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].”
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
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
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
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?”
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
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
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.
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
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?
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
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,”
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,”
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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
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?”
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
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.
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
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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
“We’ll take you while you’re still warm.” That’s when I joined the army.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.”
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,
“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
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
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
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
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
where we got a rough time again because the militia blokes there treated us very badly.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
“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
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.
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
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]
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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
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,
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
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?
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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.”
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
on it was an entry, “Admitted four-thirty,” or whatever, “Dead five-thirty,” whatever so that was the end of Eddie.
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
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,
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
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
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
Ray Tompkins, Doodles we called him and I started a club in there.
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
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
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
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,
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
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?”
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
“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
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
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.
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.
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
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,”
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
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
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?”
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,
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
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,
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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,”
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,
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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,”
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
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,”
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
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
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
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
cloth in the desert and I often wonder whether anybody knew where it fell down, you know.
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
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
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
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
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,”
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.”
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.
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.
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
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,
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.”
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
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,
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
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.
Tel el Eisa is the proper name, yeah but I couldn’t make out why they were shooting us from there, yeah.
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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.”
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
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
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
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
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
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
through the war and it broke when I was in New Guinea and I went barefoot for a while, quite a while.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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,
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,
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.”
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
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
one Jap. We actually captured a Jap, the signals captured a Jap, how about that? And a dead Jap frightened me.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
He could have been killed, yeah. He wanted me to smoke some. I wouldn’t have it.
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
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
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,
“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,”
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
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.
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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,”
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
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,
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.
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?
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,
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.”
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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,
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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
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
to Adelaide to try and talk me back into Melbourne, yeah.
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.
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.
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,
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,
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
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.