a lot. As a matter of fact I, he applied for a pension on two or three occasions with a

01:14:30:00

bad ear. And that’s one thing he did tell me that he was the leader on a lumber, a lumber’s one of these things that cart the shells from the base up to the guns in the front. And a lumber’s a big place and the shells fit in from both sides in little grooves like that and it’s about thirty feet long and pulled by about half a dozen horses. And one day when Dad was, I... Anyway,

01:15:00:00

the boss bloke, I think used to ride the horse and the other bloke’d be at the back somewhere but they copped a German shell and it blew the, killed all the horses and the other bloke and blew Dad’s ear drum. And he was forever trying, I’ve got all the information, but repat’d never accept it, never, never, never accept it. Not even the day before he died and I’ve got... And then I found his diaries which, all written in pencil but still as clear as the thing where he’s

01:15:30:00

had to go to hospital, and had to go for his ear, and had to go to specialists and doctors and it’s in the diaries as clear as a bell, and he never thought of looking at his diaries or producing these to substantiate it. I think Dad was one that thought, if they’re not gonna take me by my word, they can go to buggery, and I think that’s the way he thought. And instead of using his brain a bit and getting it...

01:16:00:00

He was very hurt about that, very, very hurt about it, all his life. Where am I up to now?
What was your school life like?
Oh, I was never, I was pretty good at maths and physics and science and that kind of thing but I still can’t spell. They used to keep me back and make me write things out for ages and ages, and writing things out doesn’t teach you how to spell, it does not. And if

01:16:30:00

you can’t spell you find reading a bit hard, and I regret these things now but at the time I didn’t, but I wasn’t a good reader. And I got through me Intermediate Certificate and I excelled at Maths too and physics I think it was, and wood work. We used to have at Armidale we had a bloke they call, oh special school that we went to

01:17:00:00

half day every week for wood work and metal work and all that kind of thing. But I liked school, I was practically from the time I went there I was in the one football team, as a rake. And I was very, I held the record for long distance cross-country racing with the school, and oh we had to run, run

01:17:30:00

about eight, ten miles or something. But I can’t say I loved my school days, I used to get belted around a bit in the football because I was a lot smaller than most of the other blokes. But the other thing is now, I know now, I wasn’t much good either, they must have been short of hookers I think.

01:18:00:00

But...
What about in your spare time, how did you like to spend your time, what sort of games did you play and...?
Oh, when I was at the boarding house at Armidale, I liked sneaking out in the middle of the night and getting on to a push bike and going and robbing orchards of their apples and oranges or whatever they are. Got caught a few times, got into awful trouble, that exhilarated me. And the funny thing is, you’re up an apple tree,

01:18:30:00

one night I was there, and dogs started to bark and you thought, “God, they sound as though they’re right under the tree and they’re about two miles away or something,” and you get scared. I was with one, another chap this night and we slid down the tree and got on the bikes and raced home. And we’re going that, fast as we can on this old road and there’s a sharp bend and my bike wouldn’t take the bend, and away I went right over... I landed in the middle of a blackberry bush, it was a huge bush. And the other lad had to ride

01:19:00:00

back to the school, or the hostel where we were staying, and get em to come out and dig me out and cut me out of the thing. And I got a hell of a hiding, I deserved it. But, oh I got a lot of hidings and I deserved ’em too.
And you and your brother, what sort of things did you do together?
I don't think there were ever two closer brothers than Bill and I, but we didn’t do a lot together, we just had that gap

01:19:30:00

for two years, and when you’re about, you know, in that age group, two years is a hell, a lot different. But oh yes, Bill, oh he was my best mate for sure and for certain and we got on wonderfully well. But in the Depression days at Dunedoo, one of the first things Dad did, he went to an auction sale and he bought about rabbit twenty-eight traps for two shillings.

01:20:00:00

And then he arranged for one of the farmers that had a good granite property for us to go out and set the traps. And Bill and I used to go out every morning and we’d, you know, kill the rabbits and skin them and take a few of the bodies home for cooking because they taste as good as a good chook, and a lot of them we sold to the freezing works. And we sold the skin, we used to hang the skins up on our fence on the

01:20:30:00

wire until they’re dry and then we’d sell the skins to the real estate, ah, stock and station agent. And oh no, we used to have to go through them after school as well. We used to have to walk two miles of a morning before school to get the milk and they had a wild duck there, I know, a drake, and it used to chase us, and we used to spill the milk and get into dreadful trouble when we got home, but nevertheless, we’d get home

01:21:00:00

with some milk. But, oh no, somehow or other my life’s never been boring.
What did you think war was when you were a boy growing up, what did you know of war?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Except that they wore pretty uniforms. See even Dad, being in the artillery, he was still,

01:21:30:00

a driver, he wasn’t a gunner, the artillery’s are gunners, infantry’s privates and you know, they’re all different, but Dad was always with horses. And although he, most of his friends were on properties with horses, Dad often, Dad and Mum’d go out there and they’d go riding on their horses and that although he was a bank manager. And he just loved it and they seemed to understand him,

01:22:00:00

sometimes better than we did. But yes the, no, he was a good old bloke.
So, can you tell us about leaving school and your first job?
Yes this is ’36. Yeah, Bill and I’d been out picking cherries at Uralla, just out of Uralla, Kentucky, and we were picking,

01:22:30:00

picking cherries. And Dad’d, well I’d applied through Dad to join the bank and when we’re in the middle of this the approval came through. So it wasn’t far to go from Armidale to Uralla, and I think Dad organised a chappy that lived in Armidale but

01:23:00:00

worked in a big store at Uralla, I think he partly owned it and he used to give me a lift out, lift into Uralla to start with. After a few months there I found accommodation myself and started on fifty pound a year and living away from home allowance, I think that was about twenty. And I had to pay my board and my lodgings and my food and living and everything else on that amount

01:23:30:00

of money, and lucky to have a job in those days, it was pretty hard going. The thing I remember most about those days was listening to the cricket and the wonderful old bloke that used to hit the two bits of wood together, that sounded like them hitting the thing for a four or something. And we’d sit up till after midnight just listening to the cricket when it was on over in England. And, you know, you were with all the men and you were only a whipper snapper kid and but we, you

01:24:00:00

used to love it, you know, because you felt you were one of them. I think it was more important than the cricket itself. But yes...
What about other entertainment, did you go to the movies?
No, no we, make your own entertainment, didn’t have to go to the movies, we very, very seldom went to the movies. When we were younger, far, before we worked, we used to occasionally of a Saturday afternoon go to the matinee and as I said,

01:24:30:00

you know, we’d buy a penny ticket and sneak up into the threepenny seats. But no, but when, after I met May we used to always go the dances and we both loved dancing. And she always looked lovely, she always, she made all her own clothes all through her life, she made most of the girls too, but she loved sewing and she was very, very good at it. But

01:25:00:00

no, we ...
So how old were you when you met May?
Oh dear, I met her in ’39, I joined up in ’39 so we’d have both been nineteen. Yeah.
So in 1936 when you were, you started working, did you know of what was happening in the war in, or in the lead up to the war rather, in Europe?
Nothing. Nothing. We just knew that if Mr Menzies [Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia] and our government thought they had to follow Britain, cause Britain had declared war

01:26:00:00

either earlier that day, I think it was earlier the same day, 3rd of September, ’39. But in those days we were very, everything was very close with Britain and as Menzies said, “Britain’s declared war so we’re at war.” And when we knew Britain had declared war, even at a young age, we knew that we were going to, there was never any doubt about it.

01:26:30:00

It was something we had to do. But oh yes, it wasn’t, it wasn’t all for excitement and adventure, yeah. But...
So did you have a strong sense of being part of the Empire?
Oh, I think yeah, yeah. I’ve even found a little card the other day, Bill’s, one of these things he, Bill

01:27:00:00

(legal bird lovers...UNCLEAR) was one of them, and the other was one of these things that, about the Empire anyway, I forget it now. But oh yes, yes, at school you did, I mean every Monday morning you stood out there and salute the flag. Honour my God, serve my King, salute my flag. My word. Every Monday morning of our lives at school. And that does enough to, for kids to get them involved to this type of thing.

01:27:30:00

But, yeah, anyway we got to the boat.
So tell us about your decision to join the militia, how did you come to that decision?
Oh, I honestly don’t know, it’s no good me making something up, I have no recollection whatsoever what would’ve made me do that. No, no, I don't know, I don't think I had a cobber who was in it, I’m quite sure I didn’t have a girl

01:28:00:00

friend that had anything to do with it, and certainly no family thing. I don’t recollect.
Can you remember your own thoughts when war was declared?
Oh not, oh dear, oh dear, everything was a bit of a jumble.

01:28:30:00

You knew we had to go, knew we had to do our bit, you know, the men did it in the First World War I suppose and that’s, still sticks by you. For instance, in my case, I had to get written permission from my father to join the army before the

01:29:00:00

bank would release me. And at that stage, not many people know this, the age limit was twenty years of age and the height was five-foot-eight minimum. Well, I wasn’t twenty years of age and I wasn’t five-foot-eight, even then. But that’s absolutely true and no question

01:29:30:00

about that, but I had to put my age up a year so I put it up two years, why muck around with it. I remember doing that. Anyway...
How did your father respond when you asked him?
Oh, I think he was pretty proud. Yeah, I think he was. And I think the way he reacted

01:30:00:00

made me feel that everything I done was right. Yeah. It was only a year after that, that me young brother joined the air force and he was two years and two months younger than me, and I was under age. Anyway...
What about your mother, how did she react?
Oh, poor old pet, she wouldn’t show it, she’d dread it but she wouldn’t show it.

01:30:30:00

Oh, she was wonderful.
So can you tell us about the day you actually joined up, what the sort of scenario was?
Oh, yeah, it’s not the day we joined up, it’s the day you all got into camp for the first time together.

01:31:00:00

We got off at the siding after about twelve hours in the train, special troop train, and nobody was in uniform cause we had to hand our militia uniforms back. And everyone had a little tiny suitcase or something, like a Gladstone bag they used to carry in those days, most of them wore a little hat, little Akubra hat with a feather in the side. Most of them were as full as bulls because every station

01:31:30:00

we stopped they had a refreshment room and they got into it as though it was going out of fashion. And anyway, we all got off the train there, there were two chaps to meet us there, there was one cove, McDermott, private, who, he might have been the corporal, anyway he was there and he just looked very, bit of a scallywag. And then there was an officer there with all the

01:32:00:00

militia regalia all over him, he had everything polished to the highest degree and everything. And, you know, these two are trying to get us into some kind of an order to get us to the camp, had to go about two or three miles to the camp, and they certainly didn’t march us there, we strolled there. But just before we took off, the officer yelled out, some bloke’d noticed him in the room there, and he yelled out, “Get on the bloody pansy.”

01:32:30:00

And his name was Goslett and he was called Pansy Goslett from then on and right up to this moment he’s still, by all his friends and his off, fellow officers and everything, he’s still Pansy Goslett. Anyway, we got up to the camp at Ingleburn and there was one spaced at the, I think they were going to have as a parade ground and there were about four hundred of us. And

01:33:00:00

we’re carrying these things and marching out of step, you’d think they’d, they were just, no march at all, it was just a walk up there. When we got there, here’s this huge Regimental Sergeant Major Sanderson, he was with the Australian Instructional Corps. and he’d joined up. And warrant officer class one, and he joined up to become our regimental sergeant major, of the 2/2nd Infantry Battalion, the best battalion that ever was. And

01:33:30:00

he stood up in front of us and he said, “Now I know you know nothing about standing to attention here but try to stand like I am now, you know, with your head up and your chest in and your belly out, belly in and your chest out.” And, you know, “And now stand still and turn round to go about eight paces,” to the officer who was gonna take over the parade, and then he was gonna hand it over to Colonel Wootton, who was our, gonna be our very first commanding

01:34:00:00

officer. This big RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] bloke took about three steps, and a loud clear authoritative voice yelled out, “Sit down,” and every bastard sat down, four hundred of us sat down, and the RSM turns round, here’s all his men sitting down on the bloody ground. He went red and purple and he’s screaming out, “Stand up! Stand up!” you see, and he walks through the ranks, “Who did that?” and

01:34:30:00

everybody goes like this, behind, ‘Some bloke back there,’ you know. Even when he got to the back row, they’re all going like this. Anyway, he got us together again, to cut a long story short we did that three times, now I knew I was in the army. Three times. This bloke was just ropable, he was gonna, he was gonna show everyone who the boss was, you see. Oh, we know who did it too, everybody who’s an original knows

01:35:00:00

who did it, a wonderful man. And, we all just sat there and well, you never seen anything like it. That was the introduction to Ingleburn, a thing you never, never, never forget. Yeah his face wasn’t red, it was scarlet. Oh God, anyway, Colonel Wootton didn’t even take over the parade that day, he just turned round and said to the adjutant bloke who had been made the adjutant before he had any

01:35:30:00

troops. And he just said, “I’m not taking em over today, I’ll have, we’ll have a parade tomorrow,” he said, “dismiss them and let em go to the sheds.” We moved over to all these brand new sheds, most of the books say that they’ve got camouflage on the top of the walls but they didn’t have any camouflage, and they were just good sheds. And then we went up to the Q-store [quartermaster store] and we were issued with long bags, palliasses [hay filled hessian bag], you know, to fill up with straw, and

01:36:00:00

bed boards, and that, from there we had to go up to the horse yards to get the straw and hay to put into the palliasses to sleep on. And we had to work out how you put these bed boards together to, anyway we had beds to lay on that night, that way. But oh yes, it was quite interesting. We eventually, a couple of days later, we were issued with our first ever machine gun. It was a, not a Bren gun, oh no,

01:36:30:00

no, be months and months and months, years I think before we got a Bren gun, months anyway, a lot of months. And we got an old Vickers, an old, not Vickers, an old Lewis gun, big round magazine on the top. They’re all in these big oil drums full of grease and, and the rifles were all in those too, every boy got his rifle. And every section got a

01:37:00:00

Lewis gun and we had to do all this training with these things. We had the Lewis guns for a long time before we got Bren guns too, we were well and truly over in the Middle East, but they were all First World War weapons. But yeah.
How comfortable were you with a gun, how much experience had you had prior to...?
Oh, I hadn’t had any but I,

01:37:30:00

you just know, it was lovely, you fondled it, you know, oh they’re beautiful, yeah. Just wanted to, yes, no, there was no problem, I didn’t see anyone that had any problems with them, never.
What did you like so much about them?
Oh, I don't know, well, you were never allowed to go anywhere without, practically, except on leave, without your rifle. And it,

01:38:00:00

it was as close to you as your pay book, but then, in the section there was about ten blokes, one fellow had a machine gun, and it didn’t matter whether it was a rifle, machine gun, sub machine gun or what they were. Oh no, you looked after them more than, better than you looked after yourself. I mean you clean your teeth and you brush your boots and you do all that, but your rifle and your Bren are always twice as clean as you ever are, oh yes. And they’re just oiled just right so that everything

01:38:30:00

works beautifully. Oh yes, yes, you loved em. They were there to be, be dead anyway. That’s the way it turned out too. But, oh no.
So can you tell us a little bit more about training at Ingleburn, what sort of things you did and how you spent your time?
Well we, some wonderful guys from the same thing that the RSM had been in, the Australian Instructional Corps,

01:39:00:00

they were, if they were corporals in this permanent army thing, they were, the same blokes were, at ones stage called the Darwin Mobile Force and then they were called the Australian Instructional Corps. And they came and joined up and all the corporals were given sergeant’s rank straight away, which was good for them because it was good, better, far better pay, and money was very important in those days. And

01:39:30:00

yes, I got another thing on my mind and I can’t get rid of it so I might as well tell you.
Yeah, tell us, tell us.
I’ll try to get back to that. About the second day we were there we were advised that the canteen was open and the canteen was just two tents put together, and it wasn’t run by army it was run by a private contractor who’d contracted it out, this, and he turned out to be a bastard. And

01:40:00:00

the main reason why nobody liked him was that he wouldn’t give em back a penny on the bottles, in the return, and that’s how money was in those days, and you didn’t get your penny back on your bottle. And everyone was complaining about this bloke, he was an arrogant bugger too. And I think he sold beer, and he sold toothbrushes and paste and you know, like a little general store really. But he, you had to go up to the oh, a long way to get beer if you didn’t get it now, I

01:40:30:00

think he did, he most probably sold bottled beer or cans of beer. But in the end the army weren’t doing anything about it so the boys took it into their own hands and one night there was a lovely fire and the whole bloody thing got burned to the ground, lock, stock and barrel. So nobody knew who did it of course, nobody cared. As a matter of fact when the flames started, all the boys gathered round and started singing, you know, songs about it. But yes,

01:41:00:00

the, and the funny thing about that is, the most wonderful thing about it is, that there was no thought at that time that the Australian Army would have a canteen service, and that was the beginning of the army thinking about and deciding to have their own canteen service. So the next thing they built was a proper shed for a canteen and get a sergeant or warrant officer in charge of it and he’d have another lad with him and

01:41:30:00

they were army personnel. And that was the start of the whole of the canteen service in the whole of the services.
Interviewee: Donald Peirce Archive ID 1684 Tape 02

02:00:31:00

So, what gear were we issued with?
Yes, so we’ll go onto that.
Only giggle suits [fatigue dress – no pockets], we didn’t have... Have you ever seen a giggle suit? I got a photograph over there of a giggle suit. But most people will tell you we also got issued with giggle hats. All these books that are written by guys that know everything, we never got a giggle hat. We never got any hat till after Christmas, see we sailed on the, we embarked on the 9th of January,

02:01:00:00

after Christmas. Yes it was as hot as hell that summer, we’re out there without any, we didn’t have a hat of any kind. And we got issued with our big, our fur felt, and we got those after Christmas. Oh, the only reason we got those, we always reckoned was because we were going to do the march through Sydney. You had to have a hat, you know, you couldn’t have your army, rifle and everything and not have a hat, you had to have your hat yeah. And I was a

02:01:30:00

confirmed sergeant on the first of December ’39, now you know what age I was then because I told you.
You were nineteen?
That’s right, yeah, 1939.
How did that come about?
Oh, because I was brilliant. What else could you do with anyone like me. No.
But seriously, what was the process to be...?
Well, they lined up one day, this is early in the piece, because you gotta start off being an active, an acting

02:02:00:00

corporal or an acting someone, we had to get these boys from somewhere, nobody was sergeants, or nobody was a corporal. I mean what you did in the militia that was just playing soldiers, this was the real thing. But I had a mate there from Coffs Harbour, wonderful bloke, Harry Lovett. And Harry said, somebody talked about the, one of the officers had come down to see, ‘If you wanna be an NCO [Non Commissioned Officer] or anything, take a pace forward.’ And

02:02:30:00

Harry turned round to me and he said, “There’s money in it, come on,” so we both took a pace forward. And that’s absolutely how I became an acting sergeant and then a sergeant. And I was an acting sergeant from, we got into camp on the 4th of November ’39, and I would say before November, October, no, October, November, yeah, I’d say before the

02:03:00:00

end of November I was an acting sergeant. And my platoon commander, our platoon commander, was Charlie Green, 3rd Royal Australian Regiment over in Korea.
What did you know about him at that time?
We knew he came from Uralla and we also knew, you ask my wife, we don’t know how Uralla existed during the war because every bloke that we’d ever heard of

02:03:30:00

from Uralla, who was old enough, joined up. They had more blokes from Uralla than they had from Grafton. They had more blokes from Uralla than they had from Lismore. Coffs Harbour, more from little Uralla. And Charlie Green had a bashed up face, and I always thought that he’d had a hair lip and had had an operation done. But when I got his book that his wife wrote,

02:04:00:00

Call me Charlie, or something, he was kicked in the face by a draft horse, when he was a real little kid, and that’s how his face was smashed up. And I never, never knew till I read that book that Olive or something, I forget her name, she’s a lovely lady, Charlie’s widow. And but Charlie was in charge of 13 Platoon, I was acting sergeant and the chap that said, “There’s money in it,” he was our company sergeant major. And

02:04:30:00

that’s how I become a sergeant. But no, we didn’t have any hats except for, ready for this march, and everybody got issued with a hat. And that was the worst part of all our training, in the sun, they got under trees, anywhere, but oh God, it was a hot summer, and you needed a hat.
Can you tell us a little bit more about training, what sort of things that you had to do?
Well,

02:05:00:00

for the training we did there I don't think we had a range, therefore you’d, we could’ve got to Liverpool but I don't think we did much range work at all, if any. But all that teaches you is how to aim properly and how the pull, squeeze the trigger, not pull the trigger and the same with the Bren gun, you know, you learned how to do all these things by

02:05:30:00

repetition I’d say. “Your turn next Charlie, your turn next,” you know, and they get there and they’d do all these things. And with the hand grenades, we got hand grenades and we had the, you know, dummy ones to start with I suppose. But, and the Lewis gun, hand grenades, your rifle, your

02:06:00:00

bayonet, that was about it, that was about it. And we did our march through Sydney and...
How did you progress from being in the militia to the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]?
Oh, I just joined up, I didn’t ask the militia to release me, I just joined up and went. And later on when you had to have a certain amount of

02:06:30:00

time in the services to get on, or to get some kind of, not a bravery medal but just a service medal, your length of time in the militia started to count them, that was years after the war was over. But you took no notice of the militia you just lined up with the blokes that were lining up and you just joined up. And you weren’t allowed to take your militia uniform with you, or we weren’t, a lot did, but

02:07:00:00

we weren’t.
So how long were you with the militia before you actually joined...?
See I was with the militia at Maitland, at Newcastle sorry, Newcastle. Oh, I don't know, it’d be about nine months I suppose, something like that.
You said earlier that was sort of just, you said the militia was just playing around compared with joining the army, what did you mean by that?
Oh,

02:07:30:00

it was a semi social thing. You know, if you became an officer you walked around with pips on and that, and if you became a sergeant you had stripes and you were a bit better than he was, and I mean that kind of thing just didn’t exist in the army. I mean you were just there, you had a different job to do, and you were respected because of that. You had to, it’s funny, when you get all these different ranks and that and you wonder about them,

02:08:00:00

what makes a good officer for instance? A lot of blokes have got the ability to win their confidence and get em to do exactly what they say, merely by saying it. I found that I could always get them to do these things by doing everything better than they could do them. I could do all the tests of elementary training on a Bren gun, on a Lewis gun, on a

02:08:30:00

rifle, better than anybody else under me could do it. I was too young to be able to win them over any other way, and I found that this way, and not only could I beat them but I could beat any other bloke in the whole company at all these timed tests of elementary training and that sort of thing. And I just worked that out for myself that it was important that I could get their respect

02:09:00:00

in something at my age. See some of these blokes were bloody, in their late thirties, you know, and they’d worked, men, we had a lot of blokes came out of jail you know to join our mob, because they couldn’t get them. And these guys came out of jail and they were wonderful guys, they didn’t play up, they were really men, you didn’t treat them stupidly.

02:09:30:00

But they just knuckled down and did what they were supposed to do, they were great guys. Yeah.
So why did you decide to move from the militia to the army?
Well, there’s a war on, the militia was only, you know, a play thing in comparison. I think this day and age we should have compulsory military training, in schools particularly. They used to have it in all the high schools, blokes used to have their uniforms, and cadets, they called them

02:10:00:00

didn’t they. I think it’s, we’re always talking about lack of discipline and hard to get discipline in the schools, you can’t spank ’em, you can’t belt ’em, you can’t talk to ’em rudely, you can’t do anything, you gotta have some way to get discipline. Discipline’s not just, I mean you’ve got a civil discipline, and you’ve got so many different formats of discipline. Why do we, when you get your car out and you keep to the left of the road, why do you do it?

02:10:30:00

Because it’s the rule, the law, okay. And while you’re doing that, you’re obeying the law. But then you decide that you’ll go to Coolangatta in the car, why do you do that, that’s something that you decided yourself but you didn’t decide the other thing yourself. We got no discipline, that’s the trouble today.
So how did things change, or how would you compare your training in the militia with your training in the army, what

02:11:00:00

changed?
Oh, I can’t answer that, I can’t answer that, no, no. I don’t think it was much, I don't think there was much difference. Except that the instructional people, whether it be me or anybody else, once you got to a certain rank, you didn’t just get there to get the

02:11:30:00

dough, you got there to do a job of work, and you had to do it. On the instruction in the militia was pretty poor, it was mainly done by one warrant officer, look after the whole of the Coffs Harbour company. And he’d help, tell blokes how to train them here and how to stand to attention there. But no, no, the

02:12:00:00

training was, you couldn’t compare the training. Yeah. No, it was...
So when you say you couldn’t compare it, can you tell me for example, what was a typical day in the militia, while you were training with the militia?
Oh, that’d be the same as the army.
So...?
Basically because someone’d blow a bugle and you’d have to get up and you’d have to stretch your legs and put your boots on, and polish your boots and all that. And then you’d get another bugle and you’d have to go to the shed and have your break-

02:12:30:00

fast and call all the cooks bastards and, “Who called the cook...?” And all the, and yeah it was just, you know, they’re the kind of things, the old diggers that’d joined up with the militia, they had a habit of walking in and saying, “Who called the cook a bastard?” And the other one’d say, “Who called the bastard a cook?” And course the, this kind of followed on and

02:13:00:00

it just happened every day when you walked into a mess hut, this came out. If there’s a cook here, you say, “I’ll job ya...” but it’s part of the fun of the show. But no, no, no, the militia was a little social gathering.
What sort of friendships did you make there?
Where?
With the militia, during those nine months, did you make any...?
Oh no, because they, you came from the same town, they’re all Coffs Harbour boys, every single one of them.

02:13:30:00

They, the platoon and, might have helped cement some relationships with some guys but I don't think it did much, we’re all mates. But the mates you’d had at home, at Coffs, in civvy [civilian] life were just the same mates you had in camp, in the militia.
How did you like being away from home?
I’ve never thought about it.

02:14:00:00

I wasn’t, well I was away from home at work wasn’t I? And I’d gone to work in 1936, so I was used to being away from home, it was nothing different, just a different place, different time.
What about sleeping arrangements in the militia and army, were you bunking in with lots of other young guys?
We had about thirty to a hut at Ingleburn and you had your bed boards and your things under-

02:14:30:00

neath and your palliasses on the top and everyone had his own and you into them. And but if you wanted to iron anything you usually put it under your palliasse and you slept on it for a couple of nights and you wanted to get up with an ironed thing, there it was. Oh no the, no the, it’s just kinda happened, yeah.
So tell us about joining the army, when you joined, when you moved from the militia

02:15:00:00

to the army, what was the process, did you...?
There wasn’t any, I just joined up and just hoped that somebody’d tell em that I’d gone to war. Yeah, that’s true.
But you must’ve gone along to actually join up?
No I didn’t. Oh, to join up, oh yes.
Can you tell us about that day?
Oh, well it was like the day that, you know, went in to one of the sheds out at the showground and blokes just turned up and they signed you up and made you swear on the Bible

02:15:30:00

and this kind of thing. And then the doctor gave you an examination, that’s what I was telling you about earlier, that’s how we signed, how we joined up. I mean, after you got out of that, that day, you’re a soldier, you’re just waiting for ’em to tell you to get on a train and come to camp. Yeah.
Why were you so eager to go to war, you wanted to be in the army to fight the war, why was it so important to you?
I don’t think I’d been

02:16:00:00

very satisfactory at anything else in life. I wasn’t big enough to be good at any sport. I think it was a challenge. Someone had to do it, yeah.
How many of your mates from back home were joining up?
Oh crikey.

02:16:30:00

I don't know but we’d’ve had at least thirty blokes from Coffs Harbour went down on the same train as I was on, at least thirty yeah.
So...?
Everywhere, see that Byron Scottish Regiment went from Lismore to every town right down to Newcastle. You think of, you know, your Taree, your Kempsey, you Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, go as hard as you like. Every single one of em was part of the Byron Scottish

02:17:00:00

Regiment. And it got to the Coffs Harbour, you know, we knew every bloke that, out, so the, between forty and sixty joined up in Coffs Harbour say.
So do you remember what the mood was like on that train with all of you blokes going along to...?
Yeah, where’s the next drink? All the way, that’s all. “Come on Charlie, get a move on,” they yelled out to the driver. No, nobody was talking

02:17:30:00

war, nobody was talking seriously about it. No one was crying, no one was... no, it was just another trip.
What were your expectations of the war do you think, at that time?
Well, the old thing everybody shared, “We’ll be home for Christmas,” that was about it. Nobody had any idea how long it was going to last, whether it would be,

02:18:00:00

but we all reckoned we’d be home for Christmas. You know, it wouldn’t have been the ’39 Christmas, it would have been the ’40 Christmas. When that came round we’re still saying, “We’ll be home for Christmas,” and that’s the kind of thing that we all talked about. I just read a thing I got the other day from Harry Lovett who was our,

02:18:30:00

well, he was our company sergeant major and then he took over from Charlie Green as our platoon commander for Bardia and Tobruk. And yeah, I forget what I was going to say, do you know what I was up to?
That’s okay. Just Speaking about Charlie Green, when he was your, in those early days still in Australia as your platoon commander, what did you think of him?
Funny thing about Charlie Green, I’ll tell you something

02:19:00:00

first. He’s a real good bloke, a real country man, and he had a brain, he was wonderful with horses, absolutely wonderful with horses. But Charlie Green hurt his foot at Mersa Matruh going up to Bardia and Tobruk. And warrant officer Harry Lovett took over from him and did the

02:19:30:00

whole platoon leading in Bardia and in Tobruk, Charlie Green has never, never to this day seen the inside of Bardia or Tobruk. Coming home, they stopped at Colombo, or Sri Lanka, or whatever it is, once they, John Curtin [Prime Minister of Australia] had beaten Menzies [Robert Menzies, previous Prime Minister of Australia] and Churchill [Winston Churchill, Prime Minster of Britain] to let the 6th Division come home. The officer’s mess had a big party and they were

02:20:00:00

throwing little bombs around, these bombs that they used to simulate shells that bombed. And they were throwing ’em round the sergeant’s mess and when it come over near Charlie he put his big foot on it and it went off, and he never saw any part of the Kokoda Track either. He was in hospital again for all that, so he never saw a war in his life as a lieutenant.

02:20:30:00

And then he went over, when we came back out of that, we went to Greece and we already had a company and all the rest of it and so they made him an acting, what’d they make him, 2IC [Second in Command] of the company. As 2IC of the company he’s not controlling any men in war, he’s just making certain that all the food’s, comes up and the cooks are ready for this and there’s ammunition for that and all this type of thing.

02:21:00:00

And so Charlie didn’t see much war from that angle. But then he became the CO [Commanding Officer] of 2/29th Battalion or something, which was a Western Australian battalion, I know it but I’ve forgotten the number, and he did a magnificent job, absolutely magnificent. And then he went over to Korea, 3rd Royal Australian Regiment

02:21:30:00

CO. Nobody I’ve ever seen in my life could’ve done a better job. And he knew the name of every one of the seven hundred and seventy-seven blokes in his battalion. Can I tell you how he got killed? Righto, this is something not many peopled know, I’m no, truly... They were withdrawing from the front because they’d had a terrible time and they’d been

02:22:00:00

marching to get back for a rest for nearly three days and nights, they were all beggared. Anyway, he still had his batman of course, being the CO, which, this is right, should have. And he picked a spot, “How about here sir?” And Charlie said, “Righto,” so he put his blankets out and he made a thing, not under a tree because under a tree’s always dangerous. And he was, and there was a hill like that and the badness are on this side, if, and Charlie was on that

02:22:30:00

side there you see. Now if they were to fire an artillery piece, it’d land there and if it went over the top of the hill, there’s no way, it wouldn’t land anywhere near here because ... And what happened? There was a tree about twenty feet away from Charlie, it landed in the middle of the bloody tree, and a big hunk of metal went through his guts. Hard

02:23:00:00

to believe. Wonderful man. How could they kill him? Here’s this bloody hill, guns are firing there, only fired two shells and it hits this bloody tree in the top and a bit of shell, straight... that’s how he died. Isn’t it amazing? He’s on the other side of the hill, there’s no way an artillery piece that cleared the hill

02:23:30:00

would, could land within two hundred yards of him, absolutely impossible, but when it hits the tree it just goes off. Yeah, poor bugger. Good man too. Now you know more about Charlie Green than you ever knew before.
Absolutely. What was your relationship with him when you were a sergeant still in Australia before you left, what sort of relationship did you have?
Well, I was his sergeant and he was my platoon commander. And

02:24:00:00

you don’t get too close with your officer, but when you’re drilling or preparing your men or getting em trained in certain things, that’s when you take over. Oh, I don't think he had any complaints, I didn’t.
So as sergeant, what was your role?
Oh,

02:24:30:00

there’s so many damn things you do it’s hard to describe.
Well, just in those, just in a training...
You more or less...
just in those days before you left?
You more or less run the show. But you know, no, I don't know.
I mean when you fall in of a morning you, you know, you see that all the blokes are there, that the corporal’s have got, you’ve got three corporals with about nine blokes each. And

02:25:00:00

you get em all lined up and the officer comes and you salute him and he salutes you back and, “Ready and correct, sir?” And then you march round the back and take your position at the back, and then the officer takes over and away he goes and does what he’s gotta do. And it’s a funny thing, when you gotta do it, you know it. That’s the most difficult question I’ve had for years. I know what I did.
So tell us about marching in

02:25:30:00

Sydney?
Oh that was, that was thrilling, it was the first time, oh, since the First World War blokes had marched knowing they were going to war. The first time anybody had ever marched in any place in Australia in threes. But instead of being in threes we were in sixes, but, you previously, you formed up in fours, and to go through the city you did it in eights.

02:26:00:00

And if you read most of the books that are out they’d tell you that we marched in eights. Nine out of every ten booklets written about the war will tell you that we marched in eights, and no way, we marched in sixes. Because about a week before that, we’d changed from threes to... from twos and fours to threes and... Yeah. That’s right. Anyway...
So what was the idea of marching in Sydney?

02:26:30:00

Oh, I don't know, I think it was just to... I don't know, the big blokes could tell you that, something they had to do I think to get the public on side and get them kind of stirred up for war. And look at our wonderful blokes that are going over seas and get the Comfort’s Fund starting, I don't know.
What did you think about it?
I didn’t, no, no, didn’t. But it was good, it was very interesting getting onto

02:27:00:00

these ships. We got onto the Otranto which was the first boat, on the 9th of January and the 10th we sailed out. And I got a little cabin with another bloke, two young sergeants just a cabin to ourselves, you know. And this was beaut you know and sergeant’s mess was... and we noticed that they still got all their staff around the place, they still had their

02:27:30:00

cabin stewards and their cooks, they had all their own thing. And anyway, the first morning we were out we heard this knock on our door, or I, woke us up. And I yelled out, “Come in!” And here’s a bloke in white, dressed in white, and he came in and he said, “Your bath is poured sir,” you know, to me and the other young whipper snapper. And I said, “Oh, you’re bloody kidding mate.”

02:28:00:00

And he said, “No, come and I’ll show you.” And he melt, you know, came down, I hopped out of the bed and put a towel around me and tucked it in, we walked down the passage way and opened a door and there’s about eight baths in there. And he said, “Same number as your cabin, there it is, that’s yours.” And he said, “I’ll be knocking on your door every morning all the way over and now you know where to come.” And I said, “Oh, that’s beaut, thanks a lot mate.” And he said, “Here, don’t give ’em any... he gave us two,

02:28:30:00

two bits of soap. And he said, “That’s salt water soap,” he said, “if you don’t use that soap,” he said, “you won’t get any lather at all in these baths, they’re all salt water.” So we were made, we had made a friend and but that’s the, that was the first thing that... laugh, I have never... I still laugh about it. You know, here he is, standing up, you know, about six foot two, and we little whipper snappers, “Your bath is poured sir.” Beautiful.

02:29:00:00

Yeah, that’s what the army was like. And I had my bath poured for me and I walked up and had, was given my salt water soap, yeah. You can’t believe it can you.
Can you tell us about the convoy and the day you departed Australia, and sort of paint a picture for us of what was happening and...?
Oh, it was supposed to be very secretive and there must’ve been about half a million people round Sydney Harbour all cheering us off goodbye and waving good-

02:29:30:00

bye, and it was terribly hush, hush secret of course. But I said goodbye to my girl, same girl, yeah and I was away three years and one day before I came back, and she was still there for me. Heh? Lucky. Yeah.
Can you tell us about that goodbye with May?
Oh, I don't know really when it was, no.

02:30:00:00

No.
You don’t remember?
She’d remember. No, I was most likely, for once in my life, a bit affected. Bit of a softy. Yeah. Oh, she was wonderful, yeah. Oh no, anyway I told you what happened the first day out...
So just to

02:30:30:00

get a little bit more detail of that scene in Sydney Harbour, you had half a million people and how many ships were there and what...?
Four. Got the photograph in there, you saw that didn’t you?
Yes, but can you tell us a little bit about it?
Oh well, the 2/2nd Battalion were all on the Otranto which was the lead ship and the 16th Brigade Head Quarters were all on that ship and some ancillary units were there was, you know, half a dozen medics from,

02:31:00:00

might have been a couple of sisters there from the hospital too. And yeah, that was our ship, the 2/1st Battalion were on the RMS Orford they were right behind us and they, I don't know what else they had on them. The other two ships, I don't know, I don't know. But when we went out into the, right out into the ocean, we were joined up with by six

02:31:30:00

ships from New Zealand. Six. And they were full. From New Zealand. They mightn’t have been as big a ships as ours, but God what an effort that must’ve been from New Zealand. Six ships joined us, all from New Zealand. Got a little list over there of all the ships that were in the convoy and all the, what do you call it, the navy vessels. The HMS Ramillies was the big one that escorted us,

02:32:00:00

big battle ship, Ramillies. The Eagle, I think it was, was the aircraft carrier. And we had so many blasted cruisers and this, that and the other thing, we never saw them, we never saw them, they were so far out, around, just protecting us all the way. And we saw most of them when we stopped at, as we got off Melbourne one of the oh, big ships came out and joined our group,

02:32:30:00

the six Kiwis [New Zealand ships] and the four from Sydney, one from Melbourne. And then we stopped in Perth in the harbour and had a day’s leave there, just about a day. Oh it, that was most probably one, I don’t think I stopped laughing from the time I got ashore till the time I got back on the boat. Oh, the blokes didn’t, they didn’t misbehave in a way that anything was broken, or anything was damaged or anyone was hurt, we took over

02:33:00:00

driving the trams and the buses, and the blokes let us, they just let us. And at one stage there I can remember about twenty blokes picked up a little Morris Minor [motor car], a little, not the mini but the one before it. They carried it right up the top of the town hall and just put it up there and wished everybody goodbye and away they went, up all the steps of the town hall. And a

02:33:30:00

French cruiser joined us there, and of course, by the time the boys got nice and tight, they were swapping uniforms with the French sailors. The French sailors were giving ’em theirs and, not only did they get onto the right ship with the wrong uniform, but a lot of them got on to the wrong ship with the wrong uniform. And

02:34:00:00

when they’re out at sea they had to transfer them from when they got. Oh no, matter of fact, at that particular time I think the officers were very, very considerate. You know, I’m trying to think of another word to say that’s more manly than that. They didn’t act just as officers, they acted as men, and good men. And they, there wasn’t,

02:34:30:00

very, very few penalties were handed out and there were very few blokes that didn’t deserve to get ‘castigised’ for something they did.
Just getting back to that departure from Sydney, Sydney Harbour, that must have been quite a scene with all those people and all those ships, I can’t quite imagine it. What were you thinking at that time when you were leaving?
What was I thinking? I don't know, I was thinking I’d like to get down to that cabin and clean

02:35:00:00

up, you know, get me stuff out and see that all me gear’s here and that everything’s right. And by the time we got out it was just about a meal time too I might add and, you know, I thought, “I wonder where we’ll go for our first meal,” but haven’t been told yet where our mess is going to be. And I was a sergeant, I had to be able to tell all the boys where they had to go. And I might add, beautiful on that ship, all the way from

02:35:30:00

Perth anyway, they, oh no, from Sydney even. Beer was about tuppence ha’penny a pint and we used to get into groups where they served the beer and we get the big dixies [cooking pot] from the cookhouse, you know, great big things like this. And we’d get about four blokes together, we’d say, “Fill her up,” you see, and they’d fill her up and we’d pay em whatever it was. And then we’d get in the end of the queue

02:36:00:00

to go right round the ship again and come back and then we’d fill it up again. But we used to just dip these, we used to have these Lady Blamey’s, where they cut em off, you know, everyone had their own Lady Blamey. You just dip it in and fill her up and, you know, and by the time you got all the way round again it was just about empty so you’d fill the thing up again. And oh it was wonderful, it was good beer too. But even though we were doing that, the boys couldn’t help but knock off a keg every now and again. And

02:36:30:00

they used to, they had groups of blokes that were, you know, every day you’re on the keg for tea, used to have to get these kegs and roll ’em upstairs and gangways, whatever they call them, and get them to the beer place. And every now and again you’d go past a cabin where all your mates were, and the door’d open and a bloody keg’d disappear. So when we got into the, oh, between Colombo and the Red Sea,

02:37:00:00

the captain had to, in the end, said, “Because of pilfering they’d have to reduce the price of beer by a ha’penny a pint.” And they did. But oh no, it was that trip that made you, see that’d never happen in the militia in a million years, not a million years, and this is your first day out of Australia roughly. And you know, you’re knocking off beer, you know, and you’re getting beer for

02:37:30:00

a price that, you know, just crazy. Never could a thing like that ever happen in the militia could it? And that’s nothing to do with what kind of exercises you do or who you salute or any of this type of thing.
Was that sort of banter and that sort of fun important do you think?
Oh yes, oh yes. Oh you might as well be dead as not do, not carry on like that.

02:38:00:00

Oh, I could tell you, I’ve got miles of stories, I tell you a story now. The, this is, I’m going forward now another six to eight months and we’ve been training in Julis and Palestine. And of course we started training as platoons and getting platoon drill, then it became company and then it became battalion and then it became divisional, 6th Div [Division], we got this very big exercise on. And

02:38:30:00

they were attacking One Tree Hill, a huge thing, and they had generals and full colonels and brigadiers all over the place and thousands of boys. And the very, very last night before the final assault where they’re going to capture this bloody One Tree Hill, half a dozen of the boys sneaked out and cut the tree down. And there are millions of hills that look the same bloody shape and colour and size and everything else, but there’s only one

02:39:00:00

One Tree Hill. They’d never found who did it, they never found the tree but the whole exercise had to be called off. Whole exercise was called off. They’re the things where you can laugh, you laugh your head off, you know. Nobody got killed, no, and it was beautiful. You should’ve seen the look of all these bastard, big ranking officers going out with their subordinate officers,

02:39:30:00

you know, to inspect One Tree Hill next morning, you know, with their glasses and everything, “Where is the bastard? Where is it?” No, that’s a truey. And yeah, I duck into these truey’s again, we had another truey, about the same time as this One Tree Hill bit. They, the woggie boys were knocking off a rifle now and again, and the worst thing you could ever happen to a soldier is to lose your rifle, and they were

02:40:00:00

nicking rifles. So the wonderful powers that be said that you’ve gotta, when you’re not carrying it with you, you gotta chain it to your fence, your tent centre pole. And they had to do this and it was very rigid. There was one officer who was a real little sneaky bastard, you wouldn’t give tuppence for him and he was always trying to catch the boys. Not find out it’s

02:40:30:00

done and do something about it but he was sneaking round at night time trying to catch ’em. And of course they’d do, get twenty-eight day’s pay, they lose it and they get put in the boob for a while, and so he wasn’t real popular. And so one night my boys, you know, they said, “It’s on tonight sarge,” and I said, “What you doing tonight?” And he said, “Oh, we’re gonna get this bastard.” And I said, “Oh, good luck to ya’s,” I said, “Keep me out of it.” “Yeah right.” Anyway, they lined it up

02:41:00:00

with another crowd in another platoon that had a tent around a bit further apart. And they said, “We’ll use your tent,” because if, they’d know who was involved. So all the blokes from the tent they’re going to use to catch this bloke, went to the canteen and made a hell of a lot of noise that was seen by everybody. So they,

02:41:30:00

they’d cut a kind of a replica of a rifle and left it leaning on the centre pole not chained up or anything. And they all planted around the place and Sneaky came round and he spotted this and he looked round, there was nobody there, then he went in. And once he got up to the pole they dropped, they cut all the ropes and dropped the tent and the fly and everything on top of him and kicked the hell out of it. I think he was

02:42:00:00

in hospital for a few days after. They called him a...
Interviewee: Donald Peirce Archive ID 1684 Tape 03

03:00:31:00

Can you tell us about the...?
Well, everything in Colombo was as good as gold. I had one particular thing that’s a bit different I suppose that we went into one of these really first class clubs and I was there with two mates. And

03:01:00:00

you know, we didn’t have much money in those days and I said, “I’ve got a pretty good idea,” just work with me. And I told some bloke that one of the boys is having a birthday. So they called ’em all up the top and introduced us all and provided us with grog and everything else round the place, For he’s a jolly good fellow, and everything, and we’re singing. We had a wonderful night out at Colombo,

03:01:30:00

it was nobody’s birthday, that that was, it went well. But no, nothing happened at Colombo but when they, when we left Colombo about, only about four days out, every bastard got sick, oh, you’ve never seen anything like it, from both ends. And there weren’t any, oh, if they’d have had a hundred times more toilets they wouldn’t have had enough to cope. It was shocking, and I didn’t get it. Look nobody knows what caused

03:02:00:00

it but the doctors reckoned that it could’ve been a spray that was on the applies, nearly everybody had an apple, they were lovely, they were rosy red and they looked beautiful. They were just like a, a bit smaller than a delicious, but just like that. And everybody was right, back on board and we get into the Dead Sea and I got it. Nobody else got it at that time, why mine was delayed I don't know but... Anyway, I was,

03:02:30:00

I was... but they all got cramps, while they’re doing all this, they, every muscle in their body’d cramp. And ‘Help! Help! Help!’ and there’s nobody could help you cause they were just as bad themselves or they had one doctor about every two hundred blokes or something. Yeah, that’s all that happened at Colombo. Is that what you expected?
How many people would’ve been on board that ship?
A thousand. At least. You see, you’ve got the complete lot of 2/2nd Battalion, you got brigade headquarters, yes a thousand.
And what would you do during the day?
Exercises. Fall in and you know, stand at ease, stand to

03:03:30:00

attention, slope arms, and then all this kind of thing, fixed bayonets. Do a bit of, with the Lewis guns, do a bit of drill, get down there and...One of the things they always drilled with all automatic weapons, the stoppages. You know, easiest way to fake a stoppage was to put a blank round in the middle of a lot of good rounds.

