Laurence McEvoy
Archive number: 1693
Preferred name: Bill
Date interviewed: 23 March, 2004

Served with:

2/48th Battalion
AIF

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Laurence McEvoy 1693

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Transcript

Tape 01

01:00:50:00

I would like to start off today by asking if you could give us an introduction to Bill?
Bill, now that’s a name that was given

01:01:00:00

to me when I was just a little tacker. My name is Laurence Henry McEvoy. I was born in Broken Hill, 6th of February, 1924. I went to school, Morgan Street School, when I was about five. Then I went to

01:01:30:00

North Broken Hill Primary School and then to Broken Hill High School. I left there when I was about thirteen and a half, fourteen. I looked for work, couldn’t find any. So I went out on the road. I travelled mostly

01:02:00:00

in New South Wales. I went up to the Queensland border. No work anywhere, so back to Broken Hill I went, and I worked in a dairy there for a year, eighteen months. I was getting ten [shillings] and sixpence a week, and keep.

01:02:31:00

The war started, or had started, so I started to think, “What will I do?” So I made up my mind and joined the army. That was thirty-five shillings a week, and keep. So, do you want me to go into my army service then?

01:03:02:00

If you could give me a brief summary of your different postings?
I left Broken Hill and went down round about Wentworth. I was on my own, I walked, and I met three other fellows. So the four of us, we became kind of mates. They were around twenty.

01:03:32:00

So we decided that we would head over towards Sydney. Anyway, we walked and walked and walked. We got as far as Sydney, and I said, “I’m not going to Sydney.” “Why?” “There’s no work there.” “Right, we’ll go somewhere else. We’ll go up to Newcastle, and go up that way.” And that’s what we did.
That’s your leaving home

01:04:00:00

story, but what I was asking for was just a summary of your army postings, and we’ll come back and talk about the rest.
The army postings. The first camp I was in was at Wayville. And we were in a motor pavilion there, and it was a big building. That held around about a

01:04:30:00

thousand men at the best of times. And from there, only about a month later we went up to Woodside for about six weeks. Then we were told to go on leave because we

01:05:00:00

we were going to go overseas. So I had seven days’ leave, then back to Woodside and then we went away. We went over to Melbourne and we joined a ship, the Il de France. That would have been early April.

01:05:35:00

Could you just take us through the different places that you went to in the Middle East?
We stood off Fremantle but we couldn’t go ashore. The next stop was at Colombo and we had about two or three days ashore there. And from there we went on

01:06:00:00

to Ismailiyah, which was in Egypt. I’m pretty sure it was. And then we went by train back to Palestine. We were in a camp there called Magazi. And about six weeks later we went down to Alexandria

01:06:31:00

and Egypt. We were put aboard a ship the HMAS Abdul, which was a mine laying cruiser…
And then where did you go?
From Alexandria we went up to Tobruk. We got there the 21st of June.

01:07:00:00

And then I joined the 2/48th Battalion there and stayed there until near the end of October. Then we came out on another ship, the HMAS Kingston, a destroyer. Back to

01:07:30:00

Alexandria and then we were put on a train to Amiriya and we had a good feed there. From Amiriya we went onto Palestine a place called Dulles camp. We had Christmas there and went from there to Tripoli in Lebanon.

01:08:05:00

Just out of Tripoli we were placed in barracks, the Legoult barracks. And we stayed there until the end of June 1942.
And where did you go then?
At the end of June we

01:08:30:00

hopped onto trucks and we went down again to Egypt. And we went as far as just outside of Cairo. We stayed there one night and then we went down into the desert. We stayed at a place called Shammama Halt.

01:09:00:00

There we stayed until the 10th of July and then we went into action at a place called Tel el Eisa.
We will spend quite a bit of time talking about that action later on. How long were you at Tel el Eisa for?
We were at Tel el Eisa

01:09:30:00

from the 10th of July until the second Alamein started. Tel el Eisa and Alamein were almost the same place. Two railway stations. No-one lived there. I don’t think anyone wanted to live there.
So you were at Tel el Eisa for about three months before you were moved down to El Alamein?

01:10:00:00

Yes, and then we came back for the final preparations for the big Alamein show.
You were wounded at Alamein. Where did you go after you were wounded?

01:10:32:00

I went to a hospital at Alexandria. And then I went on a hospital ship up to Haifa and then down to hospital near Gaza. I was there

01:11:00:00

until about January and then I rejoined my unit and we caught a ship and came home.
And how long were you in hospital when you came home?
I was in hospital from February to around July or August.

01:11:34:00

Then I was sent down to a convalescent camp at Strathalbyn then back to Wayville mucking around. They couldn’t find anything for me to do and I think I didn’t want to do it anyway, and then they decided to discharge me.
And when were you discharged?

01:12:01:00

In November ’43. So it was a short war.
And after you were discharged, where did you go?
I met a few fellows that I know and we had a bit of party in Adelaide for about a month or whatever. And then the money ran out. So I went back to Broken Hill and I got a job.

01:12:30:00

That was with the PMG [Post Master General’s] Department. And I stayed for about five years and then I decided to come down to Adelaide to work. I was still with the PMG Department. But I didn’t really like the work there so I

01:13:00:00

applied and I was admitted to what they called the Third Division. It was mostly clerical. Again I went into the PMG Department in the stores branch. And it was quite interesting until I ran afoul of the boss. So I applied,

01:13:32:00

or I was nearly pushed into, the Department of Social Security as it was then. And I stayed there until I retired around about 1980. And that was it.
And marriage and…?
Yes. I got married in about 1949.

01:14:05:00

There were three children with the marriage, but the marriage broke up. And then Den and I were going out for a while so we married. I’d been divorced and

01:14:30:00

married, and since then I’ve probably settled down. So that’s it.
And when was your second marriage?
In the 1980s I suppose. This is just off the head. I’ve forgot. I’ve very little recollections of yesterday. I forget the dates. I don’t want to know them.

01:15:08:00

So what was Broken Hill like?
It hasn’t changed. It was small dusty and self-centred. Almost everyone seemed to know each other and

01:15:30:00

I got on well with everyone up there. As I said, I grew up there until I left there when I was sixteen and joined the army.
I’m very interested to hear what Broken Hill was like in the ’30s when you were a young man.
Well, those who

01:16:00:00

worked on the mines had a good permanent job and it was well paid until the lead bonus came in, and then they got a percentage of that, everyone. I don’t know what it was. Money never ever worried me. But they did get a rise in pay because of this lead bonus. I don’t know whether people saved anything

01:16:30:00

because they were gamblers and gamblers never win. So a lot of that never went to their homes. It wasn’t really isolated, but it was isolated. I don’t know how to put it. They relied on Adelaide for holidays.

01:17:01:00

When people came from Sydney they just wanted to get back to Sydney or wherever else they come from other than Adelaide. It was a very dusty place in summer time. And I remember one time there was a funeral and the dust storm was that thick,

01:17:30:00

it ended up almost into a hotel. They stopped the funeral and most of the people went into the hotel, except for the fellow in the coffin. Another time I was coming home – I lived at home – I would have been fifty yards from home and I became

01:18:00:00

lost. You couldn’t see two inches from your nose. So some of those dust storms, they were bad. Rain? Not often, but sometimes it used to come down, boompf, all in one heap. And that was the end of it for another month. Shops? They were mainly in Argent Street or out in South Broken Hill in Hebbert Street.

01:18:31:00

Railway town. Just one street there, too. So that was the shopping areas. Until the money came in, the increase in the lead bonus. And all that sort of thing people wanted more so they opened up more shops. But overall it was simply a town.
And where was your family house?
The family house was almost central.

01:19:01:00

I lived in a house in Williams Lane. It’s still there. My sister still lives in it. What I can remember of it, it was just a wood and iron home. Small fluted iron, that was the interior, the big fluted irons with the exterior. Since then it’s been done up. It’s a rather presentable home now.

01:19:36:00

When you say ‘fluted’ what do you mean, ‘fluted’ iron?
Do you know the wavy iron? The small fluted iron, the flutes were about a half inch as it goes – down half inch, up half inch, and so on.

01:20:00:00

The other one, it was just like ordinary corrugated iron on fences and roofs and sides now.
And how many bedrooms was the house?
There were two bedrooms and a sleep-out out the back, a kitchen, and I don’t know whether

01:20:30:00

you called it the ‘lounge’ or the ‘best room’ or what, but when I was young, little, that was the best room and we weren’t allowed in it. That was for when you had visitors. That changed as we grew up. You know, “You’re not allowed in there.”
What about the bathroom?
The bathroom.

01:21:03:00

Until later wasn’t the bathroom. We used to bathe in a big tub, a sink tub. And we used to boil the copper up or heat the copper up. And I used to get the bucket and put it in there, about three buckets, and then some cold water. And then

01:21:30:00

everyone took their turn. I was last. That was all right. Things changed. My Mother died when I was about ten and we became a different household. Not much changed. I suppose I missed my Mum.

01:22:01:00

Things for me changed. I thought, “I will one day leave this.” And I suppose I looked at that as being a bit of a goal.
It sounds like you’re very sad thinking about your Mother, but what was she like? What are your memories?
Well I haven’t many memories really. She was kind,

01:22:30:00

never made any favourites, but I got along well with her. Memories have dimmed on my Mother’s side, but I still love her.
And how did she come to pass away?
How did she die? She got pneumonia, and at that time I don’t

01:23:00:00

suppose they knew how to treat it. Anyway she went to hospital and the next thing they brought her home and she was lying in the best room. And we were told there to go and kiss Mum goodbye. The next day was her funeral. I didn’t go to that. And that was that.

01:23:32:00

Why was it that you didn’t go to the funeral?
Well children weren’t allowed in those times to go there. I think that’s the reason. I’m pretty sure it was. After that, as I say, things changed. My elder sister, she became the housekeeper cook or whatever. She was ambitious. That didn’t last long.

01:24:00:00

So she went up the hospital and she was nursing up there.
And how many children were there in your family?
Four, or five. One died. I don’t even remember it. And then the other three, they took over and I was the odd-job man.

01:24:30:00

Dad was… He was a striker. A blacksmith’s striker. Up the mines. Apparently he had a good and easy job. We got on well. He didn’t drink. He did smoke for a while. But other than that he used to just come home and

01:25:00:00

change pick up a book. He never had any schooling. He left his home at twelve and by the age of twelve he was around the Cape Horn. He did that three or four times around the Horn. He was a good-natured fellow.

01:25:30:00

Bert Raven, he was a jockey and he told me that his Father had a horse coming over from Perth and it was going to race in Adelaide. Black Diamond was the horse. Nobody knows about it because it was a failure in Perth. So I told my Dad. Bert Raven told me. I told my Dad and then I told another fellow.

01:26:00:00

And we went down we raked up everything we could and backed it and it won. Eight to one. That was the first time I knew Dad to have a drink or seen him having a drink. So he didn’t drink much.
And what was a blacksmith’s striker?
Well, the blacksmith, he made

01:26:30:00

the horseshoes or whatever, and the striker kept the fire going. And if they wanted any heavy pounding of metal, he did that. But when it came to shaping something, the blacksmith did that.
And where did he work?
Up in the south mine. There was the north mine, the British mine,

01:27:01:00

the south mine and the Zinc Corporation; they were the four mines up there. It wasn’t long before the British one closed. I don’t know how long it had been open, but it was one of the first there. And then they became the north, south and Zinc. The south mine, it was always straight down. The shaft was straight down and of course they had the

01:27:30:00

offshoots there and they had the Zinc Corporation right next to it, so they can’t go out east and they can’t go out anywhere else. They had to go straight down and take the little leads off there. The north mine was on their own so they could get plenty of ore out there, and the Zinc were the same. So they were the three mines that were left.
And what sort of shifts did he work?

01:28:01:00

He was only on day shift there. They had three shifts: morning, afternoon and night. That all depends. If you had a good shift, you like to follow a good shift. And if you got a good shift doing day work, afternoon shift

01:28:30:00

they clear up after that day shift, and then the night shift they start all over again clearing up and drilling and getting the ore out of the ground. If you got a good day shift, a good night shift and a good afternoon shift you were in big money. They got paid on their production. Some were just making wages, some were making three times their wages.

01:29:00:00

It all depends where you were and things like that. I went down the mines a couple of times, but I didn’t like it.
When you were young?
Yes. After the war I went and I could hardly use my right arm. Anyway there were three fellows there. And they said,

01:29:30:00

“We’ll carry you.” I said, “No.” They tried to talk me into it. They wanted a job and they wanted four in the gang, but I wouldn’t make that four because I would be holding them back from making good money. And I’d be making good money too, but I wouldn’t be working for it. So I wouldn’t take it.
When you were much younger, before the war, when did you go down to the mines?

01:30:04:00

Before you went away?
Some people were allowed to go down to see what it was like. It was like an educational tool, really. I didn’t like it. They wouldn’t send you right down, but they’d take you along to the first stope –

01:30:30:00

that’s the one that runs off the side – and you’d walk around there. Sometimes you’d have to duck your head. That was all right.
And what did you see of where your Father worked?
That was a big iron building. They had about ten fires there. They were kept pretty

01:31:00:00

busy because of the steel and all that sort of thing. They needed it for props underground to keep the roof up, or to keep the roof from tumbling down, and various other things they used the blacksmith’s shop for. Modelling new tools.

01:31:31:00

They had a varied job. Well, as I say, memories dim.
What sort of man was your Father?
He wasn’t as tall as I was. He was older than he looked. And

01:32:00:00

he’d been a fellow who had been around the world that many times. He was a saint. And I suppose I grew up like him. If something went wrong you tried to fix it, and if you made an enemy you made an enemy for life.

01:32:30:00

So those things happened. He had a brother, old Paddy, and my Dad he was in sailing ships and so was Paddy. But Paddy went over to steam. And because he left the sailing ships and went over to steam, that made him an enemy. They didn’t

01:33:00:00

talk for twenty-odd years. My sister, I never spoke to her for that long. I forgot her name at times. And my daughter, same thing there. So that’s the way with families, but there were many like us.
And what sort of discipline did he mete out to you?

01:33:31:00

Oh, a cuff under the ear, kick in the bum. Things like that. Nothing that you would remember the next day. A little cuff under the ear, that was common. That was about the end of the punishments. I suppose I should have got more.

01:34:00:00

At school I never did homework. Not that I didn’t like it, but I was told to do it. Not by my family, but by someone else. So I wouldn’t do it. And I got out of that because when I went to high school I was made class captain in the first second and third year. I only did a little

01:34:30:00

bit of third year and I used to collect up the homework. I never collected up my own because I didn’t have any, and the teacher never ever found out so that was it. My wife says that I haven’t grown up from some of that, but that doesn’t worry me.

01:35:02:00

In what way did the mine affect the town?
Well apart from the mines there was a few industries. Like the timber industry, and people were building their own homes and that. A bit of a timber industry, and there were shops.

01:35:32:00

Fruit and veg [vegetables]. Things for the home came from Adelaide.
I guess I’m wondering how much of a presence the different mines had in Broken Hill?

01:36:00:00

No, I don’t think I can answer anything further than that. The mines… Well it finished up as almost everything does now. There’s only one mine there and it’s hardly working, and Broken Hill is just

01:36:30:00

a ghost town now. That’s all about I can tell you about the mines now.
Growing up as a young kid, what would you do for entertainment?
We had our cricket. We had our football. With the people living around it was, “Let’s have a game of cricket.” If there was a vacant lot nearby we would make a pitch

01:37:00:00

and we would play cricket. The same with football. If the ball went over the fence we’d go over the fence to get the ball. Sometimes: “You come and ask for that ball.” “You’re not going to have it today.” Things like that was always the answer. But we always had another ball to get so we continued to play. There was a bit of baseball and

01:37:30:00

different things in season. Kite flying or hop on the bikes, anyone who had a bike. Or you would borrow a bike. And we’d go out eighteen mile or twenty mile or whatever it is just for a hop along the road, and the come home, “What’s for tea, Mum?” Things like that went on.

01:38:00:00

Nothing that… The children today wouldn’t even take to it, I don’t think. But we had to. That was about it.
And what sort of food was on the table?
Saturday you used to get a leg of lamb. We used to get the whole leg.

01:38:33:00

That used to be roasted on Saturday. Sunday we would have cold meat and salad or whatever. Monday we would have a stew. Tuesday we’d have minced meat. Wednesday we would have some other part. Thursday we would finish off the leg and Friday

01:39:00:00

we would have fish. And we’d start the leg of lamb going around again. Now then, fish. Things like that happened and that was common. With this lamb we would generally have a bit of pumpkin and roast potatoes – lovely. So that was

01:39:30:00

almost the weekly meals.
And what sort of treats would you have?
Sweets? Pancakes. I couldn’t tell you the day of that. Pancakes, boiled rice. If we had any fruit we’d have that one. That was about it.
Interviewee: Laurence McEvoy Archive ID 1693 Tape 02

02:00:34:00

How did things change in your household after your Mother died?
Well my eldest sister, Joyce, she took control of the household. Dad continued to work. We went to school. And

02:01:00:00

Joyce, she was doing a secretarial course or whatever it was and she had already done some nursing. So she went for a while and looked after the house for a while, but in between sometime during the day she would go to this secretarial school and she would

02:01:30:00

do her studying there. Anyway it came to nothing. She did it for years, but she went into the hospital. She was nursing at Broken Hill District Hospital. My other sister Shirley, she had to do the cleaning and cooking and that.

02:02:00:00

After a few years she left. She went out and did another job. Then my youngest sister, she then did it. She was trying to do a bit of work outside and do it at home too. That’s the way it was organised. It organised itself really. When one left, the other one took over.

02:02:33:00

I suppose in all that time we had regular meals and everything went well.
And how did your Father deal with your Mother’s death?
Well he took it very hard. He was older than he looked.

02:03:00:00

He took it very hard, but everything went on along the same. Nothing was interrupted because it really knocked him because of that.
And how did you know it really knocked him?
Oh well, things changed. You feel the change and you see the change too.

02:03:30:00

We used to have a wood fire in the kitchen and the dining room or the best room. And he used to get wood six foot eight foot long and he and I used to saw it up into blocks of wood.

02:04:03:00

About that time he wouldn’t do that. He would get the cut wood all ready. That would be delivered, the cut wood. So that was one of the changes. Saturday… That’s right, about that time he only worked five days a week. They cut out Saturday. They only got a forty-five hour week.

02:04:30:00

They cut out Saturday so he didn’t have to go to work on Saturday. On Saturday, and this would be after Mum’s death, he would jiffy himself up – tie and everything – and he would go into town, which was a short walk up Argent Street. He always used to call in… Well in the beginning I used to go

02:05:00:00

with him. “Now you stay there. I’m just going in here.” And he used to go into a florist shop. “What the hell’s he going in there for?” Anyway, “Where’s Dad? Where did you go today?” “We went down there. We called in at the florist shop.” “The florist shop?” Anyway, that went on. We’d go for a walk then we’d call home for lunch. But he used to go into the florist shop

02:05:30:00

and have a bet. He was an SP [starting price] bookmaker. That went on for years, but he never did that when Mum was alive. So that’s one of the changes. There were others, but I don’t think I remember those. He used to like reading. I remember he was reading one book. It was… I forget who it was now…

02:06:01:00

But as I say, he never went to school and it used to take him anything like a half hour to read a page in a book. I could read pretty well then. I realised he never went to school. I never made fun of it or anything, you know, “Why don’t you read like that and turn the pages…?” and all the rest of it. He was a very patient fellow.

02:06:30:00

And how close were you to him?
Oh, rather close. He never ever talked on where he had been, or very seldom talked. Though sometimes he would talk, “I remember even Yokohama…,” or, “This time we were heading to San Francisco…,” and, “We did this and did that.”

02:07:01:00

But not often. Sometimes we would sit down and have a bit of a talk about anything, but nothing in particular.
And when did you find out that the florist was actually…?
I never took any notice, but then one day I heard him say to someone, “Oh you can always get a bet down the road.

02:07:30:00

You can go into any pub or you can go into the florist there.” And then I woke up to it.
And was that betting on the sly then?
SP bookmaking…They only had the bookmakers out at the races. The races only had about four races a year. So well

02:08:00:00

they had to have these SP bookmakers.
How many races did they have a year?
About four. They used to have a St Patrick’s Day and one around Christmas time and two in between. That was about it. That was

02:08:30:00

the only time the bookmakers got out other than going into the hotels.
And what were the SP bookies running? Were they local races or…?
Any race. Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide. They used to have a blackboard out the back with the horses on it, put the odds against that. That’s the way they’d do it.

02:09:02:00

And how much did your dad make running the books?
He wasn’t running the books; he was only betting. I suppose he’d finish up even over the years. I had a cousin, he couldn’t get a job. He’d try everywhere. So he used to run these blind doubles.

02:09:30:00

The blind doubles, he’d write out… He’d take two races and he’d couple up one from each race, strip them down, charge a shilling – five dollars – for a win or something. I think Dad won about three or four in a row and the cousin came along and said, “I can’t pay you

02:10:00:00

this time uncle.” “Forget it, forget it.” But he made a few quid out of it. They both did. Nothing to live on though. That’s the way it goes.
And how were you getting on with your sisters after your Mother died?
No, that was all right.

02:10:30:00

We got on well except if they wanted some painting done. But I wanted to go play cricket. The painting was never ever done. But on the whole I got on all right for many years, I suppose.
Tell us how you came to leave school?

02:11:07:00

While I was at school I decided to do a course in fitting and turning. I think I went through about eight or nine months of that. The mines used to take on so many apprentices each year. Anyway,

02:11:30:00

this year I was there they weren’t taking on any more apprentices, so I thought, “Well what’s the good of doing fitting and turning?” I dropped that and at school… I was in the third year of high school. That was the year you did your Intermediate Certificate. I was there and I thought, “Well I’m not learning much.”

02:12:00:00

I was doing Latin and French along with math and… I didn’t go much on this Latin business. So I changed that at school and that was okay, but I went into something else. Then I got ill. I got a bit of a chest infection.

02:12:33:00

And this was at the beginning of the year. And when I went back they were doing algebra, and I couldn’t understand algebra. The teacher said to me, “Don’t you learn anything?” I said, “I learn what I hear and what I’m taught.” “Well why can’t you do this?”

02:13:01:00

I said, “I’ve never been taught.” I said, “I was absent because of illness and I never even understood the principle of the whole thing.” He said, “You stay after school and I’ll teach you.” Which he did. And he was a good teacher and a good fellow. So I learned algebra. I could slip through it and I was all right then.
And how long had you been absent through illness?
Oh about five or six weeks.

02:13:36:00

I thought, “This algebra is not going to help me do anything.” So I thought I would leave school. “What are you going to do?” I said, “I’ll find a job somewhere.” “Okay, well you do that.” So that started me on my way. It was a hell of a walk from

02:14:00:00

Broken Hill to Wentworth.
When you first quit school, what sort of jobs were available to you?
Well, as I say, Broken Hill was mostly mining or working in a shop. There was nothing there. It was no good looking for work when there’s none there, so that’s why I went. You had to get out somewhere.

02:14:30:00

It was no good going eastward because there was nothing there.
Before you left home and went on your big journey, how many other times had you left Broken Hill?
I don’t think I ever left it. Ah, yes, yes, yes. We came down to Adelaide one time.

02:15:02:00

We rented a house for three or four weeks. That was in Adelaide city. We used to walk down the beach,

02:15:30:00

things like that.
The day that you left home, what did your Father say?
Nothing. I just told him I was leaving and he said, “Good luck. Good luck. When will you be home?” I said, “I don’t know.” That was about it. He had nothing to say and neither did I.

02:16:00:00

You know, it was just, ”I hope you know what you’re doing and good luck to you. When will I see you?” “I don’t know.” And that was it and off I went.
And when you set off, you were by yourself?
Yes, but I knew where I was going.
How did you know that?
There were only three ways out of Broken Hill. One was by rail

02:16:30:00

and that was going east and I wasn’t going to go that way. The other way was down Adelaide and I didn’t like that. And the other way was down south, or south east. I went over to Menindee then went down to Wentworth. Wentworth caught up with these fellows and finished up going along the river.
And how old were you when you left home?

02:17:00:00

Oh, about thirteen and a half I suppose.
That’s very, very young to be leaving home. What did you take with you?
I think I had a wrapped up sandwich and half a loaf of bread. All the rest would come to me, so that was that.

02:17:30:00

What about clothes?
No, only what I had on. Just a guernsey, shirt, trousers and boots. However it was just before… Griffith then was a very small town. Just between Griffith and Wagga [Wagga Wagga],

02:18:01:00

my boots, they wore out. So the three of them said, “The next town we go into we’ll buy the kid,” – I was the kid – “We’ll buy the kid a pair of boots.
So you met up with some along the way?
Well they became mates. I didn’t know them. They were out by the river.
Who were these blokes?

02:18:30:00

He was from around Gawler way. Another fellow was from down Victoria, another was really local.
And what were they doing?
They were looking for work. They worked on fruit picking for a while.

02:19:00:00

You’ve got to be good and strong for fruit picking. And then they thought, “Well we’ll go fishing. We can always sell fish.” So they did, but the fish ran out. Or they ran out of patience. They were just camped by the river. I went over and had a bit of a yarn with them. “What are you going to do?” “I’m going to head over east.”

02:19:30:00

What did you do for money along the way?
They had a bit of money left over from that fishing. I had none. That’s why they said, “The three of us will put in and buy you a pair of boots.” So that’s that. I don’t think I had more than two bob in my pocket at any time. But however the boots lasted me. I got up

02:20:00:00

as far as a place called Murwillumbah. When I was at infants’ school we had a lady there, she was our teacher, Mrs McCulloch and she came from Murwillumbah. So I thought, “Well with a name like that I’ve got to go there.” And I did. I had a look at it and said, “Well that’s it. I’m going back.” So

02:20:30:00

I went back. I got a ride in a train sometimes. I was on my own then. Got kicked out of a few towns.
Why were you kicked out?
Jobs were hard to get and if a stranger comes into the town, “He’s taking a job from a local fellow,” and the policemen didn’t like that.

02:21:00:00

They’d tap you on the shoulder. “How long are you staying here?” “I don’t know.” “Well I can tell you, you’ll be out of here by tomorrow morning.” You just packed up your bag and off.
The swaggie [swagman] was quite an iconic figure during the Depression. How many fellows were on the road like this?
You passed many, many. There were thousands on the road.

02:21:30:00

Yes, some of them they got a job on a farm. Some of them went prospecting. Some of them took anything. We were hungry one time and we were going past a paddock and one of them said, “Well I can kill a sheep. Let’s go and catch one.”

02:22:00:00

So we went. There was a sheep by the fence, hopped over the fence, grabbed it, killed it, got up the road and butchered it, and we were not hungry for a long while after that. And that’s what many people used to do. You’d never take a sheep unless it goes to bite you. That’s the way it is.
How did you cook it and…?
Oh we had matches and you could always cook it.

02:22:33:00

One of them he had a frying pan. Another fellow he had a stew pot. So different things happened and some of them happened fast. We’d go and knock on a house door. “Any chance of a feed?”

02:23:00:00

“Yes, yes. You can eat it out there or you can come in.” They’d take their turns. Some of them were nice, some of them were very crabby, some of them wouldn’t even help you. You’d go through cleaning up the yard or cleaning out the fowl house, chopping wood, nearly anything. There was plenty to do around a house. “Go and clean out that shed.” It might take you two days, but while you’re there two days you’re getting fed for two days.

02:23:33:00

And where did you sleep?
Anywhere. In a dried up creek bed, in someone’s hay loft, whatever. You’d take a chance. Going up north it was very wet, so you tried to pick an old shed or a hayloft or whatever – never in a creek bed.

02:24:00:00

It was all right.
You mentioned that your boots wore out, but how did your clothes fare?
Oh you’d generally pick up something. Go past a clothesline, get a shirt off it, a pair of pants or something. You had to do it. You couldn’t go into a shop and buy them –

02:24:30:00

you had no money. Shops didn’t want to employ you. “A scraggy thing like you? No.” So that’s the way it turned out. Minor theft I suppose, but you’ve got to put up with it. Coming back, as I say, the policeman said, “You’re out of here tomorrow morning. Either that or you’re in there.”

02:25:00:00

In there was the jail. So you never gave them that chance. Some of them were all right. “Right, come along.” They’d get a loaf of bread, a bit of… What do they call it? We call it fritz here. A bit of devon and things like that. So you got enough feed for a day or so.
And how safe did you feel on this journey?

02:25:31:00

Safe, yeah. No-one would do anything to you. On the track you’d never meet better people. They were along the same thing. All they wanted was, “We want a job or we are going to move on.” There was nothing else there, nothing else in their minds.

02:26:00:00

And how long did it take you to get to Murwillumbah?
I don’t know now. I was home in around eighteen months, two years. But I had a quicker trip home. I got a few rides on trains, on wagons, on cars and trucks. You’d go from one place to another

02:26:30:00

out on the road. “How far are you going?” “How far are you going?” “We’re only going to the next town.” “That’ll help.” “Right, hop in the back.” And that was the way it happened.
Was the east coast, and the east in general, did that match what was in your imagination?
No, I don’t think so.

02:27:02:00

Going up the north coast, I’d never seen so much water except in the sea. When you’d get to some of these big rivers, they were bigger than I’d ever seen. I’d seen the Murray, but apart from that… No, some of the big rivers,

02:27:30:00

the Macleay and things like that. Interesting, but no thanks.
So you headed back home. What sort of reception did you get from your family when you finally got back?
Just, “You’re home,” something like that. There was no

02:28:03:00

prodigal son or anything like that. It was just, “How did you get on?” “Nothing. Couldn’t get a job.” I’d still got what I left home with – nothing. A few days after that I got a job in the dairy.
And where was the dairy?
Just outside of Broken Hill.

02:28:34:00

I used to get up at three o’clock, go to the dairy, milk the cows, clean up, come back for breakfast at half past six or seven o’clock, and then do work until eleven o’clock,

02:29:01:00

have a bit of lunch, go to sleep until about four o’clock or three, whatever, and then work until about eight o’clock. Ten and six – about a dollar a week.
And how had the Depression affected Broken Hill do you think?
Well the mines kept working.

02:29:30:00

The town became deader. People who used to work in shops didn’t. Like they got laid off the same as anyone anywhere else. The workforce in town that almost halved. That’s why a lot of people left. A lot of people they went up north, down south, all over the place.

02:30:02:00

And how did it affect your Father?
He kept on working. I think he might have lost a day a week or something like that. Blacksmith strikers were not well paid, but he had a job.

02:30:30:00

You mentioned that you were only get ten and six for your dairy job. What did you do with that ten and six?
Well, might buy a shirt one week. Of course that was only two shillings, one eleven, or something like that. We used to go to dances. I’d buy a pair of pumps.

02:31:01:00

I think they were about two and six. By the time you’d walk into town… You can’t carry the shoes and walk in the pumps, so you’d walk in the pumps. They only lasted me two or three weeks. That would be about the most expensive things, those pumps.
And what were the dances like?

02:31:30:00

They were all right, the old-time dances. You had the square dances and the foxtrots and… I forget them all now because I can’t do them now. They were good. And it would only be about six pence or nine pence to go in.

02:32:01:00

There were good crowds there. They were popular. They had two big ballrooms there. I think there were two. But they were mainly for weddings, Saturday night dances.

02:32:30:00

And then towards the end of the year they used to have the balls, like the police and the firemen and the city balls things like that. They were popular, well laid out.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you would have been about fifteen in 1939.

02:33:04:00

How much were you aware of the declaration of war in that year?
Well I don’t know. We knew that war was declared and we started to follow it. I started to follow it and a few mates and we used to get together some nights.

02:33:34:00

How did you hear about it?
On the wireless. We had a crystal set and you’d hear a bit on that. Or sometimes you would go down the street and they’d have a wireless in some of these places. They used to blare them out and you’d

02:34:00:00

stand out there. The first time they used to blare them out from these big wirelesses when the cricket was on, and we used to go down just to listen to the cricket at night-time or during the day time. When the war, started they’d give updates on the hour or whatever. We used to follow that. Some used to at home, some down there, some somewhere else. Anyway I had three mates,

02:34:32:00

Lou Gowles, Ron Matthews, and Ron Kye, and we used to listen to it and we used to talk about it. Anyway, Ron Kye said, “I’m going to enlist.” I said, “Well I will join you.” So we went down. There was a captain there and he said,

02:35:00:00

“I would like to take you, but I think you better get to bloody school.” So that was the first time, but we thought we would beat it. Just after that Ron Matthews did join the army and six months later I bluffed my way in. And I finished up catching up with Ron in Tobruk. He’s still around, Ron.

02:35:37:00

The other two, they finished up joining the army too. That’s the way it goes.
When you three would listen to the radio and talk about the war, what would you talk about?
How long it was going to last. “Hope it lasts,

02:36:01:00

then I’ll be in it.” Mainly, I hoped to get into it. We were told, “Well mind when you go into the army. Don’t go into the infantry.” Things like that.
Why did you boys want to be in it? What was that about?
Well

02:36:30:00

I figured it was a bit of an adventure, and most of our dads had been in the war. Mine had never said anything about it. I don’t know whether the others said anything about it.
Where did your Father serve?
In France. The funny thing about him… I’ll just tell a little story. He joined the army and he

02:37:00:00

went in the artillery and he became a driver. They had the horses and they used to drag the cannons, the artillery, up by horses. And he became a driver and the drivers got about one and six extra a day extra. Anyway he decided, “Well I’d rather be

02:37:30:00

in infantry.” So he went into the army at five bob a day plus one and six as a driver, but he never drove. And they tried to take it away from him. No. So he had that until he came home, and that was that.
What sort of wounds did he…?

02:38:00:00

Oh he got a few like scratches, one through his foot. He had a great hole in his foot. And I can remember him, boots and socks on, and he’d get a kettle of boiling water and he’d pour that through there because there was all this charred flesh and everything and he had to get rid of it.

02:38:44:00

So when you and your mates were talking about getting into it, how much did following in your Father’s footsteps influence you?
Well he never said, “No, you can’t join.” I just came home and said,

02:39:00:00

“Well I’ve joined up.” He said, “Do I have to sign any papers?” I said, “No. I signed them all myself.” It was okay. I think I put my age down as around twenty or twenty-three or something like that. Everyone who was in the army, navy or air force at that time did that. I haven’t bothered to change that

02:39:30:00

to the correct date, but I will one day.
Interviewee: Laurence McEvoy Archive ID 1693 Tape 03

03:00:34:00

It was about January, ’41 that you enlisted. What was it that appealed to you about the army?
I would have preferred to have been in the navy, but you had to have a birth certificate at that time and you had to be seventeen or

03:01:00:00

eighteen or whatever, so I couldn’t make it. And I didn’t like the air force so I chose the army, which was easier to get into. I would have preferred to go into the army as artillery. However, we got into camp then at Wayville, and

03:01:32:00

we were all lined up and some fellow came along, I didn’t know who he was, he could have been a commissioner, “Who’d like to be in the intelligence corps?” Everyone put up their hands. “Right, I’ll take the fellow in the end.” “Who would like to go into the cavalry?”

03:02:01:00

Everyone’s hands went up. “I’ll take the two down there. Who would like to go in the artillery?” All hands went up again. “I’ll take two from that end. Right, I don’t want any more. All the rest of you are infantry.” So that’s how I finished up in the infantry.
And when you enlisted, was it for King or for Country?
I think it was a little bit of this and that.

03:02:30:00

At school we were always taught ‘for King and Country’. Even when we were talking at the beginning of the war, we’d say, “It wouldn’t be very good if Germany took over England. Where would we be?” Like these are unanswered questions. Questions that did come up. However,

03:03:00:00

I think it was a touch of King and Country.
At this stage of the war, who did you think was the real threat to Australia?
I didn’t think there was any threat at all. It was only when I was in the army that, “Well Japan. They could be coming down. They’re playing hell in China. They could come further down.” Never thinking

03:03:30:00

Australia though. Thought it was too far for them to come down and what would they do here? But when they did in December of ’41 or whenever the threat that they could do this they could get down to Australia too. That was it. As far as Japan and Australia,

03:04:00:00

when it did happen we were having a good time then. We were in Palestine.
I’m just curious that when you went to enlist and to join the army, what did you think war would be like?

03:04:30:00

Oh well, my mate Ron Matthews, he’d already gone away and I wanted to go and catch up with him. And what it was going to be like? I didn’t know where he was. Hadn’t had any word from him. I didn’t really know what it was like

03:05:00:00

until one fellow came back, he was in the 6th Division, and he got hit by a truck and he came back with some glarings, but they were utterly rubbish. He just made up his stories. So I went along with it. Well, that could have happened, this, that and everything.

03:05:30:00

I just took it, the mystery in it. He hadn’t been in any fighting. I just left it up there. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen.
And what were the little white lies that this soldier came back with?
He was saying, “You’ve got to do this,” and, “You’ve got to do that.” “We were ready to go into

03:06:00:00

war and we were all looking forward to it and no-one was worried.” If that’s his story, that’s his story. But as I say, he never ever went into battle. He got hit by a truck.
When you went to enlist and you were standing around amongst all those other men, did you look younger than the rest of them?

03:06:30:00

I don’t know. I never even thought of that. I knew that I was telling a lie, but that was nothing. The other fellows, they were older much older. One fellow would have been near fifty. Most of them were around twenty-five to thirty, I suppose.

03:07:00:00

Recruiting was slow. This was in Broken Hill. I didn’t see too many of them. Someone would say, “Oh, Charlie so-and-so, he’s joined up,” that sort of thing. It never worried me. I just knew that they joined. I don’t know why they joined. Some of them were escaping from their wife

03:07:30:00

or from someone else’s wife. I never took notice of how old they were. One fellow, he took on the job of being my Father: “I’ll look after you lad. You stick with me.” I didn’t stick with him. He got killed.

03:08:03:00

Can you describe your medical for me?
In Broken Hill it was mainly to see if you were alive. They took your height they took your weight. They asked if anything was wrong with you, if anything had been wrong with you. “Right, you’ll get another medical in Adelaide.”

03:08:30:00

So first thing on arrival in Adelaide we were stuck around the motor unit for a while a day or so, then, “Righto, line up. Have your medical.” So we lined up and they weighed us and took our height and all the others. They tapped you on the chest, “Bend over.” “Wee in that bottle,”

03:09:00:00

and things like that and that’s about all. “Yes, you’re right.” So next day we got a few inoculations and needles and this and that. You stood there, bang, bang, bang. Then we were told that we could go on leave. They gave us

03:09:30:00

four days’ leave, I think it was. “But you’ve got to have your vaccination.” “Right, get onto it.” So they vaccinated me, well a whole lot of us. Within half an hour some were in hospital, some were moaning and groaning. I couldn’t see what they were moaning and groaning about. It was on, it was there.

03:10:00:00

It never ever worried me. But when the arm came out that was a bit sore. Especially when someone comes along, “How are you going?” Apart from that everything went all right.
And what were the vaccinations for?
Oh, tetanus. I don’t know. I know we had three

03:10:30:00

or four needles. Well three others and tetanus. I don’t know what the others would have been for. But everyone had them, so I had them.
You had three or four days’ leave, what did you do when you went back to Broken Hill?

03:11:02:00

Go and see some friends and relatives. “Here he is. He joined the army. Have a look at him.” Things like that. You’re a bit of a museum piece or something. And then my sisters, they got my uniform and they said, “Well at least we’ll try and make it fit you,” then washed and ironed the shirts,

03:11:30:00

made them look a bit presentable instead of me just squeezing them out and hanging them up or whatever. So they washed them and ironed them and I went back with well-done shirts and things like that. We got long underpants, flannel singlets, and I said, “Will you wear these Dad? I won’t.”

03:12:00:00

So I gave him those. He had two pair each of them. He liked them. And when we went back we had a kit inspection and they never looked for them. So I got away with that. If you didn’t have a thing you had to pay for them to be replaced. About that time we

03:12:30:00

were issued with rifles rifle and bayonet. And we cleaned them and polished them and did everything we liked with them. I left mine on the bed I went and had a shower and came back and it was gone. So I reported it. They took a note of that. They took two notes of it. One went in the pay book and that was ten pound ten and six.

03:13:02:00

They debited me for that and I didn’t have that much money in the pay book anyway. When I came back from leave, here it is – my rifle’s on the bed, the same one. So I told them that would be fixed up and it was. Eighteen months later I got a credit then for ten pound ten and six.

03:13:30:00

I didn’t want the money then.
Where had the rifle and bayonet disappeared to?
Someone had picked it up gone away with it, couldn’t remember where they put it put it anywhere. You did strike that because there was that many different types of people that came into the army. If you did any washing they’d come along and take the clean ones and hang their own dirty ones up. That was common.

03:14:02:00

So you’ve got to live with it.
Just going back to your leave in Broken Hill, how did it feel walking back into your home or walking back home to Broken Hill in your uniform?
I don’t know. I forget.

03:14:34:00

No, I think I had rang them up or sent them a wire or something, “Be home tomorrow morning.” So they were down at the station, they met me and we went home. Just ordinary walk in, “Here he is,” that’s it. Take all the clothes off; they went into washing.

03:15:00:00

I had some old clothes there I moved around with. “I’m home now. I’ve been here before.” So that’s the way it was.
What sort of personal items did you take from home back to Adelaide?
Well I didn’t shave, so I didn’t take any shaving gear.

03:15:30:00

I had a bit of hair then so I took a comb. I don’t think I took anything personal. I didn’t want anything. I suppose a comb could have been the only thing I wanted to take. I never wrote so I never took a pen or paper. No, that was about it.

03:16:05:00

I didn’t shave until I had been in the army about twelve months or more. That didn’t worry me. Then the army gave us a razor and a hold-all. I did take some soap back, I know that. A comb and soap.

03:16:30:00

And when you left Broken Hill, what was the feeling? What was the mood like?
Nothing going back. “We should be moving soon.” Or, “I hope we’ll moving soon.” Just that attitude. We knew that we had to go and get some training. You couldn’t do that at Wayville. All we’d do is get out

03:17:03:00

in the parklands and march, form fours, do this, do that. But nothing really. Army training.
So when you got back to Adelaide you went straight back to Wayville then. Then you went marching.
Yeah, but not

03:17:30:00

for long. Then we went up to Woodside.
And what sort of training did you have at Woodside?
Very little. They reckoned we were the worst trained bunch to reach the camp in Magazi. We had done really. We had some training on an old Lewis gun.

03:18:00:00

“Don’t worry about this. You will be on the Bren gun. We don’t use those now.” But yet we had to train on them. I suppose it was how to take something apart and then put it back together. I think that was the whole story of the Lewis gun. So on leave in Woodside, we never ever saw one again.
Can you remember how to take apart a Lewis gun?

03:18:30:00

I don’t think I could do it now. But if I took it apart I would get it together again. If somebody had it out there all bits and pieces I couldn’t, but if I took it apart I could put it back. That’s about it.
And what other training did you do at Woodside?

03:19:00:00

That was about it. They were a lazy lot. And we couldn’t tell them what we wanted. We would go for walks and marches and sloping rifles and presenting arms, everything with a rifle except how to use it. I could use it, but they never did anything about it.
And who were your instructors?
Mainly they were first war fellows.

03:19:33:00

They were staff sergeants and lieutenants and captains. They had a good job and they knew it. At Woodside we went down to the rifle range at Port Adelaide. We marched down there and marched back, fired off half a dozen rounds or so. That was all right.

03:20:00:00

At least we could fire a .303 rifle. That’s that.
And what did your instructors tell you about war?
Nothing. They’d tell us like, “When we were at the front we used to go over and attack,” and all that sort of thing. They didn’t tell us anything,

03:20:30:00

really. It was a hard job. We used to dig and then we would go into attack and then somebody else would take our position. That was about it.
Did they give you any advice about how to take care of yourself in war?
No. There was one fellow,

03:21:00:00

he was a Salvation Army fellow, he gave us advice on hygiene and venereal disease and things like that. But apart from that, nothing. As I said, we were not trained.
And what did this man tell you about hygiene in war?

03:21:30:00

Oh, take care of yourself, “If you were with somebody and you intended to do…” But afterwards you must go and seek the blue light area. The blue light was where they treated you. Then you’d go back and tell your own doctor what happened and he says, “You might finish up in hospital,” or you might not.
It was hit and miss.

03:22:00:00

But that was the way it was. But this Salvation Army fellow, “If you go out with a woman, make sure it’s someone you know or your wife. Your wife would be better.” That’s the way it was.
And how did they prepare you for war?
Well that was about it.

03:22:30:00

When we reached the Infantry Training Battalion they didn’t really teach us much. No, they treated the camp just like a holiday camp. You go for a march. We’d go

03:23:00:00

into Gaza, which wasn’t that far away. And then we’d march back again. Things like that. They toughened you up a little. Soldiering, no.
How did they toughen you up?
Well they got us digging holes, marching twenty miles or something.

03:23:39:00

You’ve got to keep the camp tidy. What we accepted as tidy as being clean. Not have that stone painted and that one, clean, clean it out. And that was about the best thing we ever learned

03:24:00:00

and yet we did it ourselves. No good. I suppose when I did join the battalion they were really on that theme of cleanliness. “If you leave that tin there people will know that you’ve been there. We don’t want that. You leave this camp, or wherever we’re going, you leave it clean. Nothing around.

03:24:30:00

If you’ve got anything, bury it.” That is one thing we did learn and know when we got to the unit.
What did they tell you about your enemy?
Nothing. He gets you or you get him. There wasn’t really much. You don’t learn those things until you

03:25:00:00

joined a unit and then you were in a group. “We’ve got to look after him you’ve got to look after us.” Things like that – preservation. When you’re in a line here and the enemy is over there

03:25:30:00

you’ve got to learn to keep your head down. Don’t let him see you. And that goes when it’s the darkest of night or the brightest of day. If he can see you he will shoot at you. Keep your head down. That’s the way it is and that’s the way we learnt.
And your infantry battalion training, where did that occur?
At a place called Mugazi.

03:26:07:00

That was in Gaza wasn’t it?
Yes, not far from Gaza.
So how long were you training at Woodside?
About a month. Yes,

03:26:30:00

about a month.
And do you recall the day that you were given your orders or you were told where you were going?
They don’t tell you you’re going. You prepare to leave. The first thing one fellow did was to go

03:27:00:00

down to the Woodside Hotel and he got a few bottles of rum. He came back and he said, “Where’s your water bottle?” I said, “It’s here on my gear.” He said, “Give me your bottle.” So he filled it up with rum. He did that until the two or three bottles, they were finished. And I said, “Well what are we going to do with this?”

03:27:30:00

And he said, “You will soon find out.” He was a fellow. He had plenty of money. He was a wool buyer for the French and Belgium governments and he travelled a lot and he had plenty of money. And he equipped us with that. We needed it when we left Woodside.

03:28:00:00

We went over to Sydney by train. It was a slow train and it was a cold train and that’s where the rum came in handy. I didn’t drink at that time. I had been in one hotel and I had been drunk. I went in a hotel in Broken Hill and a fellow, he said,

03:28:30:00

“What are you going to have?” I said, “I’ll have a pint.” So I picked up a pint, down, down, down it went. Put the empty one on the counter and, ooh, I just made it and I was sick in the toilet. I said, “Drinking? I’m not going to be sick again.” And I never have been. However, the rum didn’t make us that way.

03:29:02:00

But we didn’t have much left when we got to Sydney. I didn’t have much when I got Sydney. I didn’t drink too much of it. “Have some of this. It will keep you warm.” Most of mine went back to the fellow who bought it. Anyway, we got to Sydney and we were shunted off the train and we stood around there. Then it was, “Get ready to board ship.”

03:29:32:00

Can I just take you back to leaving Adelaide? Did you have embarkation leave?
Yes, I had five days I think it was.
And how did you spend that?
The same as the one before, just going around seeing people. “I wonder how you’ll take it?”

03:30:00:00

“You’ll like it.” “No, you won’t.” Different things from different people. “You’ll write to us?” “Oh yes. I’ll write to you.” Another big lie. And that was about it.
Do you remember your farewell with your family?
It was just going down to the train, get on it, “See you later.” That was about it.
Did your Father give you any advice?
No, just, “Look after yourself.”

03:30:31:00

He did say, “Don’t have too many mates. When one mate goes, you’ve had it. When you attach yourself to a bloke he becomes more than a brother. He’s going to look after you and you’re going to look after him.” That didn’t happen. I was mates with the whole section and they were all mates.

03:31:00:00

Everyone was a mate.
And how did you prepare to leave?
It was just like leaving home and going somewhere. That’s about the only way I could say it.
And what did you know about the Middle East at this point?
Oh, only through

03:31:30:00

Bible stories. That’s all I knew of it. We used to have a fellow at school, a Church of England minister, he used to come to school but he never used to teach us any religion. He talked about his life in the First [World] War. Mainly, “When we went on leave…”

03:32:00:00

Nothing about war or anything like that.
Back to the train journey, what was the mood like on the train?
Well we didn’t know where we were going. We knew when we got to Melbourne we might get some leave.

03:32:31:00

We didn’t go to Melbourne. We went on a side track and picked up the Sydney line and got to Sydney. Well we might have a few days in Sydney. We didn’t. We stood around for an hour or so then we boarded ship. I can’t remember too much about that trip to Sydney at all.

03:33:04:00

We had to go out to the ship, that was the Il de France. We had to go out to that in ferries. And then we pulled alongside the ship and went up ladders. That’s about all I can remember of that. And then getting lost on the ship.

03:33:30:00

Well it was a big, big ship. I’d never seen anything like it. It was about forty-five thousand tons. I got lost. I didn’t know where I was going. We had two packs. We had the sea kit and then we had another one, a brown one, and then we had all our own gear. I was nearly bent over carrying the stuff. Some went that way, “You’re to go that way.”

03:34:00:00

Well I went that way. “Where am I?” I didn’t know where I was supposed to be. I finished up, after walking around for a long while down four decks, that’s where I belonged. Right. And there was one hammock left. “That’s yours.” “Right.” I had it and it was the best hammock in the house. It was right under a ventilator and

03:34:30:00

I was cool all the time. Even going through the tropics and that.
So what was the ship like?
Once you got to know your way around you could find where you lived, that was one thing. Then you’ve got to find the toilets and things like that. After being on it for about twenty-four hours

03:35:03:00

I thought, “These toilets would be the worst thing I’d ever seen.” About a hundred feet long, just half a tube and that’s where you’ve got to do everything. There were

03:35:30:00

a few taps here and there. That’s where you had your wash or your shave if you shaved. So that was the toilet area. That was all right. The meals they weren’t too flash, but they were filling. I’ve never ever been fussy with meals. If I was hungry, I ate, and I’d eat anything anywhere. But they were filling.

03:36:00:00

Two or three days we were in the [Great Australian] Bight and the ship was going like that. You could sit wherever you liked and have as much as you liked because most of them were hanging over the side being sick. I never got sick. Of a night-time when it got hot

03:36:30:00

most people went up top. You had to wear a lifejacket all the time, threw the life jacket on, that was your pillow. You woke up about five o’clock in the morning and the seaman were coming out to wash the deck. “Wash the deck, wash the deck.” They had their hoses out, squirting that and sweeping. So we had to go downstairs, then

03:37:00:00

get dressed and go to breakfast. Then we’d come up, we’d have exercises throwing these volleyballs around. We didn’t do much during the day. We were taught how to evacuate and things like that and that was it.
How long were you on the ship for?

03:37:35:00

Just under a week, I suppose. I suppose it took about ten days to get from Sydney to wherever we disembarked, but that was two or three days in Colombo. That was included in that time.

03:38:00:00

And how many men were on the ship with you?
About thirty thousand. Twenty-five to thirty thousand I’d say, yes. Most were below sea level. Only those like cavalry, they had cabins and so did the officers.

03:38:33:00

Not us. We had hammocks. But I enjoyed it.
And what were the other men like?
Well we were in our own group and we’d known them for a little over a month by the time we got together and we knew who was there. There was only sixty-two of us.

03:39:01:00

That was it. We got to know every one of them. We knew what was happening to us and where we were and what we had to do. Apart from the others, I knew a few in other battalions but I didn’t know where they were half the time so we didn’t socialise too much.

03:39:37:00

There was organised sports. Boxing. And there were races around the ship, but I never went on one of those.

03:40:03:00

Didn’t have any concerts. I suppose it could have been boring at times, but it was good weather. I enjoyed it anyway.
And what other kind of training did they give you on the ship?
We had the early morning exercise – running on the spot and things like that, exercises.

03:40:43:00

We had lectures, a few lectures. I don’t remember too many of them. I don’t remember any of them. But they were on just mundane things, useless things, I thought.

03:41:02:00

Like what?
Oh well, they’d go onto this personal hygiene and that. Before we got to Colombo they taught us how to mix money. Not that that worried us. If you had some that was okay, if you didn’t have any

03:41:31:00

that was still okay. What you can expect from people wherever you are going. Don’t mix with them. Things like that. Not really much at all.
Interviewee: Laurence McEvoy Archive ID 1693 Tape 04

04:00:32:00

So we were just talking about some of the things they were preparing you for on the ship with this unknown foreign land. What do you remember them telling you about the people you would encounter there?
They said, “They’re a different race to you. They live differently to what you do. They’ve got many, many relations.

04:01:00:00

And you let them live their life. Don’t interfere with them and they will leave you alone.” Things like that. I suppose it did teach us something, but they are different. But you never know until you meet them. You don’t meet them and shake their hand and say, “G’day, I’m Bill McEvoy. I’ve come over to make you free.” No.

04:01:30:00

I don’t think I shook hands with one of them. But that’s beside the point. Some of them are nice people; some of them weren’t. Some of them couldn’t care…
What warnings did they give you? What precautions to take while you were over there?
Well I don’t remember too much. “You’ll be told what to do.” They tell you that.

04:02:00:00

“You’ve got no mind yourself. We’re bigger than you and we can tell you what to do.” No, that’s about it.
And what did they tell you about the enemy?
Nothing, nothing. They didn’t say anything about them. I suppose they thought, “Well he’s been told before

04:02:30:00

or he knows about what he’s reading, he knows what happened in France,” all that thing.
You mentioned earlier that you did two or three days stop in Colombo. What do you remember about Colombo?
Quite a lot.

04:03:01:00

I think I went into Colombo twice. We were there for about three days. However, we were on a big ship and some of the fellows were diving into the sea. So I thought I would try that. I dived in and came out, dived in and came out. One fellow said, “Have you gone under the ship yet?” I said, “God no. I must do that.” So

04:03:30:00

big breath and dive in. Went under the ship came up the other side. I did that half a dozen times until someone said, “I’ve never seen a shark, but they say that there are that many sharks in this harbour.” I thought, “Well I’m not shark meat.” And I didn’t do it again. That was while we were waiting to go

04:04:00:00

ashore. We were allowed to take a pound out of our pay book. Seven and a half rupees. But on one pay day, the pay day before that… We got paid on the Friday. We were still at sea then and we got there on a

04:04:32:00

Saturday, and Sunday and we were allowed seven and a half rupees. But when I got my pay I had about two pound or something. I was just going down to buy my tobacco and what else I needed and I was just going down these stairs, and two fellows they got hold of me,

04:05:00:00

one on each elbow, and they took me to the two-up. I didn’t want to go there, but I did. Well I couldn’t do anything wrong. I finished up with both pockets full of money. “Here. You take that and you take that and you take that.” I went along there and I think I had about sixty or seventy rupees. When we went onto Colombo we finished

04:05:30:00

up on the Gall Face Green and that’s where we paraded...The first thing that I saw was these New Zealanders and they’re carrying a car. Four of them carrying a car up to the post office. Up the stairs and into the building. They wanted to post it. Right,

04:06:00:00

well that was a stupid thing to do. However….Then we went into the Gall Face Hotel and we were drinking Alsops beer. I think that was about one and a half rupees a bottle. Spent a fair bit of money there and got pretty full. And someone suggested we go for a swim. They had a big swimming pool there.

04:06:30:00

We borrowed some bathers, hired them or whatever, and we went for a swim. I looked up and up around thirty feet there was this big diving tower. Right, I’ll have a go at that. I’m up there and I’m looking over – I wasn’t going to dive in, but I did. I got pushed. That was a long way to the bottom.

04:07:01:00

We played up a bit there and then we got told to leave. We had a few rickshaw races we sobered up and we had something to eat. And that was the end of the first day. The second day was on ship and there was about five or six of us

04:07:30:00

got sent down below to load up potatoes in a lift and upstairs. When the lift came down again we loaded it up with more potatoes in the bags. I said, “I wonder what’s behind all these potatoes? Let’s find out. So we pulled the bags down “Hmm, I wonder what in the hell they are?”

04:08:01:00

“They’re coffins.” “What do they want coffins for?” “In case someone dies and we have to put them overboard.” Right, we accepted that. And one of the fellows, he went behind the coffins and there were cases of beer. So we pulled one case out, put it behind the spuds and we started drinking it. Right, we were making a noise,

04:08:30:00

we were having a party and we got sacked from loading spuds. “Keep them up on deck. Keep them away from here.” But we managed to take a few bottles each up and we had a party on deck. Next day nothing was done about that and we went into Colombo again. I still had some more money. And I went to a place,

04:09:00:00

I forget the name of the place, but it was quite a few miles out, ten or twenty miles out. We went up in a bus and it was all tea plantations there. It was rather educational and I liked it. That took nearly all that day and then when we came back we were landed in the middle of Colombo

04:09:30:00

there and it would be the dirtiest place that I’ve ever seen. You’d see them carting tea in tea boxes about that cubed, I suppose. They’d whiz it up and it landed on their necks and they’d go half a mile to the warehouse carrying it like that. I thought, “Good Lord, no.

04:10:00:00

I wouldn’t have that job.” To go around and see these things. They had good silversmiths there. That’s what I call them. You give them two shillings, which was silver at that time, and they’d heat it up and they’d belt it around and it finished up you’d have a little rickshaw made out of

04:10:30:00

this two shilling piece. You could buy that back for two shillings. I never ever got one. I passed over two shillings and that was made into something, but I never got one of them. So that was our Colombo trip.
And what were the locals like?
Very nice, yes. Tolerant. If you were smoking and you ran out of matches…

04:11:00:00

I always remember it, even now. And you’d go along to a corner shop – corners where there shouldn’t be corners – and there was always a rope, a tarred rope, and it was always smouldering. You’d light your cigarette off that tarred rope, let it swing back and that was it.

04:11:30:00

It reminds me of many things. You go to Sydney or Melbourne or Perth or anything, I remember that smell that’s Colombo. It’s a smell that gets right into the memory.
What was the smell like?
It could be anything. You could be going past

04:12:00:00

Darrell Lea’s and they might be roasting peanuts and it reminds me of Colombo. Many good, sweet, nice smells. Some of them were rotten, too. A mix.
What was the food like there?

04:12:30:00

It was about time to re-enter old habits. “What are you going to have?” “Steak and eggs.” What the steak was I don’t know. It was probably some bullock that has done its time out in the plantation, so bring him in kill him off and eat him. Some of their wafers,

04:13:00:00

some of them are potatoes, some of them are cooked. Many vegetables, whatever they liked to call them, they’re cooked. But some of them, you’d take a bite, “Ooohhh, where can I spit this?” Very few of them were nice. That was their own taste.

04:13:36:00

I never went too much on those things, even now.
And where was the red light district in Colombo?
I don’t know. I never went down to it. I heard enough of it in Bombay – I never went to Bombay – the women in cages,

04:14:02:00

but that’s only what I heard.
What were the clubs and bars like?
I don’t know. Apart from the Galle Face Green Hotel I never went into the others. We just went there to drink our Alsops.
Once you left Colombo, where were you heading

04:14:30:00

towards then?
We were heading over to Africa. We entered the Red Sea and we pulled up at Amiriya? I forget the name. Ismailiyah I think it was. Ismailiyah that we got off the ship.

04:15:01:00

And then we went by train down to Palestine.
And what were your impressions when you disembarked?
When you’re travelling like that you’ve got to get as much off your back as you can. We had been living in shorts and shirts

04:15:30:00

so we put on our dress suits, army uniforms. We put those on because they’re heavy when they’re on your back or in a bag. So the shorts went in there and we sweated. Then we got into the train. They have two round wheels and two square wheels

04:16:01:00

like all trains over there, so you just bump, bump, bump wherever you’re going and they don’t go fast. We went down to Gaza in one of those. Then from Gaza we marched to Mugazi camp, which was four or five or six miles.

04:16:31:00

We got there and the first thing I remember was a big sign: ‘God help those who pass these gates’. That was it.
You started some training in Mugazi?
Yes, we ran over sandhills

04:17:00:00

to make yourself tough, and rifle drill. And then I got ill. I coughed up some blood. So I was sent to hospital for three or four days and I couldn’t understand what they were talking about.

04:17:31:00

I said, “It’s about time I went back to my unit.” And back I went. I never found out what was wrong or how it happened or whether it was ever going to happen again. Back to camp. More training, there more marching about. You’ll get tough.

04:18:01:00

That went on for around about three weeks to a month and that was it.
Could you describe the layout of the camp?
Yes. It was flat, very flat clay soil. Tents and

04:18:30:00

a wood and iron cookhouse and big long tables from here to the door, I suppose they were that long. Say ten or twelve feet. I suppose about forty inches wide.

04:19:00:00

They were outside. And then there were these long stools besides to sit on. You had your meals off the table. And then there was a theatre there, one theatre, and that had picture shows there every night. Six pence or whatever.

04:19:30:00

One night they had a Chinese acrobatic team, and what they did with their bodies you couldn’t imagine. They were flying backwards and flying forwards and diving under people on the stage. They were really artistic. They were choice good.

04:20:00:00

(BREAK)

04:20:32:00

The films, they were all black and white. The meals there, everything that came out of a tin. Not bully beef, but tinned fish, tinned herrings. And you would get tinned herrings and

04:21:00:00

sauce and a bit of bread. That’s your dinner. I mean the big meal, the tea-time dinner. Lunch time we were generally out on a march or something and it was a corned beef sandwich, that was it. Breakfast was porridge. They’d have a big tin,

04:21:33:00

a gallon I suppose of marmalade. And you would get that and there would be plenty of bread on the table. Someone down that end of the table, “Hey, send down that jam,” whoompf, down it went. If you were in the middle of the table and you wanted it you had to intercept that pass. We got plenty to eat and it did us well, I suppose.

04:22:00:00

The camp? No hot water it was all cold. Cold showers, but the weather was good. Many, many tents. Where anyone got wounded or sick, they came from the original battalion. They came back and were treated in hospital

04:22:30:00

then they went into this camp, as what they called Ex-men. Ex-battalion I suppose. They weren’t allowed near us. They thought they would teach us bad habits. But they got away with everything. Go down there and you would know. If there were fifty there in the morning there would be about twenty there of an afternoon. The rest were in Gaza or some village.

04:23:02:00

So that was the camp.
I’m just a bit intrigued why they kept the ‘ex-men’ away. What bad habits did they think you would pick up?
That we wouldn’t be in camp either, or just telling them to ‘get stuffed’, as the saying goes. That was just the way they were. I know, I was an ex-man too.

04:23:32:00

You were more awake than a new recruit. They would tell you everything about him or about so-and-so. “Don’t worry about him. Tell him he doesn’t know what he was talking about.” They would go on like that.
Would they tell you anything about the action?
No, no. They were just there having a good time and waiting for a ship. Or waiting for transport or whatever.

04:24:03:00

So what training did you do?
Very little. Physical training mainly.
Did you start your infantry battalion training?
No, well they had nothing there. A Bren gun? Never ever saw one. A Vickers? Never ever saw one. Mortars? Same thing. We never saw them.

04:24:30:00

All we had was the rifle. We’d have sugar bags full of straw for bayonet practice. But why have bayonet practice when you’re never going to use them? Well they thought you might need them, better know something about it. Apart from marching and that, that was about our training.
So how long were you in Mugazi?

04:25:03:00

About a month, less than a month.
Did you have any leave in Gaza at this time?
No.
Where did you do your infantry training?
With the battalion.
Right, and where did you join them?
In Tobruk in June.

04:25:31:00

And how were you told what battalion you would be joining?
We went over as reinforcements for our unit, the 48th, and that’s where we finished. The battalion had been in Tobruk since April and they had their battle experience mainly in April and early May.

04:26:02:00

Since then I think it was mainly just going out on patrol. I joined them in June. I was introduced to the section. There were nine or ten men in the section. You just learnt as you

04:26:30:00

go along. You wanted to try a Bren. “Wait till the night. We’ll set it up and you’ll go. You can pull it apart if you want to, but don’t forget how to put it together again.” That was all right. And you would fire off a magazine, and a magazine was only twenty-eight bullets.

04:27:00:00

I think the second night I was there… The first night I was there I was told, “Have a bit of sleep.” Second night, “We’ll take you out there and we’ll show you what you’ve got to do.” They took me out about fifty yards away from where we were. We were in the front line then. And this was a listening post, “If you hear anything, let us know.” I was on the listening post on my own. “What the hell do I do here? Just look around?”

04:27:31:00

“What’s that over there?” You’d look at it. “It looks like something. I wonder if it’s a German. No.” You’d look somewhere else, but you’d always look back there. But whenever you looked back there this thing that you’ve been looking at has not changed its position or anything. You’re looking all around. Nothing happened that night, but I was

04:28:00:00

going to find out what that thing was. It was a curved bit of pipe, but I didn’t know what it was.
Before you left Mugazi, what did they tell you about Tobruk?
Nothing. No, only the ex-men. They were the only ones that knew anything. All the rest they were staff.
And what did the ex-men tell you about Tobruk?
Nothing much.

04:28:32:00

“You’ll get used to it.” That was about it. “You’ll get used to it.” Some did; some didn’t.
And when you were introduced to your section, what was the state of the men when you met them?
Kind of happy, good physical condition. Sick of the same old food.

04:29:03:00

That’s about it. When you’re living there you just get used to what’s around you. You can’t go walkabout, you can’t go into any place because there was no place to go to. If you knew someone from another unit and you knew where they were, you could go and see this fellow. There was nothing to do because there was nowhere to go.

04:29:31:00

So you just stuck around together. If you had any books you read them.
And what was camp like in Tobruk?
There was no camp. You either lived in a hole in the ground or you slept on top of the ground. Some posts there,

04:30:00:00

the trenches were about that deep. The holes where you slept would be about two men in six by six foot, and the height could be three foot to four foot.

04:30:34:00

It was all rock and you didn’t have a pick – you had a shovel. They don’t get rid of much rock. However, that was that. It’s easy to forget. I said to one fellow here a while ago, “How did we ever do our toilet in Tobruk?”

04:31:03:00

He said, “Oh, don’t you remember? If you had a tin you did it in a tin and that night you went out and you buried it.” I forget it, but as soon as I was reminded of that I remembered it again. If in the day time you’ve got to go to the toilet and you’ve got to use a tin

04:31:30:00

about that square. You’ve got to find out where you’re going to put your head. Say some of the trenches were only that deep, they had a few mounds there. Someone who remembered you might want to go there in the day time, had built up a few mounds. So you looked behind there, you did your business and that was that.

04:32:00:00

Night-time go out and bury the tin. We had a few other posts, some Italian posts not that far. What they called the R posts and the S posts. The R posts were mainly dug in the ground. The S posts were

04:32:36:00

about twenty to thirty foot long and about ten foot wide. And high as the roof I suppose. Had two entrances, one on each end. They were round

04:33:00:00

pillboxes kind of thing. And they used to be manned all the time, day and night. They were not very happy in those because the Germans knew where they were and they knew exactly where to drop a shell. I was never in one

04:33:30:00

when a shell hit, but I’ve been pretty close to it.
I was wondering how you assimilated into Tobruk, into the traditions. And you hadn’t had any real army training up until now and suddenly you were out on patrol, so I’m wondering about the gap in becoming accustomed to the armoury and the equipment that you have.

04:34:00:00

In Tobruk we never had anything. We never had any Thompson machine guns until around August. Bren guns, we had one to a section, one to ten men, and that wasn’t until May, early June. We were skimpy.

04:34:30:00

We had Italian guns, but then there were plenty of them around, like the machine guns. There were plenty of them around and there was plenty of ammunition for them. We learnt to take them apart, put them together, clean them, fire them and have enough ammunition. They were our main automatic gun pieces.
And how different were they

04:35:00:00

to what you had been using at Woodside?
At Woodside we only had the Lewis gun. The Lewis gun had a big round magazine and that used to be put on top of this gun and it was heavy. A full magazine and the gun itself would be around sixty pound. You can’t carry those around. The Bren was only about twenty-five pound, or fully laden

04:35:30:00

thirty-five. That was all right. But they managed them. We also had an anti-tank rifle, which was a rifle about that long and it weighed about twenty pound. The ammunition? They’d weigh about fifteen pound, I suppose.

04:36:00:00

We carried that around. There was one to each section. We carried it around from when I joined the battalion in June ’41 until twelve months later. Never fired a shot out of it. Just carried it. One man carried the gun,

04:36:30:00

another man carried the magazines.
So how did you know what it was like for range or accuracy?
There was no need for it because it was a useless thing. The smallest people, they used to have that. They had all their own gear as well. I know, because I was carrying the magazine one day and carrying the rifle the next. They were

04:37:00:00

useless things. But it was there to make up armament. As far as training, you don’t get trained, you learn. You go out on a patrol and they said, “Right. You’re going to be the last man. You’re the getaway man. If we run into trouble you have to get back to where you come from and try to get someone to get us out, or

04:37:30:00

we might even beat you back.” That’s the way it goes. A patrol used to go out and one fellow would be counting the steps. You’ve got to go out two thousand yards, say, right, he’d count. “Fifteen hundred. We’re near there.” “Right, we’ll go on for another six hundred.” You always take your limit, then another hundred,

04:38:00:00

as long as nothing else for you. That was the way it worked. You learned that they were going to look after me and I was going to look after them. That was the way it always worked.
What were the men like in the section when it came to teaching you the ropes?
They’re teaching me how to look after them. That’s the way it always went.

04:38:30:00

It was not hard to learn because you never let anyone down. You tried not to let anyone down. And we got on well, very well as I say. “Don’t have more than two mates.” I had nine of them and we got on well. I don’t think there’s anything else there.

04:39:01:00

When they’re teaching you something back in an infantry training depot, they’re only teaching you what they know. And they’re instructors and they’ve never ever been through it. So when you learn is up with the old fellows who have been through it; that’s the difference. As long as you know your rifle and how to use it

04:39:30:00

and your Bren ,how to use it, and the Tommy guns, how to use it, you’re right. Anything else comes out. We got, not in Tobruk, but in Alamein we got these sticky bombs.
We’ll talk about them when we come to Alamein. I’m just curious, you said you were going to catch up with Ron Matthews in Tobruk. Did you find him?
Yes, he was in the same company, but a different platoon.

04:40:00:00

A company has three platoons. He was in 10, I was in 12. But we were pretty close together all the time. Yes, I met up with him and a couple of others from Broken Hill. “What the hell are you doing here?” “I thought I would come and help you fellows out.” That’s the way it happened. It was very good. We were good mates.
Interviewee: Laurence McEvoy Archive ID 1693 Tape 05

05:00:46:00

When you arrived in the Middle East, how much do you think that you had a need to prove yourself because you were under age basically?

05:01:07:00

I had a bit of experience from my walking around or my wandering around New South Wales. I was confident in myself. I could do anything that anybody could do. That was my opinion and I suppose I was right to a big degree.

05:01:31:00

So I think the self-confidence got me through, and a bit of cheek. I got into a bit of trouble, but that’s it. No, I don’t think there’s anything else there. I never felt young. When I met Ron Matthews and a few others, they were just six

05:02:00:00

months older than I was. “If they can do it, I can do it.” You just get into it. We had a section, the first section I went into I suppose the average age was about thirty-five, but that’s not the whole group together. One fellow, he would have been about forty-two, another would have been over forty. In the end there were plenty of thirty-fives.

05:02:32:00

And what was your physique like?
I was all right. I wasn’t a big bustling wharfie or anything. I would have been

05:03:00:00

nine stone I suppose.
And how much bravado do you think you had?
Oh plenty. I was never frightened. I was confident and I could do what anyone else could do. If they could dig a hole in twenty minutes, I could dig a hole in twenty minutes and I would.
In what way do you think that peer group

05:03:30:00

pressure carried you along?
You acknowledged these fellows. You knew they were better and you had to learn. While you are willing to learn, they’re willing to teach you. As I say, everyone looks after themselves and if they’ve got a weak peg there then they’re letting themselves down. So they’d teach you or try to

05:04:00:00

tell you everything that they know, and you were bright enough to know that what they were telling you was right. So you remember those things.
Before we move on to talk about Tobruk, I understand that you saw some action on the cruiser going down to Tobruk or going over to Tobruk.

05:04:30:00

Is that correct?
When we were going to Tobruk, yes, we got bombed. There was a half a dozen Stukas; they came down to bomb the ship but the ship was too fast. Everyone had seemed to get down below deck. We were told get down below deck.

05:05:05:00

I rushed down there. There were two of us; we didn’t make it. So we were crouched under two or three great boxes and they were full of land mines. So just as well the ship wasn’t hit or we wouldn’t have known anything about it. They would have gone up and so would we.

05:05:31:00

That was my first action, that. Everything went all right; we weren’t hit. I did see a ship that was accompanying us, I saw a torpedo go under that ship and go further on. That’s about it.
And what was the name of that first ship?
The ship that was the Abdul.

05:06:00:00

That was a fast mine laying cruiser. Very good, very clean and the crew was very good. They knew what they had to do and if you were in the road they would go around you. They wouldn’t say, “Get out of the bloody road,” or anything like that, they just went their way. And they knew what we were going to do.

05:06:40:00

The port of Tobruk was quite busy, what was going on when you arrived?
Well one ship could go in at a time, but it only had fifty minutes or sixty minutes to stay there and then it had to get out.

05:07:00:00

So if they were carrying troops into Tobruk and they’re carrying wounded out, so you’re coming down one gangplank and they’re going up another one. And somebody might be on the back moving food or ammunition or anything there. So it’s a very, very busy one hour. And if they’re not finished loading or unloading they still go off. Everyone

05:07:30:00

saw that they had to be on their way because they had to be miles and miles down the coast before daybreak. If they’re a little late and all that sunshine or clear days when they can be interrupted…
And how did those first sights of wounded affect you and the troops?

05:08:05:00

No, they were wounded and they were on the way out, that’s the way you looked at them. Some of them, you know, they’re in a bad way. You can’t do anything about it – it’s up to them. But a lot of them are fixed up in the hospital. They had a good hospital. It got shelled one time and they lost I think five or six

05:08:30:00

eminent surgeons. That was a blow. But it was their job to be there and that’s what happened to them. That’s that.
You were talking about being in Tobruk, but when you joined your battalion where were they dug in in relation to

05:09:00:00

the rest of the division?
They were in one of these concrete posts, that was the first one I remember. Concrete posts. The battalion used to be in line for up to twenty-two or twenty-three days then they go out for a spell for about ten days. Sometimes their spell was just behind the front line

05:09:30:00

because they only had about twenty-three thousand men there, but there were only twelve infantry battalions there. Some of them were not really infantry, they were pioneer battalions. There was one of those, and they

05:10:00:00

used to be out on a section of their own and they looked after themselves really. And it was a quite section. When the infantry took over they were thrown into the mill. There were the battalions. There were four companies.

05:10:30:00

There would A, B, C and Don company. Well they take up a fair bit of space there. Well when you get three battalions in the front line, that’s about the limit there. So we would go in as a battalion with A Company there, B Company there, and C Company there, and Don Company somewhere else just further on. The battalions all in one area or one length. And all battalions were the same.

05:11:00:00

They didn’t mix them in like part of the 10th there, part of the 32nd there, part of the 48th there. They didn’t do that. You kept in your own units, which worked well. Sometimes the four companies were not in the line. We’d have three companies in the line and one company in reserve just behind them backing them up.
And which company were you in?

05:11:30:00

B Company, a good company.
Why do you say that?
Because I knew everyone in it. I knew all the fellows in B Company. There was a bit of pride in who you know and what you know.
And was that because they were a South Australian company?
No, we got reinforced towards the end

05:12:01:00

of Tobruk by the West Australians, and I’ve still got a very good mate over there. They were good fellows. They came from mainly in the gold fields or out of Perth and they’d been around the country. They accepted us and we accepted them with open arms. They were good fellows.
You say from the gold fields. Were they miners?

05:12:30:00

Miners, yes, or on their own as prospectors. Oh yes, wheat people and sheep people. Very few from the city. They were good fellows, yeah. Of one section I was with for a long while there were ten men.

05:13:00:00

I think I’m the only one left now. However, that’s how life goes.
And what was the chain of command?
Do you want from the top down or the bottom up? From the top down in a company you had the company commander was either a captain or a major.
If you can remember their names?

05:13:32:00

Yes, George Tucker, he was the major of B Company. Some of them used to have 2ICs [Second in Command], but we didn’t have one. We had the platoon commanders then, three of them. Dick Lameshera, he had 10 Platoon, I think.

05:14:04:00

We had Mickey Bryant in 12 Platoon – that was my platoon.
Who was in command of 12 Platoon?
Mickey Bryant. 11 Platoon, I forget who it was. But generally

05:14:30:00

he finished up as a sergeant. There was a sergeant there for a while and that was Wally Prior – he took over 11 Platoon. I forget who the last officer was. Then there was the platoon sergeants.

05:15:00:00

So you were in 12 Platoon with Mickey. What sort of guy was he?
He was a good fellow. Brave, he had a good head on his shoulders and he looked after his men. Nothing was too much for him.

05:15:33:00

After Tobruk he left us and he took over C Company then as their commander, and he got another pip on his shoulder.

05:16:00:00

So how did you move into position? How did you take up position?
When we landed in Tobruk they said, “Right. There’s a truck there. Hop on the truck.” We hopped on the truck and they said, “Right, that’s as far as you go. You walk now.” So we walked. And this is one or two o’clock in the morning. They said, “Right,

05:16:30:00

you, you and you, you go into B Company. That’s there. You’re a member of B Company.” So we got in there and George Tucker said, “Right, one to each platoon. You go in 12, you go in 11, you go in 10.” They’d go in there, they’d introduce themselves. “Right, you better get some rest.” “Did you bring any tobacco up?”

05:17:00:00

That’s the first thing they asked. I went up on the ship and there was a fellow there, Allan Elliot, he said, “You get into 12 Platoon and they’ll look after you.” And I happened to get into 12 Platoon.

05:17:30:00

Everyone was chummy; they were good. They accepted me; I accepted them. I couldn’t do anything else. That’s the way it was. That time I think we were only in that S post for another ten days or so – it was nearly finished. I did a few listening posts.

05:18:00:00

I didn’t go out on any patrols at that time. Then we got relieved and we went back beyond the blue line so we had a rest. After that… Then I learnt something. We went into one of the worst spots on the perimeter. It was what they called the Salient.

05:18:30:00

I think there was fifty or eighty yards between us and them. And they had what they called fixed lines, and their machine guns were anchored there. It’s a silly thing to do, but they caught a lot. If you could jump, you jumped over it. If you waited, you had to wait for that moment when they’re having a spell not firing and you get through. A lot of people,

05:19:00:00

they’d fire a burst then they’d go through and fire another burst. They got results. And as I say, we were close together and they had their little mortars and they used to whiz a few of them over every now and then. That was all underground. You’d have your doover where you’d get in about that high

05:19:30:00

and you’re doing everything in there, going along little trenches, you’d skitter along.
And when could you move about?
Only of a night-time. When it gets like half light you could move around. And generally the Germans, Italians

05:20:00:00

and that, they’d have tea at the night-time. A bit after half light they’d have their tea. There wouldn’t be a shot fired. We’d do the same. We could go out do what we had to do or have our tea; they used to do the same. It was almost an unofficial truce. Which was good. I liked it.
Tell us about the Salient.

05:20:31:00

How often could you see the enemy?
As I say, at halflight sometimes you could see them sometimes you can’t. Day time sometimes you’d see a head bob up, but not for long. You could wait, but you would never see one. If you went out on patrol, depends on what you were going to do.

05:21:00:00

You hoped to find them.
And how did you communicate amongst the platoon?
Well they had the telephone; that was for the officers. “We’re going out,” or, “There’s a patrol coming in. Don’t fire.” They used to work like that. If the phone was out of order they’d send a fellow out;

05:21:31:00

this was of a night-time. “Go and tell them so-and-so is coming in,” or, “We’re going out now.” That was about the communication there. Mainly the phone. Sometimes you’d come back and you might stray off the course a bit.

05:22:00:00

And, “Where are we now?” “We should be near someone. We might be over near 11 Platoon.” Someone would say, “Oi! What the bloody hell’s going on there?” “It’s only us. We lost our way. We should be over there.” “Righto, better come in here.” So we’d go in there until later on. Plenty of times that happened. There was always

05:22:30:00

someone that doesn’t fire.
Can you describe for us from beginning to end one of those typical patrols? How would you, to begin with, know that it was safe to go out?
Well, say you’ve got to go out and you know it’s safe to go fifteen hundred yards. You know he’s

05:23:00:00

about two thousand yards, so you know it’s safe for fifteen hundred yards. You might be going out to capture someone for identification. So you’d go along, you’d have a fellow walking in front, he’d go fifteen hundred paces and, “There’s no-one here.” “Go another fifty.” “Ahh, that could be a working party.” So you’d send someone out and, “Yes, this is a working party,”

05:23:30:00

and we’d all go up. We’d be near them, you’d see their rifles stacked up, one fellow looking after them, all the others are digging or doing something. So you wait until the sergeant says, “Fire,” then you’d let everything go. Someone would head for the rifles, get them, whiz them all over the place. Then someone in particular would

05:24:00:00

go and grab someone. Soon as he grabs them he’s off, going back. You’d finish or the rest of them would run away. They’ve got no arms – we’ve thrown them away. You go back on your own. The fellow whose got the prisoner, he goes back on his own. Righto, you get back to where you came from. You go down, they send

05:24:30:00

the prisoner up to company headquarters. They’d look him over. If he could speak English that’s good, if he can’t he’s no good, so they would send him back to the battalion where the intelligence section they’d have a go at him, so they’ve got some linguists there. So they get what they want. If they don’t, he just goes back to the prisoner of war cage. And that’s the end of a patrol.
And how many of you would go out?
Oh seven or eight.

05:25:03:00

Wouldn’t be all one section, might be two from each section and a sergeant, a sergeant and a corporal and five and six others. It all depends on what they’re going to do. If they’re going out to shoot up like, you go fifteen hundred, sixteen hundred yards and you hear them another hundred yards further on, well you just

05:25:32:00

fire everything you got, scatter them around, keep firing, keep firing, until you get too much for yourself. They start sending stuff over, then it’s time to go, go back home.
And how often would you go on patrols?
I only went on about five at the most.

05:26:05:00

That was five in five months. Yeah that’s right. About one a month in Tobruk. It was different elsewhere. Sometimes you’d finish up with nothing. You go there and the fellow that you want was that badly wounded you’d just leave him there and go without one. “You didn’t get one?”

05:26:30:00

Go next time, somebody else would go next time.
And who were the prisoners?
They were either Italian or German. Mixed, could be even money what happens to them. That’s about it.
And what were the differences between taking an Italian prisoner or a German prisoner?

05:27:01:00

Well the Italian prisoners, they talked. They talked a lot. But some of them don’t know a lot. But the Germans, they’d talk in the end, but they do talk who they are, what they are, what they’re doing. They do. “Have you anything planned for the future?” “I don’t know. This is what they tell me.” “Anything planned for the…?”

05:27:30:00

“No, no, no I’m not telling you.” “Well what’s going to happen next week?” “Oh, that’s when we go over and do this and do that.” So they break down in the end. The Italians, they break down immediately. When you take the Italians, most of them were sent out to be settlers. “We’ll build you a home, you go over there.”

05:28:00:00

Of course when you get over there, “Right, you’re in the army now.” So they’re mainly settlers who were forced into the army.
And in the moment of taking that prisoner, what would you say to them?
Don’t say anything. You give them a hit over the head or somewhere and say, “You’re coming with us.” They know what you’re going to do when you’ve got a rifle in their back or something like that.

05:28:33:00

They know they’re with you then, okay. If they don’t – shoot them.
I was going to ask you how much resistance you encountered?
Not very much. They knew they were prisoners. They’d go back – those that don’t do anything. The others are killed. You may as well be killed too.

05:29:00:00

Did you ever shoot any of those prisoners?
I don’t know. Next question.
You don’t want to answer that question?
I forget now.
That’s very hard work

05:29:32:00

out in the Salient. What was the main objective of being there? The main task? At that salient point, at that outpost you were talking about?
Well the whole idea of Tobruk

05:30:00:00

was to hold it. So the Germans tried in April, but they failed. But we couldn’t get out; no-one could get out. The Australians and the British were surrounded. So the idea was to hold it and to make it as if we owned it. That’s why we had to do so many patrols,

05:30:30:00

especially to find out who they are and all that. It stopped them from having Tobruk because that was a harbour and the next step towards Alexandria. The idea while you’re holding it, make it hard for them to try and come in.

05:31:00:00

You got out on patrol or whatever, keep them awake. You know what’s it like not to have a decent night’s sleep in a week. You’re on edge, you don’t know what’s going to happen. I suppose that’s it if you can understand it. That’s the best way I can describe it.
And what would you do when you came back from those patrols?

05:31:31:00

If your weapons have been fired, clean your weapons. Probably have a drink of water or have a feed. Then they’d come along, they might ask you a question or two. Not often. The sergeant, he knows what’s happened. Then, “Better get some sleep now.” See that might be three o’clock in the morning.

05:32:01:00

You only have two hours sleep because you’re up at five. That’s when you man your posts; everyone is up manning the posts. That’s about what happens afterwards.
And what did you do during the day?
Mainly sleep, or you talked or read or… The odd things

05:32:30:00

that you do at home I suppose, except go out into the garden. You’d write letters. One fellow used to write letters and he would write forty odd pages and he would do it often. “What did you write about?” “Well did you see those heaps of snails?” Or, “Did you see that lizard this morning?” And they’d write about it. I couldn’t.

05:33:00:00

That’s what they do. If you’ve got a signaller with you, well signallers, they belong to headquarter company, they don’t belong to our companies, but they’d come up to the companies which were in the lines and they’d be doing their sets. “How are you going out there?” Or, “The colonel wants to speak to the lieutenant,” or whatever. They’ve got their job and they’re on tap

05:33:30:00

all the time. But the infantryman, once he’s got his weapons and those in the post with him they’re right there and there’s not much more to do.
And what were the difficulties of maintaining your weapons?
There’s a lot of sand dust, and you get a dirty rifle it’s not going to last long because down the barrel you’ve got this grit, and

05:34:00:00

as the bullet goes through it’s going to tear the lining of the barrel out. It would; it could. And the same if you’ve got an automatic weapon, one that fires five hundred bullets a minute. If it’s dirty, well it’s not going to last long. If you’re fortunate to have two locks

05:34:30:00

for an automatic weapon you cleaned them both. One for later on, and that’s wrapped up in rag or cotton wool that’s clean in case the other one fails, slap one on, slip the other one away, fix it up later. And there’s always moving parts that’s got to be clean. Everything is lubricated, oiled, and a bit of

05:35:00:00

sand gets in the oil, makes it gritty.
And how did you deal with the heat?
I didn’t mind the heat. In the day time you’ve only got a pair of boots and a pair of shorts on. In the night-time you put everything on because it gets cold.

05:35:30:00

I got on well with the heat; most of them did. As I say, most of them were country fellows. Heat never worried us. Apart from the dust it was good heat. Good, clear, no moisture so everything turns out all right.

05:36:04:00

There’s other things there. You’ve got to reserve ammunition. “How much have we got? Is it all right? How are those grenades? Better try one.” Load it up, throw it, if it goes off it’s all right, the rest of them are all right. You’ve still got to keep them clean, though. And then

05:36:31:00

I got mixed in with one fellow there. He used to get these enemy mortars, German mortars, Italian mortars, and he used to bust them open, bang, bang, bang on a rock, take them apart, throw the inside out. “Who wants a souvenir?”

05:37:00:00

I got mixed up with – I was bloody stupid, I suppose – banging these on a rock. None of mine ever went off. I was lucky. And there was always bagging something up get rid of that tonight, take it out fifty yards that way or that way, bury it.

05:37:30:00

As I say, always keep things clean; that’s it. So there was plenty to do.
There is also a lot of waiting around…
Well you don’t wait around if you’re doing something. From five o’clock in the morning to say six you’re having your breakfast.

05:38:02:00

Then you’re cleaning up, sweeping something out ,or getting rid of something, loading things up into the bag to go out that night. There are many things to do. But once you finish all that, “I’ll sit down and have a read.” Or go and have a yarn with Charlie or Jimmy or something. We’d always do that.

05:38:30:00

We had some good singers and they used to sing songs there of a day time, especially some of the part Aborigine fellows.
What songs did you sing?
Anything that would come to mind. Abby my Boy and the current songs. I forget those too.

05:39:02:00

And there were the parodies. I think I knew more about the parodies than the others.
Can you give me an example?
No, you’re too young for that.
Nothing can really shock me. I’ve heard it all before.
Well, whenever we were on leave and that we used to sing

05:39:32:00

what we thought was the Egyptian national anthem. There were parodies and some of them were just awful.
Interviewee: Laurence McEvoy Archive ID 1693 Tape 06

06:00:32:00

We were talking about some of the living conditions and life in Tobruk on the battlefield, I wonder if you could tell me a little bit about the food that you ate when you were there?
Food. The main food was bully beef [canned meat] and biscuits.

06:01:00:00

Now sometimes we got tinned fish herrings and tomato sauce and very seldom, I suppose twice a month, we would get bread that was made in Tobruk. They had a bakery unit there and they used to make bread,

06:01:31:00

but it always looked as though they had weevils in it, but they were fleas. There were plenty of fleas there. They used to eat the flour and get mixed up in the bread and they used to come and eat us too. They were buggers. The Italians left behind a lot of macaroni,

06:02:00:00

but these were all spilled out on the sand so we used to get them and pull the pieces out then we’d boil them up, put a bit of condensed milk with them, they were all right. Later on we got tinned sausages. They were British made. But apparently

06:02:30:00

they were captured two or three times by each side and back again and they decided that they had too much around so they gave them to us. So we had quite a variety. Corned beef, pork sausages and other stuff, pasta stuff.

06:03:00:00

I don’t think it varied unless we got a parcel. I never ever got any parcels, but other chaps would. But if one had it, we all had it, so that was all right. So we didn’t do too badly.
What did you do when the rations got too low?
One time we came across a case of Italian bully beef, but it was

06:03:30:00

bully horse. They had tinned horse. It wasn’t bad, but it kind of made you sick not knowing it’s horse, It never worried me. I just knew that they joined. I don’t know why they joined. Some of them were escaping from their wife

06:03:45:00

or from someone else’s wife.. But the texture… They were all right, I suppose. If you went short you just boiled up more of this macaroni and that did it.
Did you ever

06:04:00:00

hunt anything or gather anything from around?
No, there was nothing around. Except one time someone shot a camel and our butcher, Lou Reskie, he skinned it and portioned it out. One camel amongst seven hundred people is not much, but we had some fresh meat. That went into a stew.

06:04:30:00

Some reckoned they had gazelle, but I never ever saw any gazelle. That was all the livestock that was there.
What about water and fluids?
Most of the water was desalinated. They had an old desalination plant and that kept the water going for us. At the beginning, though,

06:05:01:00

they had a pipeline coming from Alexandria up there, and that went on for a couple of months until the Germans found out that we were getting water so they cut it off. That got rid of the fresh water and this desalination plant started up. It was a bit salty.
You mentioned fleas in bread

06:05:31:00

and also attacking the men? What other sicknesses did you find out there?
Sicknesses? I never had any. There was a lot of diarrhoea, dysentery, and wog sores. You get wog sores on your leg and they ulcerate. Some of them had them in a bad way.
How did you get wog sores?

06:06:01:00

It was just in the sand or whatever. I don’t know how they start – never ever tried to find out. But you might skin your shin somewhere and I suppose the dirt or whatever it is gets in there and that’s how it starts. So I understand I’m probably wrong, but that’s my idea of it.
And why were they called wog sores?

06:06:30:00

They don’t know how they happened or when they happened, it just became a name for them. Wog sores.
You were out there for a few months and you would have seen quite a bit of activity out there. Can you describe the air activity? What was happening in the skies?
Well it was all one way.

06:07:00:00

We had no planes there at all, and those that were out at other airfields they could only come up at night-time and generally they were flying over us onto Benghazi or other places to the west. The German air attack… The Germans had a Stuka bomber, which was a one-man plane,

06:07:30:00

and they used to come down from around five thousand feet, they used to dive straight to the ground and they had screamers on it and they made a hell of a noise. When they came down there they’d get to an angle like that, drop their bombs, then up and away. They were well on their way away when the bombs landed. And they’d come over a hundred at a time Sometimes

06:08:00:00

one at a time, or two, but up to a hundred they’d come along. They’re not very nice. But generally, if you were in a reserve position you could sit and watch them bombing the harbour or the city or anything else like that. The city was just a small town, anyway. And the big planes, the

06:08:30:00

Heinkels, they’d come over mainly of a night-time, but they were bigger bombers for going into the harbour if there was a ship there. There were plenty of ships there and most of them were sunk. But they’d take their chance. I can’t remember any transport ships coming up there getting hit.

06:09:00:00

Outside the harbour, yes, but not in the harbour.
And how close did you ever come to those bombs?
It all depends. You see we had over three thousand raids in that small period of time. That’s sometimes three and four a day.

06:09:30:00

How close? I don’t really know. Sometimes they’d bomb the front lines, but mainly it was the town or the harbour or the water distillery. That was about all, there wasn’t much there to bomb. Oh, the anti-aircraft batteries, yes. They’d go for them

06:10:00:00

sometimes, but they were near the city or town. I suppose some would be two to three hundred yards away; they didn’t hurt.
You mentioned that sometimes they raided the front line. What kind of carnage did you see after that?
Not much.

06:10:30:00

It was a very thin line. As I say, some were only a hundred yards away, more were two thousand yards away. Easy to get them mixed up, too. See when you’ve got a line and you’ve got, as I say, these concrete posts thirty or forty foot along, they would take a hell of a belting.

06:11:00:00

They had concrete that thick on top. Of the other ones dug in they were frail, but I never ever remember any of them being directly hit. Some close, but no not much damage at all. They were all spread out in one thin line all around.

06:11:30:00

So it’s pretty hard to hit one of them.
When you were in the trenches, how did you protect yourself?
Hands over your head. That was about all you could do. You’d get in your little bed, two of you in there so all you could do is lie down and talk and hope that it’s over soon. There was

06:12:00:00

not much you could do about it. “Bugger’s coming here again,” or something like that, but as I say, they could be a mile away. They weren’t directly after the front line because it was hard to hit.

06:12:36:00

What were you feeling during these times?
Well you can only have one feeling. “I hope it misses me.” No, when you get to something like a three hundred pound bomb landing it’s got to do a bit of damage. Mainly it just blows up around.

06:13:04:00

We only had a few tanks there in Tobruk, but sometimes they used to go for them. I think it was a couple of times they did make a mess of them.
And what would you do when one of the men did get wounded?
Well you couldn’t do much because there wasn’t much

06:13:30:00

you could do. If it was an open wound, everyone had an emergency pack and that’s a little bandage and you carry it in the inside pocket of your tunic if you’ve got your tunic on. If you haven’t, you’ve got to go and look for one. So you put those on and then

06:14:00:00

at night, or as soon as you can, get them off to a hospital or get them to the doctor and he will get them to the hospital. They had good ambulance service there, not up the front line but from the doctor; he was far back. And they would get them to a hospital. They did a good job there.
You said you would move the men at night. What would happen to the men who just didn’t make it?

06:14:31:00

If they didn’t make it they were dead and you didn’t worry about them. If they were a mate or a friend or you knew them, “Poor old bugger.” Things like that. There is not much you can do. We had stretcher bearers and they had a fair amount of knowledge of what to do. More than put the bandage on. And they had their own kit and they could put a bit of sulphur on them or whatever

06:15:03:00

and make them comfortable in some sort of way. Better than us. We would just prop them against the wall and leave them, hope everything goes all right. It was a poor show, but it was the best we could do.
And when you did lose a mate out there, was there any ceremony or anything?
No, no.

06:15:31:00

You just made up your mind, “He’s one of us. We’ll fix him up.” And we’d cart them off to the cemetery. Sometimes we’d have to dig a hole. But mainly the pioneers, they had ten or fifteen or twenty holes already made – they were waiting. There wasn’t much you could do about it. “Maybe he’s better off.”

06:16:02:00

There’s not much more you could say or do. He’s got no gear so we can’t pack up anything and send it home. Someone would write a note to his wife, Mother, sister, whatever and then wait for someone to fill in that position that he was in. So that’s the way it goes.

06:16:30:00

And what mates did you lose out there?
Oh quite a lot, yeah. Fortunately only two or three in Tobruk. It was at Alamein I lost a lot of mates. We went out there about a hundred strong and I think we had about fifty or sixty killed.

06:17:02:00

You have mentioned some of the action that you saw and I was wondering if there was any other action or operations?
Sometimes you’d go out on the raiding party. You’d have an idea, or you might have an observation post and they might say, “They’ve been coming out here

06:17:30:00

three nights in a row. Come out and get them.” So that’s the start of a fighting patrol. You go out there and they might be digging or they just might be circling around looking for someone to have a shot at, so until you strike them you’re out there for nothing. But when you strike them you’re in trouble.

06:18:01:00

You can’t see too much. If you see a movement you shoot at that movement. Sometimes, I suppose many times, you miss. And that’s the same with both sides. And then there’s going out to get one prisoner just for information. Sometimes it was just to show your own strength or to make

06:18:30:00

a nuisance of yourself out there to keep them awake. Things like that. Many reconnaissance patrols. All of them meant you were going out and you could possibly meet the enemy. That’s every one of them. You never know. And if you’re quick enough you get away with it.
You mentioned

06:19:00:00

mucking around so they couldn’t sleep. What would you do to stop them sleeping?
Keep up firing as long as you can. Throw a few grenades, doesn’t matter where they go as long as you know you’re around this area and they’re over there. So you just keep them up. Start off with a few grenades as soon as you get there, then another ten minutes later, twenty minutes later or an hour later. So long as you can keep them wondering

06:19:30:00

“What’s going to happen next?” They don’t know how many you’ve got and you don’t even know where they are. You think you know where they are, but it’s going off near them and it’s creating noise and hopefully havoc. That’s the way it goes.
Out of the operations that you did do in Tobruk, were there any that you enjoyed?
You always enjoyed getting home. I was out one time

06:20:00:00

and I don’t know what it was, I think it was only an ordinary patrol to see what was happening, and we were coming home and they opened up on us with everything they got. They were firing to one side, but we were over this side and we were coming through and we had to go through some barbed wire. Generally the barbed wire came in coils like that

06:20:30:00

and we had them in front of us, three coils, two on the bottom, one on the top. And if you miss where you’re going in like you’d go in here, along there, come out there. If you miss that you’ve got get under, over or through. We all got caught in it, but I got my leg slashed and I was really glad

06:21:00:00

to get home that night. We missed the opening and I bumped into one of these things and I fell over. That’s when I got the leg done. I was very happy to get home. They wanted me to go to hospital I said, “No.” But it healed up so I was right.
Why didn’t you want to go to hospital?
Because I don’t like hospitals.

06:21:36:00

The Germans, when they bombed the area it was close to town, so it was a real good place to pick out because the roof was white with a red marking on and they would still go for it. I didn’t want to go there. But it healed up. I had a clip bandage on, a bit of iodine or something.

06:22:00:00

This is your first real contact with the enemy in Tobruk. What was your opinion of, firstly, the Germans?
I didn’t like them. I didn’t even know any of them, but I didn’t like them. They were over there and they want to get me so I didn’t like them. They were good, they were tough and

06:22:30:00

what I struck of them they didn’t care what happened and how they did things. That was only a personal opinion. The Italians? Well some of them were as good as the Germans, but they really weren’t soldiers. If you saw three or four of them coming for you most of them of wanted to hug you, “Oh, take me back.”

06:23:02:00

We didn’t care much about the Italians except what they had. They used to have little grenades. They were like money boxes, but they were so slim you’d never know whether they were safe or not. You’d might pick one up and it’d go off in your hand. Some of them kicked them and they’d go off, but

06:23:31:00

that was the way things happened. The Germans didn’t have them – they had worse. But that was all right.
What did the Germans have?
They had a stick grenade and they had the grenade on top of the stick and they get that stick and they can throw that a long way.

06:24:00:00

And they had little mini-balls in them and they could hurt. They had smaller ones. I forget what the other ones were like now. We had good ones. We good throw them or bowl them as far as a stick grenade.

06:24:38:00

They did damage. They all did damage.
What do you think was the nastiest piece of weaponry out there?
Mines. They had a jumping jack mine. If you touch it or if your foot goes on it

06:25:01:00

nothing will happen. When the foot goes off it jumps up about that high, then everything, balls about that big and whatever, comes out of there and they’re deadly. They’ll chop your legs off. They used a lot of those. They had different positions where they’d put the mine field. Or they’d have them in

06:25:31:00

a trench and if you were making an attack or patrolling and they started shelling that or mortaring that and you dive into a trench, you’re gone because you’re stepping on one of those mines and it will go off as soon as you move. You just can’t say, “As soon as I take my foot off I’ll go away in a hurry.” You don’t. As soon as you take your foot off…

06:26:00:00

They’d be about the worst thing that they had. You always took notice of them.
And what were the injuries you were seeing on the other men?
I saw one fellow, he had both legs and an arm off. He went out on the same ship as I did, but he died on the way anyway. I didn’t know him.

06:26:30:00

That would be about the worst that I did see. There was one fellow, I didn’t see it happen, but I happened to want to have a bit of a rest one time and there was a hole and silly me I went in the hole, but when I got in there there was this fellow lying back and all his stomach was hanging out.

06:27:00:00

He was dead and it had happened a few days before. That would be about the worst that I’d seen. Not very nice. But you forget about them.
What did you do about that dead soldier that you found?
Threw a blanket over him and I went to sleep.

06:27:30:00

That was about it. I couldn’t bury him. I couldn’t do anything. Blanket over him so I wouldn’t see him and that was it. But it smelt.
And how were you told that you were leaving Tobruk?
We were in a position and we came out and we went back to an area where there were caves –

06:28:02:00

not caves – say a limestone hill. And where the wind had come through this limestone had come out, and it went back about ten or twenty feet or something. We rested there and we got a good feed. We got fed well for

06:28:30:00

two or three meals. Then we were told, “Well so-and-so left last night, should be our turn tonight. Get everything together.” And we did. Went down to harbour, hung around there for an hour or two hours, and then next thing we didn’t even know the ship was in. It didn’t come up to the harbour. It came off a couple of wrecks

06:29:00:00

to get on there. “Okay, lead off.” So they were jumping from one wreck onto another, then going onto the destroyer. I got not left, but they moved not faster than me, but I went on – instead of going from one wreck to another I thought I would take a short cut, but I didn’t, so I had to come back.

06:29:30:00

I was about one of the last to get on the destroyer to come out. Nothing happened. I was on it with the rest of them.
What was the harbour like when you got down there?
Full of wrecks. Little tugs half sunk. There was a big cruiser, an Italian cruiser, that was sunk and there was a cruise ship

06:30:00:00

and that was sunk. Then there was all these little ones like coasters. There were wrecks all over the place. It was in a mess. Then on the harbour there was all these harbour installations. Tanks to take petrol or oil or whatever they were there. Plus they weren’t lifesavers.

06:30:31:00

They had their own little tugs or little boats there or ships to go and make a sweep around the harbour to see if there was anything was new, see if anything else had been washed up. That was their job. But that was their job in any port. They were very busy.

06:31:00:00

What was the ship that you got onto?
I came out on the HMAS Kingston, a British destroyer. Half our battalion got on there, say four hundred people. It was pretty crowded.
What were you told about your next destination?
We could only go one way. We

06:31:30:00

made it to Alexandria. On the ship they created a canteen and we had tinned fruit and whatever went with tinned fruit, mainly condensed milk. Get the top off a tin of fruit, pour some juice out

06:32:00:00

then pour the condensed milk in it, yum, yum. That was all right. The navy paid for that. The sailors on the ships, they did well.
And what were the navy boys like?
They were good. They knew their job, they knew what they were doing, but it was a dangerous job.

06:32:30:00

If you had very little on they would find a shirt for you. “What are you doing with that on? That’s lousy. Throw it overboard.” They’d come out with a pair of pants or something. Anything to help you – they were good.
And how long were you on the ship for?
Oh, that was only overnight. You get on there about twelve or one o’clock

06:33:00:00

and you’re in Alex [Alexandria] at eight o’clock the next morning. The closer you got to Alex, the more air cover you had for yourself. You could do that last two hundred mile in the open because you had the Royal Air Force looking after you.
And what was your feeling when you left Tobruk?
Well as I said – I’ve said it often – the best part of Tobruk was leaving it.

06:33:31:00

We were happy. But what’s going to happen next? We didn’t know. But we were glad to leave that place. It was just that we were pleased.
And what were your first impression of Alexandria?
It was a dirty, squalid city. The harbour

06:34:00:00

was all right, but oh it was awful. We weren’t there long before we were on a bus and taken down to Amiriya where we had a feed. I met up there with a fellow out of the 2/17th Battalion, New South Wales battalion, and this fellow used to be a prefect at the high school I went to in Broken Hill.

06:34:34:00

He’s dishing out the soup and I said, “You better put another on there.” He looked at me and said, “What the bloody hell are you doing here?” “Just came out of Tobruk.” He said, “Oh have another one.” That was good. I never saw him again until 1980 and I haven’t seen him since.

06:35:00:00

What was the camp you went to in Alexandria?
No, we didn’t go to a camp in Alexandria. We went from Amiriya then we went down to Dulles camp in Palestine, which was almost a new camp – it had only been used once before. It was a good camp. We got there at Christmas time or

06:35:30:00

the beginning of December. And it was starting to rain and it was very, very clay soil. And when you walked you finished up with your heels about that much higher. You walked a couple of yards then you had to hack the mud off your heels so you can go further. But it was a good camp.

06:36:00:00

Just before Christmas the whole section went down to the wet canteen and we all got full, but apparently I got fuller. And an officer came along and told us to keep quite or something and they reckoned I struck him. I didn’t. I might have pushed him away.

06:36:30:00

Anyway I got charged then for striking an officer. We had a good colonel – he finished up a High Court judge, nice fellow. I went up to him and I got twenty-one days’ field punishment.
What did that consist of?
I missed twenty-one days’ pay

06:37:00:00

and then I had to do what we were doing in the day time – go for gun instruction, go for a route march, and then after that the provo [Provosts – Military Police] sergeant, he’d say, “I want you back here in ten minutes time with your full uniform on.” Right. Do that in ten minutes you’re lucky.

06:37:30:00

You’ve got to make up most of your uniform. Your webbing is probably just a belt and you’ve got to put everything on. Anyway I finished up doing it. Twenty-one days I did that for.
You don’t actually recall what you did to the officer?
No, not really. I probably pushed him.
What were you told by the mates you were drinking with?

06:38:00:00

I’d probably gone to the bar to get more booze or something. Anyway one of them came up afterwards at the trial and he said, “I can vouch for him and I don’t think he touched that officer.” Something like that.
So when was your trial?
Couple of days later.
I’m trying to imagine what a trial in the army looks like.

06:38:30:00

This was a battalion trial, not a district court martial. You go up to the company commander and he says, “You’re charged with striking an officer. I cannot handle that. You will have to go to the colonel. Do you wish to go to the colonel?” “Yes.” Then you were whisked away under escort and when the colonel got his time for punishment

06:39:02:00

you dressed, checked, dressed, “Straighten those shoulders. Brush that hat.” They really go through you. They take you inside, whiz your hat off and then they say, “Prisoner under escort.” Then the sergeant or someone reads out the charge. “How do you plead now, McEvoy?”

06:39:30:00

“Not guilty, sir.” “Oh? Why not?” “I don’t believe that officer was telling the full truth. I never struck him.” “Oh? You can sit down for a moment.” Then he’d call the officer in and he’d ask him what happened. “Well I went in, there was a scuffle on, the noise was on, I tried to stop it and I got struck.

06:40:00:00

Private McEvoy did it.” “Oh. You heard that McEvoy? Stand. Now tell me your story?” “It didn’t happen that way. I might have pushed him or shoved him. I didn’t strike him.” “He said you struck him.” “No,” I said, “I can call a witness and you can hear his version of that.” I called one fellow, Charlie Hewitt.

06:40:30:00

“No, no he wouldn’t have struck him. He wouldn’t have been game to strike an officer.” “Hmmm,” he ummed and ahhed then he said, “There’s a bit of truth in both sides. I’ll give you twenty-one days’ field punishment.” I thought, “God, that’s better than Jerusalem.”
What was in Jerusalem?

06:41:00:00

That was a screw section. That was where… If the colonel doesn’t judge you, you go to a district court martial and they say, “Right, we don’t believe you. Ninety days Jerusalem.” And once you get in there you never ever want to go back again. I’ve seen strong men weakened. However, twenty-one days’ field

06:41:30:00

punishment. I did it well. I finished up there. The sergeant there, Max Thomas, he said to me one night, he said, “Do you know where my tent is?” I said, “No idea.” He said, “I’ll show you.” He took me down to the tent and he said, “There’s a parcel there. I received it from home. Now tomorrow night you are to come around to this tent and carry that back to the sergeants’ mess. “Yes, okay Max.”
Interviewee: Laurence McEvoy Archive ID 1693 Tape 07

07:00:42:00

It was a decision to withdraw from Tobruk by the Australian government. How did your battalion respond to that withdrawal?
We’d heard different stories. One of them was that

07:01:02:00

we were unfit and we deserved the rest. And from readings that I’ve done, Churchill [Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Britain] and the big bosses over there said, “No, we’re coming up to meet them and we’re going further. And they will be there to break out.” And the medical people said, “They haven’t got the strength,” which I don’t believe.

07:01:30:00

We had the strength, we had the will, but we had no say.
At the time, how dissatisfied were you when you were leaving Tobruk?
Not dissatisfied, we were contented to leave.

07:02:00:00

We thought then we could see it out. But we didn’t know was how long. We just went along with what they did. The ships came along and we got on them and that was it.
You’ve told us an interesting story about an incident at Camp Dulles,

07:02:34:00

were there any other occasions where you might have lost your cool?
Not really losing your cool, but if you wanted to have fun you made your own fun. You didn’t care at whose expense it was. After we left Dulles camp

07:03:00:00

we went up to Lebanon and we were at a little place called Besmazzien. We were not far from the coast and we were going down to the coast to see how things were, what we could do and all that sort of thing because were in a defensive position. We’d hardly started out, gone

07:03:30:00

about ten minutes and a fellow said to me, “Are you thirsty?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well let’s go and get a drink.” I said, “Well, why not?” So we got to the end of our section – we went that way, they went that way. So we went over came across a little village and we asked them if they had any beer. “Yes.” They were pulling bits of string up from out of the well

07:04:00:00

and on the bottom of the string was a couple of bottles of beer. We sat down there and we must have had half a dozen beers, I suppose, and we thought, “Well we better go and see what the rest of them are doing.” So we went back and as we got to a certain point they were going past so we just joined on the end of them and nothing else happened. So we heard nothing else about that. Those things happened. Why not?

07:04:30:00

We won the war.
You mentioned earlier in the day that you were at Legoult barracks?
Yes, that was our first camp in Lebanon. That was just out of Tripoli. Tripoli was quite a sea port and Legoult barracks…

07:05:01:00

It was a barracks. Double storey and plenty of room and we used that mainly for sleeping because… As I say, they didn’t know whether the Germans were going to come down through Turkey or whether they were going to come in from the sea, so we had to build fortifications. So we went out and I was put in charge of

07:05:30:00

a lot of these Arabs and they were doing the digging and we went on from there. We started to fortify that area, digging the ground, making sangers, rocks and that to make somewhere to get in and be comfortable, or to shoot from, or whatever you do. However, I was on that for

07:06:01:00

almost a month. We were all doing that, different sections. