George Richardson
Archive number: 1690
Date interviewed: 25 March, 2004

Served with:

9th Division - Signals

Other images:

George Richardson 1690

Warning

Any access that you make of this website is undertaken at your own risk

You are listening to the interview audio

Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:41:00

George, thank you for giving us your time today. The archive wouldn’t exist without you so thank you very much. I’d like to start off today by asking, not the detail of the story but just where you were born?
London.
And where did you do your schooling?
Cowandilla Public School,

01:01:00:00

South Australia and Adelaide High School.
And where did you do most of your living when you were going to Adelaide High School, where was the family home?
16 Bennett Street, Hilton.
And when you enlisted roughly when, you joined the militia to begin with?

01:01:30:00

Compulsory training.
And roughly when was that, how old were you?
20. That would have been I think February, might have been the end of January 1940.
And when did you join the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]?
I think it was June 1940.

01:02:00:00

June. Before that I was trying to get in the air force.
Right, and your first posting?
First camp? Woodside, South Australia.
And after that where did you go?
Well, we did a three months camp there, came out and we were doing training at Suffolk, Suffolk Barracks.

01:02:30:00

At that time I was trying to get in the air force as a air crew and they weren’t recruiting because the Empire Air Training Scheme hadn’t started and I did my ’nana [got angry] once with an officer, went across and joined the AIF, rather funny really. I’d had all my teeth out to get into the air force.
Alright, well we’ll come back and hear that story later, so how did you come to,

01:03:00:00

I understand you got into a draft to go to Bathurst?
Yeah, we went to Melbourne racecourse, Caulfield first, did some very poor training. We had no equipment. We even trained with, what did they used to call it? A heliograph, you know what a heliograph is? It’s mirrors, over the Caulfield Racecourse. They never had any equipment, oh Morse code [communication system]

01:03:30:00

incidentally, I was a sergeant instructor there of Morse code and signals. And they wanted to make me an officer and I didn’t want to be an officer.
Alright well we’ll come back to that story, and then you were drafted to the 8th Div [Division] Sigs [Signals]?
Yeah, we went to 8th Div Sigs in Bathurst.
And

01:04:00:00

roughly when would that have been?
I think it’d be around November 1940.
And you left for the Middle East about December 1940?
Yes, we had a Christmas dinner in Bathurst and then we caught the train down to Sydney and I think our first

01:04:30:00

day in the water was Boxing Day from memory.
And what ship did you sail on?
The Queen Mary to Trincomalee.
And then which camp were you in?
Wait a minute, and then we transferred to the Slamat, Dutch ship that took us across to Tufic.

01:05:00:00

And which camp did you go to?
Julis camp in Palestine.
And after that?
Well, we went to the desert.
Where abouts?
Gazala, halfway between Tobruk and Benghazi.

01:05:30:00

I think it was on the Gulf of Bomba.
And roughly how long were you there?
From then until April, early April, might have been the end of May. I’m not sure about that. We went to Tobruk from there.
So you arrived in Tobruk around about April?
Yeah, end of April I

01:06:00:00

think.
And where did you go when you got to Tobruk? Where were you posted, like where were you encamped?
Well, the first thing, we did the lines. We were put on the Bardia Road sector on the defence line and from there we went to a little place called Salerno

01:06:30:00

and from there we went to what we called The Flats. That’s where we spent most of our time.
OK, well we’ll spend quite a bit of time talking about Tobruk so we’ll come back to that. When did you leave the Tobruk area?
October the 23rd.

01:07:00:00

And where did you go?
Back to Julis. You know what the in between business, the camp was Julis.
And after Tobruk did you have any leave?
Must have, only got a couple of days. Yes, interesting

01:07:30:00

story, but I won’t go into it. Two days.
Two days leave?
Overnight, yeah overnight leave in Tel Aviv.
And after leave where were you then posted?
Back to Julis.
And after Julis?
Went to Syria, to Lebanon and to Lebanon we went to a little village called Djeddi.
And after the Syria show, where did you move to?
Actually, we were there for some time. We went up to Aleppo. We were supposed to be looking after it but the Turks come into the war and I had an interesting trip from the back countries of Aleppo, across the desert to

01:08:30:00

Palmyra, that worth mentioning?
Well, yes, we’ll come to that later, yeah and then?
From Palmyra it was, well during Palmyra we heard that Tobruk had fallen to the South Africans and we were very unhappy about that because it’d been done over in a couple of days and we’d been there seven months and held [Erwin] Rommel [German Field Marshall] and then we did our rushed trip through to [El] Alamein.

01:09:00:00

And as I said we’ll come back and talk about Alamein as well cause that was quite big, and then you came home?
Yes, I had, I was hospitalised and then I got, I walked out of the hospital because I got the chance to go to Cairo which we’d

01:09:30:00

been two or three times but never seen it and had a two day leave in Cairo and then back to the camp and then down to the ship. We came home on the Aquitania.
How long were you in hospital?
I don’t know, about a week or so. I was in hospital a couple of times.
OK, and how much or how long was it before you

01:10:00:00

were posted to New Guinea?
Well, we came back here and had a rather long leave because the camp wasn’t ready in the [Atherton] Tablelands, in from Cairns then we used to train at Trinity Beach and then we went to Port Moresby but I can’t tell you when it was. I have no idea. It’s gone right out of my head.
Well, we’ll come back

01:10:30:00

to that but can you just give us a rough idea of where you moved around in New Guinea or the sequence?
Alright, from Moresby we did a practise landing on Normanby Island, a farcical thing. Then we did the real landing at Scarlet Beach and advanced on Lae. I’ve got quite a story about that

01:11:00:00

After we’d captured Lae we then went and did another landing at Red Beach to capture Sattelberg, to capture Finschhafen actually they called it, but I never saw Finschhafen. Then the big stunt was taking Mount Sattelberg. After Sattelberg

01:11:30:00

we were put on a job of laying line through to Madang or Sio. It was Sio before Madang, S I O, and then we were suddenly called back to a place, I don’t know where it was but it was where we took ship again to go back to Queensland.

01:12:00:00

There was talk that we were going to be doing a landing in Manila which didn’t eventuate. I did a school in Brisbane while I was in that camp. After the school I went back to the unit on the Tablelands and found that most of the unit had been boarded B class and so I said, “Well, I want B class too.”

01:12:30:00

I’d actually agreed to take promotion which I’d been dodging. When I got back and found that all my mates had been boarded out I just thought I’d get a B class and I got a B class and as the doctor said, “I should have been B classed in 1941,” but I’d denied the chance.
But you were made B class now?
I was B class then, from then on.

01:13:00:00

And where were you posted?
I was supposed to be posted to North Queensland but I dodged it and caught a train back to Adelaide. A lot of shenanigans went on. By that time I was an old soldier, full of many tricks.
And where were you when the war ended?

01:13:30:00

At Fort Queenscliff, Melbourne, Victoria, that’s where I was.
And when were you discharged?
Dear I don’t know. I’ve forgotten. I’ve forgotten altogether.
A few months after the war ended?
Yeah. I had a bit of trouble leaving Queenscliff because I was involved with the

01:14:00:00

adjutant’s daughter and the bit of skulduggery [dishonest behaviour] went on with the family. And I was sort of kept back when I should have been discharged cause I had all the points, cause, you know five years service, AIF and all the rest of it. And I was very upset about not getting out of the place when there were two or three drafts. And I found out that the girl’s mother would ring the adjutant and the adjutant would, that’s the story anyway. Then I came home here to Adelaide.

01:14:30:00

And what did you do after the war?
I went back to the job as a clerk at Holden’s and I did for one day but my army mate, who’d been taken prisoner at Alamein. He talked me into going with him to Crowhurst or Solver Paints, you’d know it as Solver Paints, where I did deliveries. I took his job over, did deliveries cause I couldn’t stand the thought of going inside working inside after all the previous

01:15:00:00

years and then I became the production manager, circumstances switched around. I was there for three years or more and then I tossed that job in and did nothing. I was having nerves and I went as a barman for the publican at Port Willunga. I lived at Willunga Port when we married. Then the bloke wanted me to work at the sand pits. I worked for him for a while and found he was

01:15:30:00

cheating so I told him where to go. Then I worked for Pulsar’s Refrigeration and I wanted a motorcar cause I was living down there and the bus fare, and I used to have the travellers coming to me cause I was the buyer, a lot of other things I did and so I got the fellow to recommend me and I become a rep for LG Abbotts and they sold out to Taubmans. I was an industrial rep [representative], not a

01:16:00:00

shop or a paint rep, industrial. We sold paint to go on rockets, roads, prams, pigs. You know that? You’ve got to paint pigs when you sell them and I was doing that for many years and I finished there and what did I do then? Yeah, I didn’t do anything. I’d been mixed up in so much at Port Willunga and work

01:16:30:00

and travelling that we lived here then and I spent three or four months in the backyard just relaxing and then I went to Carrier Air Conditioning, sort of buyer and general supply. I became factory manager for them and then I left there and I had many offers to go back in the paint game cause they wanted me. When I left

01:17:00:00

Crowhurst I was doing everybody but Dulux but I decided no I’d had enough so I didn’t work anymore. I took a pension which I’d been avoiding and that’s my story I think. That’s about it. Since then I’ve been doing nothing.
And when did you get married?
1947.
And children?
Three daughters and my wife had a boy,

01:17:30:00

a stepson.
And when did you meet your wife?
When I was seven years of age or younger. We went to the same school and at the Sunday School Harvest Festival I pulled her pigtails or whatever they were. I knew her from then through the early years, never as a girlfriend, just a friend and if I met

01:18:00:00

her on the tram or in the street we’d talk our heads off and then after the war and I’d got away from Queenscliff I’d heard she was widowed. Her husband was 7 Div Sigs and died through a brain thing so I went round to see her. You know I had other girls at the time but I went round to see her and I was shocked at

01:18:30:00

her appearance, after being widowed and a child, you know and cause the child was born after he’d died and that was when I decided that, “Who should I marry?” And I married Veronica there because we talked so well then. Now, we don’t. Oh, that camera, is that on? Struth.
We might just stop there for a minute. Now, what I’d like to do is go right back to the beginning as I said, I’m very interested to hear about your childhood and indeed your father

01:19:30:00

what sort of man was your father?
What sort of a man? Tremendous bloke. I was only saying, I went and saw this old mate yesterday and he asked about my father. My father finished up the top driver in the service in the railways, driving the diesels and I had this wonderful experience, cause I had other experiences like it. We had a reunion in the railway buildings on the top of Richmond Road, by the Keswick Bridge

01:20:00:00

and there was another reunion going on next door. And after my reunion finished I went to the toilet and then I decided to go back through this rowdy section, which all the guests were railway blokes. I only guessed it and when I went in one of the fellas said, “You’d better watch out sport,” cause I had on a collar and tie and they’re all rough necks. Can I speak honestly? And he said, “You’d better watch out sport,” you know, “They’re pretty rough in here.” I said, “You’re a mob of pissants [weaklings].”

01:20:30:00

He said, “What?” I said, “You’re railway blokes aren’t you?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “I’ve known you all my bloody life,” and he said, “Why?” and I said, “My Dad worked on the railways.” “Who was he?” and I said, “Fred Richardson.” He said, “Freddie?” And he called all these blokes over and he said, “This is Freddy’s son.” He was pretty well known the old boy. He spent his whole life there and the strange part about it was the festivities

01:21:00:00

they were having were called together for Dad’s ex fireman, who being the bloke that he was, he hadn’t turned up. But it was just one of those things and the fellas said to me or one of the blokes said to me “Your father was a beauty. He was great,” and he was well thought of. He was also well thought of by the fellow who employed him as a, who’d made him a first driver. It was rather strange. I used to come up by bus from Port Willunga

01:21:30:00

and this big bloke, Goldie we used to call him, he said to me one day, “Are you the son of engineman Richardson?” And I’d never heard engineman before. It was always just driver and I said, “Yes,” and he said, “How’s he going?” And I said, “He’s unhappy.” He said, “Why?” And I said, “Well, all these Balts,” as we called them, new Australians in those days, “All these Balts have been promoted to driver and only just joined the railway.” It was shortage of men

01:22:00:00

and I said, “The old railway blokes are unhappy.” He said, “Well, tell him to keep on.” He said, “He’ll be alright. He’ll get a collar and tie job.” I said, “No, he won’t.” They’d tried to make him a roster man, that was putting the other drivers on doing shifts and he wouldn’t take it. He preferred to be on the road so next time I was with Goldie he asked the same thing, “How was Dad?”

01:22:30:00

and I said, “He’s alright now.” I said, “He’s got a Balt fireman and they’re great mates” and he said, “Well, tell him he’s going to get a collar and tie job.” I said, “He won’t.” Well, it was the driver of the diesel and Dad was on holidays and called to Islington and it was there that this Goldie called out “Which one is engineman Richardson?” And Dad said, “I am.” And he hated

01:23:00:00

being pointed out in a crowd and then he was made. I won’t go through the whole story but he was made the first driver of the first trial train, first goods train, first passenger train and there was a bit of envy about this I believe. But then some time later I bumped into Goldie and I said to him, “Hey,” I said, “You were leading me on a bit with regard to questioning me about Dad.” I said, “Why did you pick him to be the driver of the first

01:23:30:00

diesel?” He said, “Well, George,” he said, “It’s always my responsibility.” He’d apparently been to America and done a whole lot of study about diesels and things. He said, “But whenever I looked as to who was driving the express,” he said, “I saw your Dad’s name there and,” he said, “I’d know I’d get a full night’s sleep,” which is quite a compliment isn’t it, cause he was the boss.
And where were you born?
London, born to an English mother, Australian father. They met before the war.

01:24:00:00

Actually, there’s a family story that he was due to go back to France when Armistice Day [end of World War I] came. The bell started to ring in London which was a great relief to my mother who was ill. She had Spanish flu and then she got pneumonia and then I was born 25th February, on a very cold day apparently. And the doctor said, this was a house birth, doctor said to Dad, “Who do I look

01:24:30:00

after, your wife or the baby?” And of course naturally he said the wife and the family story is that I was kicked out of the bedroom, given to my grandmother, who placed me in front of the fireplace, wrapped me in blankets and breathed into my mouth cause they thought I was a gonner. Cause Mum was very, very ill and anyway I won’t go into the rest of that, but anyway that’s my birth, and we came out here when

01:25:00:00

I was four months old on a German prize ship called the Konigin Louise and the first place we went to was the Keswick Hospital. You know the main building when you come over the Keswick Bridge? Well, that was a hospital in 1919 and that’s where we were admitted and then mother made a recovery and we went into 20 Miller Street the day I was, on my first birthday

01:25:30:00

when it was all paddocks. It was close to the railway yards, that’s why Dad bought the block.
And what suburb was it?
Hilton and well the pub was only a quarter of a mile away and that was the only building there at that time. I think there were a couple of shops, I’m not sure about that and that was the beginning of Hilton, which I remember as just tall grass

01:26:00:00

dirt roads, all dirt roads. It was bush. It was country. The South Road then was just a metal strip of stones that had been rolled into the ground. And the South Road at that stage was the first place that was asphalted in Adelaide I believe cause the Colass factory which you can still see on the South Road, near where they’re going to put the new highway through on the old railway line. And I

01:26:30:00

believe their first trial was down the South Road in our vicinity and I can remember seeing the steamroller as a kid, you know the big steamroller, oh gee. Anyway, that was way back then. Then the street started to fill up with houses.
And what was your house like, the family home?
War service bungalow, red brick. The usual four or five rooms, big yard and we

01:27:00:00

were next door to a place that, when Dad bought the bloke he got it cheaper because it was a fibres plaster ceiling manufacturer, two storey. He got the block cheap because they were told they had to knock it down cause it was going to be a suburban area. It was supposed to be non industrial. You go there now and it’s all industrial. I had one experience with that place that is family history that I hardly remember. I used to go

01:27:30:00

in there and I was always teased and used to carry on a bit myself. I ran across the ceiling where they had a new piece of ceiling laid out, like one of these and apparently it broke and I went through and the fella’s name, I’ve nearly got his name in my mind, he caught me and the other thing was we used to have grapevine trees all around the back fence. He used to come in from the factory and

01:28:00:00

sit under the grapevines and he and I would have a talk and he used to eat raw eggs. I used to always remember that as a kid. He’d knock these eggs and down with them. Anyway, from there I got mixed up with the boys in the district and we used to carry on quite a bit as lads, but nothing like they do now. We’d pinch fruit and you might be surprised at this. We used to go down to our private wars where the airport is now

01:28:30:00

cause the airport was all sand hills in those days and we used to dig trenches and fire shanghais at each other and of course swim. We also used to strip right off. You remember, in those days you were pinched if you had to put your top down. Well, we used to take everything off and we used to be chased by rangers, not policemen, rangers on horseback and we just had a lot of fun getting caught

01:29:00:00

by them. We used to also tease the police around Hilton who rode pushbikes, yeah. Anyway, I think I’ve said enough about that.
Well, what sort of woman was your mother?
Very good woman, very good woman, very proud. Just about as proud of my father as if he was a bloody general. She was told by her mother, “Whatever you do, never marry a railway man,”

01:29:30:00

because my grandfather used to drive the boat train from London to Dover and the wife of a rower man’s got a bad life, believe me, you know. It used to be all shift work in those days and she told my mother, “Never to marry a railway man.” And then when the Australians came to London, “Don’t ever get mixed up with them Australians.” And she finished up, Dad was sergeant of the guard at Horseferry Road Barracks

01:30:00:00

and she met him and that was the end of that. And then it was me and then he was up for discharge because he would have had all the points in the world cause he joined the army twice. At Gallipoli he was wounded, came back to Australia, wore crutches. When he recovered he rejoined the army with another number and went to France, not a bad old soldier, hey?

01:30:30:00

Anyway, he met Mum and that was when I came into the world. She was apparently a very nervous woman because of the bombing of London, in those days by Zeppelins [air ships] and apparently she said she was alright until, from her office window. She saw all her friends from a nearby factory that had been hit by a bomb and saw all their bodies taken out and just shoved

01:31:00:00

into a furniture van and that destroyed her. And Dad used to tell funny stories about her carrying on when there was another Zeppelin over the top, you know and at one stage he and a warden, an air raid warden apparently, had a job to pull her down from climbing up a drainpipe up on the wall. Apparently she’d done that, you know, gone troppo [going crazy] and Dad said, “It took two of us to get her down,”

01:31:30:00

yeah but one of those things, I think it was just one of those war stories. Anyway, I don’t know much about when I was one of course but I know I spent a bit of time in hospital with Mum. When she come out on the Konigin Louise, she spent the whole trip in the sickbay. And she’d been apparently a very ill woman but she wasn’t going to let her wretch go. God, I am talking aren’t I? Gee, yeah marvellous how you

01:32:00:00

do start, yeah. Anyway, Dad bought the house, war veterans home. We moved in on my birthday which Mother reminded me of many, many times and it was a lonely existence for her, very lonely because at that stage they used to send the railway blokes away. He was a fireman then, not a driver. They used to send them away for weeks and many a time we went with him to different country towns and stayed with him there. I got my

01:32:30:00

first job in a place called Glossop. First job, I used to go off from this house with a wrapped up lunch, handkerchief on a stick, like Dick Whittington and crack stones for some old stonemason, cracking stones and putting them between the big ones for the roller to get them down and I used to get a penny a time, whatever it was. When my father heard about it, did he ever roast me. He said, “That poor bugger is only getting

01:33:00:00

about a sixpence a day and you’re taking a penny from him.” He was very labour minded, then and but that’s where I earned my money in a country town, doing that. First time I ever earned money but I’d like to speak about the loneliness of my mother because being new to the country and a pom [Englishman], she didn’t get too good a go but she was independent, a bit like

01:33:30:00

I am. If you’re not a friend of mine, that’s it and I’ve got strong memories of wiping the dishes standing on a chair while she told me about London and even though she had three chances to go back to London during her life she wouldn’t go. She said, “No, it’d never be the same,” and she’s pretty right. You can’t find the same place. I go to Adelaide now and I

01:34:00:00

should go on a holiday and learn the place because I’ve lost track of it. You know I used to peddle a bike all around the town. Anyway, back to Mum. Anyway, she told me that much about London, that you might find this hard to believe, but when I was in London on our trip, I knew what was around the corner. You’d find that hard to believe. I had an experience where I found Horseferry Road. I was on my own. My wife had gone off with my other daughter

01:34:30:00

who was in London at the time and I found this Horseferry Road had a few glass boxes outside with pictures of troops and tanks and this sort of thing and eventually I saw this green door. You often see a green door. I went in. The door, I pushed it and it opened. When I was going out, it had chains and everything on it. I shouldn’t have gone in there. Somebody had sneaked out and I’d gone in. All of a sudden a civilian bloke

01:35:00:00

came running up to me. There was two of them watching and it was officers in a building like that and he said, “Excuse me sir, what do you want?” I said, “I don’t know,” I said, “I’ve just come in here.” I said, “Wondering whether this is the headquarters of the AIF in 1919?” And I had quiet consternation because it was an army place and apparently I should never have been there so then, like they went to an officer and he called out, “Well, trot him in, trot him in,”

01:35:30:00

and I’d been mixed up with these pommy officers before so I wasn’t surprised at all his antics. “What can I do for you sir?” And I said, “Well, I just came in just to find out whether this is army headquarters in 1919 of the AIF, or Australian Imperial Forces,” I think I said. And he said, “No, I don’t know about that old boy.” But I can see you’re an Australian by your ruddy complexion.

01:36:00:00

So this was a trip that you made back to England after the war?
We did a round trip, round the world.
Just coming back to you growing up as a young kid, tell us about school at Cowandilla?
Cowandilla Public School. Gee, this is pretty hard, had a good time. I’ve got memories of my mother making me sing a song called

01:36:30:00

Always at a concert, the most embarrassing thing I ever did in my life. I jumped a couple of class when I was there which was I don’t think a good thing but they thought I should and I was made the kettle drummer, free marching in the school and everybody had to have a go on the drum. Then I was made the drummer, got a belt over the back of the head from the bloke who’d been the drummer

01:37:00:00

before me, yeah but the drummer takes a part in the war history.
Well, we can certainly come back to that. How did you cope with going to school?
No problem. I wasn’t a good student, matter of fact the Grade Seven teacher at the finish got hold of me just before the Qualifying Certificate we used to do at the end of Seven and he said, “Now you

01:37:30:00

can do a lot better if you try,” and he sort of changed gears with me and when it came to the Qualifying Certificate being given at the school parade. I was so surprised when he called my name so high up on the list that I dropped the drum and broke it, was on a hook, you know in front of me and I hits it off. I thought, “Struth.” I was seventh and I thought I’d be seventeenth or twenty seventh

01:38:00:00

and I hooked the drum off and it broke and I’ll never forget that. I was most ashamed about breaking the rim of the drum and that was the end of my school days, apart from a few fights and things like that.
And how old were you when you left school?
Gee, 12, must have been, 12. Hang on

01:38:30:00

no, started work when I was 13, when I was in the second year at high school, 12, must have been 11. Anyway, I think it’d be 12. I hate to think I left Cowandilla at 11. That doesn’t seem right.
Well, tell us about getting a job after school?
Getting a job after school?

01:39:00:00

I did take a job like the rest of the kids did, selling pies, with our pushbikes and the bakehouse was on the Endervich Road and we’d get these pies, wrap them over with cloth and peddle like hell to Richmond and Marlston, quite a distance for us kids

01:39:30:00

on bikes and rush around trying to sell these pies while they’re hot. That was the first official job. It wasn’t a real job and my first job was with Harris Scarf’s.
Interviewee: George Richardson Archive ID 1690 Tape 02

02:00:32:00

George you were just about to tell us about working at Harris Scarf, what were you doing?
I started there as a redcoat. A redcoat was a junior shop walker and you were given a pillbox cap, a grey tunic with brass buttons down the front, blue grey trousers with a red stripe down the side and we were the pinup boys of Adelaide. Harris Scarf then had an arcade going

02:01:00:00

right through from Ronald Street to Grenfell Street, like a mall and we used to have to stand there like Grenadier Guards at Buckingham Palace. And when a customer wanted to go to a department - Harris Scarf’s in those days sold everything from kitchenware, hardware, furniture cause it was mostly set up for the people on the land. And our job was to take them to the department

02:01:30:00

where they wanted their, buy their goods. I always remember when I started there they gave me a little black notebook about that big and about three or four pages and you were given one week to go around the store to write down where everything was and then if you passed the exam, you became a redcoat. I was thirteen, getting thirteen shillings a week, fifty two and a half hour week, Friday nights and Saturday morning,

02:02:00:00

yeah, that’s Harris Scarf’s.
And what sort of store was it back then?
Well, it was a general store, as I said, hardware, software, everything for the kitchen, everything for [UNCLEAR “w….”] on a farm, even to furniture. There was furniture up on the third floor. I think they even had carpets but that wasn’t a very strong part of the business. The rest of it was and the other thing about

02:02:30:00

Harris Scarf’s was that depending on the wealth and the paying value of the customer, they either got a green, pink, yellow, white entry in the book and if you came in, “Mrs Smith of such and such,” you have to find what colour she was and that was her price. They all had different discounts depending on their value and from there I went to a department.

02:03:00:00

I was in the suburban orders where I was given one week to learn the typewriter or out the door. That was, they’d sack you on the spot in those days so I learnt the typewriter and I got two bent fingers but they’ve straightened out a bit now. What after that? Went to the kitchenware department and that’s when the trouble started really. I went to the sweets department

02:03:30:00

to buy peppermint crème and the Winnie Cane gave me short change and a week or so later, that day I went back to my department and along come this Canadian boy. He said, “Hey, Richardson lend me some dough,” and those days you went and worked with two shillings. That was big money and I said, “Yeah, righto,” and put my hand in my pocket and I think I was threepence short and I knew where,

02:04:00:00

you know where it was in the sweets department so I lent him sixpence. I went back up to the girl up top, Winnie Cane and I said, “Winnie, you short changed me,” and she agreed after a while that she had. She had threepence in the till that wasn’t there before cause it was first thing in the morning and the till had been empty and she said, “No, you’ve got to see Mr Scarf.” And Mr Scarf used to come round and check the tills every day and I used to go to Mr

02:04:30:00

Scarf and say, you know, “You’re overcharged.” She told me that he made a red entry in his book to show that it was threepence over. Sounds a bit trite doesn’t it, but it was true. Next thing you know is, I used to go to his office every Saturday morning, demand my threepence, you know after all thirteen shillings a week, every penny was important and then one day he said to me, “Go to the new complaints officer,” so I trotted off to the new complaints officer.

02:05:00:00

He said, “Oh yes, take a seat Mr Richardson, when did you first discover you were threepence short?” I said, “When I went back to the department.” He said, “Stand up.” He treated me back to an employer, you know but at the same time they wanted me to work overtime and I’d worked the previous year overtime before Christmas and I hadn’t been paid and I’d kicked up a bit of a fuss about that and I was told I was going to get holidays. I never got holidays

02:05:30:00

so this Christmas when I was having this crucial time with Mr Scarf I refused to work back and that got me the sack but it was fairly normal in those days to be sacked when you were 17 which I was because there was another rise in wages, so I was out of a job, which worried hell out of my mother, more than my father. He just said to me at that time, he said, “What would you do if you wanted to go into business, what sort of shop would you like?”

02:06:00:00

I said, “A newsagent.” He said, “Oh, God,” he said, “You’d never sell a book until you’d read it.” Anyway, she did say that she’d heard there was a job at General Motors Holden’s which my uncle had told me was a slave shop, wouldn’t work there ever. He’d worked there himself, so I took my bike, at my mother’s instruction, down to Port Adelaide, spent most of the time looking for the ships and driving round

02:06:30:00

Port Adelaide which I’ve always loved then came back passed Holden’s on the Main Port Road. There was hundreds, not a few, hundreds hanging round looking for a job. I thought, “Well, I’m safe, I’ll never get a job now,” so I went up and put my name down, or went to the employment office and they looked around and they picked out I think about 12 of us lads, boys and we were divided into two and put into a small classroom.

02:07:00:00

We were given geometrical type of test, really came down to getting the most out of a sheet of steel and a fellow called Mr Hawke, this time Hawke’s father was at Murray Bridge I think it was, Bordertown so I think he was an uncle of Bob Hawke the Prime Minister but his first words to me was, “Richardson you’ve been chosen, now go over there and join the

02:07:30:00

union then come back in, you’ve got a job.” So the first thing I had to do was join the union before I got the job and I worked there for three years I think. I did the camp in Woodside at that time and then went back there and I decided I wanted to be a flyer. I tried to join the air force when I was at high school, so I thought, “Well, I’d have a go at the air force.”
Why did you want to join the air force?
Always had wanted to be a flyer. I’ve since flown

02:08:00:00

a plane, satisfied my childhood ambitions cause when I was a kid there was all the story about Kingsford-Smith and Mollison, Amy Johnson, all those new aviatrix [pioneer aviators]. When I did the trip round Australia and I had to go to Broome and Windham because they’d been part of the story of them getting lost up there north west Australia but I had to go there. Anyway, where are we?
Well, we’re talking

02:08:30:00

about you working at GMH [General Motors Holden]. I am interested to hear, now it’s early ’30s and the 1930s. What were you seeing of the Depression?
What was I?
What signs of the Depression were you seeing, you’ve mentioned the long line of?
Depression, well that’s the reason why I went to work at thirteen. We had three in the family and as time went in with the Depression Dad’s

02:09:00:00

time at work was really cut down, you know four days, three days, two days. They were doing it to keep their staff and we were having quite a struggle. You went to a picture theatre for threepence. That would get you into the pictures but you never had any lollies. We had, you know that was about it. I was only saying to someone a little while back, we used to play tennis with holes in our shoes cause the people who used to let us use the tennis court, which was dirt,

02:09:30:00

wouldn’t let us play unless we had tennis shoes but we had holes in the shoes but you know we had tennis racquets with broken strings. And we’d get string to fill up the holes, things we did, and we were lucky to have a pushbike and we struggled with these pushbikes, keeping them going, with gaiters. We used to put gaiters when the tyres would blow. There was more gaiters than tyres.

02:10:00:00

And the other thing about my childhood was that you will read about how they are now and they’ve got to have things provided for them and I’m not being critical of things today. It’s just the way things are, but we made our own fun. We used to have running races. We used to have races to West Beach and you had the choice of going on Helly Beach Road with asphalt or going back through Richmond Road and through a track through where the airport is now which was a terrible track and we’d

02:10:30:00

have to finish the race at West Beach. We’d compete against each other. We played football in the street with gaiters in the football. Footballs had more bumps than flat surfaces. That was the Depression. We didn’t know anything about not having much money cause we never had anything from the start. I think the biggest impression for me about how bad things were, was I got my Dad’s sausage bag from the First [World] War

02:11:00:00

and hung it in the shed and wanted to fill it up with rag and paper and that for punching. No rag, no paper, finished up house bricks and it was when I was trying to get something to fill this sausage bag, you know I realised how things were. I think it was the first impression I ever got about how bad things were cause you’d go to your mother and say, “Mum where’s some rag?” “Haven’t got any rag.” That’d go for clothes,

02:11:30:00

yeah.
And what sort of food was on your table?
Never went without, don’t remember ever going without, had the same thing many times. Mum was a good cook and she made all sorts of things that you never hear of now like dumplings and I can’t remember what they’re called now, but we always had a dinner, always had a Sunday dinner.

02:12:00:00

I used to have to set the table and the table had to be set like we were back in England in a castle somewhere, not that she was swanky, far from swanky. Well, she was a railway man’s daughter. Incidentally she had a tough time because she was the youngest one and as her two sisters and two brothers married, well she was left to look after her widowed mother cause the father had died when she was seven years of age. My father also

02:12:30:00

seemed to, a similar story. His parents had a farm up the north and it was at a place that apparently was to be taken over by the government for a reservoir which they didn’t know about and when things got bad. And they went to the government for a loan to keep going, they couldn’t get a loan so they finished up having to sell up and get out

02:13:00:00

and they moved to Whyte Yarcowie, you ever heard of that? It’s up the north there. It’s got one pub and about three houses and an institute but in those days it was going to be one of the big central places. I went up there a couple of times as a kid and they had huge sheds build to take the trains that were supposed to carry all the wheat, but what they’d left out of their calculations in those days was the Goyder line, you know the Goyder

02:13:30:00

line? Well, this Whyte Yarcowie’s pretty much on the border and so that’s where my grandfather started a road building business which wasn’t a success because the place was dying then. And I only got this sort of information from a cousin of mine who I’ve only seen a couple of times that there were factories there in Whyte Yarcowie. And I went up there years later

02:14:00:00

and I went into the pub, tiny little bar, a form across the wall and the woman served me and I asked about the house down the road. There was about three houses and I knew, I recognised one where I’d stayed in and I’ve got a peculiar memory for way back, scenes, and she said, “Oh, the Richardson house?” I just

02:14:30:00

about fell off the floor. I said, “Why did you say that?” She said, “Oh, they call it the Richardson house.” I said, “Are you dinkum?” She said, “Yeah.” I said, “There’s no Richardson there now.” She said, “No, they haven’t been there for years,” but the locals still call it the Richardson house and I took an uncle there once when there was going to be the foundation stone of the school, I took him up there. He was my Dad’s youngest brother and I took him into the institute

02:15:00:00

where he met a couple of people he knew and then we went to the school. And he was asked to take the cloth off in front of the camera and anyway the next thing you know is they sat down a dear old lady alongside of Uncle Ted as one of the oldies. And he turned around, he says, “Hello Mary, I know you.” “Who are you?” And

02:15:30:00

eventually he had to tell her who he was and sat there and, “Not you Ted, oh,” and she almost jumped out of the chair. It was quite a funny scene. Two very old people and she suddenly remember who he was and I said, “You’ve got a bad reputation, you old bugger.” Anyway, that was Whyte Yarcowie.
I’ll just bring you back again, did you have any brothers and sisters?
Yes, brother Fred and sister Rosalind.
And were you the youngest?
Yeah

02:16:00:00

no, eldest.
And how do you think being the son of a railway man influenced you when you were growing up?
Well, it was always a mystery to me and I missed my father cause he was away more and when he was home, you’d be met at the back door, “Sshh, Dad’s sleeping,” and I used to hear him get up

02:16:30:00

you know all hours and Mum used to cook for hours because he was going away for days. And I’d hear my father, you know I might have been home, he was there asleep and then the next thing you’re lying in bed, off he goes. At the same time in the railways they had what they call callers, tap on the window, “Are you there Freddie?” Wake up Dad to go to work. He was a pretty conscientious bloke.

02:17:00:00

And I used to think, “God what a life,” then I’d be with my father on the footplate. I’d been on the footplate of a train going down to Glenelg. I’ve been to Victor Harbour. I’ve been on a few trips that I shouldn’t have been on cause it was all ‘hush-hush’ and I thought in recent years that maybe my father took me on the train hoping I’d be a railway man but the very fact that I had, hardly saw him, even though he was working and in the house and going

02:17:30:00

on that pushbike which I always remember I used to hear him go off. I thought, “Bugger that, I’m not going to be in that business,” and I never aspired, I used to go into the railway yards with him many a time. I’d play cricket over there with him in cricket and I used to go in the pub when I was a baby, or a youngster, with Dad drinking sarsaparilla. Then later on I got into the beer and drank with all the railway blokes, you know

02:18:00:00

and I always liked them. They were great fellows. They’re really salt of the earth blokes but the other thing about my father was that you’d go in there and they’re all railway blokes, coal and whatever, you know some clean, some half clean. Dad never, Dad always started work till he cleaned himself up and he’d walk in the pub like he was, you know just come from home and people used to remark on it, that he was always clean,

02:18:30:00

straight. I was very proud of him as a railway man, very proud of him. I was proud of him as a soldier too although he didn’t say much about that. Well, we got little stories every now and again. I’d like to tell a story, a couple about them, later. I’m probably going on a bit too bloody much.
No, it’s very good. You mentioned earlier that you were at camp in Woodside while you were working at GMH or

02:19:00:00

around the same time?
No, we were permanently camped there for three months at Woodside. Then I went back to GMH.
Well, how were you, this is getting towards the outbreak of the war, what sort of rumblings were you hearing about the possibility of war?
This is another thing that annoys me. You often read in the paper, journalists write that we didn’t know anything. That’s not true.

02:19:30:00

We knew what was going on. I particularly knew what was going on because there used to be a paper and I wish I could remember the name of it. It was a small supplementary sort of paper that was sold, keeping pace of what Hitler was doing with the Gestapo [Nazi security police] and all the rest of it in Europe. And I was au fait with the whole damn thing, matter of fact I was the bloke who named the union reps [representatives] at Holden ‘the brown shirts’

02:20:00:00

cause they were thorough so and so’s. They were thorough so and so’s. I’m not, you’ll hear the story and eventually why but they used to bully us kids through our union fees which was exorbitant and did absolutely nothing. I was there for a bit over three years. They did nothing but always talking about, “The union will look after you.” You better ask me

02:20:30:00

about the union cause I want to talk about it. I’m very annoyed. Now where are we?
I was asking you how you were learning about the possibility of the outbreak of war?
Sorry, yes. Well, there was another chap and I in my office used to, every lunch time we would talk about the war and what was going on and we knew about it. Matter of fact in 1938 I went to, my two mates that I’d been mates with at Harris Scarf’s and asked them for

02:21:00:00

the three of us join up now, you know . This was before the war was started. A couple of my mates went and joined the militia, not for the few bob that they used to do in those days. They were getting prepared for the war so when you read a journalist write that, you know they went to war and didn’t know anything about it, it annoys me cause we did know about it. And we called the union characters brown shirts because we read about the brown shirts and what they were doing to the poor old Jews in

02:21:30:00

Berlin and those places. So we did know about the war. I particularly knew everything about the war. I’ve always been a bit interested. When I get SBS [Special Broadcasting Service] and Weekend Australian, just before you came I was reading about Europe and that sort of thing then, always been inclined that way, maybe because I came from there. I don’t know, never understood that. I don’t think it’s part of it.
Well, I was going to ask you, I mean your mother was British and I’d like to hear what sort of ties or allegiance

02:22:00:00

you felt to the British Empire?
My mother was always annoyed with me because I barrack for Australia. She would have liked me to be a real pom [English]. When I was a kid I used to get, “That pommy so and so,” you know and you, what’s that thing on TV [television] now, “Out of a suitcase.” I get a little bit annoyed to hear some of the stories told by these people about getting a hard time. In my

02:22:30:00

particular, the only hard time I ever gave any new Australian in my time was when I met two new Australians down at Port Willunga. They were introduced to me actually cause I was to look after them. I still think they were German. I’m not sure about that but they had that attitude and style and I’d seen enough of them before.
But when you were a teenager?
Oh, back to a teenager, knowing about the war?
What sort of allegiance

02:23:00:00

did you have to Britain?
None, absolutely none, although I’ve got to say this, that if you check the history of blokes like myself, you’ll find the biggest influx into the services was at the time of Dunkirk. There is something British and even the hardest nose against it. Like I was in the army with blokes named Flanagan and Croner and things like that and they were just as strong, as good a soldier as you’d even meet

02:23:30:00

and I said another thing the other day, to Lofty yesterday. The people, I’d better not jump into England, but anyway I was asked did I serve with Montgomery [General Bernard Montgomery, commander of the 8th Army] and I said, “Yes, I served with him.” And turns out that their son the following day was marrying the daughter of Daphne Du Maurier, the authoress who was connected to Field Marshall Montgomery and I said, “I’ve met him.” And they said, “How did you meet him?” and I said, “Well, he came to Australia

02:24:00:00

to thank the 9th Australian Division and I said, “In the Adelaide Town Hall he got the greatest cheer ever,” I said, “Then after a few speeches he said he’d like to meet a representative of each unit.” And I was the president of my unit association and the bloke who looked down the aisle, cause I wasn’t going to go up the stage, was a bloke named Flanagan who hated poms and yet he looked down the aisle. He said, “Richardson have you?”

02:24:30:00

Is that on? I’d better not say it. Anyway, he threatened to kick me all the way back to Port Willunga if I didn’t get up and represent the unit so I went up and met Montgomery, yeah.
Well, what motivated you to join the services?
I’m an old soldier’s son and my grandfather went to South Africa and my grandson recently, this was quite surprising to me. I’d known that he had ideas about joining the army but he talked to my son-in-law,

02:25:00:00

her husband, navy and air force. And their son-in-law was also training at Dunkirk for an officer ship when he had an accident and he asked him about joining the army. When I heard this I said, “God, why didn’t he ask me?” But he didn’t know that I’d been in the services cause my youngest daughter, you know she’s way behind. She hadn’t said much about it

02:25:30:00

apparently and his father was, he’s anti army, yet his son has joined the army as a soldier and I was so annoyed I sat down and wrote him a birthday letter. And stating that I’d served in Tobruk and so forth and my father had been a Gallipoli Anzac and grandfather went to the South African war, although he went at the end of the war. He never got into action.
Well, you say you’ve got, and quite rightly, you’ve got a long family tradition of war service. How much patriotism

02:26:00:00

do you think influenced you?
Well, I’m not exactly patriotic really. I call myself a real Australian and I’ve been told by some that I’m more Australian than they are and when I, which I’ve done all my life, always said, “I’m a pom,” you know. I do it to stir actually. They say, “God, you’re more bloody Australian than any bloody pom I’ve ever met,” but it’s only because I was a baby see and going

02:26:30:00

back to that time in London with that pommy bloke, the officer, I knew what was around the corner. I knew that Black Friar’s Bridge was just around the corner. It’s quite amazing but it’s something that’s a trick in my brain that I can remember places even though there’s years and years before. Anyway, where are we? Before the war, I’d like to ask you why you were so interested in this?
I’m interested to hear whether it was King or country or family tradition that motivated you?

02:27:00:00

Well, it was no King business. Actually, when I said to you that the greatest influx of troops that joined the services at the time of Dunkirk, I s’pose you’d call that patriotism but it was seeing what had been going on over there and even though a lot of Australians will say that, you know, “Bugger pom,

02:27:30:00

bugger British Empire,” all that caper. I think down deep there’s always that feeling. You’ve seen it recently with regard to the flag, which is another story you’ve got to ask me about, about the flag and I think that it’s blatant, you know what I mean, and people did know. Well, look at the blokes that joined the army. When I went into the AIF, the showgrounds used to have troops in there to join the AIF and when we

02:28:00:00

went in there was no room for anybody. The sheds were filled with soldiers. I was sergeant in charge of a guard of a hundred and eighty men, a hundred and eighty. That’s a hell of a lot of blokes.
Alright, we will come and talk about that. I’m interested to hear first about joining the militia, tell us about that?
It was a call up. A lot of blokes were scared. I was anxious and I wanted to get in, went through a medical, physical complimented, teeth, rotten,

02:28:30:00

B class, knocked back, said to Dad, “How do I get in?” He said, “Using a kettle drum weren’t you?” and I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Well, kettle drummers become stretcher bearers,” which I’d already read cause I’d read a lot about First War. He said, “Go over and volunteer to be a drummer,” so I went to Suffolk and I went and fronted an officer, was rather funny. We had a lot of trouble but he finished up marrying my cousin

02:29:00:00

and he was an AIC bloke, Australian Instruction Corps, failed officers at Duntroon and he give me the rounds of trouble. “Why do you want to be a kettle drummer? Don’t you want to be with the fighting men?” all this caper. I get my back up now and again and I said a few hard words to him and then I was accepted and I was a kettle drummer for about the first couple of weeks. That meant getting up at five in the morning

02:29:30:00

when the rest were getting up at six, so I got out of that and went into signals. I was in the signal platoon and they had no equipment whatsoever. You’ve got no idea how bad our army was in those days, even when it was in North Africa. We had nothing and anyway I got out of signals and got in the anti aircraft section and unbeknown to me they were lining me up for an NCO [Non Commissioned Officer] and I was in charge at different times but didn’t realise I was in charge

02:30:00:00

and going back to Adelaide at the end of the camp. I got into some serious trouble and I was charged on the train, a rare charge this. On the train I had to march through the train and I had a rotten hangover from rum, never drunk rum before in my life and Colonel Pope give me quite a lecture about my conduct and said, “This is the end of your chances of promotion.” Something I hadn’t heard of before but when we went back

02:30:30:00

to Keswick Barracks I was always put on drilling blokes and doing that sort of thing. I was already being marked. I didn’t know it but I was being marked but that’s about the story. I don’t think there’s much more, except we had no equipment. We had an old Lewis machinegun which came into my last air force interview when this First War bloke, they must have got him out of retirement. And he come and interviewed me I think cause I used to go and stand in there and cause a bit of a blue because they wouldn’t take me

02:31:00:00

and on this particular setting there was the headlines of Smith Sweetly. You heard about Smith Sweetly and the headlines said, “Why the old school tie for the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force]?” And that sort of got into me here and I went into the old legislative buildings that have been pulled down since. That’s where the old recruiting office was and they sent this officer up to me with one arm and rings round here and he spoke to me very

02:31:30:00

fatherly and I remember saying, there was a picture behind him of a Sopwith camel with bloke with twin Lewis guns. And I remember screaming at him, “I can strip one of those guns in so many minutes blindfolded, put it back, and you still won’t take me.” Oh dear. Anyway, I told him what to do with the air force and went across and joined the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] but when I walked in the AIF, the old recruiting sergeant, First War bloke, I said, “Hey,” I said, “Do they take you when you’ve got no teeth?” and he said,

02:32:00:00

“We’ll take you while you’re still warm.” That’s when I joined the army.
And what did your dad think of you joining the services?
Not good, not good. My mother, worse, especially when she saw the recruiting date was the thirteenth, very superstitious. No, Dad just looked at me. He said, “Well, you’ve done it, have you?” He tried to get me to join the navy or he was hoping I’d get in the air force, ground

02:32:30:00

crew, you know and he looked at me and he says, “Well, you’ve done it?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “I told you,” he said, “When we was on Gallipoli in the sand and the shit,” he said, “The sailors,” cause they’d come off a battleship when they [UNCLEAR “were landing”?], the sailors were still in hammocks and eating good food off tables,” you know. He said, “You’re bloody mad to go in the army,” but he was proud. He did a rare thing when I came home. He was a bloke that didn’t ever, he was

02:33:00:00

undemonstrative. When I came home down the streets, a scene out of a film really, all the neighbours were out, all my relatives were out and Dad come staggering out into the middle of the street, cause I’ve got a rifle, pack and everything, threw his arm round my neck and kissed me in front of all the neighbours but Mum, gee. I hope the camera’s not on, gee

02:33:30:00

yeah. Anyway, we went in and I blotted my copy book cause they were all around the room and we had the old radio about five or six winders and a big speaker and they’re all looking at me, aunties, uncles, everybody else and I’m sitting in a corner and the radio was playing some very good music. And I’m a bit of a highbrow with music

02:34:00:00

and the next thing you know is the announcer said, “Well, we’ve had such and such, now we’ll have Mrs so and so telling about cooking her cabbage,” or some bloody thing he said and I won’t say in front of the camera, I said, “Like f’ing hell she will,” and everyone heard me. I’d been practising with two blokes not to swear. We’d fine each other, a threepence a time or whatever it was and I swore in front of the whole lot and my cousin

02:34:30:00

thought it was a scream. And he rushed out into the kitchen where Mum and Dad and everybody was preparing food and Dad come back in the room. He looked across and he said, “Carry on son, well some of us understand.” God, you got me going then, didn’t you? Sorry, I broke a bit. I’ve never done that before, yeah, go on.
Well, where were you the day that war was declared?

02:35:00:00

I don’t know where I was but I can remember one thing. I said to my mother, “I’m going down to get the special supplement,” and I went down the street. In those days you had one light here and one light there, a lot of darkness, not like there is now and a bloke on a pushbike, who I still don’t know who it was, he said, “Hey George, you heard the news, I s’pose you’ll be going?”

02:35:30:00

and I said, “Yeah I s’pose.” And I went to Mrs Carns little newspaper shop which I’d always had my eye on if I ever went into business and it was a little dark looking shop, one light. And I was knocked aside by a young fellow, older than me, to beat me into the shop and Mrs Carn said, “I s’pose you want the new supplement?” “No, I don’t want that bloody thing, give me the newspaper. I want the races.”

02:36:00:00

Typical Australian and I went in and got the supplement and I went home and read it and I knew from the start I’d be in it, couldn’t be anything else, don’t know why, just whatever you said it is, patriotism or what and I think patriotism’s part of it but - you know I went across the Channel to England and on that ferry was a whole lot of German students, a couple of hundred of them. As the White Cliffs of Dover showed up

02:36:30:00

I didn’t feel a bloody thing but the most excited people were the German students, “Look, the White Cliffs of Dover.” They’re all, you know really excited about it but I didn’t feel a thing. It sort of satisfied me that I’d been in Australia long enough. Where are you from?
Adelaide.
Yeah, but before, where’s your ancestors?
This interview is about you, not me.
You’re not fair. I’ll get my camera on you one day.

02:37:00:00

Well, just before we move on to talk about the AIF, what was the militia at Woodside, Camp Woodside, like?
It’s where I learnt to dislike officers and NCOs. They were properly called chocolate soldiers. There was a lot of men there that were only in there for extra money but they played at being soldiers.

02:37:30:00

When they went off leave they bought everything to put on their uniform, you know. Prior to going into camp I knocked around with a bloke called Ross Barnes and he hates these jokers cause when we used to go up the River Torrens or somewhere on Sunday, just walking around. These fellas would be acting like guardsmen from Buckingham Palace and he used to have words with them. I never picked any fights that way. It was their

02:38:00:00

choice but when I got in the army I found a lot of them the same way and the officers were more so. They were, they played at being soldiers and incidentally when we went into action, they still had the same sort of attitude but it gradually got knocked out of them. I was put on two charge sheets. I was on the rear party from Gazala to go to Tobruk and got on a charge sheet and I’m volunteering. And when we got into Tobruk we were put on this particular sector

02:38:30:00

out on the, I found an Italian pistol and I practising shooting with it and I was put on another charge sheet. They were militia minded, you know a charge sheet all the time when you’re in militia. It’s going by the book. It’s playing at soldiers really and the other thing I was disgusted, when they called for volunteers, hardly any of those fellas volunteered. They just liked being chocolate soldiers. I s’pose that’s a bit bitter but it’s

02:39:00:00

my thoughts anyway.
Interviewee: George Richardson Archive ID 1690 Tape 03

03:00:39:00

Before you joined the AIF you did quite a bit of training with the militia?
Yeah.
What did that consist of?
Drumming in the band, signal work, then anti aircraft work. I had the gunner, aircraft recognition,

03:01:00:00

marching, tons of marching and that’s about it. It was very boring when it’s boiled down but all camp life is boring. I’ve got a grandson in the army now. He must be going through hell because he’s just staying in the camp, you know. He’s been in the army for 12 months gone.
I was just thinking about as a child you played your army games?
We did, yes.
And then as a young adult you

03:01:30:00

start to go into the militia?
Yeah.
I’m just wondering what the difference was in your mind between the games you had played and actually experiencing army life?
It seemed quite natural to me. I don’t know why but it seemed natural. I’ll only add one thing to that and that is that Dad had brought back a lot of souvenirs from World War I including a box, big box and in it was a German cavalry

03:02:00:00

rifle which is quite a short rifle. And he used to have me drilling a couple of times, not very much but I remember learning how to slope arms and when I transferred to the machine gun I think it was, this young corporal who was another one of these swank type lads, he said I’m going to teach you to slope arms. He got the shock of his life when I could do it. It was only something that I’d

03:02:30:00

learnt but I never played at soldiers as a kid, no rifle business or anything like that. The only thing I did was to pinch his bayonet, German bayonet and take it on camps up in Coromandel Valley when we used to camp up there and use it for throwing, you know, which he didn’t know about, but that’s about all. I don’t think I’d ever played any war games with kids but when we used to go down to the sand hills at the airport

03:03:00:00

over here we used to dig trenches and we used to pinch berries off trees and then fire with the Shanghai at them, painful if you got hit but that’s about all. When I went in the army, to me I don’t know, I seemed to take to it like a duck to water. I don’t know why but didn’t seem to be any different and there’s only boredom that bloomin’ sticks out when you go into camp like that.

03:03:30:00

You end up every morning unnecessarily, hours before you’re supposed to. You’re marched around. You do that. It’s really playing at soldiers but then again when I got into the AIF, we never had any equipment again then. The other thing about the militia was we had these Lewis guns with the air barrel round to cool them, cool the barrel and they said, “We’re going to get a Bren gun, a new Bren gun machinegun,” and one

03:04:00:00

turned up and we had it for about 10 minutes and then it went to another section, 10 minutes, another section, 10 minutes. Then after that in the afternoon it went to the other battalion and then it got put back on the trailer and got sent back to Melbourne. Now that’s how bad the army was. A Bren gun was sent over from Melbourne on loan while we were in camp then it more than likely from Melbourne it was sent up to Bathurst or something like that. That’s how bad things were.
And in your time, you were talking before about

03:04:30:00

not really having a very strong allegiance to England?
Yeah.
How did you feel about saluting the flag in the militia?
No problem at all. I salute the flag now, today, with great pride. Yes, I would, actually I’ve said to my daughter, just recently. We talked about dying and I said, “I want a private funeral, no [UNCLEAR “follow on”?], no eulogies, as long as the flag’s on top of it,” and I said, “If they change the flag when I die, put the old one back on me,”

03:05:00:00

so there’s your answer.
And the day you joined the AIF, what do you remember of that day?
Fear, going home to tell Mum and Dad, that’s about the most important thing and then when I sat at the kitchen table and I think you’ve heard the fact that Dad said, “So you’ve done it, rrrrr?” Mum looked at the date and saw the the 13th. “Oh, I don’t know.” When I caught the

03:05:30:00

Queen Mary in Sydney we were all given numbers and I was given seven which Mum considered was a lucky number so I got her a message to say, “I caught the boat with number seven,” yeah.
And what was the training at Woodside, how did it start?
Drill, that’s about the basic story of Woodside, drill. Drill and marching, long marches and the worst thing I did, transferring to the anti aircraft section was being the gun. I had to carry the gun

03:06:00:00

and I was a little skinny bloke in those, much skinnier than I am now, skinny little fella and my God I used to suffer carrying that gun. It’s shoulder, you know, wear on that shoulder. Then I got myself unpopular because I was promoted so damn quick that the blokes who’d been in it for some time, they wouldn’t carry the gun either.
And why was it that you were promoted so quickly?
No, I wasn’t promoted. In the militia I was still signalman at the last, or private I think you’d call me, not

03:06:30:00

signalman but I did all the drilling at Keswick Barracks and things like that and I used to be annoyed that I used to be told to do it. But what I didn’t realise that I must have been marked and then when I got into the AIF we marched around the showgrounds. I always remember there was a funny little bloke used to come out of the office and just look at us. You’d never see him do anything else but just come out of the office and just look at us and next thing you know it. I was a corporal and a little later

03:07:00:00

on I was a sergeant and it just sort of happened and I used to be worried about that because I was 21. And I used to go to my father and say, “Look, I don’t want this bloody business. I’m only a kid,” and he’d say, “Well, the bloody kids who were in charge of the boats that landed us on Gallipoli.” He said, “And they were the bravest men I know,” midshipmen, British midshipmen and I said, “Yeah, but I don’t want to be it,” but what I didn’t

03:07:30:00

know then I was also, well I must have been marked for OTC [Officer Training Corps] because in Caulfield they told me I was going to go to officers training course. But in Adelaide, as a sergeant, I wanted to get out of it because I wasn’t getting any leave. I was on duty and everybody else was getting on leave and a fellow called Isaacson, Olive Isaacson, he come to me and he said, “Hey George,” he said, “If you can get me a stripe,” he said, “I can relieve you on the weekend.”

03:08:00:00

I thought, “That might be an idea.,” We were at that time sleeping in the big exhibition on the Goodwood Road and so I went to an officer I s’pose and I said, you know, “I’d like to see Olive Isaacson made a corporal.” And he got the job of lance corporal and the first weekend I went on leave and when I came back from camp he met me and he said,

03:08:30:00

“Hey,” he said, “Routine orders are looking for two men from every company to go for an officer training selection,” and I said, “I don’t want to be an officer,” and he said, “Well, I do.” He said, “Why don’t you come with me?” and I said, “No,” and he went to Keswick Barracks where he went through examination and when he came back I said, “How’d you go Olive?” and he said, “I didn’t succeed but I know someone.” I always remember that

03:09:00:00

and I think it might have been through his religion, I’m not sure. Anyway, he became an officer and I then went to, then they, we couldn’t get into the battalion. They formed, while I was there, there was that many blokes, they formed the 43rd Battalion, then the 48th and the 2/8th Field Ambulance and the 2/3rd Machine Gunners. That’s proven my point about the influx in the army because of Dunkirk and we were left out, for some reason. I don’t know why, just army business

03:09:30:00

and I thought, “How the hell are we going to get into anything?” Next thing a thing came out to, anybody to volunteer for signals? Now I had had a scout book with Morse code, you know a scout diary. So I got the scout book and I trained up four or five blokes with the help of another fella who’d worked in the railways on a sounder and we were real idiots. We used to catch the tram from

03:10:00:00

Wavell to Adelaide and we’d practise the Morse code on the signs around the trams, passenger thing. We were nuts but we managed to become fairly proficient with Morse code and when there was a selection we were passed and then you might find this hard to believe. I had one of the most embarrassing days I’ve had in my life. They sent an officer from Melbourne to Adelaide named Barnet, who’d been a test cricketer, to take a detachment of us

03:10:30:00

to Caulfield for further training. And us and a whole lot of others had to march from Wavell through Adelaide to the parade ground and apparently I was the senior NCO and you might find this hard to believe but it was the most embarrassing bloody march I’ve ever been on, Ben Barnet there, me next, then all the fellas behind. I hated that and anyway we got to Caulfield

03:11:00:00

where we got a rough time again because the militia blokes there treated us very badly.
Can I ask why the march was so embarrassing?
Just me, I hate being on show. I’d rather get behind. I’m a pusher, not a leader. I’ve given orders in the battle of [El] Alamein without a stripe on my arm and that’s the only thing I’m proud of because, you know they do what I said but I never had a stripe and I’m bloody glad I didn’t. I didn’t want any stripes,

03:11:30:00

yeah, sound a bit silly I s’pose, but my Dad said, “I was a fool.” But he only took stripes at the end of World War I himself when he was in the barracks in London. I s’pose he got that because he was a senior soldier from years service, yeah. Does that satisfy you?
Yeah.
Just a shy little boy, yeah.
You were saying at Bathurst

03:12:00:00

being like the militia?
Well, it was the same thing because we had no equipment. You know when we went over to the Middle East what sort of stuff we had here? Instead of the stuff you usually see. We had bandoleers [belt with pockets for ammunition], belts and pannikin [small cup], exactly what was issued to the soldiers in South Africa in 1900. Our rifles were from the First War. Everything we had was scraped up from somewhere

03:12:30:00

and it seems silly that they sent us to North Africa to do training. That’s where we’re supposed to be garrisoned to North Africa and trained but then Rommel decided different.
So what did they tell you about your enemy?
Nothing.
Who was your enemy?
Germany. I would say that most thoughts were on Hitler [Adolph Hitler, German Chancellor] and what

03:13:00:00

they were doing, taking all these different countries in Europe, you know and it was wrong and I think, you know in those days we were conscious that we were in a free country and the fact that these blokes were doing it. And the pictures you’d get in a newsreel theatrette, which is the things in those days, were very scarce. Newspapers would show occasional photos but most photos really showed what these brown shirts were doing, smashing windows and things like that and

03:13:30:00

we knew about it and we felt hurt by the oppression that was going on and I don’t know. It’s a sort of a fair play thing again. You know what they say about Aussies with their fair play and when they say that sort of thing it annoys me cause everybody’s the same. I think that’s what it was but I think, I made the point strongly possibly last time, that there was a terrific influx of troops into the services

03:14:00:00

when Dunkirk was on. You’ve read about Dunkirk and they got these troops across the water in a flat sea which was lucky, even though they’d been bombed and shelled in the harbour and I think that affected a lot of people, especially young blokes like me. I don’t know.
And who were your mates, in Bathurst?
In Bathurst, gee, heck.

03:14:30:00

First of all in Caulfield. I must tell you about Caulfield. My mate was a fellow called Lloyd Gale, a farmer and ex boxer from Yalata Flats over on York’s Peninsula, Eyre’s Peninsula and he was a rough diamond, hated me being a sergeant. And then when it came to the fact that I was told by Captain Sullivan I was going to OTC

03:15:00:00

I said, “Not on your life,” and this upset old Galo. I’ve got to skip a bit here. I had a mate who was a sergeant, militia sergeant, and he was going to the school with me and he used to talk to me about it. I’d say, “Look I don’t want to go to any OTC,” and eventually I deliberately got myself into trouble

03:15:30:00

and I had to go before Sullivan and be demoted back to private and the funniest issue was two things that day. He’d told Galo to pick somebody as a mess orderly, as a mate, and when I went back to report to the blokes after the bit of a trial I was on, I said, “Well, I’m now back as [UNCLEAR “C”], does that suit you?” He said, “Yeah,” he said, “You’re a bloody mess orderly with me,” and the sergeant, when he come round

03:16:00:00

said to Galo, “Who’s your mate?” He said, “Richy,” and the sergeant said, “You can’t do that to him,” because I’d been in the sergeants mess for breakfast and then for lunch, instead of me pouring the tea. I’m pouring the tea and one certain little cocky bloke kept on calling me up for another cup of tea cause they didn’t like us. There’s a little factor that might be strange to you people and that is we wore Australia up here. That meant

03:16:30:00

we were overseas troops and they hated us and they stopped us wearing them, the officers did and then we had a bit of a blue and we ended up, we put them up ourselves but it was just that feeling about ‘choco’s’ [chocolate soldiers - militia] and AIF. And so at lunch time I’m pouring the tea and I finished up, because he kept being too insistent, I poured it all over his legs and course Galo rushed up, to get me a fight and Galo

03:17:00:00

would have been there and then came, after the meal. I still had tickets from the bar when I was a three striper and so I went to the barman and I said, “I’ve got to cash these tickets.” He said, “I’m knocking off, it’s Saturday afternoon,” and he said, “I’m not serving you,” and we were having a blue when the sergeant turned up. Fortunately, he was a bit worried about me being back to a mess orderly and we told him about the blue and he said to the bloke, “You

03:17:30:00

knock off.” He said, “You take over the mess.” I took over the mess and we had a real time. That was my last day in Caulfield before we went to Bathurst.
What trouble did you get yourself into to get demoted?
Not spoken, turn that off. No, I’m not talking but it had to be something severe. The last thing I must tell too is that Sullivan thought he was playing cunning, Captain Sullivan. When the draft was announced, I

03:18:00:00

wasn’t on it and I went into him rather bitterly and he said, “No, I’ve got leave for you,” and I said, “I want leave to Adelaide, nowhere else.” He said, “No,” he said, “You’re going up to Healesville.” He said, “It’s a holiday town and plenty of girls there.” I remember him saying that, “Plenty of girls there,” and I said, “I don’t want to go to Healesville,” but anyway that’s when I, and I deliberately went to Healesville cause I couldn’t stand the thought of my mates all going. I’m a bit of a mate bloke.

03:18:30:00

I’ve been president of RSL [Returned and Services League], president of my unit, mate bloke. Anyway, I went to Healesville in the slowest train ever, got up there about one o’clock in the afternoon from memory and I was met like I’d won the war by a taxi driver and the lady of the house of this guest home and taken in and she said to me, “Oh, by the way, a Captain Sullivan rang here.

03:19:00:00

He wants to talk to you,” and I said, “Where’s the phone?” Couldn’t get to the phone quick enough, got to the phone, I said, “What did you want me for?” He said, “If you can get back here tonight,” he said, “You’re on the draft.” He knew that train trip was so bloody slow but I said to the lady of the house, I acted as though I was still a sergeant. I said, “Where’s that driver, that taxi driver?” He was in the kitchen having a cup of tea with the cook or something

03:19:30:00

and I went and got him and I said, “You’ve got to drive me back to Melbourne.” “Oh,” he didn’t want to go to Melbourne. He was a country bloke and he didn’t want to go to Melbourne but I pulled rank. I said, “You go, this is an army order.” I was a real bugger and I made the poor old fellow drive me back to Melbourne. That’s how I got on the draft to Bathurst.
And what division were you drafted to?
8th Division, I was in 8th Division Six and we

03:20:00:00

did the usual PT [Physical Training] in the morning, marched in the afternoon. It just kept on going. Then another tricky thing happened. They picked out I think there was half a dozen of us, put us in a tent and give us a psycho test, you know square pegs in round holes and all that caper and nothing was said. And then I was told I was in 9th Division and my old mate Galo had been given compassionate leave to help his father

03:20:30:00

with the farm on Yalata Flats and I thought, “Well, he’ll come to 8th Division when he comes back,” but when he come back he was 9th Division and he begged me to get transferred back to 8th Division so I went before an officer called Southwell, Daddy Southwell. We called him Daddy cause he’s that sort of bloke, Captain Southwell, Major Southwell and I had to parade very stiff, ask to be transferred back to the 8th Division. This is a thing that’s still a mystery.

03:21:00:00

“Why do you want to go back to the 8th Division?” I said, “Because my mate Galo’s in it and you didn’t transfer him.” “Laddy, was your father in the First War?” True he said this, I’ll never forget it. I said, “Yes, sir,” and he said, “Where did he serve?” I said, “Well, he was a Gallipoli Anzac.” “Was he?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “He wouldn’t like to know,” now he said this, “He would not like to know

03:21:30:00

that you were joining a garrison division.” Now that was in 1944 they went to Malaya. In something like 1950 something the colonel in charge of the 8th Division Signals, who became the CO [Commanding Officer] in Malaya during prisoner of war time, think of his name in a minute, he came to live at Port Yalata and I’m the president of the RSL.

03:22:00:00

I’m trying to think of his name, and after I got talking to him, didn’t like him in the army. Didn’t like him down there either, although he was a tremendous soldier and I said to him, “Now look this happened when I was in the 8th Division Signals.” He used to often say, “This is one of my boys,” typical officer stuff, and I said, “Now this happened when I went before Daddy Southwell that he said, you know is your father First War and

03:22:30:00

he wouldn’t want to know you went in a garrison division.” And the bloke said, gee I can’t think of his name, he said, “He wouldn’t have known.” I said, “But that was his words.” He may have been saying garrison in Australia, I don’t know but it was quite weird that he said that. Anyway, I went away with Daddy Southwell in what they called 9th Div Six Details because we were going to join up with the 6th Div [Division]

03:23:00:00

Signals who’d gone to England, a brigade went, not a division, a brigade, went to England and they came back to Palestine. That was the formation of the 9th Division. Now I think that’s covered that but there was nothing in Bathurst apart from marching. Got leave to go to, I’d better mention old Ron Anson. I seem to get in trouble from different people.
Just before we speak about Ron, I’m just wondering, the

03:23:30:00

equipment was very low but you were in signals division now and what training did you undergo in training?
I don’t remember any signal training at all apart from Morse code. In Caulfield Racecourse we had a heliograph from the Indian army I s’pose and we had the flag, blue and white flag which we’d never, ever used, across the racecourse. That’d be about the limit. I don’t remember anything else apart from I used to conduct

03:24:00:00

classes on Morse code in the racecourse buildings but it was only sending, just sending but training was pretty small, might say we were just about rookie militia when we went across to the Middle East.
And how long were you in Bathurst before you got mention of?
Only a matter of months, I can’t remember how long, about three months I s’pose, something like that.
And do you remember them telling you that you were

03:24:30:00

moving onto the Middle East?
No, we didn’t know where we were going. You’d never know where you were going, even when we did the landings, we didn’t know where we were going. I think we heard Scarlet Beach, that’s all we heard. We didn’t know what was going on.
So for the Middle East what kind of preparation were they giving you?
Mostly what I said, marching and drill. We hardly did anything, like training at all. The whole idea was that while we were on our way over on the Queen Mary we were getting the stories

03:25:00:00

of the 6th Division going through North Africa and capturing all the towns there. I’ve since found out by talking to Italian blokes that they were bored stiff. They were conscripted soldiers and they were stuck out in the desert and were bored stiff and bloody glad when the war finished for them but the 6th Division were capturing the place and we didn’t know anything then. We went into Julis and still didn’t know anything. We did much the same there, marched,

03:25:30:00

drilled, did guard duty.
Well, just going back to leaving Bathurst and, did you have any embarkation leave?
Yes, just prior to embarkation leave I’d had a blue with this corporal as he was then because I stuck a matchbox cover in my gas mask. We used to have to march with gas masks on and I had a cold, I had flu and that night I refused

03:26:00:00

to go on the march. I sort of still had a bit of sergeant in my in those days I’ve thought back and I just flatly refused and this corporal come in and dressed me down for not getting up and going on the march and I told him what to do and where to get. The next day I went into hospital with flu but then I knew the draft was going and I had to get out of that hospital to get on the draft and I got out of the hospital and went home on leave.

03:26:30:00

And my mother said to me when I came to the door, she said, “George, were you ill recently?” I said, “Yes.” She said, “Did you go to hospital or somewhere?” and I said, “Yes.” She was, had this particular perception. It was marvellous, ‘dinky di’ [that’s the truth]. She knew I’d gone into hospital and she’s back in Adelaide and when I was in Tobruk, I can tell you more about that later. She knew certain things.
I’m just curious as to why you put a matchbox in your gas mask?
Air,

03:27:00:00

you know you had everything closed and you put the case, the outer casing in the matchbox, in between your mask just to draw more air.
OK?
And you’re not supposed to.
So your leave at home?
Leave, had one weeks leave here in Adelaide, one weeks leave, don’t remember very much about it really

03:27:30:00

except my going away, Adelaide railway station and relatives, friends, parents and two girls who didn’t know each other and then I got - the last thing I remember was Dad coming up to me as I got in the carriage and he told me after that he was convinced he’d never see me again. And

03:28:00:00

whatever he said, which I can’t remember, at the last, I then left him and went into the compartment and found I was sitting opposite a very beautiful young lady. I thought, “This is going to be a good, interesting trip,” but instead of that I burst into, I was in tears. I’m looking out the window as we go out from Adelaide, through the railway yards and that and all of a sudden emotions hit me

03:28:30:00

and the young lady offered me a toffee and I took it. The next time she spoke to me I went to open my mouth and teeth and toffee. I had new false teeth. That spoiled any romance. Here, teeth and toffee, couldn’t talk, God, funny.
And when your father said to you that he thought he’d never see you again, what went through your mind?
Only told me that after the war and Mum said he was quite a case while I was in the

03:29:00:00

war. He worried about everything. Apparently, they must have been in the picture theatre when there was a sign that troops were surrounded at Tobruk, something like that and Dad said, “That’s where he is,” and he couldn’t go on watching the picture. He had to leave the theatre. He volunteered and did all driving, when other blokes wanted to get off, drove trains up the north. Apparently, he put himself out very strong in the war effort.

03:29:30:00

He was a worn out wreck when the war finished, you know from the job. Matter of fact he took leave. When I came home he just told them he wasn’t going to work and he used to knock around with me and the boys.
Well, just going back to your leave before the war, what advice did your mother give you?
About the war? I don’t remember her giving any advice. As you heard, she was in the First War and she was a bomb

03:30:00:00

happy case. She did say after she thought, “That I’d be like her,” but I wasn’t. I don’t know why, I wasn’t. I’ve often thought of it, peculiar as regard to, I was peculiar before the war with blokes and we got into some trouble, I’d be laughing, I don’t know why, instead of being nervous. That might be a nervous reaction, I don’t know.
And

03:30:30:00

what personal items did you take with you to war?
I took a little boot that a girlie who used to be a sort of a nanny to me when I was a baby, little boot she gave me. I took a folding cup which I only looked at the other day or polishing it up, but I took nothing personal, nothing at all.
And were they your good luck charms?
The boot was supposed to be but the good luck charm that I

03:31:00:00

took and kept was, you heard about Galo coming back and finding out we weren’t in the same unit in Bathurst. We had two bottles of beer that an uncle had given me and take one back to Galo cause he’d known him over there in the west coast. And we drank those two bottles of beer and flattened the cap and put it in our money belt and I carried that right the way through the war

03:31:30:00

was able to give it to Galo when he came back from being prisoner of war in Changi.
And on the train on the way over, you were going to Melbourne to depart, were there other soldiers on the train?
A lot of troops. As a matter of fact I lent a fellow I’d worked with at Harris Scarf, five pound. We played a bit of poker.

03:32:00:00

He lost, wanted some money, I gave him five pound and when we were in Tobruk I’d learnt that he was on the HMAS Stuart and when the Stuart got into port I tried to get leave to go down and see him and get my five pound back. And after the war I talked in Harris Scarf’s about Les Eldridge, his name, I talked about this as a joke and when I next

03:32:30:00

met Les Eldrige, he’s got a mask like that, stage play recently and the fellow wore a half mask. He’d had half his face taken off on his service on the HMAS Stuart and he was quite unhappy with me about talking about the fiver. I’d told it as a joke but he took it to heart. That’s only a small story but that’s the only other memory I’ve got about the train going over to Melbourne.
Do you remember what the mood was like on the train amongst the soldiers?
Well, I would say that

03:33:00:00

they were always the same. I don’t remember them being any different. You’ve got to be optimistic. I’d never struck any place where there was morbidity or moroseness, only once and this was a time when we’d been in Syria and we heard that Tobruk had gone. The next thing we were put on convoy to go, as it turned out, to be Alamein and all the way down the road they were betting about going to

03:33:30:00

Tufic because the 6th and 7th Divi had already come home. And we all desired to come home, naturally, to fight the Japs. Everybody did and that was the only time I found moroseness in troops cause there’s a funny thing about soldiers. You can get bored to blazes but the most excitement you feel is when there’s going to be an attack. You can feel the, and they start singing, dinky di, they start singing that thing, “There’s movement at the station and the word has passed

03:34:00:00

around,” and you’d hear that in, sort of murmuring through before an attack. I don’t think you find moroseness in soldiers. You’re not that sort of bloke or you wouldn’t be in the army. If they are, they don’t last.
When you got to Melbourne and you saw the Queen Mary, what was?
No, Sydney was Queen Mary.
Sorry, Sydney was where you left for the Queen Mary?
Yeah.
What went through your mind when you saw the Queen Mary?
I was disappointed. I’d been to Sydney a couple of times

03:34:30:00

as a boy, disappointed in the bridge and the Queen Mary looked huge but never as huge as when you go alongside it. An American artist did a picture once which I kept for some time. I don’t know what happened to it, a scene of, you know the Queen Mary. He’d drawn it, exactly the same as I felt. When you go alongside a thing as big as that, it’s just huge, yet I saw it in America,

03:35:00:00

you know it’s a hotel over there now. And it didn’t seem to be quite so huge, as you get older and the other thing that struck me was that me and a mate blew the siren of the Queen Mary in Trincomalee Harbour where we were told to be quiet. And when I was on the Queen Mary with my wife, they announced that at one o’clock they were going to blow the siren and I got myself

03:35:30:00

out in the forward deck of the Queen Mary to hear this siren and it was a pipsqueak. It was nothing like the first time. I think they must have changed it.
So how many men were on the ship with you?
I think about three thousand but that’d be a guess. I think when the American troops were on it was five thousand, about three thousand.
And where were you positioned on the ship?
Down in the bottom deck, E deck, right down the bottom

03:36:00:00

in hammocks with feet on both sides of you, hot as hell, protested and eventually allowed to carry, it’s in that. I saw it in there, we had to take our gas mask, our rifle, the hammock, all, everything, up to the promenade deck. Up steps, there’s a lift there, we weren’t allowed to use that, carry it up

03:36:30:00

there to sleep and then next morning the sailors would go around with the hoses and you’d be ‘sshhoo’, you had to carry all this gear, army stuff, especially your rifle in case, you know you got into trouble and you’re in the middle of the Indian Ocean, stiff, yeah. So that’s how we travelled but the Queen Mary was an interesting boat. I got a job there too. I was using the Aldis lamp on the bridge which I always feel was a bit of a thrill. I also was a mess orderly and I was telling Beverly, cause she had the diary out the other day,

03:37:00:00

mess orderly you carried stainless steel buckets of kidneys. That was the staple diet, kidneys but you had to wear sandshoes too, the shipping company, to be a mess orderly and the huge dining rooms with linoleum floor and with the slop and everything else, was the slipperiest joint. I used to do skating years ago as a kid and I could skate but you couldn’t skate in these things with buckets and if you crashed

03:37:30:00

with the bucket of kidneys, or two buckets, you had one in each hand, the whole damn mess would count you out, “One, two, three,” [UNCLEAR] laying in the slops, bloody show, funny show but you usually got that sort of work for being a naughty boy.
And what did you do this time to become a mess orderly?
I don’t know. It’s too long ago. I’ve forgotten. I liked a bit of fun and after Galo, my dear mate Eddie Hearn,

03:38:00:00

we were known as the terrible twins. That’s why I didn’t want to take a commission or, I knew what I was like.
And where did you meet Eddie?
At Bathurst, although he was a Victorian but at Bathurst we cobbered up and we started out a bit of nonsense and we had a lot of nonsense. He was the first bloke killed in the unit.
Well, we’ll talk about that later when it comes up. On the ship were you

03:38:30:00

given any additional training to?
No, I can’t remember any additional training at all, just leaning over the rail talking. There was sports days.
And what happened on sports days?
As I said, just talking over the side of the rail. It was quite boring really. I don’t remember that much about it.

03:39:00:00

Definitely I don’t think we had any training at all. You just exist and the navy’s in charge. You can’t do very much. They tell you what to do. We went into Trincomalee Harbour. You know Trincomalee, it’s, you want to go there?
Yes, I’m just a bit curious as to what the army was telling you about the Middle East at this time?
Nothing. We were getting a ship’s paper. Gee, I’d forgotten all about that.

03:39:30:00

We were getting a ship’s paper which would give you the, you know it’s only one sheet of paper and that would, mostly was about the 6th Division that they’d crossed the border and they’d captured City Barani, they’d captured Mersa Matruh and they’d captured Benghazi and we were saying, “Oh,” you know, “You beauty, you beauty,” not knowing we were going to be there later, cause they don’t tell you anything in the army. You’re very rarely, well you’re never told where you’re going. You just go. You’re just

03:40:00:00

told, you know, “Get on the truck, you’re going there.” As I said, as we come down from Syria to Alamein we didn’t know whether it was going to go left to the Port Tufic on the boat or Alamein.
So amongst the men on the ship what were your own rumours about war, what were you saying amongst yourselves about war?
I don’t remember very much cause you don’t know anything. It’s just a problematic future. No, I don’t

03:40:30:00

remember any conversation about war except what we read. We were proud of the 6th Division and what they were doing, although it was really a walkover but no, I don’t remember anything like that. You don’t talk any heroics or anything like that. I don’t think there was anything like that at all. Have you had other people say anything like that, that they do talk about the future war or anything?

03:41:00:00

There’s an anticipation I suppose.
Yes, and underneath there’s a little bit of, you know, another thing too you’ve got me going.
Interviewee: George Richardson Archive ID 1690 Tape 04

04:00:32:00

Just still talking about your time on the ship George, you mentioned some of your duties in the mess hall, what were your duties with Aldis lamp?
Sending messages to the other ships, whatever I was told to send.
And what were you told to send?
I don’t remember, no, no memory at all. Couldn’t even remember it when I was on the Queen Mary years later.

04:01:00:00

No, I’ve got no memory at all, just some sort of thing to the other ships. No, I have no memory whatsoever. I think in those times a navy bloke, a boatswain or somebody or something, you know will say, “Send so and so.” You send it. You don’t really absorb it, you just send it. I wasn’t involved in any orders or instructions, just send the message.
And how did you get that job?
I don’t know. I, possibly

04:01:30:00

it goes back to the fact that I used to be an instructor of sending Morse code. I don’t know. The thing that’s got me, cause in those days I was in headquarter company and I was a nothing, just a member of the headquarter company, nothing in particular. That’s all.
And there was a lot of

04:02:00:00

spare time on the ship?
Yeah.
Did you do any reading?
This book, I should remember the name of the officer who wrote it. Strangely enough, before the war Dad and I went up to exhibition buildings on North Terrace, Adelaide and saw a film of the First War arranged by this captain, gee, a VC [Victoria Cross] winner anyway and we saw movies of France

04:02:30:00

and a big shock for me. I was only a boy seeing nude men in the river and then you saw war scenes and then on the boat and I don’t know how I got hold of this thing. I haven’t got a clue, might have been passed around amongst the fellas, a small paper book that he’d written for soldiers going to a war and I read it through avidly and I’ll never forget one thing that proved to be

04:03:00:00

right, “That it often shows in war that a little man can be just as good as a big man because a bullet makes everybody the same size.” And big fellas have been used to bullying and in your life you meet a lot of these blokes. Perhaps you women don’t, but men do and because of their size they use it to, and strangely enough in the very first attack that my mate was

04:03:30:00

killed in, in Tobruk, our sergeant major, who was right out of the films, six-foot-something and broad and black and killer with the women. He was the first bloke to fold because he was used to the ego and needed something else when the stuff was flying around, but I read this book and it was good advice to young fellas going into action. No heroics, never any heroics

04:04:00:00

and one of the things too was know where you are. Well, that sort of filled in with what my father often taught me. Study the stars and the book reminded me, when we crossed the equator, to do what Dad had taught me, study the stars. And I used to be the pathfinder in my unit because when you’re a linesman, you go out and you’re doing your job and I had a sergeant, this Ron that we mentioned earlier, who was a bull at a gate bloke. When we get out there, wouldn’t

04:04:30:00

know the way back but I used to study the stars.
And when the ship did cross the line [equator] was there any ceremony?
Some sort of ceremony but I can never quite remember whether it was anything worthwhile. I know there was some sort of ceremony but I might have been playing poker or something like that, cause if I’m not interested, I’m not interested.
And so what other ways did you occupy your time on the ship?
As I said,

04:05:00:00

just talk and just talking. We were more active on the Aquitania coming home than we were on the Mary going over. They used to drill us and, you know PT as they call it, physical culture or physical training, PT. No, I’m quite interested in why you want to know so much about our boat trip, which to me is a boring part.
We’re looking for details throughout your experience?
I see, yeah. Well, I can’t think of any particular details about,

04:05:30:00

apart from climbing up the stairs with all our gear every night to get a decent night’s rest, cause you couldn’t sleep down in the holds where we were. When I went to American I went down to that deck on a lift, on an escalator and an American girl in uniform saluted me and she said, “Sir, you are now on, welcome to E deck.” I said, “I don’t believe you.” I didn’t cause we’d done all this climbing. You didn’t, in America you get onto this hotel and you go down on an escalator and you’re there. And the other foolish thing I did

04:06:00:00

there was I said in the swimming pool where we used to swim, that’s from memory. I’d forgotten that. There was a swimming pool. I said to this guide, “Where’s the lift?” and she didn’t understand me. Somebody said, “Hey sport, it’s an escalator over here,” yeah.
I was just going to ask you where did you come off the Queen Mary and transfer to?
At Trincomalee. I think the Queen Mary was put into

04:06:30:00

Trincomalee cause around the other side of Ceylon it’s a harbour as big as Sydney Harbour, beautiful big harbour, full of jungle, never saw a house and all these little ships come up to take you off. The troops and signals are usually first in, last out sort of thing cause you’ve got to have communication and we were the last on the Queen Mary, empty ship except for guards

04:07:00:00

and I’ll tell you about the hooter. Eddie said to me, “We have to let them know we’ve been on the ship, what do we do?” We finished up climbing up there cause all the troops are sitting down on the deck where you go through to get on the Slamat with their gear, waiting for orders to go onboard the Slamat which hadn’t pulled up then. And so we snuck up to the promenade deck, right up the top and then climbed up the funnel and blew the whistle. Actually,

04:07:30:00

he didn’t quite know what he did. He just handed me and he just went like that and ‘pshhhoo’, bloody tremendous noise, in an empty harbour, you know, sounded like, anyway then we jumped down and the guards were after us. We had the fun. Of course it’s mentioned there, I was reminded of it then. We had some amusement being chased by the guards cause we had to get back to our blokes without getting caught, which we did and many months later in Tobruk when we were talking and reminiscing and we used to talk about the same thing all the time

04:08:00:00

in that place and then somebody said, “What about that silly bloody captain on the Queen Mary blowing that hooter in Trincomalee when we weren’t supposed to make a sound.” And I said, “That wasn’t the captain, that was Eddie and me,” and then I shut up because if they’d have reported it, it’d have gone straight in so I said, “Shut up, not another word,” but Eddie was, you said, “You didn’t?” I said, “Yes, we bloody did,” but Eddie was dead, yeah.
So what did you do at Trincomalee when you got off the ship?

04:08:30:00

Nothing, straight into the boat, straight into the Slamat, little Dutch boat, two memories stand out there. Instead of bed clothes they gave us a bolster, just a bolster, red and white bedding, bit different to the hammock we’d been on in the Queen Mary. The food was bland and my big memory of it

04:09:00:00

the Slamat was the opposite to the Queen Mary. It rocked and pitched all over the place and as long as I live, I was in the focsal, right up the front of the ship with a cabin near me and as long as I live, I can still hear the bloke, “Oh, God take me.” He was seasick and he’s praying to God to take him. The other memory too, going up to the Suez Canal was this Captain Monaghan,

04:09:30:00

very officious, typical blah, blah, “Richardson, what would you do if there was a fire?” There was little boxes, tins of sand around, buckets of sand and I said, “Well, you use the sand,” and he said, “What would you do if you never had any sand?” I remember reading Smith’s Weekly. I said, “I’d piss on it.” Well, he was shocked but I’d remember the joke out of old Smith’s Weekly and we got off at Tufic

04:10:00:00

in a barge that used to carry cattle. And then we went into Tufic railway station where we boarded the train, or railway yards and then we went alongside the Suez Canal. And the memory I was just telling Beverly, we were talking about nurses, was after we’d got out of the first town of Tufic, an Arab come out from the mud walls around the village to relieve himself and he flashed his old

04:10:30:00

fella at the train. And I was shocked but the nurses in the carriage in front of me, they thought it was marvellous. They’re clapping. They were used to that sort of thing and I wasn’t.
And what were they telling you about where you were going or?
Nothing, didn’t know, matter of fact going up in the train, two soldiers got onboard for some reason, check, it was an official job.

04:11:00:00

A few I think got on but they went to each one of us and they told us we were going to Julis, to a camp called Julis and I said, “Who’s camped there?” because this Ross Barnes, who hated the militia before the war, had gone to the 27th Battalion and I had a half idea in my head, because I was silly enough to want to go into a battalion, half idea in my head

04:11:30:00

that I’d transfer to Ross, my old pre war mate. But when I got there he’d transferred to ordinance and so I didn’t but that was in Julis and when we were in Julis camp there was a couple of interesting things happened.
Can I just ask, before you got to Julis and you were on the train to Palestine, were you advised about the locals or any of the food or anything like that?
No.

04:12:00:00

We didn’t know what the hell it was like, just a lot of mud really, a lot of mud and tents, EPI [English pattern, Indian product] tents with these peculiar little bamboo beds that weren’t worth a bumper. They were breaking all the time.
You are talking about camp Julis now?
That’s Julis, before Julis.
Well, before we get to the camp I’m interested to know, having just, this is your first,

04:12:30:00

I’m expecting this is your first experience out of Australia. What did you think of Palestine or the Middle East when you got there?
Well, at Sunday school I’d seen these Bible pictures and it was no different. I was shocked to find that everything the Arab used was the same as in the Bible pictures, put a bandage round the donkey’s head, round a circle in the mill to pump up water, camels the same way. They were no different to the pictures

04:13:00:00

I’d seen as a child when I was attending Sunday school at Cowandilla. I was shocked and then of course we got mixed up with the Jews, not that much, but it still astounds me that these people were still using mattocks to get water to run down a drain. When you could hear the pumping station the Jew had for his orange orchards, you know hundreds of orange trees and it still fascinates

04:13:30:00

me. It’s a bit like aboriginals. I’m a bit sour about them going crook all the time when they definitely get the improvements to what they would have been but the Arab never seemed to want to change. I still can’t work that out. I don’t know why they were like that. They did everything they’d been doing for thousands of years, whereas the Jew, you know he was doing more modern things.
And how long were you on the train before you got to camp Julis?
About one night

04:14:00:00

I think, one night, day and night from Tufic up to Julis, that’s all, wasn’t a long trip.
And what were your impressions of camp Julis when you arrived?
Just another army camp except for the mud, bigger tents, bamboo beds. All camps are pretty much the same really and you get a kind of, I don’t know whether other people do but I get a kind of, I just accept, you know whatever it is, that’s where you are. You

04:14:30:00

got to put up with it. I think my father sort of put that into me somehow or other but wherever you go, you just accept it and make the most of it.
And can you describe for me how the camp was laid out?
No, I’ve forgotten, no. Slight slope from the road back down, tents in orderly fashion,

04:15:00:00

memory of tents. I wasn’t involved in this but the Arab was stealing then to fight the Jews. I had a rare experience. I was out on the prairie when he, next thing you know, I’m supposed to be guarding and looking for everything and all of a sudden this fellow’s alongside of me, tapped me on the shoulder and wants to buy my rifle, Arab. But the thing they did there while we were camped there, I’ve got no confirmation of this but it was

04:15:30:00

common talk, the tents first of all. Guard going up and down and I think it was the officers lines, about six tents or five tents, whatever and all of a sudden he’s a tent short and the tents were big, six beds or six places for beds. EPIP tents they called them, Indian tents and these Arabs had gone in, cut the ropes with razorblades or whatever and put a camel underneath

04:16:00:00

with pads over his feet cause they worked out the pads on the tracks, carted the tent off and buried it in a nearby creek. This is while the guard’s going up and down. It’s a silly story but it’s pretty true but worse than that, they pinched the rifles off the guards, that were chained to the poles in the tents, was two poles in these tents. Yeah, they pinched the rifles off the tents of the guards while they were sleeping, cause I think the guards had snuck off somewhere for their own bits of nonsense.

04:16:30:00

So with all this theft going on around you, what did you do personally to protect your own equipment?
Well, in those days we were protecting our own equipment from some of our own blokes. Unfortunately there are thieves everywhere and little things might be knocked off. You’d actually tie them up in your pack. That’s about the only thing that I can

04:17:00:00

think of but those fellas all seemed to be weeded out in time and were either kicked out or whatever. During the service you learnt to trust your mates and there was no problems with thievery but in those early days there was. Well, there was in Wavell. There was in every other small camp we ever got in. I think it was a follow on too from the Depression. All the lads had lived the same as we had with hardly any toys, well never any toys, lucky to have a pushbike and very little

04:17:30:00

money and I think that was a follow on for why blokes sort of, “I’ll grab that,” or they were born that way, kleptomania. I don’t know but no, we never had any problems that way and if we caught an Arab, he got a beating up the pumble. He got a real going over, if we caught an Arab doing anything wrong but mostly we had them working in the tent and I only told my wife and daughter recently, a boy used to sell the Palestinian

04:18:00:00

Post, the paper, little fella about no more than eight and he was making a fortune because our bloke were very generous and I said to him one day, “What are you going to do with all this money?” He said, “I buy a wife.” Eight years of age, he’s thinking about buying a wife. This is the Arab system. It wasn’t a wife he was going to buy. He had to buy cattle first for a dowry but that was a little kid this big says that to me.

04:18:30:00

I was knocked out of my boots but that was his theory.
And on the camp what equipment were you issued with?
As I said, leather bandoleers, South African war stuff, pannikin. Everything we had was what they would have had in South Africa in 1900 [during the Boer War].
And what was your uniform?
Khaki, same as that up there, same uniform.

04:19:00:00

We didn’t have shorts in those days. When we got shorts, they’d been designed in India I reckon because they had flaps, you know you turned them right down, which we cut off very fast. No, we were pretty much bare backed soldiers, bare soldiers, that’s all. We went up in three tonne trucks and the tucker was very hard. Bully beef and biscuits was practically

04:19:30:00

our sole diet but once we left Julis, well always in the army you get bully beef and biscuits but that’s all we had was bully beef and biscuits, no equipment. No equipment, no sig [signal] equipment. No, it’s hard to believe isn’t it? I suppose they had plans to give it to us but we never got it until Rommel come in and frightened hell out of us, or frightened hell out of everybody.
And so what training were you undergoing at camp Julis?
Same thing, marching, marching, marching. I can’t bloody walk now so,

04:20:00:00

all that marching. That’s all we ever did, march. We marched all over Palestine, or in the vicinity of the camp. We might have done some Morse code. I don’t remember any specific classes or schools or anything. I think actually the powers that be had it worked out that at that time the 6th Division had marched, had got as far as Benghazi

04:20:30:00

and defeated the Italians and they were earmarked to go across to Greece to stop Rommel’s advance. And that we were just the last, the deep thinkers we were called, cause we were the 4th Division, that we were saved to be trained in North Africa while we were holding that country that they’d taken away from [Benito] Mussolini [Italian Prime Minister] and I think that was the thought. The infantry had rifles and their machineguns but not much else

04:21:00:00

and that’s how we went up the desert. We finished up we went to Gazala. Can I go as far as Gazala?
I just want to ask you why you were called deep thinkers?
Because we were the 4th Division. Actually, we were the 3rd Division but then they made us the 4th Division and different ones used to say, “Oh, these bloody deep thinkers,” which we were really. When I thought about the blokes I was with, they were good quality fellas.

04:21:30:00

We had some toughies and larrikins but they were mostly good quality fellas and they’d be worth calling deep thinkers.
And did you have any leave during this time?
I had the one days leave to Tel Aviv with Eddie and we didn’t do very much at all, was just in and out

04:22:00:00

sort of thing but during the course of that we had a photo taken which is on there. We had our photo taken by a fellow who, typical of the street photographer, pretends he’s taking a photo then wants you to pay. You say, “Well, where’d the photo go?” He took a photo of Eddie and I and when I got out of Tobruk I went back to Tel Aviv on one leave with another bloke. And I went to find the photographer because Eddie’s

04:22:30:00

brother had looked me up and I’d told him that I’d had this photograph taken. They didn’t have a photograph of any of our uniform.
Can we talk about this later when we talk about Tobruk and Eddie, if that’s OK? So what were you, when you got into Tel Aviv and you started to mingle with the locals, what were your first impressions, what were your thoughts?
Well, I’m a pretty loving sort of bloke. I didn’t feel any badness about it. I tried to get on with them

04:23:00:00

except for one fellow who took us to his shop where he had spirits for sale and gave us tastes and then was disgusted because we didn’t buy anything but we never had any money. We had a little bit of money but not enough for what he sold and when he decided to abuse us, I abused him back. I think I called him some nasty names. It’s like the brown shirts in Germany.

04:23:30:00

There wasn’t much else. We were new chums and I don’t remember anything in particular that we did apart from, cause naturally the photo stayed in my mind because of the story. We just walked around and looked at the place cause I’m pretty sure it was a very short, quick leave and possibly powers that be knew that we were going to be moved some time, you know but that’s all I can remember. I’m sorry I can’t remember anything more.
Do you remember

04:24:00:00

did you try any food there?
Yes, I would have tried their food. Now, I can sort of half remember being in a sort of a bar and pastry.

04:24:30:00

Gee, heck, pastry and lettuce and vegetables, that sort of thing, something like that. That’s about all. Mostly you were concerned with the beer.
And what had some of the older men, or more experienced men, told you about the red light district in Tel Aviv?
I don’t know about the older men. What do you mean by older men?
The more experienced men who’d been

04:25:00:00

there in the Middle East for a while?
We hadn’t met anybody.
Well, what did you know?
We didn’t go to the red light district the first time but we did go later.
OK well we can talk about that later, so it was a very short leave and then you were back to camp Julis. How long were you at camp Julis before moving onto Gazala?
Only a couple of months, went there January and I had my

04:25:30:00

22nd birthday somewhere, Mersa Mutrah or somewhere along the North African coast so it’s, you know just a couple of months. We had only sort of a couple of months in all these places since I joined up, cause when I joined up in June and by February we’re going into North Africa so it’s not that long.
Well, a couple of months is still a while if you’re just fairly much sitting around. What did you do during this time?

04:26:00:00

Guard duty and marching but when we hit Julis camp, first parade, “Richardson fall out, report to the orderly room,” went to the orderly room. There was a strange bloke there, a sergeant and he says, “There’s your chair and there’s your table.” I said, “What?” I’m a clerk. I didn’t want to be a bloody clerk and he said, “Yeah.” He said, “You’re the new

04:26:30:00

orderly room corporal.” He said, “You get two stripes.” I said, “I don’t want them.” He said, “Hang on.” He said, “You get three stripes later on” and my sole idea was to get out of that job because I didn’t want to be a clerk in the army. I eventually got out of it but a lot of the time I put myself on guard when I should have been in the orderly room and

04:27:00:00

oh dear. Anyway, I got out of it and that’s when I transferred to the same section as Eddie where I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be an operator. That’s the same as a clerk really. I wanted to be with Eddie and be a linesman cause it was action, you know you’re moving. Even today I’ve got a computer, TV, everything. I’d rather be out in my backyard. It’s just one of those things,

04:27:30:00

yeah.
So there was a bit of movement in your role in sigs then from what I’m understanding?
What, transferring around?
Yeah?
I was good at it. I used to do things that nobody else would be game to do, you know. I didn’t succeed all the time. I tried to be in the infantry three times and Tobruk after Eddie got killed but that didn’t succeed but I wouldn’t take any specialist pay then because it would have helped me,

04:28:00:00

would have stopped me being transferred, lost a lot of, well didn’t lose a lot of money. Just didn’t get it cause I wouldn’t be a specialist, wouldn’t accept the exam. Eventually, when we were due for the end of the siege I decided I would get it and I didn’t have to sit for an exam. I was just given it.
So by the time you left camp Julis what role had you been given in sigs?
I was back to a linesman, signaller.

04:28:30:00

Didn’t know anything about line work, I hadn’t done anything like it but knew what it operationally was, lay line, communication and we used to get, that’s right we did get a score of the formation. We went across as a body. When you go into action you go to a section and there are initials, like I was in B section, Beer section. The fellas who handled the line

04:29:00:00

in headquarters were Don section. I forget the rest of them but if you went to a brigade then you might have been in J, K or L section and you know a lot of those fellas, never saw them again till after the war cause that’s how signallers - you’ve got to think of the Postmaster General’s department or whatever they call it now and the different sig offices around, the different post offices around the place. In the army they’re sig offices

04:29:30:00

and that’s how they organise signals in a division so we were 9th Division Signals. And we had to provide the communication to the whole division while in action, or out of action too.
And what preparation were you given for this role?
Nothing, didn’t know a damn thing. I didn’t even have a pair of pliers when I was in Beer section so, and then when I got a pair of pliers,

04:30:00:00

cause I had a son in law saying to me the other day, who’d served in two sections, he said, “What weapon did you have?” I said, “A pair of pliers and a pocket knife.” He said, “What?” We called it a Jack knife. It was a thing, pretty heavy. That was another thing that came out of the South African war, even had a pig sticker on it. How many people have used a pig sticker. Terrible things, very heavy, soon as I could get rid of it, I got rid of it and used an ordinary pen

04:30:30:00

knife cause that was for scraping wire.
Did you do any practising of laying down lines?
Nothing.
At camp Julis?
Never did a thing. Never laid a line till when the siege had started and, this is the day Eddie got killed and the sergeant says, “Righto, we’re going to lay a line.”
We’ll talk about that when we actually get to Tobruk?
I’m sorry I jump around.
No, that’s fine.

04:31:00:00

So when you left camp Julis, what were you told of where you were going next?
Nothing, just in a convoy and then we heard something about, “We’re going up the blue.” “The blue, what’s the blue?” That’s what the pom’s call the desert, “Going up the blue.” We didn’t have any idea at all. We didn’t even know we were going to garrison what the 6th Div had captured.

04:31:30:00

We just, in a truck and you go along. The thing I remember about that journey up there was the fact that we were covered in sand. When you’re on a three tonne truck the dust all runs in. We looked like, there was a famous clown years ago called Glock. We were just a mask of sand with lips and that’s all, you know but we didn’t know where we were going, just heading on a desert road. There’s only one road

04:32:00:00

in North Africa and all we’re looking at is sparse desert, you know. You think, “Hell,” but we were hoping we were going to Benghazi after a while. Somebody must have said Benghazi cause that had oasis with trees and all the rest of it but we didn’t. We only got as far as Gazala and Gazala was chosen because it was central, signals see. Signals had to be central to spread out. I’ve jumped again.
Well, I was just going to ask you what you recall of your trip to Gazala, the scenery that you were seeing as you

04:32:30:00

drove by?
Well, the scenery was North African desert, just, you know pretty flat country. We went through Alamein but didn’t know we were going to be there later. It’s a pretty flat country, sandy, sparse bushes. We got to Tobruk. No, wait a minute, Mersa Mutrah first where I saw my first war explosion. A truck went on a mine and I saw that in the distance

04:33:00:00

heal over like an elephant lost his leg and I thought, “That’s my first war bang,” and the next war bang was in Tobruk before the siege when we were heading along the coast.
What was in the truck that you saw go over the first?
Don’t know. It was in the distance about, must have been from here to the end of the jetty but just in the distance, just

04:33:30:00

actually I was sitting on a thunderbox [toilet] using my bowels and in the distance I saw this truck and all of a sudden he just, ‘bang’. And must have blown up a wheel or something cause the truck just keeled over and that’s all I saw. I didn’t know what had happened but I think I learnt from somebody that landmine that the Italians had left and this truck had hit it but that was only the first

04:34:00:00

explosion. There’s plenty after.
And how did you feel when you saw the first explosion, your first sign of war?
Like I was in a newsreel theatrette which was the same when I saw the second one and we were being bombed, Tobruk on the way up and I’d found these Italian.
We stopped in much the same area as where we went on our first duty on the Bardia Road when we were put on the front line at Bardia Road sector. It was the same sort of area, overlooking Tobruk Harbour and I found these Italian beds sort of wiring and timber and we bunked down in them and it was a very cold night. And all of sudden these planes come over and started

04:35:00:00

to bomb Tobruk and we were in a newsreel theatrette, truly, just the same as, cause I used to go to the newsreel theatre regularly and the next thing you know is there’s pieces of metal flying around me. It was really anti aircraft bursting and so that was my second time of war but I still treated it like it was a newsreel. When you go into war you don’t know what you’re going into and it’s all

04:35:30:00

bloody new, you know and it takes a bit of time. I reckon Eddie died cause he was the same way when he was under the first Stuka [German dive bomber] attack. He thought he was in the newsreel theatrette or something similar cause you don’t know until you start seeing some dying and killing that you’re really in the stuff.
You were at Tobruk, quite early as well?
Yeah.
So when you got to Gazala

04:36:00:00

what was the area like?
The same, sparse. It was on the edge of the Gulf of Bomba, sparse country, still marching, swimming in the Gulf of Bomba. I think I had a rare experience, well not a rare experience but an unusual experience. One stage I had to go on guard on the Mediterranean coast. It was a long walk,

04:36:30:00

march to the place and there was a storm, clear skies and I hear this bang, booms in the distance over the water and I can’t work it out cause there’s no sign of any clouds or anything like that and I think it was the Battle of Matapan. When I went up to Bev’s place recently I got a navy book from my son in law and working it all back, I think it was

04:37:00:00

the Battle of Matapan I heard from the shores as sentry on the Mediterranean coast. The only training we did in Gazala was they gave us another antiquated piece of equipment called a Boys Anti Tank Rifle. It was just a large bore rifle, very heavy and very long and we had to fire it. I was always a pretty reasonable shot and I

04:37:30:00

finished up being selected. We shoot into big forty four gallon drums of sand. I was selected as a gunner in the event of we got into action but it was never used. I don’t know what happened to it but we just dug holes and I got ringworm there. Is that of any interest, is it? I got ringworm while I was there and there was a dressing

04:38:00:00

station on the main road which was something about five or six mile away. They used to paint my hip with a nitrate of some description, burn like blazes, overdid it. At one stage I went with a fellow who I’ve never forgotten but he was another bloke who vanished when the war started, a few vanished on the retreat back and he was a back country man from Queensland, a real cowboy, wore his hat like a cowboy,

04:38:30:00

his whole style was cowboy and walking back from a dressing station once we found a dead Italian and this bloke. I couldn’t stand and watch him, realised the dead Italian had gold teeth and he used the butt of his rifle to get the gold out of the mouth of this dead Italian, shocking. To me it was shocking but he was a cattle man and I never saw him,

04:39:00:00

I don’t remember seeing him ever in Tobruk. I think some of them just kept on driving, I don’t know.
Did he take anything else off the dead soldier?
No, all he wanted was the gold and we didn’t, actually you never took too much cause you had to carry it, you know. You knew you had to carry it wherever you went and with a full pack and all that, it gets a bit weary.
And was this the first time that you had actually seen

04:39:30:00

a fatality of war?
It was the first yes, first corpse yeah definitely, first corpse, yeah. I don’t know how long it’d been there. I don’t remember any smell even so it must have been a fair while. I don’t know. I remember when we found him he looked bloody awful but the way this fella did it, like he’d seen plenty of dead cattle in his time I should imagine. It still makes me shudder.
And aside from

04:40:00:00

what this man was taking from the dead soldier, what were you thinking about?
I thought it was a callous and cruel and stupid. I went crook at him. I walked away. I couldn’t stand there but he was just one of those fellows, you know. He’d been in a tough, I’d been a suburban boy and he’d been a back woodsman in Queensland and when we went to Queensland I met a couple of fellas like him. Cowboys used to ride alongside the train waving their hat like that in the films.

04:40:30:00

But when you saw this soldier, what did you think about war and the situation you were in?
I think I just thought, “Well, this is one of the fellows that were killed in the first advance of the 6th Division,” revulsion, might have been a bit of pity. That’s about it. I don’t remember any other emotion. I was more concerned about what this bloke was

04:41:00:00

doing. I told him to stop but he didn’t take any notice of me.
Interviewee: George Richardson Archive ID 1690 Tape 05

05:00:31:00

George before we move on and talk about your operations in and around Tobruk, I’d just like to spend a moment talking about the sig unit. How many men were in the sig unit, roughly?
I’d say five hundred. I used to know. I’ve forgotten. About five hundred I reckon. A battalion was nine hundred men and I think we were about five hundred.

05:01:00:00

All good fellas, actually I was in a damn good unit. We were very good but I was in the lines section and the lines section were the roughies and it was the best section to be in and when the history of the unit was written, it was the 9 Section that got the full praise.
And what was a roughie?
Hard guys

05:01:30:00

larrikins, fellas who liked a bit of fun, been a bit rough in their time and didn’t want to be operators. Operators were more of the clerical type, well the clerical type. I was operator in Tobruk for a while. No, we were blokes who got out and done the thing. That was the reason why when we first landed in Tobruk, they banged us out on the front line, in a sector that never saw any action

05:02:00:00

but it was, we were the types that they’d send there. That first time we were out there I heard these marching feet, you know a battalion marching and I knew that our mob was already in line. It was the 18th Brigade which they sent up to assist us because Tobruk was forty six miles, the perimeter, and the three brigades

05:02:30:00

of our division didn’t cover it all, needed another brigade. They set up the 18th Brigade and they marched up the hill and the first blokes they struck were 10th Battalion fellas. I always get a bit of a kick out of that cause my Dad was 10th Battalion. And I remember Eddie and I rushing around trying to get some rations from our own low rations to give them something to eat because they were starving. They’d been rushed on a destroyer. They’d rushed up to defend this particular Bardia Road sector

05:03:00:00

where we were but that’s about the end of that story. We then went to Salerno. Well, Salerno was the first they picked for the main sig office because it was a huge cave in amongst rock, must have been formed years and years ago. You went

05:03:30:00

down a ladder to get into this cave and it was all rock, real rock, not broken rock, round rocks and that was to be the first headquarters of signals and it was there that they sent up about twenty motorbikes. They were landed and delivered to the signals for dispatch riders and because of the rocky ground and the time,

05:04:00:00

no time, they were visible and in the air came this small German plane, a Fiesel Storch which is like a mosquito, small observation plane that can practically pull up as an observation. Now I was a anti aircraft gun in the militia. I’d studied planes all my life and I said to the blokes, I said, “We’re for it. Those bloody motorbikes.”

05:04:30:00

But the next morning I went out on the first line laying job back up the Bardia Road again and we left the low ground and we climbed up, and the Bardia Road was a bit of a rise and when we were up there laying this line I looked back and the whole of the flat area was covered in sand. And I mean really covered, dust storm,

05:05:00:00

thick and then over come the Stukas, about fifty of them. Now Rommel had decided to use Stukas cause he’d had so much success in Europe but the big thing about Stukas in my opinion was they were designed to put fear into the people as much as aerial artillery cause they used to have machineguns too. Anyway, I saw these Stukas come over

05:05:30:00

and down they went and in goes the bombs and this is the first time I got noticed as a bloke who could read the stars cause I said, “That’s our mob copping it.” I remember them saying, “How the bloody hell do you know?” I said, “That’s our mob copping the bombs,” and sure enough it was and when we went back that night after laying the line to the 18th Brigade, bloke jumped

05:06:00:00

on the truck. He said, “Hey, Richy your mate’s been killed,” or, “Your mate’s copped one,” that’s right and I said, “What, Eddie?” And he said, “Yeah,” and apparently Eddie, I was talking about the fact you think you were in a newsreel theatre or something like that when your first war. Eddie apparently saw the first bombs drop and he’s sitting in a truck and he got out and he ran for a hole but he didn’t run fast enough and he got a Stuka bullet in his backside. Anyway, I heard that and when I said to the fella, “Where was

05:06:30:00

he wounded?” He said, “In his backside,” I said, “He’ll have some fun showing the girls his wound.” He was an inveterate and a very heavy smoke, is this important? So all I wanted to do is get to the hospital with some smokes for Eddie cause he was a terrible smoker. The only fight I ever had with him was he used to wake me up in the morning with a cigarette in the mouth and keep poking the cigarette in my mouth at night, you know and I’m a light smoker, if I did. Anyway, I got some tobacco

05:07:00:00

and cigarettes together. This is going to be hard to believe and a bloke who’d determined in his mind, West Australian linesman that he was going to get out of Tobruk. He said, “I’m not going to be any bloody evacuation,” cause there’d been drums of oil put around a wady, not in Tobruk, but further along the coast, for an evacuation and we knew

05:07:30:00

about that cause liney’s [signal linemen] knew a lot more cause we got around more. We knew about this business. Nobody, not too many did. Anyway, he said to me, “I’m going down to the hospital.” He said, “I’ll get out of this bloody place somehow.” I said, “How are you going to the hospital?” He said, “Dental units rolled up.” The siege of Tobruk’s just started and the dental unit comes round to check your teeth. They were under orders. They were

05:08:00:00

following orders, you know and they turned up in a vehicle called a butter box. It was a vehicle with a wooden box on the back and that’s an office and I said, “What’s wrong with your teeth?” He said, “Nothing but they’re too scared to look.” Now I’ve got false teeth which I’d got in Caulfield. That’s another funny story too. Anyway, I said, “They didn’t look at your teeth?” He said, “No,” so I went in saying, “Oh, my bloody

05:08:30:00

wisdom tooth,” you know. They give me a pass to the hospital too. They’re [shaking], not that we weren’t all that way but anyway this is in the very beginning of the siege. Anyway, I went down to the hospital and eventually found a wards man. I said, “I’m looking for Eddie Hearn.” “He’s dead,” and I couldn’t believe it and he finished up he found an old exercise book and

05:09:00:00

on it was an entry, “Admitted four-thirty,” or whatever, “Dead five-thirty,” whatever so that was the end of Eddie.
Were you able to find out what happened to him?
Yeah, this bloke told me the lot. He got a bullet in his backside that went right up to his belly and exploded, cause they use a machinegun. One of the funnier sides in Tobruk, we used to go to this wady order when we had time off and swim

05:09:30:00

and the Stukas used to dive on say Tobruk or anywhere around the place. And go out over that wady to shoot up these rabbits cause we all looked like rabbits with our brown bodies and our white bums and they’d shoot us up, you know cause they got to know naturally. They knew everything about us, about the fact that we used to go there for a bit of recreation but used to be funny that they’d shoot us up but soon as you’d

05:10:00:00

hear a Stuka raid you went for cover then. You didn’t wait for them to drop the bombs. You went for cover straight away but the thing was about the Tobruk story, in my opinion. And I think in some ways Rommel might have made a mistake because he still used Stukas as his artillery. There was field artillery too. The Italians had field artillery but he still used Stukas cause they’d been such a success in Europe but they weren’t much of a success for a place like Tobruk and they never used them very much

05:10:30:00

on the front line because they found, you know the blokes were already in holes and they’re not running.
And how did you react to the news of Eddie’s death?
Broken hearted, no doubts. Couldn’t go back to my hole cause that had been buggered up, spent the night in a packing case learning how to stop the dust from coming in because it was one of the rare nights, you never had dust storms at night. It was a rare

05:11:00:00

night and a tremendous dust storm and I’m trying to sleep in this packing case and I eventually learnt to face the opening to the dust to sort of spread it out. You have sort of resistance to it and that’s how I slept the first night. Broken hearted about Eddie, broken hearted, really was, no kidding. Then I soldiered on and switched to another [UNCLEAR] but I’ll tell you about that story as you go along.

05:11:30:00

I went to his funeral, not supposed to but went to the adjutant, demanded to see my mate buried and he decided he’d come with me so we went to the cemetery which was brand new then, very few graves. Eddie was buried in the front grave, front row and I was quite impatient about this waiting and then a truck come bouncing along the road, an

05:12:00:00

Italian diesel with a whole lot of troops jumping up and down and acting and playing up, you know. And I said, “Well, that’s not it,” and he said, “It might be,” and it was and they took five stretchers with bodies wrapped in blankets off the truck and they had five holes already dug and they slipped him in a hole that wasn’t long enough nor deep enough and I can see him now with his head like this and his feet up out of the other end

05:12:30:00

but these fellas were used to burying. They were like undertakers and I got to know a lot of undertakers in my job later on. They’ve got to sort of do things opposite to what you’d expect but his funeral, to see him slipped in that hole affected me also but we got over that. You’ve got to get over these things cause you’re given a job, you know you’ve got to do a job but later on I got, apart from the ringworm, I then

05:13:00:00

got dengue fever.
I’d just like to ask you, you said you went back that night and had to sleep in a packing crate?
Packing case, yeah.
Where were you normally sleeping?
In the ground, never anywhere else. We slept in the ground all the time, dug a hole. Eddie and I always dug a hole together cause they usually used to pair up. You know we used to pair up and Eddie and I always dug our hole together and he’d talk all bloody night, trying to keep me awake smoking,

05:13:30:00

yeah.
And who did you pair up with after Eddie?
Well, it turned out this way, that after I’d seen Eddie buried, there was no crosses, no nothing and decided to find a unit carpenter. I didn’t even know we had one to be truthful but you’ve got to have a bloke like that for the sig office, you know making desks and all the rest of it and I found old Doodles and I said, “How about a piece of wood?” “No, you don’t get any bloody wood,” cause everything

05:14:00:00

was short. You had nothing and in the end he heard the story and I said, “I want to put something on Eddie’s grave, you know who he is,” so he found me a piece of dill which I put his name and number on and only about this long. I went over and stuck it in Eddie’s grave and I wouldn’t know to this day whether he’s got, what the War Graves Commission put a thing on every grave. I wouldn’t know to this day whether they’ve got it on the right one or not but that’s

05:14:30:00

where Eddie lies, yeah. It had a great effect on me. I’ve been mixed up with starting a unit show. I’m foundation secretary of a sub branch and there are, and I think it all goes back to Eddie, and others, all the rest of my mates, you know that got knocked off.
And what sort of contact with his family have you had?
I wrote to the father, got a wonderful letter back. He used to ask me to write to his girls

05:15:00:00

but he never gave me their address but I wrote to his father and I got a good letter back from his father. And as I mentioned earlier about the photograph taken in Tel Aviv, his brother contacted me when we came out of Tobruk, when I’d told him about the photo but it’d been lost in Tobruk, all my gear went off at one stage. I then, this is a dinkum story. I then found the photographer’s

05:15:30:00

place. Now in these places there are hundreds of photographers’ places, you know these photographers setting up for business, troops and I finished up finding it in. I think it was what they called South Tel Aviv and when I walked in, this is only seven months in Tobruk, about eight or nine months later, it’s filled with thousands of photographs. It’s the first time I saw those whirly gigs you put the photos on. I went to the boss and I said, young fella he was

05:16:00:00

I said, “You won’t remember me with all these photos but,” I said, “You did take a photo of Eddie and I back in January.” And I said, “His brother would like to get a photo. Is there any chance you’d find it?” It’s on that group there. Would you mind getting that now and you can just have a look at that.
Well, we can have a look at it when we stop?
Alright, but you’ll see why he picked it out. Anyway, next morning, so that afternoon we’re getting on these trucks to go back to the unit and

05:16:30:00

he’s getting on a truck to go back too but I don’t know where it is and all of a sudden the photographer turned up. We’re ready to go. He gives me the photos. He’d gone to so much trouble to find this photograph and then I told him that his brother was somewhere down the line, might have been fifty trucks away so I went with him. We ran down and I’m calling out, “Hearn, Hearn, Hearn,” and I can see that Jewish bloke

05:17:00:00

now and the sympathy in his eyes and the pleasure he must have got out of the fact that he had a photo for the brother. He’d looked at that other soldier who was a brother of the dead one and I can see the eyes of him then. I thought, “What a wonderful bloke,” and yet when he took our photo I said, “You Jewish so and so, you’re tricking us,” cause he made out he took the photo, then pays for it, yeah.
And what did you miss about Eddie?
He was just one of those devils. I

05:17:30:00

like devils. I get on better with them than anybody else. Eddie was a sort of fella too that when he attaches himself to you, he attaches, you know. This old Galo was a great bloke too. He cried when I went too, old Galo did, a big bloody farmer from over there, boxer, yeah old Galo had tears in his eyes.

05:18:00:00

Cause, you know you do say things like this when we’re fighting a war together, which is utterly stupid cause once you get mixed up you don’t know where you’re going to go, yeah. I think that’s about it.
And after you lost Eddie, who did you pair up with?
The carpenter, yeah. I didn’t pair up with anybody, then my sergeant who I was

05:18:30:00

fighting with more than I was friendly with. There was no man got abused more than anybody else but this Ron, my sergeant. He told me to dig a hole for him, he and me, and I went over and started to dig. I’d just come out of hospital for this dengue fever and, oh hell I must tell the story before that. Before in went into, on the way to hospital

05:19:00:00

I’d been sergeant of the guard in Adelaide. And I used to go round and see the troops through the early morning, you know check them out, see that they’re alright and the other job that had to be done was to turn off the blue light. Blue light was a station. If you’d been playing up or had sex you go and get treatment in the blue light and they used to leave a couple of condoms for the guard who turned the light off and I said to them one day, I said, “Listen,

05:19:30:00

I’m the bloody sergeant. I don’t get any bloody condoms.” They left me a flamin’ box of a gross, like before I took them home in my sausage bag on my last leave and my mother said, “Do you know what I found in his bag?” And when Dad looked at it he said, “Gees, they treat them better than they did us.” That’s on camera isn’t it? Anyway, back to Eddie. Yes, after Eddie went I come out of hospital

05:20:00:00

and I didn’t go with anybody and Ron Hanson told me to dig a hole for the both of us. And I didn’t want to live with any damn sergeant, especially one I fought with so the next thing you know is this carpenter bloke said, “Hey Richy, you looking for a hole, come in with me,” and I didn’t know him from a bar of soap. I’d only seen one thing about him. I didn’t even know what he did but on the Queen Mary in Sydney Harbour this bloke run around like blue murder

05:20:30:00

once because they dropped a pannikin over the stern of the Queen Mary and hit his wife on the head and she was pregnant. She was in a boat. That’s a long way down and that’s what he was running around mad and that’s the only time I’d seen him and then when he said, “Move in with me,” I was warned not to go in with him cause he was a grumpy so and so. Best bloke I’d ever been with. Anyway, he said, “Move in with me.” I said, “Right,” so I went in with

05:21:00:00

Ray Tompkins, Doodles we called him and I started a club in there.
You started to what?
A club, called it the Troglodytes.
What did that mean?
Cavemen. I didn’t start the club straight away but on our retreat back from Tobruk, back to Tobruk,

05:21:30:00

a service [UNCLEAR] bloke, J D Turner, had been almost captured when Rommel organised an ambush for those coming back from a place called Aidabiyah which is towards Benghazi and the Germans rigged up two blokes in British provo uniforms. And when they convoy come along, they moved off that way, off the road

05:22:00:00

into the desert and when they got into a low valley they were ambushed by, I was told afterwards, a German anti aircraft unit. And Jack was in a truck with another fellow called Jack Herrick, who later was commissioned, and the first thing they knew was a German putting his rifle through the cabin window saying, “Hands up,” and Jack was a bit hazy about all this business but he

05:22:30:00

eventually escaped, he and some others and they got onto a British tank. And he used to say in Tobruk, cause food was a big conversation in Tobruk. We never had that much and, “Those buggers had bloody bully beef and biscuits and wouldn’t give it to us and,” he said, “On the last night,” he said, “We got bully beef and water.” He said, “They had it all the time.” He used to be

05:23:00:00

crooked on it. Bit of an outcome of that story was going to a local pub here, manager turns out to be a New Zealander, officer. He’d gone from New Zealand to England, joined the army and he come up to me one night. He said, “Hey George, were you in the blue?” and I said, “Yeah.” He said, “What part?” and I told him. I said, “Why, were you there?” He said, “Yeah.” He said, “I was there in 1936 laying down dumps,

05:23:30:00

food, tyres, bully beef and biscuits in 1936.” Now I can confirm that story because when I was a kid, as I said, I read everything. There was a Pix magazine and the Pix magazine photo on the front was of a Bren gun carrier coming over the hill and in the article it said that they were preparing for a war that would definitely be in the Middle East in the event of war and

05:24:00:00

it proved to be dead right. So I understood about what Arthur Pageant-Smith was his name was, the manager. When he said he was in the blue in 1936 I said, “What the hell were you doing?” He said, “Laying down dumps,” so when my mate turned up here one night I said, “Let’s go round to the pub,” went round to the pub. It was a cold night, nobody else in there but us and the manager. I said, “Arthur, will you tell Jack what you was doing in 1936?”

05:24:30:00

And he’d not met Jack and Jack had not met him and Jack didn’t like the look of him because he looked like a British officer and the next thing you know Pageant-Smith told his story and I nudged Jack. I said, “Now what are you going to say about those poms who were holding bully beef, they found a dump.” “Oh,” Jack said, wouldn’t lift his head. All he said was, “Well, I’ll be stuffed.” Yeah so he learnt then that they didn’t have it but he used to often, when I say often, he didn’t talk that much about it.

05:25:00:00

But when the story come out, that was his biggest beef, that they didn’t get him any tucker [food] or water while they were with the tanks but the point was they were looking for these dumps.
So how long did it take you to get used to Doodles?
Some time because I’ll tell you why. He would go off doing his building sig offices and I’m out. I was out day and night, day and night. We gradually got to know each other.

05:25:30:00

The only blue we ever had in our life was, and we had a little tobacco tin, little Capstan tin and we put our water in the tin for a shave and after I’d shaved. I’d leave the water in the tin and he could shave and then put that water in his hair. That was the lot and one day he shaved first and he’s standing up outside the hole and he says,

05:26:00:00

“You dirty bastard Richardson, you left bristles in the tin.” They were the little things that could annoy and I looked at him. I thought, “Struth, what’s happened?” because we’d never had a blue. You don’t have blues in those situations and so that night after I’d come back from whatever I’d been doing, we’re laying in the hole and I said to him, “Hey Dood’s,” I said, “You were helpful to me after Eddie got knocked.” I said,

05:26:30:00

“Can I help you any way, what’s happened?” and he said, “Well, I’ve been waiting on a message from the wife. She was pregnant when I left.” And I remembered about the pannikin tin hitting her head and we talked about it. Now a few nights later, don’t ask me how long, might have been weeks. We were being shelled and the shells were coming down and we don’t go to our holes. We get in amongst the rocks

05:27:00:00

and the orderly room corporal, Bill Bond, come along and he said, “Richy, where’s your mate?” I said, “Which one?” He said, “Doods” and I said, “Righto hang on, what do you want?” He said, “Give him this,” so then I crawled around till I found Doods and I give him this cable. He was the father of a boy. You know what he did? He got up and he danced out amongst the shells kicking his heels out and we’re all screaming at him but he’s that relieved that he’s,

05:27:30:00

yeah.
He risked his own life?
He didn’t give a stuff for anything, yeah. There wasn’t all that many shells but they were coming as sort of desultory fire and we’re screaming at him, “You silly so and so.” Now I decided with the few troubles we had there I said, “We’ve got to wet the baby’s head.” We had very little water cause you only had your water bottle

05:28:00:00

in the morning and that lasts till next day but we always kept a little bit. Another thing about water in Tobruk was that some blokes could hold themselves back from drinking and some couldn’t but if a thirsty man come up to you and said, “Can I have a wet?” you’d say, “Yes, alright.” Then he’d take your water bottle and you put your hand over the top and if he looked like taking anymore than a wet, you knocked it down. That’s how it was so this night we had very little water but I had a little bit of condensed milk.

05:28:30:00

I was always a condensed milk bugger as a kid and my mother sent over a tin and I’d saved some. Somebody else had some limes which had been given to us to make the water better and also some salvital so we mixed up a little brew in one pannikin of limes, salvital, water and what else was in it?

05:29:00:00

Limes, yeah that’s right, lime, condensed milk, limes and water, that’s right. Now when you mix it up it looks an awful bloody mess and you have to remember too that our stomachs had become very much smaller through the siege and we’re looking at this brew and nobody’s game to have a go at it. The next thing you know is

05:29:30:00

Parker, who’d been an educated musician and had dined out, where most of us had never been in a dining room in our life, in a pub, you know, not Depression years. And he used to be invited by me to our show because he could go through a twenty five course meal and we’d sit there while he talked about everything from soup to

05:30:00:00

fish and just, you know just, anyway Bill decided to have a go at this awful mess and he drank it down, then his eyes went. The salvital started to effervesce down here because the condensed milk had held it up. Oh dear, yeah and then we all had a sip to wet the baby’s head,

05:30:30:00

worthwhile?
Absolutely, and who was in the cavemen club?
God, well the reason why it was formed it because this Jack Turner, who was prisoner of war, nearly a prisoner of war, he got taken at Alamein later on. When he came into the unit I can see him in the distance. He was wearing socks for shoes and an overcoat over his underwear

05:31:00:00

and I think he had a sock for a hat and they made him incommunicado till they’d investigated everything he could tell them. Cause actually they got into Tobruk just after the siege had started and I had to do something with him and I’ve never remembered what it was and during the course of this conversation he told me a bit about his own life, which I won’t go into now. And I kind

05:31:30:00

of, anyway I looked after him a bit and he used to come to Dood’s and my hole and then another bloke came in and while I was out doing line. Doods used to get quite a bit of free time before his carpentry and he enlarged the hole a little bit for our pack and stuff and he dug it down a bit so that instead of us sleeping in the ground, we slept on a rise

05:32:00:00

and there was a gap in between these two mounds that we slept on. So we found we could get more people in the hole and eventually, towards the end of it, I’d put them on a waiting list of three or four days because they wanted to come into our hole because it was so enlarged. I missed out a lot cause I was going out on line, call out, but our comradeship was such that you could

05:32:30:00

laugh over nothing, you know. I was singing a song to myself one day about, oh dear, can’t think but it ended up with, “You can stick your rifle up your so and so,” switched from sort of a nursery rhyme to that and it was just a, and they laid back laughing. Another thing too, Jack and I, Jack wasn’t one of these fellas who could do this but I taught him how to do it. We used to

05:33:00:00

march around doing a like step, you know a like step, two bodies close together and you steps in here and we used to march around and sing some sort of doggerel. And a bloke might be sitting there and you say, “You getting any,” say, “No, no, no, lost all my bait,” and then you might go passed another bloke and he’d say, “Hey, shut the gate,” or, “Open the gate when you go into my garden.” So we used to do

05:33:30:00

this lock step, unlock an imaginary gate, then they’d scream at you, “Don’t step on the cabbages,” and we’d do this lock step around imaginary cabbages and then when we got a bit further, “Hey, you didn’t shut the gate.” You’d go back and idiot stuff. We did so many things. Jack Turner and I used to go down to this swimming place, the wady and we used to get fun out of blowing bubbles in each other’s face, swimming under water and blowing bubbles.

05:34:00:00

And another trick was to carry rocks out, get as big a rock as you could carry and walk out and see how far you could get before you run out of air. I often think how childish we were and yet it was in war but it’d been done before, plenty of other stories like that I s’pose, yeah but I wanted to tell this story. When I was, how’d I jump around, gee? Used to go round the guard in Wavell and talk

05:34:30:00

to these fellas about the condom business and there was a fellow there who was very quiet and I liked him. He was a good bloke and I used to have a yarn to him while we were on guard and I told him about the condoms. He said, “Oh no, not me George.” I said, “No?” He confided in me that he was a minister, down the south east and I said, “What are you doing being a bloody private?” He said,

05:35:00:00

“Well, George I wanted to prove myself before I become a padre.” And I really admired him and the next thing you know is I’m in an ambulance going to the beach hospital, what they call a beach hospital. It was down the coast, with this dengue fever and in all these trips we ever did, you’d get plenty of stops while the Stukas do their business, you know and we

05:35:30:00

pulled up and all of a sudden I look at the driver and it’s him and I grabbed him. We had a great reunion and conversation and he took me to the beach hospital, introduced me to my wards man who was a prominent winemaker from Clare. And I never saw him again till some time later and I went to the 2/8th Field Ambulance and I asked for this bloke. He’d died that day. His head had been taken

05:36:00:00

off with a piece of a bomb. The same fellow that I saw, luckily, just before he died and when he took me to this wards man he wrapped me up to the sky, “Look after George,” sort of thing and he died that day and so he never got a chance to be a padre but he proved himself as far as I’m concerned.
Well, you mentioned that Doodles made your hole a bit bigger

05:36:30:00

how else did you make the hole comfortable?
We got hold of Italian groundsheets which we attached to the wall to keep a bit of dust down. Here’s a funny story. Doods used to stutter badly, especially when the bombs were coming down and the mice in the hole, cause there was plenty of mice.

05:37:00:00

Mice and flies, that happens in all wars I think. They’d go berserk behind these groundsheets and when you lifted up one of those groundsheets you’d see tracks on the wall the same as you see goat tracks on the side of hills. It’s marvellous how they used the groundsheet to keep their balance while they run up and down the wall and old Doodles used to say to me when the mice went mad, cause they’d run over your face, everything,

05:37:30:00

“Hey Richy, pass me that fff fff fff fff fff fff, flamin’ hammer.” I would have passed him the hammer and killed two bloody mice before he finished the sentence, oh dear, yeah. We used to yarn a bit. Actually, when I went in with him, different Sydney blokes, the same, well he’s died but it was the same after the war. “Hey watch out going with him, he’s a grump, he’s a hard

05:38:00:00

bastard,” but he wasn’t. He was a great bloke. I’ve stayed with him many times when I’ve gone to Sydney. He’s come here too, yeah but I loved the bloke and I had, no I’m not going to say that in front of the camera. I was going to say what his wife asked me once, yeah. Gee, I get started don’t I?
And where did you go to the toilet?
Toilet story?

05:38:30:00

There was another fellow called Wally Wright who was a tall, good looking bloke, married a Miss New South Wales. He got the job of hygiene corporal and all he used to do was dig a hole, cover it and put a wooden box which Doods used to make, a thunderbox which I’ve just made a place for the birds to go into outside with one of his, joke

05:39:00:00

and the thunderbox was constructed. Just a box with a lid and a stick up the back so the lid never stayed up, you know always dropped down and if anybody went anywhere with anything at all to do a squat on the ground he could get a bullet at him. You know because we knew how serious it was to keep these flies down but when you walked along in the desert, same at Alamein, your back, you wouldn’t see the shirt

05:39:30:00

for flies. You’d have sweat there and that’s what the flies used to go for. The back used to be just a mass of flies and if you drank anything, the cup, you drank through the flies. That’s how it was. I do not exaggerate, yeah but I’ll tell you a funny story about the thunderbox. We had a rough old diamond in our line section called

05:40:00:00

Nugget Scanlon and Nugget and two other fellas including the bloke I’ve mentioned who went to the dentist and never had any teeth trouble.
Interviewee: George Richardson Archive ID 1690 Tape 06

06:00:40:00

George before we broke for lunch you were about to start on the thunderbox story?
Yeah alright, OK. Thunderboxes were stationed in various little old areas. They were just a box with a lid and a stick up the back to stop them coming down. And the strange thing about it was

06:01:00:00

you’ve gradually get used to the fact that having a motion is not private anymore and you don’t give a damn. But the funniest one that I remember as long as I live I’ll never forget it, is in the hole nearby to me, was three fellas, I’ve got to think about it. Anyway, I’ll say three fellas and one of them was the bloke who was going to get out of Tobruk and he made two or three attempts, he wasn’t a coward. He was

06:01:30:00

as good a linesman as I was and because we’d seen these drums of oil around Wady Order they decided that the small rum issue we got in, in what was it June the 1st, May the 1st? I think it was May, May 1st we got a couple of issues of rum. They decided to save them for getting out of,

06:02:00:00

and during the course of that time, which was pretty serious, he got away to try and get out as a bomb happy. He went into the nut ward apparently and when he come back he says, “Never again,” because they were all nuts and he wasn’t. I forget what happened to Jack Dunn but Nugget Scanlon, this is the thunderbox story. We were sitting out our holes one evening

06:02:30:00

and Nugget put his head over the top of the sand bags and he looked and he’s only looking at the thunderbox. It’s essential that, even though he’s got trouble, he wants a bowel movement, he’s got to go to the thunderbox. He sat there looking. We didn’t realise why he was so looking but we’re watching him and under the circumstances of Tobruk you just knew there was something going on because he didn’t say a word. Nobody said a word. Finished up he decided that he had enough strength to

06:03:00:00

get to the thunderbox so he pushed himself up on the sand bags. Incidentally he’s the oldest bloke in our unit, in my section anyway, who’d just beaten the police to join the army and he went to the thunderbox. It was like a scene out of a desert story of Beau Jest and the French Foreign Legion. He went for a couple of steps and down on his knees and then up again. He had to get to the thunderbox

06:03:30:00

and we’re all watching this in this dim light and eventually he got to the thunderbox. Now he had to get up on it so he went round the back and used the stick at the back to climb up on the thunderbox and he sat on the thunderbox without lifting the lid and shit himself.

06:04:00:00

So he didn’t really make it really did he?
He did but the wrong way. Is that alright?
I mean this, it sounds like you, despite what was going on around you, you had good times to get you through?
Well, you had to be, had to be and, you know the bad times are gone and you often talk about death and all the rest of it and things like that and people wonder why you can’t talk about the hard things.

06:04:30:00

It’s because you piss them off, same as you do in ordinary life.
You were also talking before we broke about living in the hole with Doods?
Yeah.
How close did you and Doods become in that time?
Almost marriage. There were moments when I, almost marriage. You heard the other story. There were times when I’d get back there first

06:05:00:00

and he wouldn’t be around. I wouldn’t know what he was, you never knew what the other bloke was doing and I was so relieved when he come home. He was alive. It really comes down to that and I didn’t have to go on my own. He was the same way with me. I went out much more than he did, much more than he did, as a linesman. It’s a different job and he’d say, “Oh, you’re back are you?” “Yeah,” you know. “Agh,” you know, “Agh,”

06:05:30:00

but that’s what it was and you do get close. You get close with everybody. God, I’ve been close to blokes but when you’re with a bloke like that, I did think since the war, it was like husband and wife. I did think since the war cause it’s the same here, you know. I used to come home I’d look for my wife. She does the same for me. It was a bit that way with the two of us in the

06:06:00:00

hole. I’ve never said that before in my bloody life but you’ve got that out of me but it’s one of those things that, you know it’s many months and yeah and we’d lay back now and again when we had a night to ourselves, which was very rare, cause all these fellas wanted to come in the hole with us, we’d have a bit of a yarn about ourselves and, you know I can’t remember a damn thing about those stories, can’t remember a damn thing about

06:06:30:00

our private conversations. The only thing I remember is the time when he abused me about the little bristles in the tin.
Well, you just made a point then that other men would drop into the hole and see you, who else would call by the hole?
Wouldn’t call by, they had to wait till I invited them. Gees, I’m boasting aren’t I? Well, it was pretty exclusive. Just, it was a bit of a trick really. I

06:07:00:00

don’t, I never thought about it very much and it really started because this fella had been, who was nearly caught in the first ambush. He used to come to see me and then we’d have all these laughs and somebody would say, “Hey, can I come into your hole?” “Yeah righto,” cause there was a certain respect you had to show to each other, you know and let me say at this juncture that respect could be the other way at all.

06:07:30:00

If you smoked a cigarette or lit a light here or a hundred yards away, ‘ptchu’ [indicates gunfire] so now we’re talking about two opposites aren’t we but they used to come in. We gradually built up a little gang of I don’t know, I think it was eight or nine who can call themselves, well I let them call themselves Trogs [Troglodytes]. Then there was other fellas who would

06:08:00:00

ask just to come into the hole, you know and we had some marvellous times and I mentioned about blowing the, hang on, getting a bit. Well, I did mention earlier about blowing the siren in Trincomalee Harbour and when they said, “That silly old captain was blowing the hooter.” Incidentally I met the captain years later, another story. I said, “It wasn’t the captain, it was us,”

06:08:30:00

and these blokes said, “You buggers.” But I had to shut them up because I was frightened of our section of security so I wouldn’t let that story go any further but in the hole I can tell you this, it’s some of my proudest memories, that we could have amusement in this little, tiny little hole that if I’m trying to work out the area

06:09:00:00

it would have been four foot high, ten foot long, possibly six foot wide. We’d crowd into that hole, sitting shoulder to shoulder and Jack Turner was quite interesting in this regard, that he was the bloke that used to pump up the primers if we had enough water to make a cup of tea. And before he’d finished pumping up the primer they’d be out the hole because

06:09:30:00

it looked like blowing up. Something else went through my mind. I can’t remember what it was but the thing was I think we were giving each other comfort, getting close. I think that’s what it was really and they used to sort of, they’d come up to me and say, “Hey Richy, can I come to your hole?”

06:10:00:00

And I’m not joking when I say that I’d have to say, you know about three to go and, yeah, a couple of stories coming back that I definitely can’t say but that’s what it was but I, in myself, cause I finished up mixed up with RSL and other things. I am quite proud about having this little club of Troglodytes and wherever I went round this country,

06:10:30:00

which I did, go around looking for them, finding them. If they were Trogs you’d say, “Hey Trog,” you know, a sort of recognition of a moment and we also, when I tell you about that double joined march we used to do, plus the sociability of the hole. I think we helped other blokes who used to come and visit us cause they used to open up on things in their conversation that they never

06:11:00:00

talked to anybody about but the conviviality. And the moment would sort of bring out things that, you know were quite amazing. I mentioned about the fella that used to go through a seven or twenty course meal. As long as he could stretch it out, cause we had nothing else, nothing else. If it started out as seven course we’d say, “You want to stay for another course meal, Bill?” And Bill would go through it, you know and we’d just sit there and dribble,

06:11:30:00

sound silly?
Well, I’m, just speaking about the seven to twenty course meal, like a married couple, there is always one person who usually cooks the meals, who took care of the meals in the hole?
We didn’t cook any meals. We had a cookhouse and we had the same bloody thing practically every day except that it was done differently, bully beef and biscuits. We did get prunes and custard now and again and there might have been one other

06:12:00:00

dessert which I can’t remember. But mostly it was bully beef and biscuit and then we had one famous day when we were given a meal that was outstanding in this regard, that it would have filled a bread and butter plate. It was a slice of meat, some South African vegetable,

06:12:30:00

a small potato and very little more. Now we looked at this, “Oh, beauty,” you know. We ate it and couldn’t move. Our stomachs were filled and we were buggered cause we weren’t used to it. Most of us went back to our hole and just laid back and, you know. It’s

06:13:00:00

like when you have a big Christmas dinner and that’s what happened. That meal was the only one like it and I never forget how we went and I’ve often wondered, it wasn’t long after this that the medico’s apparently decided that we weren’t strong enough to defend fort, Tobruk. If the enemy made another attack and they were working up from their attack from Egypt and I often think that meal was a tryout because

06:13:30:00

I’ve learnt since that the medico’s were concerned about our health in the event of another big action. And after being there seven months on these very short rations and very little water, I reckon it was a tryout. It’s only a guess but I’ll always remember we were buggered after having that small meal that wouldn’t have covered a bread and butter plate. See you get to the stage where, some did, I never did but fellas used to

06:14:00:00

throw their bully beef or whatever, if they got prunes and custard in and their tea and go for that. They’d eat the whole damn rotten mixture, just for a change. I’m starting to feel sorry for myself.
Not at all. Tell me a bit about Spirae Fraser, he’s popped up

06:14:30:00

a few times today?
Well, actually Spirae Fraser was in my section as a linesman. He comes from Port Lincoln and I never had a damn thing to do with him, cause to explain it, there were three sections and we looked after the 26th Brigade, number two section looked for somebody else. And number one section looked for somebody else, these numbers, you know. We looked after the 26th Brigade because we were number three. The further the number the

06:15:00:00

that’s what we looked after so I didn’t see much of, I used to know him but not much, not much at all. Didn’t matter where it I was. He was famous for one thing which he was, every time I ever went anywhere, met anybody anywhere else, they’d say, “Jesus, he can kick a football.” Short, stocky bloke but he put a football further than any league player ever played. He just had these legs. Anyway, after Alamein,

06:15:30:00

seeing you’ve asked about Fraser now, I’m jumping. After Alamein I went into hospital to get this toe fixed and I’m in this camp hospital when Spirae Fraser come running up the hill and he said to me, “Hey Richy, can you get out of here?” I said, “Why?” I said, “I s’posed to go to 9th AGH [Australian General Hospital].” I said, “Why?” He said, “Ron Anson said we can go to Cairo,” and I’d been

06:16:00:00

going crook about not getting any leave to Jerusalem where I’d wanted to see but never saw it. And I said, “Cairo?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “We’ve got a leave pass if you can get out of here,” and they’ve got me mixed up to go the 9th AGH. But I walked out of the hospital, didn’t say a bloody word, knew I was going to get into trouble afterwards. We went to Cairo and we had one of those larrikin leaves that you read about Australians.

06:16:30:00

We played rugby in a night club with tins of beer, against the Maori’s I think, Maori’s. We took over the trams, him and I, played merry hell with a tram once just for fun, ran off the rails. I think what we were doing was letting out all the tension in us after

06:17:00:00

Alamein. We never did anything, never hurt anybody, apart from the orchestra in the night club. We did things like that. We lived on a houseboat on the Nile. We had two cabins and as long as I live, this big Sanusi [Middle Eastern person] came in and said, “You would like a bath sir?” We hadn’t had a bath since we left Australia.

06:17:30:00

I said, “A bath, you beauty,” and I got into the bath in this houseboat which belonged to Royal Corps of Signals, British Army and after I’d finished the bath I couldn’t get out. The heat and everything and the way I was, I couldn’t get out of the bath. He was used to this, this big Sanusi and he come in and he smiled and he carried me back to the cabin we were in and Spirae Fraser’s

06:18:00:00

one of those sarcastic rotten buggers I ever met in my life. He give me hell, but he had to be lifted back out of the bath after. It’s one of those things. I’ve done a lot of sauna work afterwards, you know going to saunas and I realise that the weakness that can come over you after these things but this was quite surprising. I couldn’t get out of the bath, cockiest bugger couldn’t get out of the bath. We had another episode. This is one episode I’m not going to mention,

06:18:30:00

bugger it but we used to get mixed up with anything we could for a bit of fun, bit of interest and I’ll got a certain distance in this conversation. We went to a night club out at Gazera and I won a girl called Calsa, belly dancer. He said, “Get a girl for me,” so we got two of them and as

06:19:00:00

the night club finished, there’s blackout curtains, you know. You had to walk out the door of the night club into an annex with the curtain down then go through to get out another, because of blackout. I suddenly thought, “Gees, I won’t even know her when she comes out,” so I finished up climbing up a wrought iron fence, climbing up a wall, finding a ledge and sneaking along the ledge with toe to heel

06:19:30:00

to look down on this outside door. So that while they were in the light I’d be able to pick out Calsa and her mate and I got a hand on my shoulder, “What do you think you’re up to Aussie?” This provo had chased up after me and I’m outside the manager’s door apparently as they told me and he’d been robbed and they thought I

06:20:00:00

might be another bloody thief. All I was trying to do was win these sheilas and then they got me in a bit of a huddle with my mate Spirae and I used to practise this before the war. If you’re in a strife and your mates can keep outside the circle, you do anything you can to get outside the circle, you’re a bit safer and I did my usual trick of whatever and I busted out of the provos

06:20:30:00

and Spirae and I run like bloody hell, never got caught. The rest of the story is secret but we took an awful chance, believe me but that’s the way we were. Nothing really frightened us, nothing.
You mentioned earlier just in the break about Spirae and seeing a bit of the drug trade over there?
Yes, right after that leave we were heading back across

06:21:00:00

the Suez and the station before Suez Canal, Spirae got talking to this tall gentleman, whatever nationality I don’t know. But I can remember him in a sort of a light grey or fawn, tremendous coat, raincoat, long, bit dumenic. You see officers in their coats. He was talking to him and

06:21:30:00

being like Spirae, cheeky sole. Next thing you know is we get back on the train and we went across the Suez Canal and the next station which must have been Kantara. He said, “I’ve got to find that bloke,” and I said, “Why?” He said, “I’ve got this parcel for him.” I said, “You bloody idiot.” He said, “Why?” I said, “You’re carrying contraband across the border.” He said, “No, I’m not.” He was one of those fellas

06:22:00:00

anyway and he went back and he gave the stuff to him and that was the only connection I’ve had with drugs except for all the stories I heard while I was there but that was the only personal connection.
Can I ask what you heard when you were there?
Only that they were filling camels up in their belly, taking them across the border and then killing the camel and taking them out. I suppose there were other stories but I can’t remember them.
And what drugs were they actually trafficking?
Don’t know,

06:22:30:00

have no clue, have no idea what sort whatsoever and I don’t even know whether Spirae carried drugs but it was such a small parcel, you know, might have been jewellery, I don’t know, but I can’t imagine it but I can well imagine Spirae being conned. He was a country boy and pretty naïve, you know. He never conned me. I’ll tell you that now and I didn’t know much about drugs in those days but little things I’d learnt in my

06:23:00:00

life was a bit more than what he’d learnt, yeah, next question.
Well, just going back to Tobruk you mentioned earlier that your mother had like an added sense where she could tell when you were in strife. I was just wondering if you could tell me about any of the letters that she sent you, any contact you had with her?
It’s too far away love. The thing is I used to write in here and put, “Received letter number so and so” on the top

06:23:30:00

and sometimes she would write to say, “On such and such a date I felt such and such a thing.” I never took a damn bit of notice of it cause there’s too many other things to occupy my mind, until one day when I had nothing to do, so I went through that diary. I had kept her letters, everybody did and I decided to examine it and

06:24:00:00

I found out that just as my mother had said to me when I came back from Bathurst where I’d been in hospital, practically her first question was, “Were you sick just recently?” Previous to that on the Sydney Harbour when I was just a boy she said, grabbed her cross, she said, “My mother’s just died.” We were on a ferry. Dad said, “Don’t be ridiculous,”

06:24:30:00

and anyway when we got to Melbourne to her cousin’s place at Preston. She went to the toilet which is down the backyard in the old days and Dad grabbed me half way through. He said, “She was right.” He had a cable to say her mother had died. Around that time or some time before, I forget now, we were in a theatre,

06:25:00:00

in the York Theatre, which is now nonexistent in Adelaide in [UNCLEAR “Ronald”?] Street. She said, “Dad we’ve got to go home,” and he said, “Why, what’s wrong.” She said, “I don’t know whether the place is on fire or what but there’s something wrong.” And she was so insistent that I was dragged out of that theatre, most annoyed as a little kid going to see the pictures. I forget now what age I was. We went home and found the place had been robbed. She had

06:25:30:00

this, some sort of perception that was quite amazing. I only had it once when at work I felt strongly that there was something wrong at home, all day long it bothered me. And I rode across the Hilton Bridge and looked at the railway yards and I thought, “No, it can’t be Dad,” and when I drove my bike into the house Mum was doing a rare thing. She was talking to a neighbour across the front fence, quite rare to see but it was because of the

06:26:00:00

episode. My father had been taken to hospital. He was the sort of bloke who went to work when he was dying, did that many times and he had pneumonia. She had that perception.
Well, just going back to Tobruk, what things did she sense that actually you compared to your diary and?
I don’t know. I’d have to go back through that book but even then I wouldn’t learn from there because of one thing. We were strongly told not to keep diaries. Now as you

06:26:30:00

can imagine, Tobruk was a place which was just hanging there by a thread. The enemy had never been defeated before. Rommel had gone through everything and never been knocked back and we used to get lectures about records. Get rid of everything just in case they take us and they get these records and so I never wrote anything in there of any seriousness that would have been advantageous to the enemy. So,

06:27:00:00

if I really went through it and I haven’t done it ever since I sent it up to Brisbane. She’s brought it back because she’s transcribing it onto the computer. I’d have to think hard, I really would because I can tell you easily about the jokes and laughs. I’m not really good, I don’t think I can tell you about the times I was scared

06:27:30:00

cause it goes out the window, right. I’m getting a bit serious now aren’t I, must have been the whiskey.
Well, you were laying lines in Tobruk and you were fairly much there until the end of the siege?
From beginning to end.
And so when you were evacuated from Tobruk, where were you taken to?
Alexandria and I heard a story that might interest.

06:28:00:00

Went on a little British destroyer called the Kingfisher, one of the best organised things I’ve ever been on in my life. These sailors just ‘boom, boom,’ corridors, you know and then we all found ourselves together down in the hold, or down below. I thought, “Bugger that, not for me,” and I went up on the deck of the ship, not supposed to but I did.

06:28:30:00

I can remember watching the lights of Tobruk as we went out and the most scared people on that boat were the sailors. Tobruk wasn’t the best place to go and take a ship cause down come the Stukas. We sailed to Alexandria. We went, I don’t know what time we boarded. It was somewhere about midnight and the sun came up and there’s five destroyers.

06:29:00:00

All of a sudden our destroyer and another destroyer, destroyers turned like a knife in butter and we sailed back towards Tobruk and I’m on the stern of the ship. I said to the sailors, “What’s going on?” “Don’t bloody know, I’ll go and find out.” Come back and said, “We’re going back to bloody Tobruk,” and they were like this [shaking] and we weren’t happy either but

06:29:30:00

still, sailors didn’t like Tobruk. Anyway, we sailed back for an hour or so. I forget how long then the order was countermanded. Apparently the order was for two destroyers to fall out of the five to go back to where a British monitor ship, had been shelling the coast, had been sunk so the order was countermanded and these two destroyers turned round again

06:30:00:00

and I’m on the deck. I might add that most of the blokes were down below spewing and the crew were throwing up and I saw this destroyer turn and I saw these fellas, had been through Tobruk as infanteers, 23rd Battalion, straight over the side, a lot of them straight under the propeller. Unofficial history,

06:30:30:00

very sad and the good thing out of that that I always remember is the fact the sailors also were under the same instruction. If anybody went over the side, that was it. They wouldn’t go back and one of those sailors threw himself over the side straight away even though the other destroyer was from here to the end of the street away. But that’s one of my sad memories of seeing those poor buggers who’d just got out of Tobruk, whipped over the side.

06:31:00:00

See they were sunbaking, you know and died that way. I feel very sad about that, yeah, unofficial history. I don’t think it even got a mention.
Did any men survive that or?
Don’t know it was the other ship, don’t know. I think some did but I had an occasion in civvy life when I was alongside a big ship that looked like a destroyer and I thought, “Gees, I’m gone here,” and I

06:31:30:00

remember going, my mind going back to that. Anyway, that’s beside the point. Tobruk, we got to Alexandria and I think I mentioned earlier that we looked over the deck to these two [UNCLEAR “s…….”] pin-up girls, oh bloody hell.
Could you just remind me of what that was again, they were?
Well, we pulled into this wharf. Somebody said, “There’s two women over there,”

06:32:00:00

and the whole damn ship went to that rail and we look down at these two. I should imagine English ladies who’d lived all their life as officers wives or whatever and I couldn’t help but notice they had the button up boot shoes type of thing, little brollies [umbrellas]. They were looking up at us. They didn’t wave to us, didn’t show any excitement, sort of phlegmatic [unemotional] British, I don’t know but half the ship was leaning over the rail.

06:32:30:00

Two women and I’ll add another story to this, that when we first got in Tobruk there was a whisper went round that there were harlots in Tobruk. I didn’t believe it until after the war in my course of business. I used to go to a place where I didn’t get on too well with the bloke and when I asked the boss what was wrong, he said we told him you were a Tobruk rat.

06:33:00:00

I said, “Well, what’s the difference?” He said, “Well, he’s Italian isn’t he?” I said, “Yeah, he’s Italian,” so I made friends with this bloke, told him I had no animosity whatsoever. And he turned out to be a fella who had been made a soldier by Mussolini I s’pose and he’d been stationed outside Tobruk. And lived a life in a hole outside Tobruk and of course they were all dotted along the coast

06:33:30:00

and I said, “Boy, how’d you get on there?” He told me about the fact that they had these mobile brothels and it was three days for the men, Friday and Saturday for the sergeants and Sunday was the, something like that. I forget now. They were the girls who’d been collected as we all run back in Tobruk and apparently they were the harlots that we heard about that were in Tobruk

06:34:00:00

when we first went there but when we went in Tobruk there’s another side too. We had that many soldiers, sailors, airmen, that had all run back that Tobruk was filled. That’s why we were only getting half a bottle of water a day and they gradually evacuated all the unnecessary troops. Anything that wasn’t totally necessary went off, yeah.

06:34:30:00

That was two stories. I’d better wait for you now.
Well, I’m up to Alexandria now, so is there anything else that you wanted to say about Tobruk?
Greatest experience of my life, a rare experience for anybody, most outstanding for me was comradeship,

06:35:00:00

how rookie soldiers learnt to live together. Anybody who was doubtful gradually got weeded out, obeying the order no matter what it was. We had to do all sorts of things and you just did it. You knew how serious it was.

06:35:30:00

One other thing about Tobruk was the fact that they used to march the soldiers out of the front line, battalion at a time, a reminder, and they’d put them in a place back from us which was known as Eagle Corner because some time previous an eagle had been shot and had been stretched out on a wire. It was pretty featureless, you know, there was nothing, so they called it Eagle

06:36:00:00

Corner. And one Sunday the Stukas come down and bombed shit out of these blokes and twin brothers were killed. I looked up to the sky and I said, “God, I renounce religion.” That happened to me in Tobruk and it’s a sort of a war story that you find in a lot of old soldiers. You might be religious but because of what you see in war you say, “Bugger it.” There are those who stay religious but it was the end of religion for me,

06:36:30:00

that worthwhile?
Well, just thinking about the work that you were doing there as a linesman, what kind of problems would you be coming across in a practical day to day?
Well, we used to run lines out to wherever it was. Half the time we didn’t know who it was and the other mystery about linesmen that a lot of people never understand is that we would not run a line

06:37:00:00

from here to the corner. We would throw the line out to the right and out to the left so we’d use twice as much sometimes three times as much cable as was required, because of shells, bombs and trucks and soldiers. Soldiers sometimes cut the line to use as wire for some sort of a job, you know, think they’re getting away with it, not realising they were cutting off their communication

06:37:30:00

and you’d be called out at any time, didn’t matter when it was and now I’m speaking about myself, I’ll say this. Old Hasson, Ron, every time I think of him I think of other things, he’d drag me out and I think now it was one reason, that he was such a bull at a gate bloke, get that line fixed.

06:38:00:00

I would then have to get us back using the stars and that sort of thing but I’ve always been that way. I hate to think it’s a boast. It’s just one of those things that I’ve got in me. I don’t know what it is but Ron and I worked on for years. We had one experience that I seem to come back in my mind every now and again. At the very early part of Tobruk they had defence lines and I think they called them red, blue, white or whatever, you know

06:38:30:00

different lines and we used to have to go through all these lines. And we went through one line and the bloke said, “Watch out for the next buggers, they’re mad,” you know. They turned out to be Libyan soldiers in their own country and, you know you have a lot of shot and shell and all that sort of stuff but all of a sudden I got a voice said something like, “Halt.” I don’t know what he said and I’m looking down at two eyes and a long rifle

06:39:00:00

with a barrel and I said, “Australian,” and my bull at a gate sergeant rushed up. He said, “Linesman, signals.” I said, “You bloody idiot, Australian,” because, you know he was a Libyan bloke and eventually we made friendly contact and he stood up. I’ll never forget it. He was about seven foot tall. I can see him now standing up and

06:39:30:00

but that’s just an experience, you know. We even had our own fellas shoot at us now and again thinking we were somebody else and the only thing you’d do when there is any fire, is hit the deck, down, you know. Actually, it’s a funny thing. I’ve cut out a lot of memories about what I did as a linesman but I can remember things that I saw as a linesman. For instance there was a wonderful photographer

06:40:00:00

famous for the Second [World] War, from Victoria. You might know him. I can see him now sitting on a blockhouse, a small hut out in the boon docks, the Stukas are coming down and dropping bombs and he’s got his camera and he’s sitting there with a camera to his eye. I thought, “Bloody hell you’ve got some guts.” We’re looking for ground, you know but he’s a photographer, like you girls.

06:40:30:00

He’s a cameraman and he’s got to get the picture so he’s still sitting on this place. He’s a good six foot off the ground or seven foot more, yeah. And the other courageous blokes I saw like that was there was a time when we were laying a line and we could see this artillery battery firing and we got near it and it was suspicious. The blokes looked funny. The blokes turned out to be

06:41:00:00

hessian overalls, or filled with hessian, tin hats. They’re dummies and when we got close to them, cause we veered off to go there. When we get close to them this NCO whatever he was, came out and he said, “Hey, are you signals? Hey can you let us have some wire?” As I said, there’s nothing so, they thought we’d give them some wire. We hated giving wire away but essential services we would.

06:41:30:00

Get into trouble when we got back but what their job was, you talk about courage. This is cold courage if you heard it, was to draw the fire of the Stukas, pull wire, set off explosions that went out of a smokestack that you’ve seen on ovens and that to make smoke come out so the Stukas would do, and they reckoned it was a better job than being with the batteries firing the guns. Gees, you know the things that I could tell you about

06:42:00:00

about cold courage
Interviewee: George Richardson Archive ID 1690 Tape 07

07:00:32:00

George before we stopped you mentioned cold courage, liney’s having cold courage. Can you just explain what cold courage is?
Well, I think hot courage is when like an infanteer is going into battle. He’s an ordinary bloke one minute, next thing he gets an order and he’s got to get stuck into it and you’ve got to build up a certain thing. Like when you’re a school kid and you have a fight, you don’t really want to fight but when you do have to fight, you’ve got to build up

07:01:00:00

something in you to punch the other bloke on the nose. And that was also in that little book I read on the Indian Ocean written by the VC [Victoria Cross] winner. Now cold courage is, as a linesman, regardless of what’s going on, you still do it. You’ve not got any hot courage to do anything against anybody. All you’ve got to do is join a wire

07:01:30:00

and I had an experience at Alamein with regard to a tank movement. Now at Alamein there was a lot of movement and a lot of it is done by a unit being given a map reference, not a place, just a map reference, “Go there.” And I went out at this time on a line fort and I got to some peculiar junction where lines were going everywhere. It’s just the way things go, same as

07:02:00:00

when this place was settled there wasn’t any junctions. There wasn’t any Kensington round-a-bout, you know and this place had formed and I looked at the mess I was in after I’d got there, cause when you went out on line fort, you carried the line in your hand. You also carried a telephone in a box and when you rang you did this business and I could see this bloody mess and eventually I find what I want, by tapping into that line to that place and

07:02:30:00

finding that. And I’d just joined the line and all of a sudden this tremendous rumble in the darkness, it was a pitch black night, was coming towards me. It was half a dozen tanks. I don’t know, it might have been ten, might have been, I don’t know how many and they’re coming straight at me and I know what they’re going to do to the lines. They’re going to chew them up and spit them out and as long as I live I always remember what a bloody idiot I must have been to stand in the middle of them

07:03:00:00

and scream abuse at the drivers who are only looking through a gap this big. And they’re wondering what this idiot’s doing and I can remember I was so damn mad. I’ve had hit the bloody tank with my knuckles but the thing was you went back then and fixed the line and I can tell you that if you talk about feelings in a war, when you’ve been under some sort of strife or not and you fix a line

07:03:30:00

knowing that they’ve got communication. It’s one of the greatest feelings of satisfaction you can have and it’s a very simple thing, you know to join two wires together but you’ve done it so that they can talk to that one and they’re not going to get into trouble. I’ve got one other linesman story that might be worth repeating. In Tobruk at some stage I brought a line back to a tank headquarters

07:04:00:00

and one of our old blokes, they used to give the old blokes the jobs like switchboard, he said, “I don’t know what’s going on Richy. The tanks are breaking and that bugger’s over there asleep,” and that bugger was some sort of top artillery officer from British Army. He’s on a camp stretcher and he said, “Get behind this switchboard and you’ll hear what’s going on,” cause you’re

07:04:30:00

supposed to give them the line and then get out, you know. The next thing you know is I’m waiting there and this bloke on the switchboard says, “Sir, I’ve got those numbers you wanted,” or, “Those units you wanted.,” He gets up off the stretcher. He comes over, takes the phone and he said, I’ve got to make this up now because I’ve forgotten what it was all about but he’s got the senior officer of some unit. Now the tanks are attacking. There’s

07:05:00:00

twenty-five of them, “I want you to let them through, let them go through.” Then he got onto one of his British mob and he’d say, “Got a party for you, good party for tonight but let them go, I’ve got them worked out.” Cause they’re working out the way the tank traps and everything are on the front line and they know these tanks are going to go a certain way, or he does and he’s organising a party for these tanks and the last unit, which was

07:05:30:00

the, God, field artillery from England, greatest blokes ever. And before long those tanks are going on, not knowing that he’s telling these people to let them through. And then he told the artillery crowd that, “Now they’re going to come into your vicinity and I want you to give them a party, let them know that you’re there, knock the lot out.” But that bloke was laying on the bed, after working it out, telling this sig to ring these

07:06:00:00

units to tell them the tanks are coming through, no, just to ring the units. Then he went back and laid down. Then he came back and made sure that everything that he wanted was organised and the tanks were defeated. There’s another bit of cold courage. He didn’t need courage to go out and fight. He wasn’t in any bloody strife but he organised the defeat of these tanks and in the early days we got mixed up with tanks.

07:06:30:00

I saw a tank battle once. I’d better put that on it and they came through the line towards us and in those days we used to have our gas masks with wax and all the rest of it to keep the things clean, the glass clean and we panicked. We raced back to our holes and got our rifles which were filled with sand cause we didn’t take them with us and those tanks were defeated too but tanks are a

07:07:00:00

frightening thing. And the infantry would wait for a tank to come through and apart from shooting they would whack one of these sticky bombs, sticky thing on the end of a shaft, a wooden shaft, take the cap off and stick it on the side then run like hell and it’d explode and blast a hole in the tank. That was the infantry’s job. Then there were anti tank gunners and later on, if you want to get back to Alamein, I’ll describe a tank battle to you.

07:07:30:00

OK, I’ll just make a note of that. Before we get to Alamein you were or the 9th Div withdrew at the request of the Australian government?
You’re going right to the end of the war aren’t you? Now, I’ve always been a bit sceptical about this,

07:08:00:00

although we wanted to get back too. I only heard recently about how Curtin beat Churchill. Now you’ve got to think of a world war. You’ve got to think of a whole picture with action in twenty-five places. Now for instance Alamein wouldn’t have been won, in my opinion,

07:08:30:00

if the powers that be hadn’t decided that because he was so close to Cairo that a lot of tanks and stuff that was going to Burma was sidetracked to us because there was only a thin line of us in the early days at Alamein. And he was seventy miles away from Alexandria and Cairo was only a bit further so they sent us a lot of tanks and stuff.

07:09:00:00

Well, how did your battalion feel about leaving Tobruk?
Relieved, that was the main thing. There was no, we never had no love for the place. It was a desolate bloody hole. No, relieved was the main thing, relieved and cocky. We were pretty cocky. I think, you know you get that way after a while. We didn’t realise then, now I had a senior naval officer say to me in Brisbane

07:09:30:00

when I went up there to a wedding of my granddaughter. He’s retired from the navy. During the course of that wedding I met a bloke who was an ex signal officer and he was telling me about his job and all the rest of it and I’m not saying a word, just listening and he said, “But the liney’s are the backstop of signals.” I said, “You reckon?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “I was a liney,” and we had a hell of a conversation and he told his brother

07:10:00:00

who came up to me during the course of the wedding reception and he said, “You blokes saved the world.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He said, “I’ve just heard you were in Tobruk.” I said, “That’s right.” He said, “You fellas locking things up for so long saved the world.” Now that might be a navy thought, I don’t know but they kept us alive, the navy, with their ships.
And why were you the backstop of the signals?
Because we did the hard work. The rest did the clerical type and we made sure the lines

07:10:30:00

were operational all the time so that they could talk to each other cause wireless was hardly used, was not secure, but line was and if we had line there, do you know in the battle of Alamein we spent, gee I’ve jumped. Do you mind?
That’s alright, go on to Alamein?
Well, we were there for five months before it started, the battle, and it was harder than in Tobruk.

07:11:00:00

When you got army movement, you’ve got a lot of work for communication, different to Tobruk which is the, and we worked bloody hard and on the last days before the battle we had to run all these lines from an advance control point from the new places they were going to start the battle from and we had to bury the lines

07:11:30:00

with our hands, no tools, hands, cause it’s only down in the sand. And we worked like buggery and the night of the battle we were supposed to get a lecture on how the battle was going to be done, Montgomery’s idea. I didn’t go to the lecture. I went down to my hole for a bit of a doss and I got in

07:12:00:00

the hole. I did a bad thing. I ripped my toenail, another story, and then the guns opened up. This is a thing that nobody ever forgets. Nine hundred is the number. I’ve heard a thousand since but nine hundred field guns opened up at twenty past ten, bang. Gees, you’ve never heard anything like it. So we were called out to fix the lines that we’d been

07:12:30:00

burying that the German had decided that they were the first things he had to knock out and what we didn’t know was that down the coast they had watched us burying these lines from a minaret with their power field glasses. We’d been wasting our bloody time because the first shells that came back came right back on there and we were called out of our holes. It wasn’t our job really.

07:13:00:00

Our job was to look after the front stuff but because it was right on advance headquarters we had to help the Don section linesmen and a Don section linesman named Jack Flanagan and I spent the whole night under shellfire making sure that those lines were joined,
And what was that like?
Well, there’s another funny thing. It was just a bloody job but we could have been killed any tick of the clock,

07:13:30:00

any tick of the clock, but it was just a job. Once you get to be a linesman, you know that’s your job. The bloke who was directing us in a hole in the ground that was as safe as this house, he got a military medal for it and committed suicide at Dawes Road and I’ve often wondered about old George Langsford. He was an educated man, agricultural student at Roseworthy.

07:14:00:00

When he got into trouble I once pretended I was an NCO, got an NCO to let me be a guard and I sat down and talked with George and you could see that he’d been affected by that particular episode. Also he had a father in law who’d been in World War I. I’d forgotten that part, but the strain on George in a safe hole telling us that such a line has gone out

07:14:30:00

and all the time the shells are hitting all round him, even though he’s in the hole, was the strain that caused him to commit suicide, I think, yeah.
And when you’re under such massive shell fire, what are you paying attention to?
The line. That was the whole thing. I always thought one of the bravest things I saw in my experience was the very same fellow who tried to get out of Tobruk

07:15:00:00

because it was surrounded and we were at Alamein in an area with a lot of saltpans, with stinking rotten water in it, absolutely stinking and we were being done over by some shells I think they were, mortars or whatever. I climbed under a truck and I watched this fella do this. He was fixing the line, over came the shells, into the swamp, climb out of the swamp. Go back to the lines, over

07:15:30:00

come the shells, into the shit, dinky di it was stinking stuff, back to the line and I’ve always thought he was the acme of what a linesman was.
Well, you’ve mentioned that you were unarmed when you were working?
Yeah.
Were you wearing a tin hat?
Yeah, I’ve got my tin hat out in the shed. I took my tin hat up the islands

07:16:00:00

and carried it right through there even though I didn’t wear it, my oath. That was the best bloody [UNCLEAR “s…..”] I ever had in my life. Yes, I realised the mental side of that hat to me during the war, which to my mind, they don’t have it now and I don’t think they’re worth that much. They’re the sort of thing out of the First War but no, that to me was my comfort beer, yeah, still got the sand on it from

07:16:30:00

North Africa.
And what were its uses?
Just to put on your head and one of the funnier stories is that one of my mates had an acute ear and the El Alam [El Alamein] airstrip out of Tobruk, was only a few mile out. And when we’re sitting in the hole, no matter what was going on, laughs, jokes, whatever, and all of sudden Jack would, we used to sit on them, like sitting on a jerry or

07:17:00:00

something. He’d pull it out, put his hat on and we knew the planes were coming. He had these dog ears we used to call him, dog ears, you know. He could hear those bloody things tuning up and know there was a raid coming and he’d pull the hat out from under his bum and put it over his head, yeah. He was always the first warning.

07:17:30:00

Well, before Alamein your unit did go to Syria, were there any highlights from that operation?
One particular thing that I’ve never forgotten, we could have died. We had great relations with the village of Djeddi, then we went down to Tripoli, in the town, and we were billeted in a two storey flat

07:18:00:00

that apparently had been owned by medico’s. There’s a story about conversation there which needn’t be mentioned and then we went off up to the north and we were doing manoeuvres on some sort of mountain. I’ve never remembered its name and manoeuvres are like chocolate soldiers again, you know. You’re only doing it for the officers to learn their job and then we went up

07:18:30:00

towards Aleppo and then we got an order and as far as I know it was only an order to a map reference and the sergeant said, “Well, I’m only going to take four of you.” And he took a corporal who we’d always left out of battle, or he’d left out of battle because he was an elderly bloke. I used to do the corporal’s job, and the driver and we took everything out of the truck

07:19:00:00

and put two layers of four gallon kerosene tins of petrol and small bit of rations. I went to see the sergeant for rations cause I knew he’d have it and he wouldn’t give it to me and then we took off, late one afternoon, across the Syrian desert and it got dark and all we’re driving on is the bloody headlights out in front. And my bull headed sergeant saying, “Keep going, keep going,”

07:19:30:00

and all of a sudden our driver we called Bat Eye Golby, Bat Eye, he stopped. I heard him, we’re lying on these tins. You can imagine the noise of all those tins. I heard him say, “I’m not going any further. I can’t see a bloody thing,” and he couldn’t cause we were on the edge of a precipice. His headlights were, you know and Hasson said, “Keep going,” Ron, we called him Hasson

07:20:00:00

and I got out and got in the front of the truck and I’m bloody glad I did and I held a headlight or something and put my foot out. The country there when we left the place we went to which is Palmyra, when we left there I said to the fellas, I said, “This is bloody moon country,”

07:20:30:00

and I worked down the road at that stage when they landed on the moon, at Carrier Air Conditioning, and I took a little Motorola TV which I was told afterwards I nearly got the sack for but I wanted to see the landing on the moon. And when I saw the moon I know I was right and I’ve since seen pictures of Iraq and Iran and those places and there is something there about it. There are craters, just

07:21:00:00

sort of as if meteors had dropped there. But anyway we finished up getting there and just before we got there I saw a scene sort of out of a children’s nursery book of witches. It was half a castle, just the skeleton of a castle, on the edge of a precipice where the wind had eroded over the centuries, way back before Bible times, because we’re getting near the Garden of Eden era, you know

07:21:30:00

and then we went to Palmyra which turned out to be a Roman town. And still had some of the great pillars that they’d built but we weren’t there very long because Tobruk, although we didn’t know it then, Tobruk had fallen. And we had to get back so we had to get back in the truck and then race back to, I forget the name of the place, but I tell you what, I could have died there. We also

07:22:00:00

saw one other thing. We saw the wreckage of a plane that must have gone down in World War I, yeah and we think we saw some of the bones. But because we were in such a bloody hurry we didn’t really go into it but I often thought afterwards, I’d liked to have reported it so if there was anybody wondering, you know but we found this plane that was just bones and fuselage and bits of

07:22:30:00

cloth in the desert and I often wonder whether anybody knew where it fell down, you know.
Well, the siege of Tobruk was very long and then you went up to Syria. How was your health on the way to Alamein?
What, as we went down, back to Alamein? My health was alright but I’ve got to say this,

07:23:00:00

another great experience to see a whole convoy of a division going through all these miles together, nose to tail. Supposed to be secret but the Arab kids could tell us we were Australians because we had red boots, red leather and the trick thing that they did with us, I don’t know why, instead of carrying on through Kantara, close to the coast, they

07:23:30:00

sent us down in the desert. We turned off and went towards Beersheba where it’s said that the Australian Light Horse made the last cavalry charge in the history of war. We saw lots of shrapnel on the ground but we didn’t stop and we went across the Sinai Desert on a road made out of chicken wire and tar, how’s that sound? Apparently they

07:24:00:00

laid this road, asphalt and put chicken wire down and the order was, “You don’t stop and if you go off, you stay.” And one of the sights in my memory that I will never forget, one of the great sights of the war for me, was to look back at this Syrian desert with the queer mountains that go up into the sky, see this convoy of trucks coming around this desert, this winding asphalt

07:24:30:00

wire road, will remain with me forever. And we went to Ismaliya I think it was on the Suez and I had an interesting experience there that I was in this great building, wherever it was. I think we had stew and the next thing I know was a voice, way, way back said, “That’s Richy,” and this bloke come

07:25:00:00

though the crowd looking for the voice. He turned out to be a bloke I’d been in Woodside with and he’s wearing an air force uniform. His name was Beck and I said, “What are you doing in air force uniform?” He said, “Do you remember that conversation that we had at Woodside that we’d never be in the bloody navy, we’re scared of the sea?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “What do you think I’m doing?” He said, “I’m observer,” or something “on a,”

07:25:30:00

forget the name of the plane, “Beaufort [bomber],” or whatever. He said, “All they do every night is fly over the bloody Mediterranean.” He said, “Looking at the bloody water,” and years later, or a couple of years later we’re going up to Queensland and the bloke who had the best bloody gen [generosity?] in the unit said to me, “Hey, you know what we’re going to be doing?” We said, “No.” He said, “We’re going to be an amphibious division.” I said, “A what?” He said, “An amphibious division. We’re going to go on coast landing.” I thought, “Struth.”

07:26:00:00

I thought, “Wait till I see Beck,” but I never saw him again, yeah. Both of us had a conversation in the Woodside camp, we didn’t know which way to choose to go. I said, “I think I’ll finish up army but I’d like to be in the air force.” He said, “No, I’m going to be army.” He finished up in the air force and I finished up in the army, yeah but it was rather funny that he said he was scared of the sea and I said I was scared of the sea and I still am. I wouldn’t be a sailor if you paid me.

07:26:30:00

I’ve been a fisherman and I’ve been in bad situations, frightened, but I wouldn’t want to be a sailor, no. Your next question? I’m getting a bit rumbled there.
Well, we’re moving back into El Alamein?
Can I say one thing about that? That trip down from Syria to Alamein was the arguments, the thoughts,

07:27:00:00

the wishful thinking, the huge desire to go to Tufic to get on a boat to fight the Jap. It was just there all the time and they’re betting and I’m not betting cause I know one thing we’re going to do is go to the desert because Tobruk’s gone, Suez Canal, the importance of the seaway, which was terribly important in those days. I didn’t bet cause I sort of knew we’d finish up at Alamein, not

07:27:30:00

that it was Alamein I knew but it was North Africa anyway, yeah and we finished up at Alexandria and we went on the racecourse. I don’t think that’s important for us. There’s a few incidences there but, and then we went up to the desert.
Well, just before we go on, I mean I think that’s quite important, that desire to come back and fight the Japs?
It was terribly strong, terribly strong. Never gets much of a mention and other division blokes have said in days gone

07:28:00:00

by, “You bloody mob, you didn’t come home to fight the Japs.” I can tell you that our division, which saw more action than any other division or combined, the whole division, were more desirous to get back to Australian than going up fighting Rommel, absolutely. And when we got into North Africa and Alamein started, just the ordinary business, not the battle, General Morsehead put a circular out

07:28:30:00

through the division, “This division has its foot on the boat and a foot on the desert. It will take its other foot off the boat.” That was the general order that came down and he didn’t give too many cause he was a very good general, tremendous general but that order was given to the 9th division, “You take your foot off the boat and get it in the desert,” and by that time we started to realise that we were there to fight Rommel so we had to do that job.

07:29:00:00

And had you heard of the white feather [sent those perceived as cowards or unwilling to serve] by then?
Yeah, my father got one here in Adelaide in the First War, yeah. White feather didn’t happen too much in the Second War, not that I know of but my father told me once, corner of Lee Street and [UNCLEAR “Rummel”?] Street, there was a pub there. And he went in with a bloke in uniform and his crutches were underneath the table and two women that were there, they used to have little women’s business, little small rooms.

07:29:30:00

And when this soldier and Dad got up one of the women walked over and put an envelope down and walked out and the soldier realised what it was, chased them down Lee Street and abused hell out of them. But Dad couldn’t chase them cause he was on crutches. Rather funny and ironical to think that he’d just been through the battle of, in the landing at Gallipoli

07:30:00:00

but I don’t remember anything much about that in the Second War. Can I tell you about the advance of the 9th division to Alamein from Alexandria? This was the most amazing thing ever. Now you have to remember that in North Africa there was all sorts of services, British services,

07:30:30:00

French, whatever along the coast and they’re all retreating, sometimes four and five wide. The road’s there and they’re in the desert, all these vehicles, all racing to get back and we’re going up against them, one small division, disciplined division and some are calling out, “Don’t get up there Aussie, Rommel’s got you fucked.”

07:31:00:00

You’ve got no idea. During that business one of our reinforcements found his brother who was in an air force unit, in all that bloody shemozzle [mess] but the thing was, what stayed in my mind, that never gets a mention in anything I ever read, was that our division was sneaking up. We were the first ones to go back to fighting, sneaking up that road with all these thousands and thousands of troops all coming down, panicking

07:31:30:00

and a panic is a thing that is hard to explain but if you saw it and I saw it once on a troopship, they just lose control. They’re like mice running around mad, you know and this was terrible. They were dashing back to Alexandria, anywhere to get away from Rommel and his mob and we were going up to meet him. Anyway, we went up there and I’ve got a vague memory of seeing the Alamein station. See the battle was not at Alamein, it was further up,

07:32:00:00

up to Tel el Eisa. Anyway, the brigade I was with was also one of the advance and when we got up there, the thing that had me beat was the shells were coming from there. The sea’s there, the enemy’s there, the shells are coming from there. It was amazing. I actually saw a shell bounce once but anyway I

07:32:30:00

couldn’t understand why we were being shelled from the south but it turned out our advance had been so quick, we’d gone on the coast and cut into the business. It was like a finger, like that. There was the line, there was us and that’s how we kept that line which made a bit of a worry for the enemy and that was how it was until the battle started, Ila Jesus.

07:33:00:00

Tel el Eisa is the proper name, yeah but I couldn’t make out why they were shooting us from there, yeah.
It was a very fierce battle as you’ve mentioned?
Yeah.
What do you remember?
This is where it becomes hard. As I said, twelve days and nights and I’ve got twelve memories.

07:33:30:00

The first night I mention, I think it was the hardest, risky thing in my life but I don’t think of it that way. I just think of it one night. I can’t think of it as anything more serious even though we were continually shelled. And, as I said, the enemy wanted to knock that out because they knew already that it was the focal point of the communication. After that it’s just a case of doing what you were told, being with the advance

07:34:00:00

but not knowing where the advance was, getting mixed up with units who didn’t know where they were cause they went to a map reference point, a lot of shot and shell, bombing. Speaking about the bombing I’ve got to speak abut the air force because they helped us immensely. In Tobruk we had no air force. They’d been shot out of the skies. I was an anti aircraft gunner for a while, never hit a one. Anyway,

07:34:30:00

they used to come over, what we used to call the football team, eighteen planes and drop their loaded carpet bombing, saw some terribly brave things from those airmen. One that stays in my mind is that they got shot because the enemy had all his guns going at them and plane got hit. The next thing you know is he’s fighting to keep that plane in the air and he’s

07:35:00:00

doing this and doing that and everything and you could see he pulls it and up she goes again, out comes a parachute. He’s determined to get his crew out and out they come. I’ve seen lots of things like this but this is outstanding and out they come, one at a time. One bloke come down head first and died and then he took his plane out to sea and went and sat in the drink and died, you know. Is that cold courage? I would think so, hey.

07:35:30:00

Hot courage to be in that business but cold courage to make a decision and the other sad thing I saw air force wise, I saw a lot of things like this, but they’d come back from a dawn patrol and you’d hear one motor was going flutter, flutter, flutter. It was sort of running and these two come back and one fella’s looking after the other so to help to get him down he’s going to land and get his mate down and when they land in the desert they kept their wheels up

07:36:00:00

and they bounce and he landed, jumped out of his plane, he’s saying to his mate, “Down here, it’s safe, it’s safe.” His mate came down and hit a minefield and that pilot who wanted to help him, I can see him now. He went down on his knees. He was broken, saw his mate blown to smithereens. Saw a lot of things like that but they’re the two most outstanding memories.
Well, you mentioned earlier that as a liney, you did get out and about and you saw a lot of things?

07:36:30:00

Never, never anywhere else. Yeah, go on, sorry, go on.
Well, how would you move around?
Foot mostly. If we were laying a line we might do it on a truck but foot mostly, walked thousands of miles really, went out, just kept on walking, you know but I think at Alamein, I’ve got to tell you about the tank battle. Do you want to hear about that?
Yeah?

07:37:00:00

I don’t even know the unit but it was a battalion, footsloggers, and when we got there we got mortared and mortar shells come down, you’d only hear them and for safety I dived in a hole. Turned out to be a hole full of mortar shells because I was in the area of the mortar

07:37:30:00

mortar section of the battalion. And I’m lying on all these mortar bombs and I can’t get out because mortars keep on coming down and anyway saw these tanks. Before that I wouldn’t have cared if there was a herd of elephants out there but while I’m in this hole I see these tanks and a tank battle is like a naval thing, my idea. They come like that and they fire like hell at each other

07:38:00:00

and on the outskirts are the anti tank guns. There’s the British. There’s the German or Italian mix up and as soon as a tank got hit, bit similar to what I said about that truck, they get hit and they go like an elephant, you know they can’t move. They’d all shoot at the same tank. Now that was going on with a big, red sun going down

07:38:30:00

dust going up. Dust seems to make the sun bigger. It was like hell. I’ve always said, “It’s the nearest thing I’ll ever see to hell,” hope it, and in the middle of all this, there’s jeeps running around with doctors and officers. It’s such a bloody mess and it’s all to destroy, you know but outside of that circle of tanks was a small group of

07:39:00:00

people in what they used to call Honey tanks. And I think the unit was called the Green Howards, an ex British cavalry unit. Those buggers started brewing tea, four gallon tins, petrol tins, filled with sand, light it, make a cup of tea. Those fellas were just brewing a cup of tea and just carried on like they were back in camp and the bloody battle’s,

07:39:30:00

you know a few hundred yards away from them, shells going everywhere, anti tank shells coming in, God, and all the time there was these flashes of guns, sand, sun, amazing sight. It was hell but the other thing about cold courage is tank blokes get a certain attitude in their mind, you know. I remember

07:40:00:00

striking some poms once with a flail tank. A flail tank is a tank with chains that, you know and I asked about their job. They said, “Best job in the army.” Best job in the army? They’re blowing up mines, yeah. The only thing was that they did admit they were a bit scared about if they got hit because when they got hit they got burnt in there, you know, destroyed, yeah but that tank battle is the main thing I saw in Alamein. But the

07:40:30:00

main thing about Alamein was you just went to a place, you followed a line and we didn’t think about bloody mines because if the line had been there, there’s no mine except once when they captured a little cutting passed the Tel el Eisa station. And it wasn’t that much but we had to lay our lines through there after we’d captured it from the enemy and we were dead scared of mines.
Interviewee: George Richardson Archive ID 1690 Tape 08

08:00:31:00

Just before we had a short break then we were talking about the mines in Alamein and the hazards that they caused especially to your work. What else did you see with the mines and the hazards?
Well, actually I didn’t see very much. I often thought about, afterwards, how we went through mine fields, but if the line was there

08:01:00:00

we reckoned there was no mine and we got into enemy territory, as you would understand, with the advance and we just had to wipe it from our mind. The one thing that stays in my mind as regard to the fear of mines, towards the end of the battle, is when they captured the cutting, just up from our Tel el Eisa station. We had to lay a line through that cutting

08:01:30:00

and we went on that line squatting, balancing and using the sleepers with our fingers to keep our balance cause we had to lay the line under the other rail. The railway lines like, underneath and we thought if this place is mined, we’re gone, and that was a bit of a frightening moment and it gets deeper down

08:02:00:00

to what I said earlier about cold courage. You’ve just got to do it and we laid line through there.
Now you left Alamein with a broken toe, is that right?
Tobruk.
You left Tobruk with a broken toe? Can I ask how you broke your toe?
I think, cause I’ve got no memory, I jumped out of a truck in a Stuka raid.

08:02:30:00

You don’t live like we live in civilian life, just do your job, double and all the rest of it and all of a sudden I was limping and after a while they used to call me, “Twenty past ten,” because of my boots in the sand. I didn’t report it, Tobruk, you don’t go to, and furthermore I’d been bitten by a scorpion

08:03:00:00

when Eddie was alive, bitten by a scorpion and he panicked and demanded I get taken to hospital and I was carted off to 2/8th Field Ambulance where there was wounded and all the rest and I had to wait till a doctor could come to me. When he came to me he said, “And what’s your trouble?” I said, “I’ve been bitten by a scorpion.” He said, “Where?” I said, “Here.”

08:03:30:00

He said, “How long ago?” I said, “Half an hour.” He said, “Oh, well you won’t die now, a cup of tea and two aspros.” That story was repeated in New Guinea which I won’t, I know you’re going there so I won’t tell you that. Because I’d seen the casualties around the 2/8th Field Ambulance, when I hurt my toe I didn’t know what the hell was wrong but I didn’t report it. And it wasn’t till we came out of Tobruk that they marched the shit out of us, marching

08:04:00:00

around Palestine and the officer, Captain Fraser said, “What’s wrong with you Richardson?” cause as I’ve said earlier, we operated as linesmen. But we never saw an officer and he saw more of me after than, “What’s wrong with you?” I said, “I don’t know what’s wrong,” and cutting the story briefly I was sent off and told I was bludging cause the foot looks tremendous. And then

08:04:30:00

I finished up being sent to 2/7th AGH I think it was where a doctor treated me like a bludger and after he’d examined my foot, looked at it, could see no shapeness and wrongness. He stepped down to his typewriter to make a report and I walked around his desk and could see he was sending me back as a bludger, I forget the word now, and I

08:05:00:00

blew up, told him what I thought, said, “I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been sent by an officer,” and I told him about being sent to other places and I said, “I’ve got a bloody painful toe.” He sent me off to be X-rayed and they had to hold my foot I was that bloody, anyway they found the split bone in the big toe, you know that joint, split. Then when I left that first

08:05:30:00

X-ray I sat down with some provos [provosts - military police] and I often think that he picked me as a provo, that’s a policeman, because we had a new colour patch after we come out of Tobruk, not the circle, the T. And the white is signals and the white was also a part of provos so I reckon that’s what stirred him up and reckoned I was a bludger like these jokers who’d said to me while I was waiting with them, “You trying

08:06:00:00

to get a Blighty [England], sig?” You trying to get home, you know. I said, “No.” Anyway, when I went back to him he said to me, “I’m going to check whether this is hereditary,” and I was sent off for another X-ray. When it came back, he admitted I had this. He said, “Well, you can have a B class or a Thompson heel.” I said, “What’s a Thompson heel?” He said, “We build up your foot with leather,” so they gave me one of these Thompson heels which I wore all the way

08:06:30:00

through the war and it broke when I was in New Guinea and I went barefoot for a while, quite a while.
Well, we should really make our way to New Guinea. When you left El Alamein you had a leave back in Australia?
Yep.
What preparation when you got back to Australia was there for New Guinea?
Nought. In Adelaide we had, I had a

08:07:00:00

total of 12 days leave I reckon in the Middle East, official, went ack-willy [AWOL – Absent Without Leave] a few times. When we come back here for some reason it just stretched on and it turned out. I’d learnt since, it was because they couldn’t get these labour people, labour blokes who were getting a fortune for what they were doing, to get the camp ready in the Tablelands of Queensland cause it should have been done

08:07:30:00

earlier but all their little old tricks. The tea boy used to get more than the colonel, the tea boy in that show used to get more than the colonel and apparently they were a bit slappy and that’s one reason why we had a long leave. Then we caught the train, on the longest bloody train journey ever, to Cairns and I learnt I had a crook back then. Won’t go into that. Next thing you know is we went to

08:08:00:00

Mareeba, you know Mareeba, you heard about Mareeba, Queensland? I always remember we got off the train, cause the trains were so slow, God Almighty, you never forget it. Blokes used to, we had no toilets on the train. Blokes used to get out of the train into the grass to relieve themselves and I’ve got photos of blokes squatting in the grass then get back on the train. That’s how slow it was so when we got to Mareeba we stopped there and some of us found a

08:08:30:00

billiards saloon. We played billiards. When the train tooted its whistle and took off we said, “Don’t worry about it catching it, it’s so slow,” but we finished up catching the train. Then we got to the Tablelands and we camped there. It was new and we found out, as we were told, it was going to be thicker than New Guinea and it was

08:09:00:00

and there were things like Standish wah [Arabic for “wait a while”] bushes which were called increasingly ‘wait-a-while’ but we did Standish wah cause it was Arabic. I got stung with one which I still feel to this day, here. I was told I’d feel it, a whole lot of other things, boars, wild pigs, but that was while we were going through the grass and doing all your whatever.

08:09:30:00

It was interesting and a change and the biggest thing, the biggest difference was if you’d done trips in North Africa where you just got a little bit of water and you had to make the most of it, up there you didn’t have to worry about it. It made a hell of a difference. You could shower. You could swim, all the things. I don’t think there’s much more about New Guinea apart from just training, usual marching.

08:10:00:00

Don’t remember much about signal work. I think it was satisfied that we knew our job whichever it was, whether you were an operator or whatever or a linesman, whatever. We went down to Trinity Beach north of Cairns and did amphibious training.

08:10:30:00

That’s about all I can say. You know, army life is such that it can become humdrum, just do as you’re told, you soldier on so that’s about my limit in regard to Tablelands and Trinity Beach, Queensland. We left there on a troopship which I can’t name. I can’t remember it, some general’s name and went to

08:11:00:00

Port Moresby. Am I on the right track? Went to Port Moresby and what I remember about that is two things. First of all we got one of those American things over the big radio, “We’re now entering a war zone,” and, you know we hadn’t been in a war zone before and you will be quiet and you won’t show any lights and as we went into Moresby

08:11:30:00

their trucks are driving around with their headlights on. And the other thing I remember about it was the Yanks unloaded our stores in such a careless fashion that a lot of it went into the sea and being Americans with their millions, didn’t upset them one bit. They didn’t worry. We were most concerned and the other thing about that troopship is the fact that one night, two things. One thing, I went out from my bunk once to

08:12:00:00

find a drink, tropical and I saw these sailors lying back and were all these big, fat, pasty blokes that had been over fed and they said, “What do you want Aussie?” I said, “I’m looking for a drink, can I get a drink of water around here?” “Just pull that tap on boy, you’ll get a cup of java,” didn’t mean anything to me, java and I pulled the tap on. I got a hot cup of coffee. It’s a miraculous thing when you’re on a ship and

08:12:30:00

it’s piped all round. You’re not used to that cause, you know British Australian stuff is so bare compared to American idea. What was the other thing? Can’t remember, waste. We got food on bloody great trays, more food than you could eat. A lot of fellas just put their food back cause we were used to short rations and it’s not a bad idea with soldiers, in my opinion, to keep them on short rations. Anyway, that was,

08:13:00:00

then we got to New Guinea and the only thing I remember about Port Moresby is to go to some sort of entertainment with Chips Rafferty, you heard of him? I think he called himself Little Jack Little. I think he played the piano or whatever. It was such a paltry show and Chips Rafferty told such a terrible story I thought, “What a waste.” We’re sitting here in the rain on these little things we’d taken, cause you can’t

08:13:30:00

sit in the mud, absolutely, anyway it wasn’t worth going there and the other thing was that somebody built for the first time, jungle juice, in coconuts and it burst. And I said then, “I’m not having any jungle juice,” and I like my booze. Then we caught a ship for a practise landing, might get bit of wind-up here.

08:14:00:00

Can you imagine the flotilla containing a division of soldiers with huge navy support, we go into a practise landing on Normanby Island, cause this is American style. Australian Army could never afford that sort of thing. If he would have he’d have gone up in row boats. The funniest thing about that

08:14:30:00

practise on Normanby Island is as our landing barges in one of the front ones, was to see this fella, one little hut just back from the sea, the beach, jump out of his hut and run up the hill through a little track with his little boy, with his grass skirt and nothing else. Then his wife come out of the hut with a pig but long after

08:15:00:00

father had gone and she’s dragging the pig, gee, terrible sight really, but it stays in my mind, but think about the fear those two New Guinea people would have had when they saw this huge flotilla coming in to make nothing more than a practise landing. And I remember going back to the beach that day to get more cable I think it was and seeing General Blamey

08:15:30:00

doing one of those things that he might have learnt from McArthur or not, I don’t know, but show stuff. He was going on the beach with all the reporters and photographers looking for some soldier he could talk to, to get a picture taken and no-one would talk to him and I remember that but then I had to go back and find the crowd in the jungle. Anyway, after that business we went back to Moresby for a very short

08:16:00:00

time.
Can I ask for what your practise landing consisted of, like how?
Ships you mean?
Yeah just can you take me through how you went through your practise landing?
Well, it’s so inconsequential with me that I, it’s not important. The one thing I remember about it is, I wouldn’t know anything about these things really, but looking back

08:16:30:00

the sheer wastage of it, all these ships, all lined up on this little beach and a whole division just has to make a practise landing. I don’t think you have to make a practise landing with trained troops. With trained troops they do it. The blokes who landed in Normandy didn’t have any practise landing. They may have but I’ve never heard of it. It was just one of those things. I think it was MacArthur [General Douglas MacArthur Commander-In-Chief of the Allied Forces]. I think McArthur had

08:17:00:00

this government here, the Labor government, so much under his thumb and his control because of his stance and his style, that there were things done that were such a waste. This whole damn campaign in New Guinea to me was a waste, especially Lae. We starved and that still annoys me to think that you can go to a place like Tobruk where the navy keeps on bringing you stuff to keep you going. You go to a place like New Guinea with all that millions of dollars

08:17:30:00

and Yanks eating tremendous food on their ships and we were battling to get a piece of biscuit, at one stage. That’s another part of the story. That was in the first landing towards Lae and I better go from the start, hey from there?
Yeah, take me through the first landing?
Right, we landed off the landing craft which had ladders down the side. It was 23rd Battalion,

08:18:00:00

the same crowd that lost blokes on that destroyer that I mentioned earlier, when we come out of Tobruk. We mostly got strafing and bombing, no Jap. Just before we went in for the landing the sergeant, old Ron, my mate, enemy, he said, “Got a job for you.” I said, “What is it?” He said, “Well, we’re going to be

08:18:30:00

marching through this jungle.” He didn’t know how far. He said, “We’ve got to have a spare drum of cable,” and the spare drum of cable weighs about, I don’t know, many hundred weight. It’s the old fashioned, as I say, way back to the First War, wooden, steel and our cable was called Don Eight. It was seven strands of wire and one strand of copper. That’s a bit of weight in itself and then it’s wrapped up

08:19:00:00

with black and green copper, wire, cloth, and he said, “You’ve got to bring me the spare drum of cable while we advance.” And I was very unhappy about that and worst of all a bloke we called Ginger Beer Smith, who was a good bloke, but a rouseabout from up north west Australia

08:19:30:00

who got too much on this and skipped the unit when we got back to Fremantle. And he’d done jail and booze and he was one of those fellas. He was sent back to the unit just before we went on the first landing and I was the bloke to look after him and bring this drum of cable. I was very fierce about that, you know, not being with the rest of them but having this, anyway after the landing

08:20:00:00

the beach was a shemozzle. There’d been bombing and so forth and I was lucky enough to find a dump of American provisions with their reserve material. I can’t think what it was now and I stuffed my pockets with preserved fruit and Old Gold cigarettes and I couldn’t get a drum

08:20:30:00

of cable cause it hadn’t been landed. Eventually, we got the drum of cable and I had to go find Ginger Beer who was on his twenty fifth cigarette, having bad trouble cause he couldn’t get a beer. I said, “Come on Ginger, we’ve got to carry this,” and this equipment was so bad that we didn’t have anything to put through the drum of cable to carry it. We had to cut a sapling down that would fit through a square hole which was designed

08:21:00:00

for another machine. And we took off and of course the 23rd and 24th Battalion of the 26th Brigade were miles in front of us. My first introduction to how bad the jungle was, was I said, “Cut across this log.” I put my foot on the log which is about that high and went straight down into it. It was mush,

08:21:30:00

centuries it’d been lying there. That was my first introduction to what I was in, as far as New Guinea. Anyway, Ginger and I, I don’t want to make this too sad. We crossed all the creeks carrying this drum, on our own, jungle, nothing else, scared stiff, you know. Don’t know what’s going on because we haven’t seen any Japs. There’s been firing but no Japs and we just battled on

08:22:00:00

because he’s a sick man because he’s done nothing of the training that we’d been doing for weeks. And we went through quad number of creeks, dragging this drum of very heavy cable and I always remember for the second time in my life I saw a provo that I could have kissed, once at Alamein when I got lost in the battle and the mix up and the provo put me on the right track. This was the next time I could have kissed a provo cause

08:22:30:00

he asked who we were and I said, “Bloody signals, what do you think?” And he said, “Where are you going?” and I said, “I don’t know.” I said, “We’re with the 23rd Battalion.” He said, “Go up there,” so we continued on through that awful day and we got to the last creek which I think was the Burep. They’re all Bu and

08:23:00:00

half way through the creek, cause all the creeks had a lot of pebbles in them and the streams were running very fast, very fast. We got to the last, cause Ginger was also demanding I stop for a smoke, cause that’s the sort of bloke he was and I’m saying, “Keep going Ginger. We’ve got to catch our mob. They want this cable.” We got to the last river that night, evening and it was a very

08:23:30:00

strong stream, coming down from the mountains to the sea and we were just inland from the sea and he’s having trouble keeping his feet and eventually he said, “Richy, I’ve had it.” And he just fell into the water and the cable drum and I had to get Ginger, I had to make a decision, cable or Ginger and I grabbed Ginger and strangely enough the sergeant,

08:24:00:00

Ron, had run back quite a distance to find out what’s going on, cause down deep him and I were mates even though we fought like hell, to see the last drum of cable go in the last part of the night, just one of those bad moments, but saved old Ginger. Now the point of this whole story in my opinion really goes back to the fact that the general, Wootoon,

08:24:30:00

had been promoted to our division from the 7th Division, was way back where we’d landed. And set up his headquarters, sent the 23rd and the 24th Battalion to make the advance and attack and kept the crack battalion, the 48th to guard him or reserve, whatever you want to call it. Rations were

08:25:00:00

getting very low and we’re getting no supply which was bad, very bad organisation cause you can organise troops to bring rations to you. And there was no natives mixed up with it that time and we were gradually getting less and less rations and struggling through the jungle and then the order was changed that we go inland so we turn and went inland

08:25:30:00

and I think it was the 24th Brigade stayed to the coast. It was, Brigadier Evans, yeah 24th Brigade. They stayed at the coast. Incidentally during our advance we had to go out around and outside the jungle cause it was so thick and we went into the sea to get round the trees that were growing out, into the sea to get around these places to make the advance.

08:26:00:00

Where are we now? Anyway, we crossed through all these creeks and rivers and I had a rare experience, doesn’t really come into it but I looked up and my wife’s first husband, in one of these places, that’s not important. Then we left there and we went up to the last river which was the Busu, the last of this particular juncture. Busu was rather a heavy stream

08:26:30:00

coming down from the mountains and it was that where we went down to practically no food at all, no food at all. I still can’t believe it could happen to an army but I put it all down to the fact that the general was so far bloody back and didn’t care and might have been, had some animosity towards the 9th Division because I know it’s true about officers. I can tell you another story, that I abused an officer standing by that mantelpiece,

08:27:00:00

my last CO [Commanding Officer], standing there. I told him what I knew about this. Anyway, when we got to the Busu, the enemy was across the river and these woodpecker machineguns every now and again and we wanted to get across it. After all we’ve advanced from the landing and we’re going for Lae. We don’t know why the hell we’re being held up

08:27:30:00

and we haven’t got any food and all the time the brigadier, to talk to the general, has to talk to a switchboard halfway back in the jungle and Shorty Connen, one of our sigs, had to repeat what the brigadier said, to the general and then the general would talk to him, dinky di. I think it’s shameful. I’m glad I’m saying this and it can be on a record but I’m dinky di upset about

08:28:00:00

about it and one stage Brigadier Windeyer, who finished up a judge in New South Wales, a thorough hundred percent gentleman said, “Sig, I’d like a phone.” So I’m not an NCO or anything but I’m still running the blokes and I give him a phone and he said, “Go away,” you know, “private.” I knew why.

08:28:30:00

I didn’t go as far as what he wanted me to but as long as I live I’ll always remember Brigadier Windeyer, a gentleman, a scholar, educated, quiet speaking man, said, “Sir, you are nothing but a menace,” to his general. Brigadier Evans who’d gone along the coast when we’d gone inland, he apparently said some more harsh words to General Wootoon and he was what they called

08:29:00:00

in the army bowler hatted, send back, wear a bowler hat, you know, no more promotion. It was shameful in my opinion. The whole stunt was, to my money, a waste of money because Lae was being evacuated by the Japs then, although we didn’t know it. When we got across the Busu River, eventually, I think we were there a couple of days, we went into Lae

08:29:30:00

and the 7th Division, this is why I say it was all a stunt, McArthur and everything else. The 7th Division had to go to a airstrip that I know but I can’t remember at the moment but first of all they had to have American paratroops and one battery of Australian artillery just to placate publicity and

08:30:00:00

the government, they were to do a parachute jump. Then they were to advance down the Markham Valley to capture Lae and we were coming in from the coast, although we were inland then coming down the coast and they did their landing. Another part of history that’s not mentioned is that they were lined up back at Moresby or somewhere and

08:30:30:00

a plane mistook the runway and went into them and a whole lot of, a lot of Australian troops were killed by a plane. In the report it came out, “Killed in action,” but not. They were killed by an aeroplane that went off the track and churned into them. That’s part of their landing. Nadzab is the place where they landed, Nadzab. Now I was in hospital in Moresby later on and I was next to a bloke in bed and there was a hell of argument, fight between 7 and 9

08:31:00:00

Divi because the 7th Division believed that we had waited till they got there to shoot shells at them cause everybody was jealous of the 9th Division, only because of our success. When they got to the airstrip and we are supposed to have shelled them but who ordered the shells? It was Woottoon and the Brigadier Evans was sacked because he addressed his troops to say, “That we are now going to make an attack on Lae which is a sheer bloody waste of time.”

08:31:30:00

Not only that, the air force were diving on Lae and shooting it up. The Mitchell’s came in to shoot their cannons out the front and drop bombs. They asked to desist from bombing. They were told to bomb and the high level blokes come in and went in. It was all done by order, McArthur basically. Woottoon also supported it and we shelled Lae but there was no bugger there because the Jap had skidded out between us and all the time

08:32:00:00

the 7th Division had rushed down the Markham Valley to beat the 9th Division. It’s so stupid. The thing, in my opinion, it was a tremendous waste of money but the way war goes they spend millions for even, you know, but to me the whole thing was a terrible decision made by whoever, I don’t know, and blokes were killed during this, you know but the Jap had skidded through. I saw

08:32:30:00

one Jap. We actually captured a Jap, the signals captured a Jap, how about that? And a dead Jap frightened me.
Well, would you like to tell me first about the captured Jap?
The captured Jap, well I wasn’t there at the time but some of the fellas of our show, Dog Flanagan was one. He was an ex infanteer with the 48th Battalion. He got hold of this poor skinny bugger who never even had a Jap uniform.

08:33:00:00

We thought afterwards he might have been a deserter. Now there’s a long story about tobacco in this business, if you’re interested in that. Tobacco does that interest you, about smokes? The thing is my little old mate Ginger Beer Smith, he run out of smokes cause he smoked like a furnace. We only had the Makin’s [cigarette paper] and that sort of thing and when I’d

08:33:30:00

found these American provisions I’d taken my reserve Red Cross pack out of my pocket for wounds. And put my wallet of spare tobacco in there and when he run out of smokes he used to beg me for a cigarette. I’d give him half an Old Gold and then we got mixed up with the unit and they’re out of smokes so I’m dishing out these

08:34:00:00

halves and blokes were dying for smokes. I’ve never been that worried about smoking, but you’ve got to see these fellas in trouble. They’ve got to have a smoke and I’m dishing out these Old Gold’s till they run out and then up comes one tin of tobacco for about twenty men so they nominate me as the holder of it and I’ve got to give it to two blokes, as we get along the track, you know. We’re moving all the time

08:34:30:00

every day, crawling through the jungle and I’ve got to dish out this tobacco and you’ve got no idea the begging, not abject stuff but they’d come up, “Richy, give us a smoke.” “No, not until next stop, it’s his turn.” I had to be strict and in the finish, before we got to Lae, I gave the tobacco to Harry Woollen. I’ll say it right

08:35:00:00

there and when I asked for the tin back, cause I trusted him. I’d been with him all the years. He said, “You never gave it to me.” All of a sudden I haven’t got the tin of tobacco. I get no explanation. I felt bad. The other blokes wanted a smoke but I never learnt till we got into Lae, that two reinforcements come up to him. He didn’t say anything while we were on the track but they said, “We saw him go off in the jungle, roll a cigarette, throw the tin away.” That’s how bad it was and later on years later

08:35:30:00

in Sydney at a reunion I told him what I thought of him. It was one of those queer things. Now during the course of our trek through the jungle we captured this Jap who was, we had to take with us ahead of the, cause most of the time we were ahead of the infantry because of the line. If they stopped for a ten minute smoke, we’d go on laying the line. At one stage I was abused by the infantry

08:36:00:00

who were sitting down having their ten minute’s on the hour smoke. One bloke abused me. Another fella out from the distance, who I never saw, he said, “Carry on sig. Some of us understand what you mean to us.” I think the other bloke might have been a reinforcement, you know, didn’t know, but we carried on many times in front of the infantry. I suddenly found this pouch in my pocket of tobacco.

08:36:30:00

The pouch had gone rotten. I showed it to Ginger Beer Smith. I said, “You’ll kill me Ginger.” I’ve been carrying this all the time. Now don’t forget I’m laying in mud and he says, “Why?” I says, “it’s rotten.” “Give it to me,” he said and he used to go through the jungle with that stuck in the top of his hat, waiting for it to dry out and then when we captured the Jap, he used to be stuck in a little corner. They’d

08:37:00:00

opened up a bit of jungle so it was free and put a stake down in the ground this his legs and his arms so he couldn’t move and put a guard on him, possibly two. One day I saw Ginger smoking. I said, “What the hell are you smoking?” He said, “Boong twist.” Boong twist is a native smoke and he’d seen this Jap had had some so he risked his life crawling through and ratted that Jap and come out.

08:37:30:00

He could have been killed, yeah. He wanted me to smoke some. I wouldn’t have it.
And what about the dead Jap?
The dead Jap, well I was out front laying line. As I said, we used to go in front of the infantry and I see this uniform in the grass. I forget what colour it was now, greenie sort of and I went down dead. I, you know

08:38:00:00

I’ve got no rifle. I thought, “I’m gone here, he’s just waiting,” and I lay there for a while and thought a lot. Then all of a sudden I thought, “He hasn’t moved,” so I had a bit of a peep, then I had a closer, he was dead, the only Jap that frightened me. It was quite silly but, still, it happens, you know.
These are quite different conditions to what you were experiencing in the Middle East?
Yeah.
What was

08:38:30:00

it like laying lines in the jungle?
Very difficult, more difficult than the desert because we laid them on the ground. That’s the only place you could put them, on the ground. In the jungle we had to put them up in the trees and, I don’t know why, it was just the order came out they had to go up there and in those early campaigns we did it, we were barefooted. We were, you know the usual boots but later on we were given climbing irons, used to climb

08:39:00:00

the tree and even put a cross arm on the tree but that was after we’d been in action. That was this line we had to line out to Sio. I better tell you about this. We were going on the Busu River and a line fort and I went out to fix it, went back through the jungle, found the line, fixed the line, thought, “Now Shorty Connor’s not far away from here, I’m sure.” That’s

08:39:30:00

the bloke sitting on the switchboard and the strangest sight I ever saw in the war was to find a clearing in the jungle and an office switchboard that you’d see in an office, polished wood. There’s Shorty sitting there, a rare sight, believe me but that was there because the bloody general was so far back, you know. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? God, anyway, Shorty said to me, “You’re going pretty hungry

08:40:00:00

up there are you?” I said, “Yeah, you must know something.” He said, “Yeah.” He said, “I’ve heard you’ve not got any provisions.” He said, “You’d better have half of this,” and he give me half a tin of peaches. So I sat down on whatever, decided to get into these peaches and out of the jungle came an officer and a sergeant and the officer had one of these old fashioned walkie-talkie’s with the long business with a aerial to go with it. And he said to Corporal Shorty Conlan,

08:40:30:00

“What’s going on?” There’d been a lot of firing and he said, “Well, we reckon some Jap marines have landed,” you know, “But they’ve headed off that way. They’re being,” you know, “Attacked.” I didn’t give a toot about that. The tin of peaches were important to me and he looked at me and he said, “Well, you don’t look like you’re doing much.” I said, “No.” He said, “You go back and find my mob and tell them what’s going on,”

08:41:00:00

which was the 2/48th Battalion, the crack battalion with 9th Division. And I had to go back and find them in the jungle, dead scared they’re going to flamin’ shoot at the first thing they see. I tell you, and of all the fights I’ve had, and I’ve had a few, I’ll never forget going back through that jungle, to get a message to the 48th Battalion, knowing they were advancing towards me. Anyway, eventually I found them and told the, I had to be taken to the senior officer, explain

08:41:30:00

the situation. And I went and advanced then with the 48th and then found my way back to the Busu River but that was, to me, one of the worst bloody experiences I ever had.
Interviewee: George Richardson Archive ID 1690 Tape 09

09:00:33:00

So just tell us about getting almost shot yourself?
Well, because I’d only had green trousers and green shirt and it was saturated with the muck of the jungle, I had a swim or whatever it was and I found these Jap sailors uniforms, white, so I put one on and at that time new troops were landing at Lae from all over the world including Americans

09:01:00:00

and they were the 532nd Engineer Shore Battalion. And somebody saw this bloke in a white uniform, you know and I dived into the mud of this hole and get up swearing and carrying on and an officer grabbed me. He heard the language and he saw the white uniform and he really got stuck into me about wearing the enemy’s uniform.

09:01:30:00

I said, “Yeah but I just got out of my own uniform which was full of,” you know, expletive. I was never afraid of talking to officers in a bad way. I don’t, cocky I s’pose. He went quiet cause he’d only just landed there. Anyway, I think that’s enough of that, I’ll forget that. We went for the second landing on Red Beach,

09:02:00:00

got the same thing, aerial attack. Going in on that landing was an unusual moment. We were in flat barges in those days and the barges were built by the Yanks in such a way that you couldn’t get back to the crew, which was I think three fellas, that had a tremendous big marine engine in the back. And we were going in on the first row

09:02:30:00

when the Japs started to bomb and carry on and they, I’ve read since that napalm [jellied petrol], you know napalm, was a later thing. I still think this was napalm cause I can’t understand why the Japs just dropped petrol into the jungle but the terrifying thing was that that dirty, stinking, wet, rotten jungle just

09:03:00:00

lit up in flames. Now we’re all scared. You’re going into a landing but the crew of our particular landing barge decided that they weren’t going in and they decided to turn the barge around using the engine, the big marine engine, to hide behind to dodge the firing. I went to the back of the boat and you couldn’t get back to them, I didn’t think then because

09:03:30:00

they’d built this sort of a frame around to stop anybody in the front going to the back but a dear old mate of mine, Joe Lobb, tough New South Wales bloke, he got there. I don’t know how he did it but he went round the back and he turned his rifle round. He says, “Get in you cowardly so and so’s,” and forced them into making us land. We did the landing

09:04:00:00

and there wasn’t much great activity except that we had to find this track. And eventually found the track, must have been late at night and we’re going up this track when we were told to stop and they put out a picket round the business. And as often happens, reos, reinforcements, get told to do the job, you know because bit of sympathy for the old soldier,

09:04:30:00

whatever and this poor little reo was put out on a picket. And I can remember hearing him calling out, “Give the password.” Passwords had to have L’s in them because the Jap couldn’t say an L and he never got a password and I was told afterwards that his voice started to shake cause it was the first time

09:05:00:00

ever and my dear old mate Don Flanagan, brother of the bloke I was mixed up with at Alamein on the first night of the battle. He was a ex 48th Battalion bloke who’d got a chance to get out of Tobruk because he’d been knocked around and refused to go and, because his brother was with our unit. He stayed. He was a great soldier, Don. He said, “Listen kid, I’ll look after this,”

09:05:30:00

so he took over the picket job and kept on calling out, “Give the password,” and the password wasn’t given and the bloke come in and he got shot in the head. He was one of our blokes. Now I go back a bit further to Tobruk when a bloke lost his leg, Ord Wittcroft and he was with this same fella who got shot in the head and two Bill’s, I’ll just say two Bill’s. One Bill was elderly and got evacuated

09:06:00:00

out of Tobruk and that was the end of the war for him. The other Bill was the bloke, the only one younger than me in the unit and he never said a word and soldiered on. But at Alamein when I was put back to hospital for infected bloody wog sores, young Bill came to me and said, “Hey, how about going into Alex [Alexandria]?” I said, “How do you get a leave pass?” He said, “Forget about that. Would you go in?” I said, “Righto,” so we did a [UNCLEAR] business,

09:06:30:00

went into Alex. I noticed that I had to find the money and I knew he was a gambler too. He was only a kid really and next day he come and asked me to go again and I said, “No.” I said, “The story is that Rommel’s going to attack down the south,” which turned out to be true and I said, “I’d hate to be here when we should be up there.” I went back to the unit.

09:07:00:00

I didn’t know it, but Bill had deserted, from this episode where he’d seen Ord Whittcroft’s leg go off. So there’s the first Bill been sent home, young Bill’s deserted, sent home as a SNARLA [?], that’s soldier with no, whatever. I forget now and then we get to the second landing and the bloke who can’t give the password cause he’s tongue tied with fear, gets a bullet in his head, out of the four. That’s a story in itself, isn’t it?

09:07:30:00

Anyway, we got over that, after a lot of difficulty. Poor old Don suffered till he died, knocking off poor old Tim and I don’t think I’m that aware of Finschhafen or any of that but the main thing that I’m, cause I think I was starting to get sick then but anyway we had to make a move onto Mount Sattelberg. When I say we, I’m talking about the 26th,

09:08:00:00

the 48th Battalion, the 26th Brigade did the advance up to the mountain and where to their left on a track that might have been used from the beach to that mountain. And we were getting pretty well shelled by people who were wiser who said they were French seventy fives, that the Japs had got on or whether they’d copied, I don’t know. Now you could see the infantry way over there on the mountain going up this

09:08:30:00

cliff trying to get to the top to knock the Jap off and then there was a delay and we were puzzled why there was a delay because they were so close and Diver Derrick, the VC winner, by this time was an officer. He had sent back for the Australian flag. Now what often annoys me is you get these wise acres who say, “It was never used. It was never fought under.” Diver Derrick

09:09:00:00

sent back for the Australian flag before he took the top and then instead of putting it on a flag like the Yanks do with Iwo Jima, he just laid it over the bushes. And I can see that flag to this day on the top of Sattelberg. Diver Derrick was a bloke who earned his living during the Depression going up and picking grapes, lived in the area not far from where I lived. And he was such a good soldier that I had this told to me by a bloke who finished up in

09:09:30:00

my unit, that in Tobruk when they were out on the perimeter in the sand, in a hole, soldiering on as much as they can, the crew went crook about this corporal, “Fancy being under him, bloody little idiot,” and this fella told me the story himself. He said Diver turned round and said, “Listen, he’s the corporal. If you’ve got any argument with him, you’ve got it with me.” That was before he was ever an NCO or anything.

09:10:00:00

He was a natural soldier and he become a officer and a VC winner and a small digression in this is that during my Middle East leave I went to look up some mates of mine that I’d known before the war as schoolkids, found them in the back of a hotel, skulking but thought, you know, “Go and see my old mates.” And after I time I finished up

09:10:30:00

one bloke said to me, “Where you been?,” told them. “You’re not going to the islands, you must be man with the Union Jack.” That was the words he used and I turned my glass over. I said, “You bastards.” Later on that fella chased me up, after the war, and apologised but one of those fellas was Mick Arnold who, when I came back from the islands, met him in a pub again. He was in civilian clothes. I was in civilian clothes. He said, “Where you been George?” I said, “Don’t start that bloody business again

09:11:00:00

Mick.” He said, “No, dinky di, I’ve been there,” and I said, “Who with?” He said, “The 48th Battalion.” I said, “You haven’t?” He said, “Yeah.” He said, “I’m with Diver Derrick. I’m in his platoon.”
And what did it mean to see the flag laid out?
I don’t think, I just think it’s Australia. I don’t think there’s a great deal of, you know salute the flag and all the rest of it. I don’t think. I think it’s just one of those things that

09:11:30:00

when you fight for anything, the flag’s just a symbol, you know. I think that’s all it is but I can see that flag up now and I’ve been terribly annoyed hearing all those conversations when they’re trying to get rid of the flag. What Diver Derrick did, who was as good an Australian as you’d ever see in your life, put a flag up and actually slow the attack down to send back for it, which is climbing down the bloody mountain and then climbing up again. And

09:12:00:00

we don’t make as much of the flag as the Americans or anybody else but I think you’ll find the same as I said earlier, when Dunkirk was on, biggest influx into the army. This is blatant, deep down patriotism. Either patriotism, you call it patriotism, or love of your country, you know, hit the spot? Anyway, we captured Sattelberg,

09:12:30:00

they captured Sattelberg. I hate taking credit for anything I don’t, we captured Sattelberg and we got up there on the top of the mountain. There was no mosquitos, thought, “Oh, beauty,” didn’t take our Atebrin [malaria medication], the tablet. Went back down to the unit, which by that time was down near the coast, with an artillery battery right alongside, banging off guns all the time. Malaria, we packed up, the whole lot of us

09:13:00:00

and I don’t remember the flight and I’m a flight maniac. Don’t remember the flight back to Moresby. Got back to Moresby and was in hospital there for a while and conned them into keeping me there too. Then we went back up to the unit and we found we had a job of laying these lines up the coast in preparation for advance I s’pose

09:13:30:00

which we did before earlier and climbing up these trees all the time, was climbing on it and nailing a cross arm and putting the lines each way, was more like civilian work. We did a bit of civilian work in Syria but it wasn’t like army business but I’ve never forgotten a couple of things. One is, we’re climbing up these trees, unknowing that they were rotten

09:14:00:00

inside. You get up there and they’d crack and down you’d go and just recently, a couple of years back, they said, “You’ve broken your shoulder.” I said, “No, I haven’t.” They said, “Yes, you have, it’s evidence there.” It turned out, I reckon, that we come off those trees so hard now and again and crashed into the jungle, that I must have done it then, no other time. I couldn’t think of any possible other time, I’ve done fours and all the rest but

09:14:30:00

we come off a tree and crashed, you know and just went back on the job. That’s how it is but the funniest thing about all that line laying then is we had a bloke, Rocky somebody or other who was a misery. And he was miserable about anything and everything and when we were up these trees, because we were laying a line through the jungle, we were interfering with the jungle canopy

09:15:00:00

and any Jap who saw any interference would, you know have a hit at something. And so we got done over a few times but on this occasion we were all up our different trees and we jumped, naturally and he hadn’t released his wire. It was caught up in his pliers and I can see him now running like hell

09:15:30:00

pulled up with the cable and did he ever cry but the rest of us just died laughing because, you know we didn’t mind this bloke suffering and later on in the Tablelands. A priest came up and he said to me, “Do you know a Rocky,” whatever his name was and I said, “Yeah I know him.” He said, “Will you take me to him?” And I took him to see Rocky in his tent and Rocky’s under the blanket. He’s bludging at his job and the

09:16:00:00

priest grabs hold of his foot. He said, “Rocky, you haven’t been to the mess,” a few other words and all of a sudden Rocky said, “No,” and he said, “You know the good Lord can do a lot for you Rocky.” Rocky said, “Can he get me a so and so discharge?” and the priest said, “No.” He said, “Well, he’s no bloody good to me,” and he didn’t say anything, yeah he pulled the blanket back. I thought, “God Almighty,” anyway one of those things but he was one of the amusing moments

09:16:30:00

of the islands. I don’t know. There’s a couple of others but I can’t think of them now, yeah. I found, this might interest you, girls. That bloke I was with yesterday. We were out on some sort of line job in the jungle and, don’t forget, this is out of Sattelberg and we’re in virgin jungle, to us anyway

09:17:00:00

and I was only laughing with my daughter after we’d left Lofty. He was a snake man. He was a back woodsman and he told us yesterday he’s got seven hundred and fifty different types of horse stirrups, how about that? He’s got them from Iceland, Egypt and everywhere. Anyway, Lofty and I are going along and all of a sudden this snake bobbed up. Oh, oh me.

09:17:30:00

He said, “What’s wrong George?” I said, “Bloody snake.” He said, “Where?” I said, “Went in that old Jap slit trench.” It was filled with leaves. He said, “In there?” He went, felt around for it and I thought, “Gees.” He was one of those blokes. A lot I could tell you about Lofty but we’ll skip that. While we were going along through this heated, smelly jungle, a smell that I’ll never forget and I hate very deeply. I could have gone back there once, wouldn’t go. I spelt female powder,

09:18:00:00

face powder. Can you imagine that sort of coming through the air when you’re in sort of rottenness, which, what it is it’s rotten, so I went and investigated and found this little quiet retreat that must have been a Japanese brothel. There was this hut on stilts with the leaves and all the rest of it but the closer you got there, the more you got the smell

09:18:30:00

and not far from there was a tree that grew out over the sea, over Lagamack Bay [?]. And they’d dug steps in the tree and put a handrail up where there was a fork and we reckoned that was the toilet and in that hut was various other items, which I can’t remember now. But I did find condoms in packets

09:19:00:00

and on the back was, “Thank you miss,” in English and I consider, without any great proof, that I was the only bloke ever found that. And I think it was a secret spot the Japs used to, Jap officers, don’t think it’d be anybody else, would go to this place, little holiday resort, or tiny little place really but I’ll never forget the smell of female face powder

09:19:30:00

in the jungle and that’s what I found, yeah. Trying to think of anything else that might be important. I don’t know whether that’s important. Is that important?
Well, it is important because brothels were very uncommon in the New Guinea show.
I couldn’t swear it was but I only can tell you what I saw and what I assumed and what, when I told the other fellas, they assumed too.

09:20:00:00

I don’t know. I really don’t know.
Well, how did the rain hamper your work in New Guinea?
Didn’t hamper us, just kept on going. The only thing that I remember really hampering us was the dust storms in North Africa, particularly in Tobruk and we couldn’t do a darn thing. You couldn’t see your hand

09:20:30:00

and at one stage, because of the dust, we were all talking like we were organs and I remember I finished up in a hole once and I looked at one of the blokes in the hole. He had pips on his shoulders, captain. I said, “Are you a doctor?” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “How’s this going to affect us?” and he said, “Oh, it’s going to affect you” he said, “All that dust that you’re swallowing,” cause we

09:21:00:00

swallowed tonnes of it, natural, but in the jungle, no, as far as rain and water, just lived with it, you know. I don’t remember ever being stopped by it. It was more annoying at Port Moresby when we couldn’t go to some entertainment, you know, which was only pictures. No, I think that’s all I can say about that.
Well, you just mentioned that you

09:21:30:00

were hospitalised?
Where? Yeah, Port Moresby.
After Sattelberg?
Yeah.
How did you come to get your B class?
This is, wait a minute. After Sattelberg and then up towards Sio, we were suddenly brought back to a place, I don’t know the name of it where we had to wait for a ship to take us

09:22:00:00

back to Australia. My sergeant, old Ron, he said, “Now it’s about time you took stripes.” I’d been doing a corporal’s job ever since ages back but I didn’t want promotion. It’s one of those funny things about me. I said, “Alright, I’ll have a go,” cause we knew what was going on, blokes were, anyway

09:22:30:00

so we went back to the Tablelands again and he sent me off to a school which was NCO’s and underground cable. The underground cable, you know a lot of joining all, was to do with Manila which we didn’t do because apparently Macarthur [General Douglas Macarthur Commander-In-Chief of the Allied Forces] thought we weren’t worthwhile, only the Americans. I’m glad he did. So I went back to Brisbane

09:23:00:00

and did a school and then went back to the unit and then I found when I got back and got up for the pyjama parade first thing in the morning, that I didn’t know who the hell I was with. I asked what had gone on and they said I’d just boarded through the unit and picked out all the old soldiers and their health and made them B class so I did that

09:23:30:00

parade. I never went on another parade. I said, “Bugger you blokes. I’m going to get B class.” Ron Hanson also got off to an officer’s training course and I finished up finding the tents of these medico’s who’d done the boarding medical examination of all the division. And they were empty but I got into one empty tent and I screamed out for a doctor, “Anybody around?” And one eventually come out in his shirt

09:24:00:00

sleeves. He said, “What are you making such a noise about?” I said, “I want a B class.” “Oh, just like that?” I said, “Yep,” told him a brief story, he sent away for my X-rays. He took a look at my X-rays. He didn’t ask me to take my boot off. He said, “You should have been B class in 1940,” no ’41, yeah, so I got a B class.

09:24:30:00

And what, where were you when the war ended?
Well, I think I mentioned that I got back from Queensland by a lot of shonky moves, was put into hospital down here at Caparra, still shonky, got pinched,

09:25:00:00

then they caught up with me and put me on a train back to Queensland. In Victoria in Camp Pell I think it was, Camp Pell I was in a line of blokes going up to a hut for some reason or other and I heard the voice of the fella who’s in that Tobruk Trog picture and he was a loud mouth, shatter. I heard it. I thought, “God, Digger Ledgerwood,” so I

09:25:30:00

raised my voice, hey Digger, what do you think you’re abusing these blokes for?” “Who’s that?” I said, “Richy.” That was the end of the session. The queue just went for nothing. He come around, we grabbed each other, talked. I said, “Hey, they’re sending me back to Queensland, can you do anything?” He said, “No, but get onto Bill McLachlan,” so the journalist bloke, who’s also in the photo, he’d been seconded to the Victoria Barracks to do a history of the signals and Bill was a very close friend

09:26:00:00

of mine. As soon as he contacted Bill, he said, “We’ve got Richy here and he don’t want to go to Queensland. What can we do?” And I went to South Melbourne Barracks to signals depot but I didn’t stay long. I got into trouble again. Not very much but I was sort of, in those times, I was in a mood where I didn’t give a toot at discipline. I’d done my bit.

09:26:30:00

I was cocky. Anyway, for punishment I was sent to Queenscliff in the fort, which I was told was the Siberia of the south. When I landed at Queenscliff the officer said, “Which one’s Richardson?” I said, “I am,” surly, “I am” and he said, “You’re my new stenographer secretary.”

09:27:00:00

He couldn’t have said a worse word. I said, “What?” And it goes back to that psycho test they put me in back in Bathurst which made me an orderly blue clerk until I got out of it in Julis. And for a while I was in the clerk’s business and then I got into the switchboard where I organised the community sig song with all the girls of all the switchboards around the peninsula.

09:27:30:00

Sound silly, do you think I’m putting it on? And at the same time, I think it was the second night, I went out into the town and I met a girl, young girl. I took a shine to her and I was told by the other blokes, “That’s the adjutant’s daughter, leave off that.” Worse thing they could say and

09:28:00:00

eventually Joyce and I knocked around together and I become so much a part of the family that I think of it kindly, very deeply but the only thing was that when I was due for discharge and I had more points than anybody else for my service and long service I wasn’t getting discharged, I wasn’t going off. That’s when I got a bit mad and when I got back here she still come back over

09:28:30:00

to Adelaide to try and talk me back into Melbourne, yeah.
Well, after your discharge, you mentioned earlier that you did suffer from being a bit bomb happy?
Yeah, I was increasingly in Victoria. I was worse. In those days I used to sneak off into the sand hills and scream. I did. I used to scream to sort of get the tension out of me. It’s one of those things. You didn’t know what was going on really, you know. I never had it at home here

09:29:00:00

when I was on leave. I never had it in Queensland. It wasn’t really until I got down to Queenscliff and it was a more sedentary life, you know quiet. Although, we had a wet canteen and I could tell you some wild stories about all that, but the thing was I think it started to hit me there and I used to sneak off so nobody knew and I’d scream and I couldn’t sit in a theatre.

09:29:30:00

I’d have to get out of it. It was all those things and it went on after I’d married but much less, much less but when I was in Queenscliff I used to go off in the sand hills or go off to the beach and just scream. It was my way of letting out the tension I had. That’s a true story. It sounds a bit weird but it’s true.
And in what way did that tension relate to your war experience?

09:30:00:00

I think it was all the fright I had, frights that you don’t admit when they’re on. Boy, I’m saying things I’ve never heard myself say before but I think that’s what it comes down to. You keep yourself so much under control in bad situations that sometime it’s got to come out. I can’t swear to that but it’s just a half a thought, you know. I was still playing up and carrying on in Queenscliff and carrying on my usual nonsensical way

09:30:30:00

and serious. A little interesting story there is that Mrs Buchanan, mother of Joyce, had a late child and Joyce was more a mother than her own mother, his own mother and we used to take little Frankie out and Frankie and I become bosom pals because he was teaching me about the world

09:31:00:00

so different from the soldier’s world I’d been living in and little Frankie and I were real tight.
And what did you miss, after you left the army, what did you miss?
I don’t remember missing much. I just decided I had to be civilian so I decided to be civilian. The only thing is that

09:31:30:00

we went to El Alamein reunion, I think it was 1946, and we had such a whale of a time, there’s a picture there, that when we left there we were going to split up. We never had cars in those days. We had to catch buses and trains and all the rest of it and just before we stood up I said, “Listen, why don’t we have a reunion?” And Ray Lambert said,

09:32:00:00

“Richy, you start it and I’ll second it,” and I used to have to come up from Port Willunga by bus to have meetings and we organised the biggest committee you ever had in your life cause everybody wanted to be on it. And we had that for many years and I stipulated from the start that we do not sit in the chair. We give everybody a chance to rotate but I never got out of the chair for five or six years. It was a long time.

09:32:30:00

I couldn’t get out of the chair.
And today, when you look back on your war experience, how do you think it changed you?
I think I’m better for it. There’s one thing, I just had a big fight with my daughter down there. This is natural. We’re a good family but bingo, you know. I found out one thing when I travelled around Australia

09:33:00:00

digging up the blokes and I did the whole of Australia. I found everybody I could. They’ve all had their bloody troubles and a lot of it’s family, including suicide and I put it all down to the way the war service moulded us, unconsciously.
Well, why do you think it was perhaps, in reflection, the best time and the worst time?
I think I was

09:33:30:00

between the transition of being a boy and a man, doesn’t seem all that important really when you say it but I think when I joined I was still a boy. Well, I was. I had my 21st birthday. They say that’s when you become a man. That’s a lot of baloney. You never become a man, in my opinion, till you’ve had experience and you’ve had trouble, you’ve had all the things that you’re supposed to have.

09:34:00:00

And I think I had that and one of the things I’m bloody glad about is the fact that I didn’t take a commission or go on a promotion because I saw those fellas change and just recently, it saddens me to know, that I sort of lost a friend. I visit the hospitals and all that caper. There’s a fella called Captain Patterson who was the most respected officer in our unit, not an officer of mine.

09:34:30:00

He was mixed up with the operators and I found him there by accident. He was a swanky looking bloke and he’s talking about when he was with Macarthur. I thought, “You’ll get on sport,” and when I walked back it was him. I said, “Hey Patto, how you going?” “Don’t know you,” and I had to remind him, won’t go into details. He took me to check the ablutions, typical officer. Anyway,

09:35:00:00

his brain had gone. Now he was a tremendous bloke, a gentleman, a scholar and he changed but before he died he rang me one day and he said, incidentally I go back to the fact of the reunion. When I’d organised everything to get out of the chair and become one of the blokes, he turned up and he’d charged himself with brandy. He’s not much of a drinker but he’d charged himself, as he admitted to me later,

09:35:30:00

with brandy, and he wanted to make sure that the unit stayed the same and when we had it all cut and dried about the re-election he said, “I think they’re doing a good job, don’t you?” And they all said, “Yes,” and I’m back in the chair again but that was a good relationship and then this thing happened. He rang me up one day and he said, “George, my knees are gone. I want you to lead the march.” I said, “Never in your life Patto,” because he did. He was the

09:36:00:00

officer. He said, “Why not?” I said, “Just don’t like it.” He said, “No, George,” but the thing is, even though it’s years later, when he said these things, it was still an officer so I refused that. Then he wanted to go out to the Hampstead Barracks and give a lecture about Alamein, take his place, and I refused that and I think I was insubordinate and we sort of lost the friendship, but not in the finish. We finished up alright before he died.
And what was the 9th

09:36:30:00

Division’s nickname?
I only said earlier about, maybe it was Ali Baba Morshead and the Forty Thousand Thieves. That’s the only way I know it. We were also called the glamour boys. That’s by 7 Divi and a few others. It was really jealousy but that’s all I know.
And what makes you so proud to be a 9th Divi?
Because I was with the best. Easy to say. They were a great bunch of blokes. I’m getting

09:37:00:00

sentimental. Yeah, they were the best, no kidding, tremendous.
And what kind of last message would you like to put down on record for future generations do you think in relation to the 9th Divi and the signal unit specifically,

09:37:30:00

last words, about what kind of message would you like to leave about the 9th Divi?
I thought I’d said it, but I’ll say it again. I’m proud to have served with them. I’ve learnt to be proud of soldiers who really were in action and it’s one of the reasons why

09:38:00:00

started an RSL. I was proud to be elected of the first president of my unit association and since then I’ve kept up association with all of them except in latter years as they’ve died off I’ve sort of receded myself into being just another bloke in Australia.
Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you today and listening to all of your other stories?
You think so, with all the other stories you hear

09:38:30:00

gees, yeah go on, sorry love.
I was just going to say thank you very much.
I’ve enjoyed it too.
What would you like to say in closing?
Well, I think you two girls are quite marvellous. You made it so easy for me, a thing that I wouldn’t like to do under any circumstance and didn’t know I was mixed up with all this business. I think you do a sterling job. You’ve got a great style, dinky di. You’ve made me say things that I never thought I’d ever say

09:39:00:00

before. I s’pose I’ve said at different times but never in such a long winded story and I think there’s another thing too. I just said I’m proud of the division and my unit. I think that’s one of the things I wanted to say really, in case somebody else didn’t say it and I thank you very much for your style which has made it easy for me. I’ve enjoyed looking at your smiling faces and

09:39:30:00

I thank you too.
Thank you so much George. That was a fantastic wrap.
INTERVIEW ENDS

Comments

0 Comments You must to sign in to add a comment Add a comment