03:04:00:00

So you can really only practise on a range properly, either that or you could tell them to get down, they say, “Fire,” and they pull the trigger and nothing happens, and that’s not training really, that’s all you can do in camp. And then you say, “Stop!” for stoppage and they’d stop and they’d go forward and they’d move a little gas thing a little bit further and they pull it back on and fire again there. And by the time it took ’em to,

03:04:30:00

supposed to be a time from the time they say stop till the time you’re firing again. Well, you practise all that and a lot of, they had boxing tournaments of all ages, and sizes and weights and...There was a lot, it wasn’t boring at any stage, it wasn’t boring. And then of course you were looking all the time at the clock to see when the beer starts,

03:05:00:00

again. Well, that’s what it was all about, I think, from the time you got up, you know, right back here somewhere you’re trying to be near the right spot at the right time, to get your, yeah.
And what would happen when the beer started flowing? Songs and...
Oh, well, you’d get your queue right round the ship like that, and they’d just, the boys’d just be pouring it in. Most of them, the idea, you had to get a big receptacle,

03:05:30:00

so that you could go all the way around the ship and dip your Lady Blamey [named after the wife of General Thomas Blamey Commander-in-Chief, Australian Military Forces (AMF) and Commander, Allied Land Forces] in and... and not too many fellas... oh, it worked alright. Doesn’t take ’em long to blasted work out a thing like that.
Can you describe the Lady Blamey?
Oh, it’s just a bottle, about oh, no smaller than a full size lemonade bottle, cut off about, say,

03:06:00:00

six or seven inches. And if it’s glass it’s smoothed over with sandstone or something so there’s no edges, and if it’s a plastic one, no trouble. But the idea was to try to get the most rotund bottle you could get because it held more, you didn’t just take any one. I mean it’s still a Lady Blamey whether it holds that much or that much. That’s why I was a sergeant, you know.
And was,

03:06:30:00

did you have to stay in control, because you were in charge of other blokes?
When you say ‘stay in,’ I don’t follow.
Stay in control when you, did you have to be careful about how much alcohol you had, because you were looking after the other blokes?
Oh no. Oh, I’d say yes, if you misbehaved or did something that was stupid or wrong because of grog, you got into trouble, of course you did. And you got into more trouble than,

03:07:00:00

than a lad who also would get into trouble doing the same thing but didn’t have any rank. You should have had more sense than to have done this thing, that’s about it.
So when the beer came out, did the ship come alive?
No, it was usually very quiet, there’s not much talking going on, a lot of guzzling. Oh, quietly they’d yack amongst themselves after they’d, you know,

03:07:30:00

consumed the first Dixie full. Bit quiet then because you run out of things to talk about.
Were there any entertainers or singers on board?
No professionals.
Just among the blokes?
Oh there, yeah, there were quite a few blokes. I can remember one particular mess we had where we had the brigadier came along as a guest, and somebody was there. And at the end of it they were,

03:08:00:00

they were called to order and the brigadier had a little bit of a yarn and, to us all. And then he said, “Oh, by the way,” he said, “I’ve got a presentation to make.” And I thought, “What the hell they gonna do here?” And he says, “A bloke,” he said, “I’d like Rocky Maxwell to come up.” And I knew this Rocky Maxwell bloke. Anyway, we ended up he said, “You mightn’t know this but Rocky Maxwell’s the youngest bloke in the sergeant’s mess and we’re going...” they made it so and so... I,

03:08:30:00

I was a full year younger than he was cause I put my name up two years and I was definitely younger than he was. He got a beautiful presentation, a thing you’d like to keep for life. It was lovely. Bugger him. They didn’t ask me what age I really was. Yeah, that hurt.
Why?
It serves you right for telling a fib. Because I was younger than he was, I was most likely, and there was a, oh,

03:09:00:00

I was gonna say there was another mate of mine’s a year younger than me too but he wasn’t a sergeant. But I was the youngest in that sergeant’s mess on the boat. But this bloke got the kudos for it.
Who were your mates on the boat?
Oh, nearly all Coffs Harbour, all the platoon, fellas in the platoon. You got a real mateship, they don’t abuse the privilege of the fact you got three stripes and they got two

03:09:30:00

or they haven’t got any. Oh no, they didn’t do that, they were men, they, not idiots.
And what happened when you got to your first destination on the ship?
This is after Colombo?
Yeah.
Yeah oh well we, yeah, we disembarked in the canal on the northern side

03:10:00:00

and the army had a hell of a lot of trucks ready for us there, the, most probably got it from the Brits [British] and everywhere, to take us to where our camp was going to be. And we got to Julis where we had to pitch our tents, they hadn’t put the tents up, they just marked out areas for all the tents and all the companies and all the rest of it, it worked out pretty well.

03:10:30:00

And amazing, they had little wog blokes everywhere, they had them doing this, initially had them doing all the hygiene work, the toilets and sewerage and all those things, the garbage stuff. And they were still making roads around the place and

03:11:00:00

what stunned us more than anything else was the... In those days of course there was no Palestine or Israel, it was just all Palestine, it was all Jewish and it was all run by the Brits. And the Brits had one battalion of guards that’d been out there a while and they were the only law enforcement people in the whole

03:11:30:00

show. The Jews and the Arabs got on well together, and as soon as they started to give ’em something, like Gaza, they want something more, they want another ten acres here and they give ’em that and you want something more, that’s the main fault of the Arab boys. But yeah, I mixed up with a lot of this, I’ve got it on my little list, I’d have in order. But I was the first bloke in the world to

03:12:00:00

initiate an army for the Israelis in Palestine. Yeah. This is a while ahead, I’m jumping a bit, but I had my commission at this stage and there’s another lad with his commission and he and I were called up and I was just a few months more senior than he was. And we had to go up and meet these Palestine police blokes about sixty

03:12:30:00

or seventy of ’em, they had three trucks. And we went up to the Hebron Hills and they had, what happened was they had no army whatsoever, either the Arabs or the Jews in Palestine. All they had was the Palestine police boys. Now having said that, I’m going to get myself mixed up here. Yeah. Mussolini [Benito Mussolini, Prime Minister of Italy] had been

03:13:00:00

killed and slaughtered by the Nazis and the Germans had taken over the whole of the control of Italy. And from Italy, their bombers, the German bombers, could very easily carry a load of bombs over to Palestine and drop them and get back home, whereas previously with the Italians, they didn’t have a plane that could do that. So all of a sudden the powers that be had said,

03:13:30:00

“We better get these Palestine blokes, the Israelis and the Jew, ah, the Arabs, to learn something about an army and to get an army going, so that they can fight for ’emselves a bit. We don’t want to be doing all the fighting for ’em, particularly if they come over here and drop parachutes in.” So that’s when I was seconded to take these blokes out in the hills and teach ’em the rudiments of

03:14:00:00

oh, the little you could teach ’em about an army and the discipline of an army, cause they had no... The Jews and the Arabs got on very well together in the police force, very well indeed. And as a matter of fact, one of the Arab boys in this lot, he’d been mentioned in despatches by the Queen for some heroic thing he did. And all the Jew boys

03:14:30:00

they respected him, they respected each other, they were a good lot. But we did a lot of training with them, grenades and rifles and Bren guns and all these things.
What year would that’ve been?
’42. But we used all live ammunition so they weren’t allowed to make too many mistakes. And we were hanging round there too so we didn’t want ’em to make too many mistakes either. But no we,

03:15:00:00

you could say, “How could you teach ’em?” Well, in, as a police force they didn’t have much discipline, and their rifles were bloody filthy in, compared to what…Any bloke in our platoon, I could pick out the bloke who was the most careless, I won’t say dirtiest, the most careless, and I could examine his rifle and it’d be absolutely magnificent compared to the best rifle of all these sixty. And they had the same type of

03:15:30:00

rifle exactly. So we had to teach ’em how to look after their weapons and how to handle them and how to respect all these things, then we used to do little section work and platoon work and that. But that was the really and truly the initial seed that was sown of the Israelis to get their army.
And were they effective?

03:16:00:00

Well, they must’ve been, haven’t you seen, haven’t you heard of the Six-Day War? Well, I mean of course we had nothing to do with that but we did do the very initial bit to get all that started. From then on those blokes were able to go back and teach what we had told, taught them to other lads. And gradually from there, when they’ve got the numbers then they’d have the officers, and the officers’d have to get special training at British officers cadet

03:16:30:00

schools, and they were trained like that.
Why were you chosen for that?
Oh, because I was so good. No, I was available, I was available and I say it just happened, I hadn’t been long out of my, out of the OC2 [Officer’s Course], the officer’s course at Kazanil [?] Barracks in Cairo and yeah, I was just doing odd jobs. And

03:17:00:00

what’d happened was that my unit had come, had sailed for home and I couldn’t get on it because they had all the shipping things that, with your numbers and everything, they couldn’t take any off and they couldn’t put any on. If they got sick they went into the hospital on the ship, but they couldn’t add any to it. And yeah, I went and saw the CO of the unit and he was a bloke I’d never seen in my life before, and he, never seen him

03:17:30:00

before. And yes, he said, “I’m sorry we can’t do anything for you.” But he said, “In any case we don’t need any more reinforcement officers.” God strike me, I think I went all red and I, and, yeah. A lot of them, God, we’d be lost without reinforcement officers

03:18:00:00

but they were just treated as second grade citizens for a while. Not in a real nasty way but in a nice way as second grade citizens. You’re nodding away. No, yeah, because we always reckoned that you could use your sergeants and bring them up a step and make them lieutenants and do all this and they’re already trained, they’ve seen a bit of nasty stuff, whereas the reinforcements, most of ’em never

03:18:30:00

seen anything.
When you guys got to the first camp, do you think the Australians, cause that was the early part of the war, were the Australians ready?
Well, we didn’t encounter it for a long, long while after that, at that time that you’re talking, when we got into the camp at Julis. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. No. We trained for,

03:19:00:00

we got there round about February, about February, we trained there for six or seven months and then we went down to Helwan and trained there for six or seven weeks.
What sort of training did you do at Julis?
Oh, every kind of training you could do. Not so much section work but platoon and company and battalion and like One Tree Hill type of things,

03:19:30:00

yeah. But yes, then we went, from Helwan we went to Ismailiya and all these places we’re...Ismailiya was an interesting place. We didn’t have any picks and shovels around, if you had one for a platoon, one pick or one shovel... anyway, they said that we had to dig trenches round our huts, you know, so that if you’d get an air raid you’d

03:20:00:00

be able to get into your... and have protection. And we, blokes, God, you could, you’d hit a pick into the ground and it’d go, ‘ting,’ and a little hole that big. The boys weren’t very keen and they were supposed to be working hard to make these things and it didn’t happen. But the night came and all of a sudden there’s sirens everywhere and we could see that the search lights had caught

03:20:30:00

a German plane, and all the Arab anti aircraft stuff was working and the guns were firing and that. They’re a pretty undisciplined mob and they’re not properly trained but they knew if you pulled this and the shell’d go out the end and away it’d go. But before you did that, you had to kind of set fuses and all that for the right height, all that type of thing. Well,

03:21:00:00

our blokes were looking at it and just standing around have a cup of tea or something and all of a sudden there’s a ‘whee-oow, bang!,’ and there’s one of the, must’ve dropped a shell right in the middle of our, great bomb right in the middle of our parade ground. You never seen blokes dig holes so quick in all your life. But what had happened was that it wasn’t a bomb that’d come out of the plane at all, there were two of them landed in our battalion area.

03:21:30:00

The next morning, honest to God, you got up and every trench was six foot deep and everyone is full of soldiers, and we had about four to a platoon and, or three to a platoon, should have been one for platoon head quarters as well. But they must’ve fired their anti aircraft guns at these fellas and they

03:22:00:00

forgot to set the fuse because an anti aircraft shell either goes off at a certain height or when it hits something. Well, now if the planes are flying at about, say, three thousand feet, for example, you set it for three thousand feet and the thing goes, ‘boom!’ and up she goes to three thousand feet, it goes off. Now if it’s not set for three thousand feet it just keeps going off and when it hits the ground it goes off. Or,

03:22:30:00

if it hits anything on the way, it’ll explode, like a plane or anything on the way. But they’d forgotten to set these fuses for them to go off at three thousand feet, and they just did a nice little loop and they landed right in the middle of our battalion ground and went ‘ker-bang!,’ and we think we’re getting bombed... dig the trenches. But that’s dead true, yeah. A beautiful lot of trenches the next morning.
Was that the first time the blokes really realised that it was gonna be dangerous do

03:23:00:00

you think?
I don't think they realised it then, they were laughing like buggery, they didn’t realise it then, no, none of did. But oh yeah, I would say that that’s right, when you hear those sirens going, that’s a dreadful sound, that’s a dreadful sound. And you can see that they’ve got planes caught in their cross beams of their anti aircraft search lights.

03:23:30:00

Yes, I suppose it did. We all knew what a siren sounded like I think, or we thought we did, but yeah, that’d be the first time that we heard anything that we thought was the real McCoy [real thing]. Yeah, funny old business isn’t it?
What were the Aussies, what was the role of the Australian army involvement at that point?
We were getting ready to go up to Bardia. And we didn’t know,

03:24:00:00

but you could say from company head quarters up, all the officers would’ve been advised well and truly that we were now being prepared for desert war. Even in Helwan, that previous camp, was all sand, everywhere we went and do all our exercises and, that was all through heavy sand, and you had to march about, often thirty miles a day through sand, sand, sand. And I always remember one day we were out there and the artillery blokes,

03:24:30:00

they’ve got their trucks of course, and they’d go past us and give us certain rude messages and the rest of it, and some of them even had cans of beer and they’d have a can of beer and they’d be drinking it and we’d be plodding on through. Anyway, our blokes got a bit sick of this and we had a lot of this oh, what’d they call it, anyway it was more or less some kind of salmon or stuff but in tomato sauce, and cans of,

03:25:00:00

cans of this. So they popped ’em, you know, with their bayonet a little bit and put the old thumb over it hard and next time these blokes drove past they let her go and they got all this filthy rotten stinking stuff all over the back of their truck and into it, and we roared, we gave ’em heaps. But that’s the kind of fun we had. That seems very funny to you? Depends on what end you’re at.
Oh, we’re laughing, we just have to

03:25:30:00

be quiet about it.
Oh, no, I’m not saying you are, but some of the things you mightn’t think are funny, that bloody childish.
No, they’re fantastic stories, I can imagine it must’ve been that kind of atmosphere during the day you’d have some really...?
Must’ve heard all these kind of things a thousand times over.
Yeah we have, yeah. No there are some really funny things that happened in the most serious situations too I suppose.
That was the first time we met any of our own Australian Airforce blokes, they were flying little, oh God,

03:26:00:00

what were they called, they were the slowest, Fairy Battles or something, they were the slowest little fighters you could ever get. They were nighttime, they’d come over and they’d come down real low, and they’d get into the grooves of our corrugated iron roofs and they just slide up the top of them and go over and give us a wave with their wings. And then they’d come over and join us in the sergeant’s mess or the officer’s mess, wherever it was. We used to have some hell of a good parties with those

03:26:30:00

guys, but gee they used to do some mad things.
Were you close to a city there?
Cairo, wouldn’t have been ore than twelve, thirteen miles out of Cairo, south.
Did you get into Cairo?
Oh, a bit, yeah. Yeah, I’ve been on the top of Cheops pyramid, I’ve been, stood on the main part of the Sphinx, I’ve been on the top of the Eiffel Tower.
What was the first trip into Cairo like?
Oh, I don't know, I don't think we were

03:27:30:00

very, I mean a lot of guys had had a good education and all the rest of it, they had so much to see, it didn’t matter. We were just looking where the cheapest beer was. We might as well stayed at camp, but you were a free trip in and you didn’t have people breathing down your throat, “Do this, do that.” It was, oh yes, I was a orderly sergeant a couple of times there with the leave parties.

03:28:00:00

But, that’s quite a place but...
We’ve heard some men relate...?
If, you know, in retrospect if you had your life over again there’s so much to see there that you say to yourself, “Why didn’t I go and have a good look at this, why didn’t I do that?” At least, these days you can’t climb on the pyramid, and at least I got my photograph right up there on the top and where the doo-dah

03:28:30:00

is. And I didn’t get a help up either, I think I had to pay him about ten cents or something to take me up there, got up the top. And then I took some photographs from the top but down at the motor cars, just to give you an idea of what the size of it is. You know, you can never visualise how big that big pyramid is. But oh no, Cairo’s a, yeah, you could spend a lot of time in

03:29:00:00

Cairo.
We’ve had blokes tell us about the atmosphere in Cairo being, you know, chaotic and there were prostitutes and there was, you know, really quite a big atmosphere. What sort of things were you seeing?
Was I what?
What sort of things were you seeing when you first went there?
About the same as you’d see walking down George Street Sydney. All those things exist there too don’t they? Yeah. Just people doing their own

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business, their own thing and we didn’t interfere with them so we didn’t go along to see too much of that, so it was mainly odd sort of beer.
So what was the bar like in Cairo that you went to?
Oh, I don't know, mainly we were drinking Barclay’s beer in cans and there’re about four different colours and the colours represented the alcoholic strength of the beer. And

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that was what we drank most of the time. We used to sit at a table till we made a nice pyramid with the beer cans and... yeah. Oh, no, it’s an interesting place. Yeah, I’ve got a story over there that I, about Cairo that I, just after I, no, before I got me commission, about the last month

03:30:30:00

before I got me commission, we were involved in a... do you wanna hear this now so we don’t forget it? An Egyptian Coup. February 1942. During the latter three weeks of the officer’s training course that I was attending at Kazanil Barracks in the heart of Cairo, the following coup took place.

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In Egypt, Cairo in particular, towards the end of January ‘42, it was common knowledge that the pro British Prime Minister Nahas Pasha and King Farouk were engaged in serious difference of opinion which could quickly lead to Nahas’s resignation or dismissal from his office. The British Ambassador at the time, Sir Miles Lampson was most perturbed as Nahas had been

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a very friendly Prime Minister from a British viewpoint. At the British Forces Officer’s Training School... where I was... all cadet officers with the exception of the junior wing were summoned one evening to attend a general assembly hall where the commandant, Colonel Renton... he only had one wing, he lost it at Dunkirk... introduced Sir Miles Lampson who advised us of the facts and pointed out the

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grave danger and affect Nahas’ resignation could have on the allied war effort if an anti Britisher was appointed Prime Minister and invited to form a government. At this time the King Farouk and the, had the bulk of his fortune in Italy, as well as most of his friends. Sir Miles emphasised that the King’s wishes could not be accepted. We were then advised that he had been selected to be, that we had been selected to be quickly trained as a special force for a very

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special job which for the time being was top secret. All we knew was that until further notice we had to be prepared to move out as an armed jock column at ten minute’s notice at any time of the day or night. Next morning we were issued with Bren guns, live ammunition, stacks of grenades and the artillery wing received semi armour piercing shells, and our training started in earnest. The jock column comprised a troop of light tanks, these had been sold

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by the Brits to the Egyptian army when deemed to be obsolete, we just borrowed them for the exercise. Three motorised companies of infantry, about sixty per company, one troop of twenty-five pound artillery guns with semi armour piercing shells. And during our training period the alarm would sound, we slept with our gear on but had to quickly drag on our boots, grab a Bren gun, the Bren gun and a haversack full of additional loaded

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magazines and race to our pre-determined positions, board trucks with the engines running and circuit the parade ground, finishing facing the main gate all in ten minutes. The tanks were always in front when we infantry and trucks followed by the artillery. On the 2nd of February, Nahas resigned and Farouk was consulting politicians known to be unfriendly. Sir Miles sought an audience with King Farouk, which was

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refused. Three infantry brigades, New Zealand, British and South African were immediately moved onto the outskirts of the city ostensibly to be on hand if a political crisis led to riots. Actually, our coup was taking shape. At eight thirty p.m. on the evening of the 4th of February ’42 we were again summoned to the general assembly hall and advised that Sir Miles had issued an ultimatum to Farouk to commission Nahas Pasha, a

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pro Britisher, to form a government. This ultimatum had expired at eight p.m. Our column was to move into Abdeen Palace grounds and secure the area. Sir Miles was to follow and force Farouk to commission Nahas or the British would take over the government and the affairs of Egypt. The King’s Abdeen Palace was a very solid three storey hollow u-shaped structure. The centre was for the King’s living and his

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retinue, the right wing was for his servants and administration while the left wing was for his royal bodyguards of some one thousand two hundred soldiers. The duty guard had sentries on the main gate and other vital positions, our movement had been planned to the last minute with instructions issued. Two infantry companies were to hold off the bodyguard... twelve hundred... while the third company disarmed the duty guard and secured the immediate area

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for Sir Miles to escort him to Farouk. The tanks and twenty-five pounders’d [artillery guns] be positioned in the centre of the court yard covering wing. At nine-thirty p.m., we moved out at a constant five miles an hour, a straight road of two and a half miles, then from our barrack gates to the front gate of the palace. Both sides and back of each intersection, four British military police were stationed, and all the traffic were stopped until our column went past.

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We never stopped once or slowed down, God it was well done. Where’d we get to? The palace was reached without incident and we quickly and quietly took up our pre-determined positions. The bodyguard must have been alerted as their bugler inside was sounding the alarm. We could hear the running feet of the soldiers along the corridors and up and down the stairs. A window opened and out came the nasty end of a Vickers

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machine gun. This was repeated many times until we could distinctly see at least fifty Vickers snouts pointing at us. Rifle bolts were heard working and snapping shut with a message up the spout. I lay exposed on the bitumen courtyard with an icy cold finger caressing the trigger of my Bren gun. Safety catches had been released long ago and I wondered how many other boys felt and what they were thinking. Every second

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man on the courtyard had a Bren gun plus two haversacks of loaded magazines, the odd men had grenades weighing them down. Two black cars drove up and stopped at the entrance of Farouk’s quarters, Sir Miles with his driver in one and only a driver in the other. Sir Miles jumped out quickly and with one of the lads shot inside. We just waited with the sweat getting heavier on our brow. Everything was just so quiet, it was eerie. One stupid trigger happy Egyptian...

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also one, could’ve been out blokes... and all hell would’ve been let loose. We would’ve had no chance whatsoever out there in the open. It seemed an eternity before Sir Miles returned to his car and drove out giving us the Churchillian ‘V’ for victory sign with a great big smile. We received the signal and pulled out within a minute under the instructions, singing and waving as heartily as we could to the crowd of some five thousand

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at the gate and more along the route back. This time the sides and the back covers of the trucks were rolled up. Some odd side lights of the coup. The guard at the gate presented arms as our column passed him and he had no ammunition. The officer of the duty guard had his pistol tied into his holster with a sig. wire. And no bullets. The second

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car was there to drive King Farouk in need to Heliopolis aerodrome where an aeroplane was ticking over and ready to take him to India to be held until the end of hostilities. Thank you. Interesting isn’t it?
Extremely.
I’ve done a few interesting things in my life.
And how did you feel at the end of that operation?
It takes me, it has taken me and still

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takes me a long time to get out of my mind occasionally, just laying there and knowing all the blasted Vickers machine guns that they had and we’re just laying on this bloody concrete slab of, not concrete, bitumen slab of stuff. And, oh God if somebody’d bloody well dropped something and it’d gone bang, we’d have been killed within half a minute I reckon, every one of us. Twelve hundred against about sixty. Ah,

03:39:30:00

no.
So, were you surprised that you got out alive then?
Yes, but very, very happy. Yeah.
You said you were wondering what other people were thinking while they were laying there, what were you thinking?
What was I thinking? I was thinking, “For God sake, hurry up and do what you’re doing Sir Miles and get out of this bloody place.” Oh, yes.
And what did the other blokes say

03:40:00:00

to you, did you all talk about it?
No there wasn’t a word said while we were there, not a bloody word said. It was hairy, bloody being inside that thing, inescapable, but yeah, we were ready to answer ’em, but yeah. I got another one of those, you won’t wanna hear it, I’ll let you read it yourselves first, but I got one about Korea.
Interviewee: Donald Peirce Archive ID 1684 Tape 04

04:00:32:00

Yep.
Well, I’ve got it headed up here, A Korean War Anecdote by Lieutenant Donald... anyway. As an officer attached to the Kure Training Company for 3RAR [3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment], one day in mid 1951 I was advised to report to Korean War Headquarters at Tokyo as king’s courier, so it was called, to collect and deliver despatches from them to

04:01:00:00

battle head quarters in Seoul, Korea. This involved a vehicle to Tokyo, collect despatches, train to Iwakuni where the air field was, DC-3 [transport aircraft] to Pusan, then to Seoul where I would deliver the locked back and return to Kure. Sounds a very mundane task but life’s full of surprises. We took off from Iwakuni about midday in light rain and wind with a crew of two, a Canadian

04:01:30:00

medical officer, two or three other bods [bodies] and myself, all service personnel. The flight was somewhat bumpy with only fair visibility until we approached into the north western side of South Honshu when the rain, when we ran into a shocking horrendous storm, gale force winds with rain and sleet buffeting us in every direction. Visibility was nil and after about twenty minutes of this, the

04:02:00:00

pilot became completely disoriented and lost as regards actual position. He advised us of this and saying that with no markers visible anywhere... you know, if they see a river or they see a big building or anything, they know exactly where they are. It was a hell of a storm. Where’d we get to anyway? ...to assist getting, ...and for us to

04:02:30:00

get out... and strain to see something at any of the windows for him that might help him. He further said that he, we could easily give Pusan a miss and head directly to Seoul. He never the less felt he should be able to make it to Pusan and he had our backing. So he intended to slowly descend trusting we would find on, something on land, which

04:03:00:00

he had done many times, as a marker. We all knew how strong and how reliable the DC-3... or Dakota, call it what you like... was and we had complete faith in our pilot. He did not know if we were over land or sea but thought it was, it should have been land. We descended slowly for what seemed like an eternity, all the time belted by the storm.

04:03:30:00

We could feel the slow, careful, very bumpy descent when suddenly, ‘Crash!’ and darkness. What in the hell have we hit? Or what hit us? Have we stopped? Seems as though we had. Motors roaring, plane, thank God, ...oh yeah... plane motors roaring, thank God, and the plane madly shuddering.

04:04:00:00

Then ever so slowly but surely the beautiful, wonderful DC-3 forced it’s way through whatever it was, was holding it back. Yes, we were climbing again, and also thanks to the brilliant flying of our pilot. During this short period of intense anxiety, there was a deathly silence, disturbed only by the power sound generated by the ever-straining engines.

04:04:30:00

The skipper added one word, “Shit,” and we all laughed, still knowing not why. Some minutes passed before the pilot could talk to convey to us all, who had been looking forward, or not, just what happened. Apparently, we were or we hit by or we hit the top thick curl of a monstrous wave.

04:05:00:00

That is true. So, we must have been fairly low and were exceedingly lucky not to have gone into the ocean forever, never to have been found. Nevertheless, our pilot must have had anticipation and extreme skill to pull the old bus through that watery, very salty, dangerous, frightening situation. We gave Pusan a miss and he headed directly for Seoul without further

04:05:30:00

bother, rains, wind or sea, arriving about fourteen hundred hours in sunshine. We were advised that return departure from Iwakuni would be planned for fifteen thirty hours and we all went our separate ways to do what we had to. I spent my spare time watching the newest planes land and take off on the metal landing strips. Talk about noisy, very fast and distinctive. For the

04:06:00:00

return trip we’d lost the doctor and the odd bods but gained twenty-five British signallers and a couple of Canadian journalists. We were all aboard for take off, motors running, internal checks completed, when the navigator who had removed the chocks gave the pilot the thumbs down. I followed the pilot by invitation down and he cut both engines

04:06:30:00

to see what the problem was. The navigator had noticed that the starboard engine exhaust pipe had come partly adrift from the manifold and the flames had already burned about four or five inches into the front the edge of the wing, right up near where it joined the body. There were melted droplets of aluminium surrounding the gap. This had to have happened between Iwakuni and Seoul. The manifold outlet had

04:07:00:00

not done its job and the matter had to be fixed by engineers. The hose clip was not broken. It and the exhaust pipe were both replaced, ...they didn’t have to put new ones on it... and the engineers had never before heard or seen of this happening on a DC-3. All the passengers had shot through and found other transport. We had a safe and uneventful

04:07:30:00

flight back. Sometime later while contemplating our luck, it suddenly dawned on me that the huge wave we hit could easily have caused the problem... Nothing else could’ve changed that, stainless steel hose clip, you wouldn’t believe it. ...with our exhaust. The force with which contact was made could easily, it was like hitting a brick wall. I wonder if any of the experts ever thought of

04:08:00:00

this possibility, it would not have been of any real consequence to them anyway, I guess. It would be a pleasure and an honour to meet both or either of them, or even make contact. That’s about all. I’ve never met these guys and I... That was hairy. I don't think anybody knows

04:08:30:00

about that. Who would? Who’d care? Yeah.
What other close calls did you have in the, in some of your first experiences when you first got to the Middle East?
In Greece

04:09:00:00

we became the most forward platoon of the whole of the British, New Zealand and Australian forces. Facing a river just out of Veria. I’ll start this with a little funny which is true because a Jeff Coyle, sergeant at the

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time, was the sergeant of the mortar platoon and he had his mortar boys trying to reach the German’s heavier mortar, it’s a, the German mortar’d go about another hundred yards or eighty yards further than ours would. Anyway, they couldn’t do much good. So they took, secondary charges that fit in the veins of a bomb, the back of the bomb, you put secondary charges in between

04:10:00:00

each vein and the middle one is the primary. And when you drop it down a mortar there’s a stick, a steel thing and hits the primary, and the primary ignites all the secondaries and away it goes. So they had ’em with all these, so they took two primaries, two secondaries from the smoke bombs and threw ’em down the spout then dropped the thing and got the extra distance. And they were pummelling the German blokes and the German blokes were right out in the open, knowing we couldn’t reach

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’em. The, you could see the amazement in their face say, “This couldn’t be happening.” And he did a wonderful job and he was the forward observation of, you know, for these mortars. And all of a sudden he heard a ‘clunk, clunk,’ and one of the shells out of his mortars, it got half way down when the two extra secondaries had gone off and it had just spurted out and it slid along the rocks and it was about as far as from

04:11:00:00

there, fully charged. Anyway, he threw it away and they got back and they, the two mortars he had, they bent ’em over so blokes could reach ’em and they all piddled in them and cooled em all down. Every bloke in the place, whether he could or he couldn’t, he had to do that, and put them together again and away he went. And if ever a bloke, if ever a bloke deserved a medal, and he got a mention in despatches for that, not a medal, oh he should’ve got a bravery thing for that. It

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was, it was brilliant. Anyway, we’re there, he’s over there and we’re down here, we’re much closer to the action because they reach a long distance. But anyway, our boys saw them coming down and, number three section, and they pummelled hell out of them. And they went back a bit and they got some more, extra blokes, and we couldn’t handle it, and they got to the end of the river and they starting to wade across.

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So we had to shoot through and we, our runner’d been hurt badly and I’d taken, being the sergeant , I had nothing to do really in these situations, so I volunteered to do the runner’s job. And I raced up to company head quarters and he said, “No, you can’t go back, you gotta do...” this that and the other thing. So, I went back and I glanced back and I could see the company head quarters had got the message because the tanks were coming

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down the road between us. And they shot through and I said, “Bugger it, if it’s good enough for them to shoot through, we’re going to.” So I yelled out, you know, “Retreat, come on, withdraw.” And most of them got out, most of them got out but some didn’t. Anyway, I followed them up and when I got across the road there was a Corporal Harry Honeywell, he was an old First World War man, wonderful soldier, good man too. And

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I said, “Can I join you Harry?” And he said, “Yes.” I had an extra Bren gun that we’d knocked off from the desert, one of the British tanks had been knocked out and I picked this up, so each platoon had a Bren gun and platoon head quarters, which should have. Anyway, I had this and plenty of ammunition for it and I climbed up and he had six blokes there and he said, and they were all shooting at the tanks. The tank guys were that

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confident, you know, they’re, they had numbers of tanks that could eat us, you know, and the lid in the top of the tank, they had it open and they were standing up in, they could see about that much of the top of em. So we were just popping ’em off, ‘boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.’ And Harry’s just saying, “Do it slowly, do it carefully and squeeze the trigger gently, don’t waste a bullet.” And we were doing this and they must have got the message, the next minute

04:14:00:00

we saw all the blasted things closed up and they turned the tanks towards us, we were only about sixty yards away from ’em. And he said, “Go!” And we, most of the other blokes went out one way and I went out the left hand side of this, you know, it was like that and there was a waddy on both sides with water in and part... Mount Olympus was right behind us, but the closest one was the sister one, and wouldn’t have been five miles away.

04:14:30:00

Four, that’d pull it up. Anyway, I went out this way and there was nobody else with me and I had my Bren gun so, I could hear this thundering and I stopped for a minute and had a look and here’s one of these bloody bang, tanks chasing me I think, in this waddy. And every time they could see me they fired something, and if they didn’t hit me they’d hit the side of a ravine and all the chips from the stones and that’d be nearly as bad as bullets. Anyway, I kept going and every now and again I’d

04:15:00:00

stop and I came to one spot where there’s only about that much on either side and a great big rock in the middle, a huge thing. Thought, “How the hell am I gonna get over that?” And while I’m looking at it I heard this bloody tank fire its gun again and it hit the middle of the rock, and I reckon it had to go through me so I fell over dead. And I’m not joking about that and I could hear him, it didn’t take long and

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the tank turned round and went. And I leant up and had a bo peep and he’d gone alright, he must’ve been sure he got me too. Anyway, here I was still alive and so I got up and kept going and I went about another fifty yards and it, we all, it was that cold there that we all wore long johns and they cramped on my legs, oh Jeez, I couldn’t move. And a couple of blokes saw me, they were up further and they came down with their knife, they cut

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the long’s right down, you know, about like that. And it wasn’t long and it got the circulation going and away I went with them. But, I could go on forever about that cause we finished rowing a boat across to Turkey practically. But...
Let’s go there again later then.
Yeah, but that’s the end of that bit but that... What we did there, we held the whole of the enemy forces up longer than we

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had to, to enable a brigade of Kiwis and a brigade of Brits to get, to go catch ships and get out, get away, and we held ’em up longer than we had to at that particular spot.
How did you do that?
Well, by...
That sort of thing that you...?
Yeah, exactly, yeah. They had to divert everything into, they don’t like blokes getting killed in the top of their tanks either.

04:17:00:00

That was probably I suppose when you were more experienced in some of those conflicts. What was some of the first conflicts that you remember being involved with?
Yeah, well Bardia was really.
Can you describe what happened at Bardia?
Oh, it was too easy for us. Yeah. Get onto Tobruk, it’s far more interesting.
Tell us a little bit about

04:17:30:00

Bardia and then we’ll go to Tobruk. When you say it was easy, why was it easy?
Well, there were thousands and thousands of them were, I think we took about thirty-six thousand in prisoners there. And war’s a funny thing. We had blokes that were dropping their rifles and coming along with their hands up and we didn’t know what to do with them, we’d never been told where to send prisoners, we didn’t even know where, we didn’t even know where to send ’em.

04:18:00:00

So we just told ’em to throw their rifles and it was, “Back there...” We didn’t know whether it was back there or not. It was one thing that at no stage were we ever told what to do with prisoners. I don't know if they thought we’re gonna capture any. They finished up, oh they’re nearly fifty thousand altogether. But...
Where did they put them all in the end?
In a cage, we had a,

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make a big cage. But you just imagine having thirty-six thousand blokes there and the rest of ’em are all Aussie diggers. Now they’ve gotta be fed, they’ve gotta have sufficient covering that they’re not gonna freeze to death and they’ve gotta have latrines dug and fixed up for them. All these things, and there’s nobody else except the poor bloody infantry to do that. And if you listen

04:19:00:00

to the Tobruk one you’ll find that we’ve also gotta bury ’em. I mean, we’re the blokes that... what does the infantry not do? Nothing. Yeah.
So how did you do it, how did you manage to organise that many latrines, for example?
Well, I don't know, we just kept sending ’em back and we did all we had to do and captured the places we had to capture and...

04:19:30:00

And battalion headquarters would’ve had to worry about that, I don't know where they found em or how they got together or what they did but that wasn’t our job.
When you say you captured a place, what would you do to capture a place?
Oh well, if they weren’t dead and they put their hands up, they’re captured. But what are you gonna do with them? What would you do with them?
But when you were going into a place, what was the strategy to capture

04:20:00:00

a place?
Oh, well you, well, people don’t matter, you’ve gotta capture a bit of land of a certain thingo. But in the interim you got all these thousands of people, and they turn up and you really don’t know what to do with them. I mean, it’s no good shooting ’em cause you might need the bullets to do your job up here anyway.
So, before you went to Bardia, what were the commanding officers saying to you to do when you got there?

04:20:30:00

Oh, they were telling us how to, their main thing was to capture the place, that’s all. So they were telling us how to go about, this company goes here and that company goes there, and this company does that and all this kind of thing. But nobody I think ever got down to the problem that you had about eight or ten times as many prisoners as you got soldiers.
That was your first conflict Bardia wasn’t it?
Bardia.

04:21:00:00

Were you nervous going into that?
Yes. I think everybody was.
Tell us how you...?
They were passing a big blasted dixie of rum and something around and everybody that could find a receptacle that would hold some, had a good old swig. But oh, the funniest thing that happened in Bardia the first time I actually saw enemy. We had a big bloke about six-foot-eight, Lofty Stafford, and he was a wonderful man and oh,

04:21:30:00

he was the guy that yelled out, “Sit down.” And he came from Coffs Harbour but he left Worth’s Circus where he was a rigger at Worth’s Circus, wonderful bloke. And they were in a company that were ahead of us coming into Bardia. And the first thing I saw, Lofty had had a big Boys anti tank rifle, thirty-six pound, hell of a big, a shocking thing to have to carry and lump around, anyway he was a big man,

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he’d carry this damn thing. And he’d tied a bayonet onto the end of this bloody big Boys anti tank rifle and he’s standing over the top of a trench which had a lot of enemy in it there, and he said, “You better come out brother.” He called everybody brother, he called the colonel brother, and he never called him anything else, and he did it with respect. But everybody was called brother, no officers or anything else, he’d salute ’em and say, “Aye ya, brother.” And

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wouldn’t matter if he’s the general, he’d call him brother. But here’s old Lofty with this huge... and bloody bayonet on the end of this thing, “Better come out brother.” “Eeeh.” Oh dear, that was the first time I saw an enemy bloke come out and he was white, he was white. Only with fear. Oh, Lofty’d frighten anybody. Yeah. No, Bardia was not the show,

04:23:00:00

a lot of things didn’t, you know, everything went alright, everything went correct but...
Did you prepare for, prepare yourself for the possibility of dying?
No. No. But Tobruk was the one that I’ll talk about. Because we went into Tobruk and our platoon, not our company, our platoon, we had a big lot of English six inch Howitzers attached

04:23:30:00

to us. And their forward observation officer and their signaller, a corporal, they had a big long round bar, and a big thing with wire in the middle of it, like the old fashioned telephones, and that’s what it was, mobile telephone the wire’d run out. And anyway, every time we got held up, the officer’d just say to our platoon commander who was

04:24:00:00

Harry Lovett then, he’d say, “Leave it to us Harry.” And be bit of a message, “One gun firing,” and you’d hear, ‘boom, wheoo, boom,’ you see and you make a little correction. And he’d get the whole battery to fire and the next minute you’ve got about two hundred prisoners and you don’t know what to do with them, and say, “Back there somewhere,” you know, send ’em back. But the reason I told you about that cause we, the whole day with that type of thing and oh, people

04:24:30:00

got killed. And the next day I was called to battalion head quarters to get myself a corporal and go and pick up a truckload of blokes at the cage and go and bury all the Italian dead. And I had of course, I had to get a couple of the younger prisoners and get them to sit down and make crosses and boot

04:25:00:00

laces and all that kind of thing. And one bloke that I got, God was with me. Frank. He’d gone over to America, he was living as an American and his mum and dad were getting old and sick and he’d come over to see them and he’d got grabbed and put in the army, and he was a warrant officer class one.

04:25:30:00

Speak English as well as I could and oh, he hated ’em, war and everything. Anyway, I had him and he had his little book and had all the, how you do a Catholic funeral service and all this. And anyway, also of course he speak their language and he didn’t do any work, he just stayed with me old Frank and he got

04:26:00:00

these young fellas to make the crosses, we put a... And I had one group that were cleaning out trenches, that were Italian trenches, and they were collecting groundsheets, the groundsheets that the boys had. And then while they were doing that I would wrap ’em up in the ground sheet and bury them and try to match up other bits and pieces to make

04:26:30:00

bodies and put em down the hole. And then when we’d finish one area we’d put it all in and get all these Italian lads and, round the thing, and Frank’d conduct a proper service. I’d salute and we’d do all the, they’d sing Ave Maria or something else, the whole lot of ’em. And

04:27:00:00

I had to do that all day, and I buried and put together a hundred and two blokes that day. And I used to have to cut off the dead meat tickets and put one on the cross and keep the other one to return to battalion head quarters, and that was the worst day of my life.

04:27:30:00

Yeah.
How did the Italian American man deal with that day as well?
He, we didn’t put him back in the cage, we put all the other blokes back but Frank came back with us and he slept with us and he looked after all our guns and cleaned them up for us. And came down to Mersa Matruh with us and he wanted to go over to Greece with us, but they wouldn’t let him go. I think they treated him very well though. He wanted to join our army.

04:28:00:00

He wouldn’t be fighting Italians, his own people over there.
When you first got the job of clearing up the bodies, what did you, what was the scene like when you first got there?
Well, it was the same scene that we fought over you see, and we’d had all these big Howitzers blowing ’em to buggery. And the bodies, the full bodies weren’t too bad but when you got to pick up various bits and pieces and say, “Oh, that’s close enough,”

04:28:30:00

and wrap ’em all up in a ground sheet and put em down and fill ’em in and... it gets to you a bit. More so now than it did then. Oh, but he was a treasure, old Frank. Yeah.
Did it make you think about, you know, the next time you went into a conflict, did you think more about the enemy and the people that were dying?

04:29:00:00

No. I don't know why. The only thing is you could also, the next conflict we had was Greece, so it was more likely to be exactly reversed, exactly reversed. We got a hell of a hiding in Greece on Jeez. Yeah. After I, the thing I read out to you about the tanks and that, we got right over to the eastern coast and

04:29:30:00

met up with about sixty officers and various ranks of our own unit, they’d all got away. And in the end they said, we waited there in the pretext that there was going to be a British submarine turn up out in the ocean, was gonna come and rescue us all and take us back to another naval ship that’d take us over to Egypt and get out, but of course never turned up. So after about five

04:30:00:00

days the senior officer said, “If you want to go in smaller groups you can break yourselves up and do what you like and have a go to get back or whatever you feel like doing, otherwise you can come with me, I’m gonna go.” So four other blokes and I said we’d go together. So, I’ve got a whole thingo about that you could take home and read if you like because it’s all about it. But yes, we finished up getting in little boats

04:30:30:00

and rowing across to islands, and rowing across to other isles. At one stage... is this going?
Yeah.
Right. At one stage we got to a place, we started with Skopelos and Alonissos, and on Alonissos there was a... pretty close to dark it was getting, we wondered where we’d go. You most probably wonder how we ate. Well, we’d knock off a sheep, Jock

04:31:00:00

McGinley, one of my best blokes and he could skin anything. And they used to wrap ’em all up in, we all used our singlet, tied the bottom of it and put meat in and carry our singlet in something. But when we wanted to cook it, it was always a stew, and we’d all sit down in a bit of a, it’s five of us, me and four other blokes, five of us. We had one wooden spoon and we’d take it

04:31:30:00

in turns, “No, you had it last time, the last time Charlie so it’s his...” had to sit in the same thing. And you’re allowed to pick it, you’re allowed three dips, if you could get more the second dip but on the third one you had to take it you see and then you pass the spoon to the next bloke, that’s the way we ate our stews. And it worked out very well too. But do you know what the stew was cooked in? My tin hat. Now you’ll laugh about this, but all the stuff that the tin hat’d come a bit loose, and one day we’re wondering how we’re gonna cook something, I said, “Why not cook

04:32:00:00

it in this?” And it was perfect. Perfect. And I still had the stuff to put inside it, it was loose but it... and just rinse it out with some water next creek we came to and wash it and put it back on. And the whole way from there back to Turkey, we cooked everything in my tin hat. Absolute true. Anyhow, we got out from there, we eventually got from island to island to island and eventually we lucky enough to get on to

04:32:30:00

a little motorboat. We bumped into Colonel Chilton on the last island, Skiros, and we got back to Turkey, and from Turkey we got, we got into the Gulf of Smyrna, you know, the Smyrna figs. And they, you know, hands up, everything, and they’re supposed to be neutral, and we didn’t know what they, how we gonna be treated really. But we, I’d made up my mind we weren’t gonna go to Crete, thank God.

04:33:00:00

And anyway, the first day fed us and gave us a few things, the first night they put us in this little power boat, oh a beautiful little mine layer or something, and took us right up the Gulf of Smyrna. And that was about the first place we’d seen in nearly twelve months blazing in light at night time, cause they’re neutral. Lights everywhere, God it was a lovely sight to come into. Yeah, and those Turkey blokes treated us well too.

04:33:30:00

And after about three days they went round looking for clothes for us, and we had to get out of our military uniforms into civvy clothes. And they had trouble getting civvy shoes that’d fit us, somehow or other the Aussies have got bigger feet, generally speaking, than most other races I think, but definitely the Turkey blokes. Anyway, after another night, the British Embassy worked magnificently,

04:34:00:00

and they paid the bloke what he wanted per body, and gave him money for another drum full of fuel to go over... “If you bring any more back you’ll get double that,” oh gee, they were good to us. Anyway we, eventually we’re on our way and we bumped into another couple of, we bumped into one, oh, not yet. Anyway, we got into a train, the train was a beautiful train, a Krupp train with beautiful German Krupp carriages and...

04:34:30:00

a filthy little toilet up the back end. They don’t use any paper. Ever. And anyway, we went right up the top of a mount, up to sixteen thousand feet, one of the mountains, and right round the thing and down to Alexandretta, that would be the most southern easterly part of the bottom of Turkey. And after a while, there was a little Norwegian oil tanker about eight

04:35:00:00

thousand tonnes in there and they’d just disgorged all the oil, and they were taking on water ballast and we had to wait. We rode out to it in a little boat about one or two at a time and then went down the bilges and kept right out of sight and everything, and then we had to wait till the water ballast was full and the next morning we took off. And we picked up a lot of people there that were like us, but there were about, our group with Colonel Chilton’s lot, there’s

04:35:30:00

about twenty of us. But there were about forty Norwegians that’d all been contestants in the last Olympic Games and they’d all somehow been allowed out by the Russians and they’d, by foot, they’d come all the way from Russia right down to this particular spot. Gee, they’re a wonderful type of people, you know, they really were, they’re wonderful. And they played contract bridge, we only played auction bridge but we played contract but auction rules,

04:36:00:00

we were doing em over. Anyway, they’re wonderful people. The second...
How did you communicate with them?
Point. Oh, they, no, they can talk English, all of them I’d say. Oh, they were all educated and well educated, they were a good class of people. Yeah. I’d say they could all talk English, could all talk French, could all talk German I reckon. Sixty of ’em, nearly sixty of em. Anyway,

04:36:30:00

they didn’t go out at night but the next morning we took out and we’re only about ooh, three or four hours out, we got picked up by six Stukas [dive bomber]. And we’d already had a bit of a look round the ship to see what they had in the way of armaments. And the old captain up there in his bridge, he had twin Lewis guns, not Vickers, the old Lewis guns that we’d trained with in, the First World War ones. He had twin ones with two, the big

04:37:00:00

two round ones with the magazines. And he said, “Can any of you blokes load magazines quick?” “Yeah!” And another bloke, “Yeah.” So, he had us up on the bridge with him and he’s got one hand on the wheel and he’s steering and he’s waiting for these buggers to come along. And they came down low too, they should’ve bombed the shitter out of us, they should’ve, oh we were sitting ducks. And he’s ‘rr-rr,’ and he’s firing away going, ‘rr-rr,’ and he’s steering with the other hand, ‘rr-rr.’

04:37:30:00

And helping him, pick another magazine up and put the magazine, ‘rr-rr,’ God he’s a wonderful bloke, oh gee, marvellous man. Then the next morning... they went, they dropped two bombs within about, I’d say three or four metres of us and they didn’t smash the sides, didn’t smash anything thank God. How they didn’t hit us I wouldn’t know, why they went away I don't know. They still had a lot of bombs left but oh, they gave us a pounding and never hit us.

04:38:00:00

Next morning we got up and the old captain was swearing a bit, and he said, “I oughta blame you Don, you bastard Don,” you know, he could talk English enough. And I said, “Why?” He said, “Look,” here’s these bloody two funnels riddled with bloody bullet holes by himself, you know, going, following the planes and going like that. He had bullet holes through his funnels, they were, yeah I laughed, no I’ll never forget that. I think I...
Cause tankers were, they were

04:38:30:00

the targets really weren’t they?
Who?
Oil tankers?
Oh yes. Oh, anything that didn’t have a German flag was a target, as long as it was big enough to waste a bomb on. Oh yeah. Yeah. All in all I’ve had, you can tell... thank you... sorry... I could tell, you could tell so many bloody stories.
Let’s go back to Tobruk, what was

04:39:00:00

the atmosphere like before you went into Tobruk?
Good, because we’d just had first victory, first fight, first war, and we’d won it, and we went in a bit cocky. I got a good story about Tobruk. We didn’t, in Bardia we did about the second start line job, that’s, you know, they blow the wire with Bangalore torpedoes, the long tubes, fill ’em up, and all the wire goes

04:39:30:00

and away you go. But in Tobruk we did the start line job. We had the cleaning type of stuff you use for cleaning out the barrels, your rifle, in big rolls of it and heaps of it, and they use that to work the night start lines so nobody gets off course with their thingo. And they got a start line that way to go in and a cross line and the enemy’s just over there, you know, fifty yards, say. Well,

04:40:00:00

we laid these lines and then we had to lay down and let the first mob go through over the top of us and then we could follow ’em in the morning. We had to stay there all night on top of the start line to see that nobody moved it or changed it, which, I mean there wasn’t much involved there. But there was one bloke on a fixed line fire and every now and then he’d pull the trigger, he’d go, ‘baaa, ba, ba, ba, ba,’ and then he’d give it away for a while and have a drink or something and leave us alone. But they got a bit close

04:40:30:00

cause we’re all laying down so we’re pretty close to the ground and we’ve all got our full gear on, and water bottle always sits about here and it was a most uncomfortable thing in the world to get it underneath you, it’s always up there. And everyone had to be as quiet as a mouse. And all of a sudden we heard this, ‘baa-aaa, baa, boomp.’ “What the bloody hell, someone’s been hit.” And all of a sudden some bloke says, “I’ve gone! I’ve gone! I’ve gone!” I said, “Shut up ya bastard!”

04:41:00:00

“I’ve gone! I’ve been hit! I’ve been hit! Blood everywhere!” And I crawled over to him and I said, “Well, just shut up whatever you do.” I said, “Let’s have a look at it,” you see. And oh he said he can feel the blood, everywhere, “It’s gone! I’m gone! I’m gone!” “Oh,” you know, “silly bastard,” and you know, have a look. Bloody bullet from this, it’d gone right through the top of his water bottle and out the other end of it, the water’s coming down all over him everywhere. And to be hit in the

04:41:30:00

middle of the night with a bullet like that on your back, it’d drive you back about a yard with the force of it. And he was dead sure. And they laughed at him, “Oh ya silly bugger, old bastard.” But it’s absolutely true, oh we gave him heaps. But, yeah...
That’s great, that’s excellent.
Interviewee: Donald Peirce Archive ID 1684 Tape 05

05:00:34:00

So what did you want to say about Tobruk, you were saying that, what the most wonderful thing was?
Frank. For sure and for certain. Just Frank being Frank. But that was the worst part of any war for me, that having to bury the enemy dead. I suppose it’d be worse... but while I was doing it, they were burying about seven Coffs Harbour boys, our own

05:01:00:00

lads, all mates of mine. And of course I couldn’t be at that, and I was doing the right thing by these Italian lads. I often wonder where’d I’d have been without Frank because he knew how to do all the religious bit of the Catholic ceremony, I wouldn’t know nothing about it.

05:01:30:00

And he did it so well and so nicely. And the Lance Corporal Checkers Clift, who was with me, we’re the only two Aussies there. You got forty Italians with Frank, and they could’ve murdered us any time they wanted to, but you know, the war was over, they’d lost, that was it. But

05:02:00:00

no, that burying those people. I’m pretty hard, pretty... when I got back to battalion head quarters, gave them all the dead meat tickets and, or what do you call them, identification tags. And went back to camp and they were just having tea and I said g’day to Harry, platoon commander,

05:02:30:00

and reported back and I walked into the dark bush and spewed my guts out. Absolutely. Yeah, wasn’t very nice. But when you gotta do it, you gotta

05:03:00:00

do it. I don't think anybody ever knew that. Oh, most probably May did. Yeah. We were camped there, it was funny, we were camped at, in Tobruk we had a double bed, Harry and I, the lieutenant and sergeant. We didn’t have enough room on it for Frank though, bugger him, he had to get his own. Oh, he’s a great bloke. No, everybody made

05:03:30:00

’emselves as comfortable as possible and there was a, they had some beautiful wines about too. And lots of oh, what was it called, condensed milk, what was that normal condensed milk you usually get it in, anyway don’t say a brand name, but there was a lot of that about. And yeah, after that we had to go down and actually take over the cage at

05:04:00:00

Tobruk for a week and while we were there, if you can imagine a cage with thirty-six thousand in, you know. And they were cleaning out some of the tunnels down near Tobruk township, just back from the wharf, and they were cleaning them out of shells and bombs and things and that. And they were using

05:04:30:00

store man that’d been there that were Italian, and one young bloke dropped a box of detonators, and we were up in our cage at the time. And the whole damn thing went up and the next thing I saw, I heard this, like you can imagine, a volcano kind of exploding, and there’s everything up in the

05:05:00:00

air and I could see a body up there too in the middle of it all, I thought... And it wasn’t very nice for the poor buggers in the cage either because it was one of their own blokes that was carrying the thing that got blown sky high. And I know we got two legs and a bit of a body and had to cart them off and bury them separately. These are the kind of things that happened there. But we looked after, we fed, I don't know where we got it from, we fed ’em.

05:05:30:00

We were getting ships coming in every night with supplies. I mean they are prisoners they gotta be treated correctly under the Geneva Convention, you gotta, they weren’t bad blokes, they didn’t want to fight. They, but in Tobruk they had a little township over here and all the way round there’s soldiers and that, over here they had the harbour and above the harbour they had two huge British Vickers kind of

05:06:00:00

naval guns to protect em. And they were huge, they could’ve, any ship, the size that could get in the harbour, could be sunk by them for sure with this. And... I don't know where I’m up to. Anyway, that was the last spot where there was actually fighting, and we had one British I-tank, infantry tank. And thank God for him and he, marvellous things, as slow

05:06:30:00

as hell but big and strong. And anyway, they came with us and we took the fort, and having taken the fort I think the whole, that was more or less the finish of the Tobruk show, not Bardia, Tobruk. And yeah.
Just talking about Tobruk in a little bit more detail, can you tell me a little bit about, a little bit more about that battle the night before

05:07:00:00

you had that dreadful experience? Can you describe exactly how that began and what happened, where were you, and what you saw?
No. The only way I’ve ever described it or thought of it, to anybody, is telling em the story about the blasted bloke with his water bottle on his hip. That was the night before the assault, and of all

05:07:30:00

the things that stick in my memory... it was a bit hairy, I mean we were just laying there for hours and hours knowing that Charlie’s just over there or... But, I don't know what anybody thought of, I can’t think of, this is the only thing that brightened up the night’s events really.
But what about the actual assault itself,

05:08:00:00

I didn’t get a clear picture of what happened?
Well, what happened is that there was another battalion that, they blow the wire, they blow the wire, it gets dragged either side. Then another battalion went through, that’s seven hundred and seventy-seven men roughly, and I don't know what battalion it was even, but they went through and they did all the initial dirty work. We’d done it at Bardia. And after they’ve done that, we went through and we had to turn south

05:08:30:00

and go down this road to the south and take all that area , and come to a cross roads, and then go east to where these two guns were over the harbour. But before it all, I’m sorry I’m not much help to you. Isn’t it silly?
No, no, but I was actually interested in describing the actual assault itself, the operation itself, exactly what happened?
Well, the operation itself’s only done by the first ones through the wire, and we didn’t

05:09:00:00

do it.
So, what could you see from where you were of the actual assault?
Oh, nothing. The only thing is that we had these six inch Howitzers with us, which was marvellous, and we’d never even trained with them, never. But, God they’re accurate, they fire about a mile and a half or something. And they’re a hundred pound bomb, shell, huge thing, and honest to God, they get, they can near,

05:09:30:00

and I’m not kidding, they can nearly land it on a threepenny bit if they could see it, from back a couple of mile. They’re just like, a mortar is one of these things that doesn’t go, ‘pshoong,’ with great velocity, a mortar shoots things up in the air, they go down, they go down like that. That’s exactly what these things do. But whereas a mortar’s about that round, these things have got a hole about, a barrel about that big. And then you hear them

05:10:00:00

go ‘whoh-whoh-whoh,’ and then you wait for a while and you hear, ‘whoo-whoo-whoo, per-oong,’ away they go. And course when we got into Greece and the Germans had their, had it all over us, all over us, you could still hear their, we had three inch mortars, they had four point two’s, and their four inch mortars, you’d hear ’em go, ‘whoh-whoh-whoh.’

05:10:30:00

If there was a, see there were lots of fences there made of stones, stone, about that wide. And you’d dive on the other side of the stone thing and lay down, ‘harumph,’ and sometimes they’d, oh gee, they’d land within ten feet of ya sometimes. They could fire these damn things, small or big, so accurately it’s unbelievable. Frightening damn things they are, because you can hear em and you know they’re getting closer because the sound changes all the time and...

05:11:00:00

When it’s all over and the last one goes, you stand up and you turn round you say, “Get stuffed you...” Yeah. Oh, we got a hell of a hiding there in Greece, a hell of a hiding.
Before you had that, before you met Frank in Tobruk, what was your view of the Italians?
Oh, Jesus dear, once they’re dead they’re dead. They’re, I mean might as well be your brother, it doesn’t matter two hoots. They

05:11:30:00

didn’t fight because they don’t like you, they fought because it was a bloody war and they had to. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Never. Oh, the Germans were the same, they had to do their job, this thing, otherwise Hitler woulda shot em in the back even. But on no, I never felt that way about any of em, any of em. I’d have had a beer with ’em,

05:12:00:00

bought the first one, when it was over. Oh, yeah.
So how did you come to select Frank from the people who were there?
I didn’t, he selected himself. I just opened the, we just opened the gates and said, “We want forty.” And they weren’t gonna count up to forty, they just wanted to get out of the boredom of the camp and the filth, oh wasn’t filth, we had them pretty clean. But they,

05:12:30:00

I think they thought our truck was taking em down to a boat, to get em out. That’s it. I hadn’t thought of it, but that’s what, that’s why they were all in a hurry to get on the truck. And Frank was the last one and I said, “I think we got enough mate.” And he said, “Oh, you got room for another one?” And I said, “You speak English?” And he said, “Yes.” I said, “Okay, hop on mate.” And then we had a yarn when we got to the spot where we had to do all this. And

05:13:00:00

I said, “How, what are we gonna start with?” I said, “We’ll have to get the kids to make some crosses, there’s plenty of bits of timber around.” And he said, “I’ll get the kids to, the young fellas,” his young blokes, “to take the boot laces out of the boots, before we bury ’em, and we’d use all those to tie the crosses on.” And we put one dead meat ticket on the thingo and tried to put a name on it, where

05:13:30:00

we could. But I often wonder if after the war you know, any department of theirs went over trying to find those type of thing. But no we, I told Frank what I wanted, what to do, but never, never, never in the spirit of Christianity could he have done it better.

05:14:00:00

And I couldn’t have done that. No. I couldn’t have done that.
Do you know how old Frank was?
About, he’d have been... what was I? What year was it? ’41. ’‘41.
You were twenty-one I guess?
Yeah, I was twenty-one. Yeah, twenty, twenty-one, yeah. Oh, Frank was, he wouldn’t have

05:14:30:00

been thirty, oh he’d have been around about the end of, beginning of the thirties, early thirty.
So, what did you say to one another when you realised what you were going to have to do?
Well, he didn’t know what was gonna happen till I got the truck right out there and said, “Righto, off you get, come on.” And the next minute I heard some bloke yabbering at ’em and

05:15:00:00

getting ’em out and they were jumping and I thought, “Gee this bloke’ll do me.” And I went up to him and said, “How ya going mate?” And he said, “Not bad.” I said, “Oh Jeez,” I’d forgotten he was the, speak English anyway. Great it was. And I said, “Can you conduct a Catholic burial?” He said, “Yes Don,” he said, “I’ve got my little book here, it’s all in it.” I thought, “Oh, you bloody beauty.” I said, “We’ll get into it.” And I,

05:15:30:00

he said, “What do you want me to do?” And I said, “Look after all the kids to start with, get em to make all these crosses and get the shoe, boot laces out and then we’ll work out the next lot Frank.” He said, “Righto,” so he went out and that.
Was it standard practice for soldiers to bury the enemy in that way?
If it is, nobody bloody ever told me, or ever has told me since. Particularly poor old infantry bloke, he’s the bloke that’s right in the front that’s gotta do the

05:16:00:00

killing, really. I mean it’s alright to say so many of these big shells did so much and that. But the hand to hand kind of stuff when you, you know, you’re the ones that do the killing, it’s not the artillery, it’s not the air force directly, certainly it’s the bombs they drop that do it. But no, you never expect it. Never expect it.
So, who made the decision that you would have to do that?
The colonel, the colonel.
But that was an unusual thing to be asked to do?
Well, I’d never heard of anyone else that was asked to do it but they must’ve done it in Bardia, and they must have done it in other parts of Tobruk, they must’ve had quite a few burial thingos. I mean if they captured thirty-six thousand, there’d be,

05:17:00:00

you know, there’d be quite a few buried there in other parts. We just went over the area that we did the first day and yeah, I never thought in a million years that I’d get called upon to do that in the army. I thought somehow or other they’d have a, a group of blokes a bit like

05:17:30:00

the YMCA [Young Men’s Christian Association] or the Salvation Army or something of that nature that are back room boys, they don’t do any of the front work but they hop in and do this. Never in a million years did I think that the infantry would have to bloody well go and do the whole box and dice. Yeah.
So in relation to that actual assault that took place before that,

05:18:00:00

before you had to bury those people,
The day before.
What was your role the day before?
Well, that was the time we captured these two big guns on the fort of Tobruk. And what was my role? Oh, well, just to make certain that the sections leg behind, that they kept their position, they kept their... But they were such good blokes and so well trained they didn’t have to be looked like that.

05:18:30:00

I would say that if a bullet had gone through the blasted, the platoon commanders eyebrows, that I’d have had to just walk in and taken over. That’s the main thing. This platoon commander of ours, we were talking a while back about Charlie Green and so and so. Harry Lovett, he

05:19:00:00

was the best junior officer I ever fought with or under. He never, never, never lost sight of achieving his objective, with the least loss of life. And he was brilliant at doing it and still doing it on time, and getting it right. Very, very few of them

05:19:30:00

make that a priority, with the least... we didn’t lose a bloke in Bardia or Tobruk, killed. Our whole platoon. And there’re a lot of blokes got killed. And that was because of Harry Lovett. I don’t think, I don't know... Charlie Green was a wonderful officer. And

05:20:00:00

you can’t say anything about any other officer unless you’ve been in the same position with them. But there’s certainly no officer I’ve ever heard or known of in the army who was as explicit about carrying out and achieving his object on the right time, by the time he had to do it, and still with the least loss of life of his own men. Oh boy,

05:20:30:00

he was marvellous. Yeah. I often wonder if it’d got you know, it did get through to me, but I often wonder had I... I’ve never been in a stoush as an officer. Yeah. I’ve, it’s funny, I’ve been

05:21:00:00

a temporary sergeant, or an acting sergeant, and a sergeant and a warrant officer class II and a warrant officer, acting warrant officer class I. I was RSM of the 2/1st Infantry Battalion, oh there’s a funny thing... When we got back from all this Greece business, we found out there were no 2/1st Battalion

05:21:30:00

blokes. I was 2/2nd right through Bardia and Tobruk and Greece. And then we found out that they had been caught on Crete, they’d run out of ammunition, they’d run out of food, they’d run out of petrol, and the colonel just had to go with the white flag with all his officers and

05:22:00:00

surrender. Before he did that he got all the men together the night before and told em what he was going to do, what he had to do. And they couldn’t get back, they couldn’t get a ship out. And he said, “Any one that wants to go and try to make it on their own,” I would’ve done that, by the way, for sure and for certain, but...“they have my full permission

05:22:30:00

and agreement for doing it.” But the whole battalion just had to surrender. Had to. And well, the brigade’s the 2/2nd of the 2/1st, 2/2nd, 2/3rd, so what they did was out of all the blokes that got back from the 2/2nd like us, when the blokes came out of the hospitals and the cages and everywhere else, there were roughly three hundred. The

05:23:00:00

2/3rd the same, roughly three hundred, the 2/1st, none. So they took a hundred mixed ranks from the 2/2nd, a hundred mixed ranks from the 2/3rd, always training, and they sent them over to form the nucleus of the new 2/1st Battalion, and then the three battalions’d be filled up with reinforcements. And under normal circumstances they should be of equal

05:23:30:00

calibre. Because they’ve got officers, warrant officers, sergeants, privates, corporals, the lot, all in the mix that had to go across. I went across to the 2/1st as a company sergeant major. And I didn’t want to leave the 2/2nd under any circumstance but I think I had a little bit of a spell there, you know, a bit of pride, if you want to call it that, just for the folks at home, that I was...

05:24:00:00

Don, you said before that you didn’t lose any men from your platoon in Tobruk. Who, where, what about those young men you spoke of, who were being buried from Coffs Harbour, who were being buried the same...?
Oh, yeah, they weren’t our platoon or our company.
They were blokes you knew?
Oh yes, yeah. May knew them better than me, because she’s born and bred in Coffs Harbour.

05:24:30:00

So how many men that, in Tobruk, did you know personally who were killed?
Oh, look dear, I don't know, I can’t answer, truthfully, I’m not evading it, I don't know. I’ve always been a poor name rememberer and when you get into a platoon, it’s, that’s like your home, and the other, you know, meet the

05:25:00:00

other blokes on different jobs and different things and over a beer and that, but like meeting distant relatives. No I’m sorry, I don’t.
That’s alright. Did you lose any close mates though, anyone you’d been really close to?
Oh. I don't think so. I’ll most probably think of it later and kick myself, but I don't think so.

05:25:30:00

Well, can you tell us a little bit more about the friendships that were formed while you were in the Middle East and how important they were?
No. I think that’s a heap of baloney, I think that anyone’s been through action they don’t make friends quite that deeply. No. You don’t get, you don’t get that

05:26:00:00

close. Basically, I had one and that was Harry Lovett, my platoon commander, I’d have done anything for him. I was best man at his wedding after the war by the way. And yeah, and remember me telling you about meeting May, the second girl in that surf was his wife, and I was best man at his wedding, Harry Lovett’s wife, he married, when he came out of the cage. He was in the cage for about three and a half, four years.

05:26:30:00

So, what was the relationship like among the men then if they weren’t actually close, what sort of mateship developed?
Respect. Just respect. Yeah. You can rely on a bloke just, he says I’ll do something, he’ll do it. If he doesn’t, you know, you never ask him again for anything.

05:27:00:00

Oh, when I, it, I can always remember an uncle of mine, and he said, “Just remember Don, never volunteer for anything, never, never, never.” I never did, I never did. And that was the best advice I ever got. They, you know, there was a thing in the army, they, an officer’ll come out

05:27:30:00

or the sergeant, never the officer, the sergeant or sergeant major, say. “Battalion headquarters wants six volunteers, you, you, you and you.” That’s what they did in the army. Yeah, you never got volunteers. Very seldom, if you did they were new boys. Yeah, you knew that, you’ve heard that a thousand times. Oh, you must’ve. Oh no, you never volunteer for any thing.

05:28:00:00

Yeah.
So why do you think you didn’t develop really close relationships with the other men?
I thought I answered that one. Oh, you know, why didn’t I? Why didn’t anyone? Oh just, oh it’s just one of those nebulous things where they,

05:28:30:00

everyone knows that the other bloke’s here today, gone tomorrow, could be, you never know. Oh, a lot of them were very close, a lot of the boys were very close, they were close, you know, before they joined up, the fellas that kept very close to each other. Oh no, there’re a lot of mates, a lot of good mates, but you never got very close to them, not that close. Not like brotherly thing or

05:29:00:00

anything.
Do you think it was that sense of awareness?
Well, not only that, what are you gonna do when somebody comes down and says, “I want you to pick six men out, I’ve got a dangerous job to do.” Who you gonna pick? You gonna pick one of your best mates? Or are you on equal terms with the lot of them. Mmm? Ever think of that? No.

05:29:30:00

And that often happens, doesn’t matter what it is, whether it’s to dig a big stump out or go and bury some people, do anything. You know, when we got back from... never seen it written anywhere, never talked about it much. When we got back from Greece and we were building up with these new blokes, the stupid bastards, they had us jumping off trucks at thirty miles an hour, fully equipped with our

05:30:00:00

rifles and that, learning to do this like unarmed combat kind of stuff, at thirty miles an hour. Blokes were going to hospital with broken legs and broken arms and shoulders and it didn’t last long but it lasted... it should never have been on at all, it was dreadful. You know, some blokes were taught how to jump off from the side of a truck, others how to fall off from the back of a truck, that you gotta be rolling as you... Oh, my God,

05:30:30:00

thirty miles an hour, not ks [kilometres].
What was the reasoning behind that?
Oh, don’t want to talk about it. The brains that sometimes you get some idiot bloody officer that’s never had any bloody experience at anything. No idea. But that honestly happened after, between me getting back from Greece and going over to the 2/1st Battalion, that

05:31:00:00

time. I reckon it’d be a case that I reckon the blokes’d have every right to refuse an order. And then what’d happened, get court marshalled or something. Particularly blokes that’d been through it all. Oh no,

05:31:30:00

unfortunately, there are idiots in every show. Oh, I...
Can I... oh, did you wanna stop for a second?
No, another little bit just to read you a quick... After gaining my commission we had a few day’s leave on the house boat Sudan, on the Nile. I was invited one night with friends, Len Triplet to join the skipper and General Tom Blamey [General Thomas Blamey Commander-in-Chief, Australian Military Forces (AMF) and Commander, Allied Land Forces] ... Remember me telling you that one? Have you got that one down?

05:32:00:00

After dinner for drinks. It was most enjoyable and interesting. After TB [Tom Blamey] considered we’d consumed enough Black Label [Scotch] to talk openly, he questioned us incessantly on how to improve things affecting the infantry soldier. My better version is overloading the soldier, carrying this to, carry this to, oh no, sorry. We’re taught that the

05:32:30:00

infantry should always be mobile, able to move quickly from A to B and at a minutes notice to quell trouble etcetera. How do you do this when he, the digger [Australian soldier], is continually being loaded with, loaded down with every new and conceivable gadget the brains think of. I sounded off. At present, apart from pay book, identification tags, cigarettes, matches, medical kit, he must

05:33:00:00

carry his rifle, bayonet, bandoleer of rifle ammunition, two full magazines of the section’s Bren guns, two tins of bully beef and dog biscuits. Water bottle, usually full, gas respirator usually, spare full magazine of Boys anti tank rifle, heavy ammunition for the two inch mortars, one per section, spare bombs for each of the mortars, smoke and HE [high explosive].

05:33:30:00

Spare Owen gun magazines, two grenades each, at least these were a must. Grenades, I agreed that they’re a must. TB: “Don, I’ve got the picture.” He said, “You better have another scotch.” I did. TB: “I’ve learned more in this short session than I thought possible.” Then I told him, “Officer’s pistols ought to be thrown away and they should be given a light sub machine gun because the pistols are

05:34:00:00

never used.” And he said, “Shut up and have another...” And that was General Tom Blamey. Yeah.
That was, that seems to have been pretty brave to speak with him like that?
Oh well, I mean to say, who else could I talk to that’d do anything about it. I mean it’s not gonna affect my obeying orders or doing

05:34:30:00

jobs that are given to me. I gotta get it through to someone, because I’d just finished my OC2 then, and I’d been through that where they...
So, was General Blamey a willing listener?
He, oh yes, yes, he was a very bright man.
He, when I was at the OC2 they took us up to General Wavell’s head quarters, and I would say nearly half the things they showed us was recommendations from fairly senior officers,

05:35:30:00

colonels and brigadiers and that, where they had pages and pages of this. And it’d come into Tom Blamey’s head quarters, and on the top right hand corner, he’d put ‘Yes, TB’ or ‘No, TB.’ And that was, that show was run by Pommie [Englishman] Coldstream guards and it was taken back to England and used, teach ’em how

05:36:00:00

things should be done the Australian way. That was Tom Blamey, held in very, very high regard by all the very, very senior British officers, you get to Wavell and those type of people.
So when you met with him personally and spoke to him in that way, what did you think of him?
Good bloke. He’s a big, he liked a good scotch too. He didn’t buy a cheap Jack one. It’s the first thing

05:36:30:00

you notice, you know. Yeah. No he’s a, he, I liked old Tom. I think he and the, all the politicians who are associated with the military, and poor old Tom and all the rest of them made a hell of a mistake when they didn’t do what McArthur

05:37:00:00

wanted ’em to do up here. And, you know, and ‘let ’em rot on the vine,’ and they didn’t. The Australian boys must’ve lost about six thousand blokes just going in and trying to get ’em out and cleaning ’em out. McArthur said, “Forget ’em, let ’em rot on the vine, and we go past, we just do our war up here.” And our blokes wouldn’t do it and gee they lost a lot of good men. And I think

05:37:30:00

Tom was a bit involved in that but I think he might have had his bloody instructions from the political side of it.
So, when you met him that day and spoke to him about your concerns, can you describe his demeanour, what type of man was he?
He was a real man’s man, real man’s man.

05:38:00:00

I don't know how I can, I can’t improve on that. Pick up as quick as a flash, the way he did me, he said, “Righto Don, I think I’ve got the message mate.” No, no bones about Tom, no. No bones at all. “Yeah, have another drink,” he said, “we’ll fix that up.” He would too.
So how much of a problem was it in fact that you were carrying

05:38:30:00

all that gear?
Oh, it was bloody ridiculous. Every time, you know, some bloody scientist introduced a sticky bomb. Have you ever heard of a sticky bomb? Never heard of a sticky bomb, not from any of these blokes? Oh, it’s a beautiful weapon, it’s a bloody thing that, you know, you can plant on metal and it sticks there. So what you do is you’re down in your trenches see, and you’re fighting and all these huge, big tanks start to come along. So you wait’ll they go over the top of ya and

05:39:00:00

if they’re not going too fast, you jump out and chase em and then the wheel’s are going round all the time and you get the sticky bomb. You gotta plant it on a wheel and then run back to your hole and get back in it and it blows the tank up. That’s what it’s about. And the whole point is that once he’s gone over the top of you, they’re going too fast for you to catch anyway. And if you throw it at ’em they most probably won’t stick and there’s only certain places you gotta put them. But that’s the kind of thing, you gotta carry the bloody things too, why... yeah a lot of those kind of things.
I tell you another one, you’ll laugh at this, or you won’t laugh at this, you’ll be amazed. We got our first light machine gun at Mersa Matruh on the way back from Bardia and Tobruk before we went over to Greece. Guess what it was?

05:40:00:00

Owen gun? No. It was a Tommy gun [machine gun], an American Tommy gun. An American Tommy gun’s got a five point five bullet, great bloody things, and they’re heavy to carry. The boys have to carry ammunition for a Tommy gun, dreadful bloody things they are. Who’d ever want to bloody load us up with a Tommy gun. Never in, an infantry

05:40:30:00

man would never have bought the things. Anyhow, later on of course we got rid of all those stupid... the boys lost ’em all or threw ’em in a hole or something, I don't know what they did but they... They loved to get things, this Boys anti tank rifle was a useless big thing too because it wouldn’t do more to a light tank than a burst of machine gun, of a Bren gun bullet. If you keep plugging a Bren gun bullet for about

05:41:00:00

say ten bullets in a row, it’s gonna go right through. But oh they’re heavy things. But the stupid Tommy gun, point five... I can remember when I was a kid the bank used to have a Smith & Wesson or something or Webbley or some kind of pistol, revolver. And they had these great bullets about that big across, diameter, and that’s the size the things were in this,

05:41:30:00

except a bit longer. Yeah. Tommy gun, no good at all. They don’t get infantry men to take their new fangled ideas out and try them out and think about them in every aspect of the business, they just give ’em to em and tell ’em to use ’em.
Interviewee: Donald Peirce Archive ID 1684 Tape 06

06:00:30:00

Well, let’s go back to Bardia. Can you explain a little bit more about the lead up to Bardia and what you were doing? You said before that you were learning how to do, doing training for desert action, can you tell us a little bit more about that training for the desert ?
No, that was Helwan,

06:01:00:00

were we did most of that. Bardia, leading up to Bardia, yeah, but it was done at Helwan.
Okay, can you describe the camp at Helwan?
It was a real desert camp, the way your mind goes and it’s sand everywhere and tents up here and there. At the end of every day everyone compulsorily had to go through a foot bath, not because of any

06:01:30:00

dirt or anything but to try to harden your feet up, to take the miles and miles of tramping through sand. That was the main...
Can you start from the beginning of the day and tell us what would happen throughout the day?
No, not much good at that. But Helwan’s just below Cairo, it’s the

06:02:00:00

closest camp of any military camp there and it’s dug into mountains and like tunnels that go right in that’ve most likely been there for years. And the Arabs used to store all their explosive, military explosive stuff in those kind of things. And we went a bit further south than that and the camp was already prepared when we got there, I think, I would say that other people had been

06:02:30:00

there before us. Whether they were Brits or South African’s or what they were, because we were all mixed up together by that stage.
About how many would there have been?
Oh, well we had to hold the 16th brigade so that’s the 2/2nd Battalion, that was ours, and the 2/1st and 2/3rd were both there also, training separately. If you ask me why, I don't know

06:03:00:00

because going, if we were training for Bardia by this stage we should’ve been training as a brigade, doing separate exercises. But perhaps the senior bods like the brigadiers of the place and their battalion commanders got together of an evening and they went in, most probably went in different directions. But they’d have, they’d have had a purpose behind it. But it was, strangely enough

06:03:30:00

there was not much whinging, they used to get crook feet and blisters and all this kind of thing that were really bad and you needed good boots and course they didn’t provide... For that type of warfare I reckon you need calf boots and well made, tailored boots, but oh no, you got the usual hard ones.
What did you eat?
Oh, same as we’d eat at any other army camp,

06:04:00:00

we ate at the, Julis before we came down. No, the food was good, it was funny there, army food’s always good but you have a lot of stews but that’s good for you, nothing wrong with a good stew. But I know that when I went, when I went over there I didn’t like pumpkin and I don't know if I’d eat peas. And only a young fella, why’s he got these bloody likes and dis-

06:04:30:00

likes, it’s crazy. But if you didn’t eat everything that was put in front of you in the army you’d either starve or get sick. And didn’t take you long to get used to it and like it. Food’s food. But oh no, it was never fancy, not even at Christmas time or anything like that, nothing really fancy. There used to be an old army saying that the, on Christmas Day the officers

06:05:00:00

served all the privates and actually waited on their tables, this is an old military happening. And I believe that did happen around about that time, but I don’t recollect ever having seen it. And I think our blokes did it, and whether it was at Julis, at there or, where would we have been at Christmas time? At Christmas time I think that our blokes would most likely have been, 25th,

06:05:30:00

they’d have most probably been on the way up to Bardia from, not from Helwan but from the next camp, what’s it called? Ismailiya? Yeah. That’s closer to Alex, about nine, ten miles out of Alex on the northern side, so we just got in trucks from there and went up to

06:06:00:00

Libya. Yeah that, that thing about the Greece one that I missed out telling you, I think it is, stop me if I didn’t. But one of the islands we got to, we got there a little bit late, we’re looking for spots and we...
Yeah, well we got away from mainland Greece and we’d been on a couple of islands and we came along

06:06:30:00

this little island, Alonissos. And it was getting a bit dark and we passed a little stone looking shed, stone walls and looked, I don't know what was on top, but just like a stone shed, fairly strong door. Anyway, we went hunting for something better and couldn’t find it, it was getting dark and Jock said, “I think we better go back to that first place.” So we went in, down there and whipped the door open and

06:07:00:00

found out it was a morgue, and there was a stiff on the slab. So we looked at that and one of the boys said, “Oh, I can fix that up,” so they just slid the stiff right down the far end and then got our half blankets out. At that stage we all had half blankets, and if you were lucky enough to have two of em, well you had an extra one, you could have one on top. And we used to all manage to get on a certain number, and what was left we put on

06:07:30:00

top of us. Anyway, we were pretty tired and so we didn’t even eat, we decided just to go to sleep. And we were, we slid the stiff down the end and we’re really off to sleep pretty quickly. Anyway, about four o'clock in the morning, or three o'clock in the morning we heard somebody rattling at the door. We thought, “Oh Jeez, the

06:08:00:00

Jerries [Germans] are here,” cause they had been on most of the islands. Jock had a pistol, a Beretta, one of the Italian ones and he said, “Don’t do a thing, leave this to me.” He’s a very competent bloke, we knew what to do, we all shut up. And the door opened, in came this little, poor little Greek bloke about five foot two or something like that. A little baby hurricane lantern and he’s holding it up and he sees that

06:08:30:00

he’s, either his stiff’s back or somebody’s back on the slab and he’s leaning round having a look to see what he can see. Anyway, he came up a little bit closer and stopped again, then all of a sudden Jock started to raise his stiff left leg like, or right leg like that. And this poor fella, he’s watching it and watching it and staring at it and the leg came up, and when the leg got to about there it just stopped and then Jock suddenly let it go and

06:09:00:00

it went ‘crash!,’ and it hit the slab. And it made a noise that would frighten the, anybody, and because you know, the back of the army boot you got a steel kind of horse shoe shaped bit. And it made a noise, I reckon you could’ve heard it ten miles away. The poor old bugger dropped his lantern and screamed and he either went straight through the middle of the door or the door could’ve been ajar and he went out of it. But we got the giggles and we’re laughing like hell and it was snowing outside,

06:09:30:00

and we could just see him disappearing in the snow. And we wondered if he ever stopped the poor old bastard, really and truly. It was a dreadful thing to do to him but you had to break the monotony with a bit of humour, we laughed and laughed, and poor old fella. Anyway, we grabbed our things and pulled em up again and went back to sleep. But that was our story of the night we slept in the morgue.
Did you feel like you’d been forgotten in Greece?
No.

06:10:00:00

Because you seemed to spend a lot of time trying to get back?
Yes, well how do you get out of the place if you don’t want to get captured? I mean, nobody’s gonna give you a boat, and there’s not enough boats to go round for all the soldiers over there trying to get out. And we, one day we, oh we picked up two Greek lads one day, they had been in the Greek Army, fighting in Albania,

06:10:30:00

round that part. And they were good boys, they wanted to get out and join the British Army or something, and do something brave. And they were good and they were pretty good at bartering for us, we couldn’t speak the language. And they helped us get some meat on occasions. You know the whole time we were over there we never saw fish being eaten? I always looked upon Greece as a place where it’d be the staple diet. Anyway...
What were they eating?
Same as we do.

06:11:00:00

Same as we do. Except that they cook everything in olive oil, everything. When I say meat, I’m talking about vegies, no matter what they do there’s always half a beer bottle of olive oil goes in first. And it keeps you on the move anyway, yeah. Anyway, yeah we got on to a larger boat, on this little island it was too, we left our

06:11:30:00

boat, got this larger boat and it was a bit like the old wooden surf boats that they rowed, and, not the lighter ones. And there were two blokes could sit down in the middle and have an oar each and the other blokes had a spell at the back. Anyway, we rode out on this thing for about twelve hours or so and there was a storm came up and it was a bugger of a storm. And we talked about it a bit cause none of us been

06:12:00:00

in yacht clubs or associated with the sea that way, we liked fishing but we’d never owned a boat. Well, one thing that we all, we’d all remembered, was that if you’re in a rough sea, always head into it, so that all we could do was just sit there and row, and row and row and row into the head of this storm. About two o'clock in the morning we got washed up on the beach that we left that night, same beach, we didn’t know the storm was that

06:12:30:00

bad. We’d rowed for over twelve hours, never stopped, and it was that strong it rowed us back into the same beach. So.
And did you eventually get out?
No not on that boat, we got, we stuck, that big heavy old boat we stuck to and we went to two more islands before we got to Skiros.

06:13:00:00

And at both the islands we were able to get a bit of meat. Vegies weren’t much bother, they, you could feel in yourself that if you asked people for some vegetables that you weren’t denying them their livelihood, but you also felt just as bad if you asked them for some meat. So, you used to just have to just knock off the meat at night and pretend you didn’t know anything about it.

06:13:30:00

Bury the gut and all the rest of it.
Why were you sent to Greece in the first place?
Well, we always cursed Mr Churchill for that, that wonderful man, but we cursed him because he used all the dominion troops to go to Greece knowing we could never win. I read a bit in a book just the other day, a well written book by a

06:14:00:00

a very senior bloke, they sent us over knowing we had no chance of winning. But the whole story was, apparently when I was at that OC2, we had two lectures by Randolph Churchill. And he was one of the chiefs in, oh what do they call it, propaganda, kind of thing. And he said, and he told us the, and it’s turned

06:14:30:00

out right, the main reason we went there was to try to tie up a bit more of Hitler’s army so that the Russian thing could go more our way. And that they didn’t, I mean if there was no war on there, they’d have had another heap of Alpine soldiers and parachutists, and they’d have had a hundred thousand

06:15:00:00

extra troops they could have put in over there which would have made things very difficult for the Ruskies [Russians]. We had no chance anyway, so might as well throw the old Aussies and, oh Kiwis got thrown in too we had, and a few Brits. But no we were thrown in, there’s no doubt about that, but that was the reason, to try to divert them so that they’d have to fight us at least, and in doing so they would not be sending more troops to

06:15:30:00

fight against the Russians.
And what was your brief before you went there?
Oh, down as low as we get, we wouldn’t know, we wouldn’t have a clue. They never came out and lined you all up and said, “Well, this is what we’re going to do.” No they just tell you, “You go there and you go there and you...” Oh, it never gets down to us that way. But it was a,

06:16:00:00

oh, most peculiar place. The first thing we did when we went across, oh well on the way across we lost about five ships, they were carrying, all the ships that carried tanks or aeroplanes were sunk, they knew what was on every ship. And when we landed in Greece, it was still neutral at that stage, and the German Embassy staff were all out writing down the numbers as we came off and what they were, from here to you.

06:16:30:00

Yeah, what, we didn’t talk to them, they didn’t talk to us. Amazing.
Was it a convoy that went across?
Oh, God yes, we had, I don't know, about nine troop ships, and a lot of these others were stores and the rest of it. But we went to Dafni, a little place called Dafni, which is where, it was the theme centre for Midsummer Night’s Dream story. And

06:17:00:00

it’s a beautiful spot, absolutely beautiful. And having come out of the desert straight over there, we thought we’re in heaven, it was, oh no, it was beautiful. Anyway, when we moved from there to go up north, where war was on, going to be on, hadn’t declared war at this stage, we got into trucks that were, you know, the old First World War Diggers talk about, with so many Omms [?] and so many cheveaux, that’s exactly what we got into, the Cheveaux [horse] section. The platoon

06:17:30:00

commander, Harry, had to go and have a nice carriage with a lean back thing and everything, and truthfully, he asked the chief whether he could go back with the boys, they wouldn’t let him. He did. Ridgy didge. That’s how good a bloke he was. We went up on the way and when we got right up near the northern border,

06:18:00:00

of what, Yugoslavia or something, I forget now, the Aliakmon River’s up there. And it was a pretty nasty spot where they declared war about that stage, and the Germans had a lot of Stukas and they’re a dreadful thing as far as, I don't know, men or anything else. And they used to come over and we weren’t supposed to fire

06:18:30:00

at ’em either, because if you fire’d at em they’d just get on the buzzer and get about twenty more planes over the top of where it came from and they’d just bomb the hell out of it. So, that was funny. Like I was telling you earlier about this big bloke Lofty Stafford, you know, six-foot-eight with his anti tank rifle, he got sick of being told you can’t, couldn’t do it, at one stage, and they were flying low too. And he put his anti tank rifle between the fork of a tree and he went,

06:19:00:00

‘whack,’ and what, I thought he downed the plane too. Anyway, he said, “Bugger ’em, I’m gonna have a go anyway.” By gee, I think he hit ’em too, but anyway, dunno what happened, he didn’t have a, the officers got onto him and he didn’t have another go. But we went right up to parachute protection platoon there, we’re about only ten and eleven miles from Selonika. And oh, it was a dreadful climb

06:19:30:00

up the top of the mountain, steep as billy-oh and slippery because there was that much snow.
How many were there with you?
Oh, the whole battalion was spread over the area but we’re just worrying about our own platoon. We got up the top and it was funny too because we were, it was, we slept under the fly of a, a tent fly, it’s all we had at the time, and put up a couple of things. And early in the

06:20:00:00

morning, got a little tent up, one of the boys had gone down and carried a bloody tent up himself, I think it’s the most wonderful feat of strength I’ve ever seen in my life. And, you know, all of a sudden we could hear some people walking outside and we said, “Quiet everyone.” And the next minute we could hear this bloke at the side of the tent and just as he’s about to open it, Jock McDermott, bit of a dag said, “Come in Hun [German]”.

06:20:30:00

Oh, we all bloody roared. Up to that stage it was quiet and tense and oh we all broke up then, it was just what we needed.
Before you went into the first conflict, ever, were there men around you, did you ever hear of any men that were afraid of going in?
I don't think I ever heard of one that wasn’t.

06:21:00:00

Any of the lack of moral fibre issues?
No. No. No, not to my knowledge ever, you’d have heard about it. Yeah. No. Matter of fact, talking like that, we had a couple of blokes, not in our platoon but in the unit, that were just…

06:21:30:00

I don't know whether it was not physically a hundred percent or mentally a hundred percent in every way, but blokes that I reckon shouldn’t have been over there, shouldn’t have been in with... because somebody’s gotta bloody look after the bastards. Gets a bit hard. But as long as they line up to the doc, the doctor says you’re A1 [in good health],

06:22:00:00

can’t do much else about it. No, I don’t, didn’t, truthfully didn’t hear of anyone that was sent back because of that. They, oh they sent a lot of blokes back I believe, but I think they just got jack of the hum drum [daily/repetitive] life or something and that could’ve been fear too. But they, you know,

06:22:30:00

they must probably put a bullet through their foot or something like that and they’d go home. They’d call ’em snarlers, self inflicted something, something, something, I forget what it is, they’d go back.
Any suicides?
Never heard of one. Never.
What about the Italian POWs [Prisoner of War], that massive crowd

06:23:00:00

of POWs that you first came...?
Yeah, they were still there when we landed in Greece, I don't know who looked after em, who took over from us.
What was the cage...?
I tell you what, it could’ve been the 8th Div [Division] you know, that fought very, very well later on in Tobruk. And they might’ve taken over at that stage when our business was over and done with and theirs hadn’t started. Because they, they’re always quick to remind us

06:23:30:00

that we fought Italians but they fought bloody Germans and that their fighting was much more difficult and vicious than ours was. Which could be right too. But...
Were they the Rats of Tobruk?
Yeah. Yeah, because when we’re in Greece, they were, the Germans had come down, I think Rommel was still in charge of them at that stage.

06:24:00:00

He mightn’t have been, he might have gone back to head quarters. But it’s funny you know, Rommel was one of the best soldiers in either side the war had ever had, and although the blokes hated his guts of course cause he... but they admired his abilities. Yeah.
Did you have any contact with him?
No direct contact no. No.

06:24:30:00

He’s a, I think he got shot just driving in a car a couple of days before the landing in Europe.
What was the cage like?
Find a great big open patch of blasted farm somewhere and put a high fence all the way around it and that’s what it looked like.

06:25:00:00

That’s about all. It was just something to keep them in. I don't know why because they didn’t, they wouldn’t have got far if they got out. They might’ve, the only damage they could’ve done, they might’ve blown something up and then go and handed ’emselves in again. But no they got most of the prisoners of war would’ve quickly been shipped down to

06:25:30:00

some part in Egypt.
We’ve heard from guys about, you know, the atmosphere of some of those camps, how they were given instruction about oh, VD [venereal disease] and stuff like that, when they’d go on leave they’d go into the town and be with prostitutes and stuff like that. Did you have training in your camp for VD?
Oh no, we were just told

06:26:00:00

that if anybody had the slightest bit of common sense that they go to the, what they call the centre, the blue light centre where they you know, had a bit of a clean out and you got nothing to lose by doing it. And if they didn’t do it they were just bloody stupid. Oh no, we heard of blokes who got gonorrhoea and,

06:26:30:00

and syphilis of course. But, what’s that new medicine that came out then? Oh, I forget the name of it.
Penicillin?
Penicillin, yeah. Whereas they used to take months to clear up, used to do it in days with penicillin at the end apparently. But...
Did the blokes talk about the prostitutes in Cairo?
Oh yes. they talked about

06:27:00:00

it, they talked about the Gaza, or whatever they called it, in the place where, you know, the First World War blokes had their big war in there and that and we might as well have one as well if you like. Oh, some of the blokes put on a bit of a turn there just to try to beat the stories of the old blokes. A couple of blokes one day got a bit full, they picked up a piano and threw it out of

06:27:30:00

about a five storey window. I don't think they looked to see if any one was below but they got away with it. But every time you had a big leave period they always had pickets that used to go round the hotels and the clubs but they also had brothel pickets. They had these blokes’d, I don't know what we were supposed to do but

06:28:00:00

you, there’s always a sergeant in charge and you go and just basically it was to stop any fighting or to... that’s about all, yeah.
What did the brothels look like?
Oh, just an ordinary building. Was, just a, you wouldn’t pick it out from any other building. Wasn’t nothing special, no special signs, nothing like that. How’d you find it,

06:28:30:00

if they’re just like that? You just follow the bloke in front of you, that’s what most of ’em did, yeah.
Yeah, that’s a lot of men in one concentrated area [the camps], you know, how did men spend their time like that?
Oh I don't know, you never notice it, it becomes part and parcel of just natural everyday life and you got your

06:29:00:00

canteen, played Two Up [coin game]. Lofty Stafford the one I talked about earlier, he ran the Two Up all the time. That’s a good story about Lofty. I told you he called everyone brother, well he got, all those psalm singing blokes that every now and again they’d say that they want to ban gambling. It’s not good for the bloke, you know, must ban gambling, as though they’ve, you know, they go here to the senior blokes and put out routine orders saying, “Gambling’ll cease,” and all this. But

06:29:30:00

course make no difference to Lofty, he’d still have his Two Up school at the same time. So the senior officers knew they’d have to pick him up so they picked him up and charged him and he duly reported to George Wootton, our lieutenant colonel in charge of the 2/2nd Battalion. And he was marched in by the RSM and George Wootton, the colonel said, “You can wait

06:30:00:00

outside sergeant major.” And he went outside. And he said, “Sit down Lofty.” He said, “What the hell do you think you’re doing, you know what I’ve got to do, don’t you?” And he said, “Yes sir.” No he doesn’t he, everyone was brother, “Yes, brother.” And it wouldn’t matter whether there was a general there or what. “I know brother,” and he reached into his pocket, he dragged out a couple of great rolls of notes and he says, “There’s a couple of hundred pound there,” he said, “for battalion funds, how would that do?” And he said, “Very good idea Lofty. Thanks very

06:30:30:00

much indeed,” he said, “Case dismissed.” And Lofty just walked out, said, “Thanks brother, see ya non, cheerio.” And colonel said, “See ya Lofty, thank you.” And that was the end of that. Can you imagine anything more simple? Wonderful isn’t it. Ah, that, you know, you wouldn’t, you could do that I suppose in normal civvy life if you used a bit of brains. If it’d work the way it did

06:31:00:00

for these fellas, neither lost any respect for the other, neither got hurt. A penalty was voluntarily imposed, the battalion came out on top because they had extra funds for whatever they wanted to, battalion funds, whatever they wanted to spend it on. Like they might’ve had surf races or something and, yeah.

06:31:30:00

No that was very good, I remember that one very well. But yeah they had a big surf carnival over there, but, about where Gaza is. But it was a well conducted surf carnival too, the blokes that conducted it must’ve been in the surf lifesaving association. And the time of the events was excellent too. Oh no,

06:32:00:00

it was a lot of, see you do all this thing every now and again, just to break the monotony, although you didn’t have time to have, get too much monotony, you talk about it but you don’t see it.
What happened at the surf carnival?
Nothing, everything went off like clock work. Everyone lined up for every event and raced.
Was it between different divisions?
Oh, point score I suppose, yeah, yes it was. Yeah. And there’s so many points

06:32:30:00

for first, second and third and as many events as you can think of. Yeah it was quite good. You know, the, have the ever been to the, Bath in England, where they’ve got those underground pools and things? They got the same in Gaza you know, they got exactly the same there, they’re a smaller area,

06:33:00:00

under ground water’s beautiful, yeah Jesus, like out of this world. And you look at the place on the top and there’s nothing but apparent filth and nobody cares about hygiene. Silly. Yeah, want to know where that’s all gonna start and finish of, because poor old Arabs, the

06:33:30:00

you can feel sorry for em but they give em that, you know, Gaza area which I don't think should ever have given em, and the next minute they want another area, like they wanted Bethlehem and they got that. And then they wanted another area and get that, and it’s gimme, gimme, gimme all the time, it never ceases, no matter how much you give ’em. And the only thing they understand’s fear and hurt,

06:34:00:00

nothing else. I don't know what’s gonna happen there now.
Did you ever hear of homosexuality happening in the camps?
No. No. Never. I’ve heard of blokes playing with themselves, but I’ve never heard of homosexuality. No, I don't know how true that was, how much of it that was going on but there’s

06:34:30:00

always one bloke in a hundred that looks the way anyway, so (buddy...UNCLEAR) Arab. Yeah.
What was the weather like when you were training, when you’re doing desert training?
Oh, exactly the same as going out to the middle of central Australia and doing it there. No different. Most probably not as wet.

06:35:00:00

You don’t get many showers out there. It’s that dry your throat gets dry and, but your feet are the main trouble, you gotta, as long as you gotta, you’ve gotta look after your feet.
What was happening to peoples’ feet?
Oh well you’re marching through with army boots on,

06:35:30:00

not proper desert boots sort of thing. You march through with army boots on and wont take long before the old feet’ll crack up a bit and they’ll get sore and cut and... oh no, you gotta look after them. And every day, after you’ve come back from exercises, which would average about twenty mile a day I suppose, without any doubt,

06:36:00:00

and you go through conte crystal foot baths. Not to clean any wounds up so much, just to try to harden your feet up. But it did both jobs.
Did you suffer any injuries when you were training?
No, I nearly did with that bloody cars, stupid thing, jumping out of trucks at thirty miles an

06:36:30:00

hour. I got lost, I wasn’t gonna be brave and stupid. Can’t imagine anything as silly in my life. I disappeared. If I hadn’t my big mouth would’ve got me into trouble. Not that I would’ve barracked for the boys but oh, it was stupid, absolutely

06:37:00:00

stupid. Yeah.
What were some of the other desert training approaches that they had?
Oh, there wasn’t any, it was just

06:37:30:00

monotonous things, same thing over and over and over again. One of the interesting things that I did come across, this was, I wasn’t personally involved but this was up in the Kokoda Track. All their food, all their supply of reserve ammunition and mortars or anything you wanted, it all came in by the biscuit bombers. And

06:38:00:00

they were, they were the good old DC-3’s or Dakota’s with the doors on both sides just taken off, screwed off or pulled off or something. Just had this great blasted opening here and there and they had a couple of boards in the back of. They had one bloke there that’d pull the boxes up and another bloke’d sit down and he’d get his boot on, he’d just give em a push and away it’d go. No parachute, no parachute or anything at all. And of course they yell out, “Now!” and the bloke’d, ‘Meng,’ and he’d miss the mark by

06:38:30:00

miles, the blokes gotta walk miles through this dreadful jungle and find the stuff. But anyway, it was, it worked well, I mean at least they got food and at least they got their ammunition. But at one stage there, they were having trouble with the three inch mortars I was talking about earlier with Jeff Coyle. They were dropping the mortar down, before the mortar hit the firing pin, as the mortar

06:39:00:00

hit the firing pin, the whole bloody thing exploded inside the barrel and they lost about seventy-nine blokes, killed, just by their own mortars. Not just our battalion, all the battalions. And no one could work out what it was. And it turns out that, I hope you’re a bit mechanically minded... In the top of a mortar bomb, there’s a little firing pin that, when it’s hit

06:39:30:00

the pin goes down and hits a detonator and the detonator explodes the main high explosive and what, it all happens together. Well, they took months to find this out. The little pin at the top is kept back by a spring, and it’s kept back in a place like there. When the, it hits the

06:40:00:00

firing pin at the bottom the pin comes a bit forward like that and slides across, because being on a spring, and gets into the right position so that it’s gonna do this. Well, what’d happened was that as these blokes with their biscuit bombers were kicking, throwing these things out, when they hit the ground, they hit the ground with such a force that it released this pin, the bloody pin’d slide across here, then as soon as it got down into the bloody

06:40:30:00

barrel of the thing and the pin hit the thing and exploded, it hit the main... the whole thing just went off inside the thing. Took ’em ages to find that out. Ages and ages. Lot of blokes killed because of that. Nobody’s fault, just a lack of, I don't know, not knowledge even, preparedness. I mean

06:41:00:00

you had to get the food, you had to get your supplies, you had to get your reserve ammunition and all that. My God you had to pay for it too if you weren’t careful. You needed a... and how you overcome these things. I think he’s only about an eighteen year old lad that worked it out in the end too. The falling from way up there without a parachute on, as they hit the ground, ‘zhoong.’ Just imagine, and the spring goes and the things goes across and

06:41:30:00

next time it’s ready to go straight into the high explosive and the whole of the barrel just goes, ‘schtgoh,’ with the explosive it’s got inside it too. God, a lot of blokes were killed with that.
Interviewee: Donald Peirce Archive ID 1684 Tape 07

07:00:31:00

About mid 1940 the 2/2nd Battalion must have been given prior notice that our unit had to become aware, prepared for a future move. Part of this entailed having each mess with every office filled. ...That meant that we got word that we,

07:01:00:00

we didn’t, but the chiefs did that we’d be moving down to Egypt. And before you could make a unit move, every position in the officer’s mess or the sergeant’s mess or anywhere else, all had to be filled before you moved. And, so I said here... Our existing treasurer at the time

07:01:30:00

was in hospital ill and would not be returning to our unit. This meant a general... righto... About mid 1940 the 2/2nd Battalion must have been given prior notice that our unit had to become prepared for a future move and part of this entailed having each mess with every office filled. Our sergeant’s mess was short a treasurer, he was in hospital ill and would not be returning to our unit.

07:02:00:00

This meant a general meeting had to be held and a new treasurer elected. The ill sergeant was our pay sergeant called Nick... and I forget to this day his proper name, Nichols or Nicholas or, anyway. ...and we were mates, perhaps because we both had worked for banks. I called on him socially, never mentioned the mess and

07:02:30:00

the final advice he offered me that day was to never accept any mess office while RSM Sanderson was chairman. I have never seen nor heard of Nick since. Some months or so later our sergeant’s mess was called for a general meeting with compulsory attendance. All sergeant’s duties for that evening were filled by senior corporals. The mess was

07:03:00:00

had with all the usual trimmings and toasts. We were advised by the president that the tables and chairs would be then arranged for the general meeting for the purpose of electing a new treasurer. All was organised so we sat down in the usual u-shaped arrangement with warrant officer one, Sanderson, at the top table with his senior buddies. The meeting was called to order and we were advised that a new treasurer

07:03:30:00

had to be appointed. My mind went back to the hospital where Nick had given me the advice not to become an officer under any circumstance while Sanderson was in the chair. I remembered it well. The meeting was opened and RSM nominated a warrant officer, was seconded and he declined. Then he nominated another warrant officer and it was seconded, he declined.

07:04:00:00

And they went on and nominated every warrant officer in the place and he declined. Sanderson, the president, did all the nominating, he was furious, red and purple around the head and neck and gills. He then spoke to a few buddies and started nominating sergeants, nomination was seconded, and declined. The RSM lost his cool completely.

07:04:30:00

After another talk with his few friends he stood up in temper and yelled that the situation was not funny and that he was appointing a treasurer and no-one would decline. I was frightened but ready. He half yelled, “I appoint Sergeant Pierce mess treasurer.” I jumped up and loudly declined. “Ya can’t do it! Ya can’t do it!” yelled the RSM ...what’s there?... and closed the meeting.

07:05:00:00

I was never treasurer and our sergeant’s mess and everyone who was present knows this. From the time of that general meeting until we had settled in Helwan, no officer, person, RSM Sanderson or any other member of the sergeant’s mess had ever addressed me as treasurer or requested or ordered me to do anything closely resembling a treasurer’s function or duty

07:05:30:00

within our mess or anywhere else. At this stage this report or story surely sounds weird, unbelievable or concocted or too unbelievable to be true, but believe me it’s true. And two of our trusted and respected officers had been ordered to investigate this whole unbelievable business. ...I don't know

07:06:00:00

whether they were short of money or stock or both, just say assets, I don't know what I was charged with, don’t know what was short in the mess, and I’ve never heard anybody tell me what was short. I was never advised anyway... And they’d been ordered to investigate the whole unbelievable business. They never asked me one question nor would they listen to one word from me. I considered they should have been court marshalled for negligence.

07:06:30:00

And I still believe that. If that’s the way they investigated the thing and wouldn’t listen to a word from me or a lot of other blokes I spoke to... I spoke to at least half the total of members who had been present, none of whom had been interviewed or questioned by either investigating officer and all had clearly heard me decline appointment to

07:07:00:00

treasurer. They had all agreed to advise a court marshal on oath of this if and when I subpoenaed them. Further, I have never heard what the extent in money loss was at Julis or Ingleburn, never heard, ...oh, anyway that’s about it... 1) I have never touched a cent of mess money 2) I’ve

07:07:30:00

never been behind the bar nor had a free drink 3) I’ve never seen a cheque withdrawn or deposit form 4) Never been told where the funds are lodged 5) Never been given a specimen signature to operate an account 6) Never received a key to anything 7) Never seen or known where reserve stock of spirits, wine etcetera are locked 8)

07:08:00:00

Never, I’ve never looked at a cashbook. I believe this cashbook was amongst a pile of books thrown at me in the days before my fronting up to the CO [Commanding Officer], by the so-called investigators. ...Where we going here?... Exactly the same situation arose at Ingleburn shortly before we were due to leave the Middle East. ...I don't think anybody

07:08:30:00

in the unit remembered that this had happened to us at the end of December ’39 before we sailed, but I remembered it, the same president... Again mess pres [president], ah, RSM Sanderson again mess president. We all had to chip in ten pounds, I think, it was a lot of money to be as my earnings were only eighty pound a year plus a small living away from home allowance,

07:09:00:00

at previous work. I wondered if the investigators even looked at this, remembered it or considered the similarity. If one top line bottle of scotch was taken each week, with perhaps a wine etcetera. how much would this add up to in seven or eight months? ...Black label. That sounds common sense but to this day I don't know whether we were short ten

07:09:30:00

pound, twenty pound, two hundred pound, five hun, I had no idea. Anyway... Sanderson had a weekly party in the tent with close friends, the investigators looked into this. I was fully prepared to demand a court marshal and subpoena every member of the mess who attended the meeting, mainly to get the investigators charged. ...Not so much Sanderson, cause you gotta prove that, but the investigators for their

07:10:00:00

method of investigating, without even talking to me or letting me say anything. They should’ve been charged or put into the bloody can. Where did we go?... Feared that could have, yeah, fear that we could have become a laughing stock for the 2/1st and 2/3rd Battalions, and we could never risk that happening, so I had the idea of demanding a court marshal. No one has ever heard this story, I have no

07:10:30:00

other battalion friends and I just want to sleep at night. Please don’t feel, ...this is addressed to the colonel... please don’t feel badly, it certainly, it is certainly not aimed at you my friend. I did get a commission so a good fairy has more than helped me...I reckon he must’ve torn up my papers when he got a bit of a conscience about it, he’s been a terrific bloke to me, he was the one that recommended me for my commission.

07:11:00:00

And if my records had shown that I’d been reprimanded or severely reprimanded, I’d have no more had a chance of getting a commission than fly. Amazing isn’t it? Anyway, where did we go?... No one has ever heard this story and I have no other battalion friends and just want to sleep at night. Please don’t feel badly, this is certainly not aimed at you my friend. I did get my commission so a good fairy’s been,

07:11:30:00

more than helped me. Best wishes, it’s all over and done with at last, sincere regards, Don. J.P. forty-seven years Queensland, forty-six years, New South Wales. He wouldn’t have know that, anyway.
So, is that a bit of a thorn in your side about your time in the army?
Course it is. Yeah. Still hurts. Still

07:12:00:00

hurts. No one ever said, “Sorry, we made a mistake.” I’m the thief around the place. And I went back to the bank and I had about eighteen years a bank manager. I most probably done a lot of silly things in my life but you never come at that kind of caper. Never had a, never touched a book. I don't know to this day, truthfully, and I’ve never heard of a,

07:12:30:00

there were about fifty, oh forty say, thirty sergeants, members of the mess I suppose, between thirty and forty, and I’ve never spoken to one of them in my life that knew what was missing. I don't know. I was never told. And I’ll bet ya, none of them remembered the same episode

07:13:00:00

at Ingleburn before we got on the boat, we all had to dob in... same bloke. The whole thing is such, so similar, that it’s more than a coincidence. You’d think I was out after Sanderson, I’m out after anybody that I think possibly could have been the culprit, and of course he’s at the top of the list, but it’s not because he’s Sanderson.

07:13:30:00

He’s on the top of the list of course. But no, I’m human, and the jobs I’ve done and the positions I’ve held, still hurts me that I’ve got this behind me.
What about at the time, did it hurt you then?
Oh yes. Yeah, yeah. Very much

07:14:00:00

so, yeah. Yeah.
How did it affect you and your view of the army at the time?
Nah, not at all, no way at all. I’d say that if the two officers who’d been ordered

07:14:30:00

to investigate the thing thoroughly had done their job thoroughly, they must’ve got some thoughts or suspicions about what’d happened before we left at Ingleburn then exactly the same thing in exactly the same way. And, but I’d say in a much bigger way because we’d only been going from the 4th of

07:15:00:00

November to the, what, 9th of January before we sailed. Whereas over there we’d been going a good six, seven months.
You spoke earlier about how wonderful it was to be part of the 2/2nd Battalion. What was it about that battalion that made them special?

07:15:30:00

Their leader, the lieutenant colonel commanding officer, in two cases. One was George Wootton and one was Fred Chilton. Yeah. Very good men, good leaders. Like you know, blokes who you felt if you, they told you to do something, you didn’t have

07:16:00:00

any question about what to do, and the best way to do it. Yeah I think it starts at the top.
You said you weren’t really told very much at your level about what was going to happen in Bardia, but did you have any expectations at all about what you were going to be met with there?
I don't think any of the officers had.

07:16:30:00

Why would a young sergeant have? I don’t believe any of the officers would have a clue what was gonna happen. Every man’d most likely concocted something in their cranium that, what it was going to be like. But there was always that, “I wonder...” yeah. No, I don’t.
Did you have any idea, I mean did you imagine what it might be like?

07:17:00:00

No. I was just gonna learn as I went. See the type of things that did happen. One company or one platoon, I’ve forgotten which, a platoon, they had a... the worst leaders in the world are those without

07:17:30:00

fear. There’s very, very few people in the world without fear. And if you happened to get a leader without fear, that is the bottom of the barrel. He’s a, I only struck one bloke, I think in the 2/2nd Battalion, he was either a captain or a lieutenant or something. And, but he, he had, he was like racing a race horse in a Melbourne Cup, you know, he had to, he

07:18:00:00

did, I don't know... but he nearly always had his boys out, too far out in front. And at one stage about five of em got, a couple of em got shot in the backside and other fellas got shot somewhere else. To be shot in the backside’s a dreadful thing in the army, it was only because this stupid officer had gone out on his own further than he should’ve, exceeded the, didn’t play as part of the team, he just wanted to get his mob there and get em there first.

07:18:30:00

Yeah, and that was in Bardia and he’d never been in any kind of a war before. Yes. But yeah a few of em got shot in the backside but, which always looks as though you’re running away but it wasn’t that at all, they were that far in front that our blokes couldn’t pick who was the enemy and who was the goodies. And they didn’t think anybody’d be that bloody silly to be as far in front as

07:19:00:00

they should, because they shouldn’t have been.
Now, although Bardia was an incredible success for the Australians and the allies, there were a lot of Australians killed there. How close did you come to that, were you faced with seeing Australian soldiers killed?
There weren’t many killed there.

07:19:30:00

There were not many killed there. Very, very few. No we, we had the best platoon commander there was at that stage but you could certainly learn from him too. And he didn’t go round saying, “Oh I

07:20:00:00

did this and I did that...” One of the worst things the 2/2nd Battalion ever did was that they, after Bardia, the CO had to get all his young officers together and say, “Well, this is the time we’ve got to consider recommending blokes for medals, bravery medals.” And all our blokes were, they said, “Oh, bugger that, the whole platoon was good, if you give

07:20:30:00

one to one, you’ve gotta give one to every one,” which sounds alright, and that was the call cry from the 2/2nd Battalion. What happened is that the 2/3rd Battalion said, “Sure, we’ll be in it, you know, I’ve got Joe Blow here and Jimmy Cox here and Jackie Green there and so-and-so and so.” He said, “Well, sit down and write em out and get your sergeant to endorse it and sign it and bring ’em back in,” and they got all their,

07:21:00:00

all their gongs. And of course at the end of the war, 2/3rd Battalion’s got so many MMs [Military Medal] and so many DCMs [Distinguished Conduct Medal] and so many this, and the 2/2nd Battalion, nil. Oh, well, three, the CO got one because the brigadier gave it to him, and that’s what happens. What do you do about a thing like that? You ever think about it? What would be the best way of going about it?

07:21:30:00

If ever I was a leader again, I’d make certain I got out as many medals as I could to all my blokes. As long as they did a good job, you know, if they wanted to knock a few back they could but I I’d get as many as possible. Because you got so many years after it’s all over and done with and your unit’s got to have some glory and distinction. Yeah, if you only got a handful of medals and the other bloody unit’s got ten

07:22:00:00

times or five times as many. Funny isn’t it? Do many people think like this?
Possibly. Just speaking a little bit more about Bardia and your, you said you didn’t have any expectations of what you would see there. But were you in any way surprised when you saw all these thousands of Italians actually getting up and

07:22:30:00

surrendering?
Yes. Terribly surprised but not frightened, not feared, surprised with wonderment. You know, those poor bastards don’t wanna fight, I don’t blame em either, but that type of thing. I was not surprised

07:23:00:00

because they were cowardly or anything like that, no, no, no. Never that. I don't know why, but yes I was surprised. But I wasn’t surprised in a way that made me look down upon them. Is that what you’re thinking?
We really wanna know what you were thinking because you were there and this was a really significant battle for the allies. This was the first land battle for Australia and...?
It was an easier one than Tobruk.

07:24:00:00

It was easy but I just wanted to get a picture of...?
No, I didn’t say it was easy.
No easier, sorry, you said. What did you personally see as you ran through these fences which were being blown up? What could you see? Can you describe that to us?
No, we didn’t run through them.
Well, tell us what you did because I really haven’t got a clear picture and I really can’t imagine it, it’s hard for me to imagine it.
Well, the whole point is that they were, nearly always got wire around the periphery of the

07:24:30:00

whole thing and somehow to get on the inside, you’ve gotta get through the wire. Well, there’s two or three ways of getting through the wire and every course you go to for officers or sergeants courses or... they always have a course of getting through danet wire, which is the curly stuff, or straight wire. And they teach you various ways of getting through it, like just diving on top you know, like a beautiful surf of, going into the

07:25:00:00

water like a great bloody idiot, and there’s lots of ways going through it. And another way of course is to get a Bangalore torpedo, I never heard the word or phrase in my life before. I thought, “What the hell’s one of those?” It’s just a bit of, only about two inch piping basically, like corrugated iron water piping, and they fill it up with bloody explosive and then block,

07:25:30:00

block both ends and have a detonator in the middle. And when they blow it up the whole thing smashes with such an impetus that it throws the wire on both sides. And actually after two of them were gone off, if they’re put say, six feet apart, you got a wide enough path to drive tanks through without the going, having any trouble at all, trucks, anything. Yeah.

07:26:00:00

I’d never heard of them, we’ve never seen... in all our training I never saw one being used. The worst, I’ll make you happy now. One thing that senior officers love to do is to send out patrols. And if they don’t do it themselves,

07:26:30:00

they instruct somebody else to send out patrols. Now because so many books were written about patrols and that, most officers have, no matter how high you go, they’ve got an inbred thing in their brain about patrols. You know, somebody comes along and says, “Good show today Charlie, now what are you doing now?” Well, I said, “C company have got a patrol going out so-and-so, and go, got a patrol, is in there...”

07:27:00:00

Patrols, patrols. So much so that they send out bloody patrols just to satisfy the, where there’s no point in the world or need. Now at Bardia, just before we went in, yes there was a need for patrols, and their patrols had to be very cautious and very quiet and act like a real patrol,

07:27:30:00

to try to find out how deep the trench is. After the wire coming outward, not inward, you’ve always got a tank trench, which is usually about from here to the wall by ten feet, about six foot deep and, you know, kind of stops at, something like that. So on this particular occasion they send Harry Lovett out,

07:28:00:00

I had to take over the platoon, they sent him out with a group of lads, good lads too and they still had army boots on. Of course it’s gotta be so quiet as a little mouse. Have you ever tried to walk quiet, at night time, in army bloody boots? Well, they didn’t have any sand shoes, nobody’s ever thought of getting bloody sneakers, or whatever they call them, for the army boys to

07:28:30:00

do their patrolling in. They, just never come to their mind. So what do they have to do, the poor bastards, they gotta try to keep em quiet so they finish up getting a lot of cord and stuff and wrapping sand bags around their boots. Now this is the way it happened, it’s just not a story. This wonderful lot of blokes and they got away with it, they were quiet enough and they got right in

07:29:00:00

and they measured these bloody tank traps and things on the other side and the rest of it. And all of a sudden another, they heard another patrol coming along and they kept very quiet, it was a night I patrolled, they just walked past and, ‘Whoo,’ you know, must have breathed like that, let em go. But they like you to bring back... if you can, without killing the bloke, if you can bring back his

07:29:30:00

insignia or something which would show what regiment he belongs to and this type of thing, they like you to get that off a bloke now and again. It’s hard to do without killing him, but that kind of thing. But I loathe patrols and patrolling, mainly because ninety percent of the time it’s done because it should be done. Because the powers that

07:30:00:00

be at bloody Duntroon and all these other places, they spend weeks and months and years studying patrolling but they forget to give you bloody right kind of shoes to patrol in. But of course that’s neither here nor there. Yes, I don’t like, you’ve gotta have a very, very, very special purpose to send a group on patrol.

07:30:30:00

Easiest way in the world to get killed, easiest way in the world to give away your own position. I mean if they kill one of you, they sure know what regiment it is, what battalion it is. Yes, so, there you go, that was an extra one for you.
Okay, excellent. Why...?
What do you think about that?

07:31:00:00

Fascinating actually, quite interesting, I’ve never thought about that and certainly hadn’t heard that story.
You never thought they did any patrolling?
No, no, no, about the shoes.
Yeah. There you go, nobody else thought about it. Except me. God strike me, you gotta keep quiet in army boots, that’s the last thing in the world you’d put on if you want to, if you...
So when, having blown away these wire fences,

07:31:30:00

when, at what point did you go through them and what were the conditions like when you...?
Oh, I don't know, well the first lot of enemy infantry, they’d be in their trenches asleep or something or other, I’d say about, between fifty and a hundred yards on. And if you,

07:32:00:00

and if you start making a couple, you know, rude noises and singing dirty songs and doing something like that, they think you’re mad and you might shoot ’em, so they’ll come out and put their hands up.
Is that what you did?
Oh, quite frequently. When you were, it settles yourself down a bit because you’re imparting to them the fact that you’re not that scared of ’em

07:32:30:00

any bloody way. And you gotta do something except just walk, if it’s night time and it’s dark, you can’t see any damn thing. What else are you gonna do? You can’t fire a bullet at anybody in the night and still, just about coming dawn. When dawn comes it’s alright, from then on you can see something, but when you first go in there, you go in an hour or so before daybreak.
So on that very first, that

07:33:00:00

very first operation that you were involved in, in Bardia, is that how it happened, you couldn’t really see and it was...?
Oh, yeah.
So, what sort of things were you yelling out or singing?
Oh, I don't know, any old dirty song you can sing, ‘Oh, Farida, Oh Farida,’ and... you know, Queen Farida, all those kind of songs, ditties they make up.
Can you sing something for us that you used to...?
No. I’m not a sing songy...

07:33:30:00

no. The, oh no, a lot of the boys did this, we had a good swig of blasted rum before we been in, that’s the best thing of the lot, that’s the best part of it. But yeah, no it’s a, I’d say that most of the blokes were so bloody scared

07:34:00:00

of what could happen, not what’s going to happen, what could happen, that they’re looking for something to think about that hasn’t got a lot to do with war really. Thinking about home or loved ones or anything like that, at the same time, keeping your wits about you.

07:34:30:00

I told you earlier that I’d missed getting on the shipping list. And the colonel said something about we wouldn’t have taken on reinforcement officers anyway, remember that time? Yeah but, so I was over

07:35:00:00

acting adjutant for some training unit and doing that business for the Jews and you know, and a few other things like that. And then a mate of a , mate and me, we’re both in the same unit, Merve Percival, got sent to the 17th Battalion while the 8th Army war was still on.

07:35:30:00

And we got there at the last day of the clean up, you could call it, in other words there was no hand-to-hand fighting and there were, I don't think we heard a gun shot fired in action, in anger. But we arrived and the CO of that unit said to us

07:36:00:00

that he didn’t want us, that he had his own sergeants and senior corporals who could well and truly be promoted and fill in the gaps where they, from officers they’d lost. And we weren’t welcome. So we just said, “Righto sir, thanks for letting us know so clearly,” so we wandered round and saw the brigadier.

07:36:30:00

The brigadier said, “Stay here!” And oh Jesus, he went round he tore strips off [shouted at] this bastard, and oh Jesus did he ever. He said, “Now,” he said, “I don't think he’d want you and I don't think you’d want to go into his unit, so go back to where you came from, it’s the best thing you could do now, I’m sorry that you’ve had this happen to you.” Both of us.

07:37:00:00

So we went back and we’d no sooner put a foot back into Palestine than we were told that we were going home on the next available ship which happened to be a, what was it? I think it was a freezing vessel, one of the, North, oh God, North Coast? May’d remember it, anyway it was about eight thousand tonnes, something like that.

07:37:30:00

And it was loaded up and with weirdoes and blokes that shot themselves in the foot or blokes that were sick and blokes that were no good. And when they got out to the ocean, about five miles away, they cleaned emselves up the next day and shaved for the first time for months and months. They were ready to step off the ship and meet their sweethearts and the rest of it, and they looked thorough gentlemen and good soldiers and, you know, best in the world. Anyway, we were on that ship. I

07:38:00:00

was mess officer as a matter of fact and I’d never been a mess officer in me life before, and here I was for about eight, I don't know how many bloody blokes on this ship, there’s a lot of em. And I just said, you know, first time I did it, I went according to some kind of schedule they had laid out about the amount of meat each man gets and that kind of thing. I thought, “Oh, bugger it, there’s miles of bloody stuff here,” so I fed ’em up, whole lot of ’em, officers and all, I

07:38:30:00

fed ’em up. Do you know when we got home, we had about one half of a sheep left? And Jesus I’d have been shot and I’d have deserved it too. Oh, God, all... no. Then we came right across the bloody ocean that was full of bloody Jap submarines and everything, and unescorted on this Norwegian Star, not Norwegian Star, that’s the, it’s like that anyway, I’m sorry, a little ship. And when we

07:39:00:00

came past Rottnest Island before going into Perth they sent out an Australian frigate to escort us in. We docked and we were still filling up with oil when the frigate hadn’t arrived in the river at all, hadn’t even arrived in, it was that bloody slow. And that was the only naval ship we had in Australia guarding the whole of the west. That is the truth. You got that bloody

07:39:30:00

thing going? I’m telling you it’s the truth. Yeah.
Did you have your sweetheart waiting for you?
No. I hadn’t been able to tell her that I was on my way. When I got home I said, “I wonder where Mum’d be?” And I got a great bloody tin box, you know, being an officer I thought I’d bring as much back as I could, that was gonna be interesting and that. And I got some, lot of tea that was on rationing and...

07:40:00:00

we didn’t go to Colombo though but I got it somewhere, we had a heap of stuff. I carted this bloody thing all the way over to Hurstville and there was no one there. Then I went back to Neutral Bay where there was no one there. Anyway, eventually May came home from work and we met and yeah, it was lovely. Nobody knew I was home, or coming home. But you should’ve seen all these blokes that were, honest to God, the day after we got out into

07:40:30:00

the sea and they all brightened themselves up without telling em anything, they were doing drill like the brig, you know, the guards of, you know, Black Watch. Absolutely marvellous, you couldn’t have done anything better in all your life, the miserable lot of bastards. Honestly they were, you wouldn’t recognise them and it was a pleasure to be on the ship with them. You wouldn’t believe it. How poor old Merve and I got on that bloody ship, anyway. I fed ’em

07:41:00:00

all well. Christ I was lucky. Oh, one day, I fed ’em like bloody Kings, nobody knows that but me.
Interviewee: Donald Peirce Archive ID 1684 Tape 08

08:00:30:00

So, actually can you tell us about being listed as missing in action?
Well, it was just something that they did that we knew nothing about. And the powers that be in the army in Palestine or Egypt or wherever they were, I don't know, the general officer commanding the whole thing, or something, they didn’t know we’d been killed or what else, they were ‘missing believed.’ And it was just a little ritual the next day or after you had a beer or

08:01:00:00

something we’d go up there and we’d pick the pen up from the bit of string and go ‘scrr.’
Would your family have had news that you were missing or...?
I don’t think they did, thank heavens. I think they were a bit, I think they had to be more certain than this thing was. I’m sure they didn’t.
Were you corresponding with May and your

08:01:30:00

family while you’re away?
Yes, but I was a bugger of a correspondent, they were good to me when I was away. I was a lazy bastard. I still look back at with disgust at myself.
What about getting letters from them?
Oh, loved it, oh best thing in the world, die without ’em.
So tell us about coming home and meeting May again?
Oh,

08:02:00:00

well that’s all I told you. I didn’t know I was coming home, I had no way of writing and telling ’em, I couldn’t send a telegram. I just arrived and then had to find ’em. I knew where Mum lived, Kurraba Point and...
What was that like...? Oh, okay... Okay, so you were just gonna talk about May and seeing her again and that she had bought some fabric overseas.
Oh no, I bought some fabric from Aden. And I thought she’d like it and I think May did and she looks beautiful in it and she made it up to be married in. But I went up north first and I was up at, what’s it called where we were May? Near Herberton, yeah, near Herberton, anyway. And we

08:03:00:00

decided we’d get married and I got seven days compassionate leave and May was down in Sydney and she’s got her frock made and a little hat, she, oh anyway, she looked beautiful. And she was gonna fly up to Townsville and I hitch hiked down to Townsville, I got there alright but May couldn’t get on the plane because the Americans had more priority. And the next day May couldn’t get on the plane, the next day May couldn’t get on the plane. And then while I was out, while I was out there on the

08:03:30:00

jetty waiting for the plane to arrive and hoping, I met an air force padre, Padre McWilliam, wonderful bloke. And he was there to meet the kin folk of a plane load of Catalina’s [flying boat] that’d gone into the harbour there and they’d all been killed and it was a very sad thing. And we talked a bit and one day he said, “Is there anything I can do for you Don,” he said, “any old time.” And I said, “Oh I don't think it matters padre.” I said, “Oh, by the way, you wouldn’t

08:04:00:00

marry us would you?” He said, “I’d love to.” And he was Presbyterian but that, you know, we were church of England, I think. And I said, “Well, what do we do, we want to get married in that big cathedral at Townsville?” He said, “Oh, I’ll fix it up.” So anyway, the next day or two, and he said, “It’s all set, everything’s right,” he said, “The only thing is the old Canon up there wants to talk to you,” and he didn’t tell me what about or anything. So the day May’s got on the plane, I go up and see this bloody Canon,

08:04:30:00

and he started to talk to me about, “Not just a wartime marriage, you sure you’re doing the right thing,” and it’s not this, it’s... and he’s going on and on. And after the first hour and a half, I could hear May’s plane over the top and he still wouldn’t let me go. And in the end I rudely got up and I left him, he was a rotten bastard. And when I got there May’s plane had landed and she’d come ashore and there wasn’t a soul to meet her. She’s sitting

08:05:00:00

in the little shelter shed all by herself. How do you like that? We got married that night, thank God. And we had, Padre McWilliam conducted the service in the big cathedral. And I met two Aussie army boys who’d been seconded to the Shell company, and they all had, loading big cans of, drums of petrol on trucks, take them out to the

08:05:30:00

army camp. And these two blokes said, “Yeah, we’d love to be your witnesses.” Witnesses wasn’t it? Yeah, the two witnesses and they got themselves all neat and tidy. And then the chappy at the hotel said, “Look Don, we haven’t had a ding oh, for months and months and months, and he had two boys in the army, up in the ah, New Guinea. And he said, “Whole staff’ll be there,” every Tom, Dick and Harry on his staff

08:06:00:00

to rouse about the lot, and Padre McWilliam, and oh it was wonderful what they put on. The only, and he didn’t charge us a cent for any of the grog, he just charged us for the nights we were there. Oh, wonderful. And I had to get some meat, he couldn’t get meat, he just could not get meat. So I went out early in the morning and, the day I had to get it, I found a few army camps and some good blokes who liked a bottle of grog or

08:06:30:00

whatever it was, small bottle of scotch or something like that. And I came back with the meat and they were happy as Larry and we were happy as, oh they were wonderful and they put on a lovely show for us. Now what do you think about that? That’s the best part of the whole story isn’t it?
Absolutely. Was it hard when you came back home after the war, was it hard to adjust to being a civilian again?
Oh, May’d tell you.

08:07:00:00

Did you say, ‘Yes darl?’ Yeah. Yes, yes it was hard. No, I think I resigned from the bank first thing, I couldn’t be told what to do by little Tom, Dick and Harry bankies and so I resigned from that. And then I got a promise of a couple of good kind of jobs that never eventuated and upset about that. And then I saw a

08:07:30:00

bus run for sale somewhere on the Clarence River from Loris to Maclean, and pick up all the school kids on the island and take them there, mums and dads that want to do some shopping. And the first seven or eight months we were there we had three full floods and the punt was off the road for three weeks each time and tied up to a big gum tree and nearly went broke there. And so then I bought a shop at Maclean, was gonna run

08:08:00:00

a bottle shop there at Maclean, opposite the Argyle Hotel, and the council wouldn’t let us use that. And, did you come down to Sydney with me that time? I went down and saw the minister for local government and he was ropable with them and he got it fixed up. And by the time he did that, we’d sold it hadn’t we? Yeah. And we sold it to Viena Styles from Grafton. So then we went to Coffs Harbour and

08:08:30:00

at Coffs Harbour we couldn’t get housing so we stayed with May’s mum and dad for a while. Then we bought an old army tent, disposals, and we got a block of land from Mr McGregor down in Palm Beach and put the tent up and... Park Beach, sorry. And May’s dad built a little hut, big enough for the kitchen,

08:09:00:00

to cook in and the bathroom and they both had power on but the rest of the tent didn’t, and we lived there for thirteen months. Jan was born while we were in the tent there. But May’s had a very happy time, haven’t you darling?
Well, she must have because you’ve been married for sixty years which is pretty impressive?
I tell you, I had to get out of that tent. Oh God, sometimes

08:09:30:00

you’d have laughed, sometimes we’d get a real gale down there and we had the fly, we had two big logs on either side and all the ropes are tied on to these logs and the wind’d come and the logs’d be lifted and they’d go up and down. And sometimes I’d be out there hanging on to the blasted ropes and the side of it and I’d go up with them and I’d come back with them. And yeah, oh a lot of fun, yeah.
Then I,

08:10:00:00

I did a bit of work on the wharves at Coffs Harbour. And the boys that’ve got tickets for, you know, for permanently, Waterside Worker’s tickets and that, they wouldn’t work, use the dirty work like shovelling coal off flat decks, that’s too dirty, so I’d get a job at that. But it was funny, I’d line up and there’d be about, there’d only be about six blokes wanted to get the coal off the ship and

08:10:30:00

back on the thing. And the harbour master was Mr Brodie and he’d line em, look at everybody there and he’d say, “You, you, you and you.” And then he’d come up to me and he’d say, “You really want this job Don?” I’d say, “Yes please Mr Brodie.” And he’d take two or three paces back and he’d say, “And you!” That’s absolutely true, yeah. Is that what you...?
Now, I know you’ve had enough of us, so I’m just gonna ask a final couple of questions, just a couple of important questions.

08:11:00:00

One is, how did, when you got back to Australia, what did you know of Bill [brother] and what was happening?
Well, I knew that he’d passed away because I, about the same time as I went over to do that job for the Israeli Palestine police army kind of thing, that’s when Bill died, when I got word of it, when I got word of it. So, I didn’t hear any more, yeah, when I got

08:11:30:00

back.
Did you hear how he died?
Oh yes, his plane was shot down I think or, but we’ve been over there and we’ve seen his grave. And the pilot’s twenty-three and the two blokes on either side are twenty, the four, ah no, the pilot was, yeah he was twenty-three, and the other four blokes are two on each side, they were twenty, and two fellas must’ve parachuted to safety and were, I believe, prisoners of war.

08:12:00:00

Where were they when they were shot down?
About two miles from the German-Russian border. Mook, Mook, M-O-O-K [?], might have an ‘E’ in it somewhere.
Did that have an impact on you while you were still in the army, while you were still at war?
Oh, it had an impact on me when I was over there, got the message, got the word about it. Very much so, yeah. And I hated fronting up to my mother first time after

08:12:30:00

I got home. Yeah. Cause Dad was in uniform when he heard and Mum was working with the Red Cross in Martin Place in Sydney and they both got compassionate discharges and yeah, very poor, poor show. They’d have been

08:13:00:00

very hurt.
Just a final question. How significant was your war experience in, how significant was it in your life time?
Wasn’t at all because I wouldn’t have known what it’d be like without it, during those years. I’d never experienced the, you know, life without it.
Did it change you in any way, do you think?
I don't think so. I don't think so.
Do you have a final word that you’d like to say to all Australians, anything at all

08:14:00:00

regarding...?
Yes. Get the cadets going at school and get some discipline into the young people. And start military, compulsory military service, and when I say compulsory, I mean the university students too, don’t ban them. Their fathers get ’em into all these shows so they wont have to join up. They’re just using it, most of them. Do you think they heard?

08:14:30:00

I think so.
Good.
Definitely. Thank you very much.
INTERVIEW ENDS

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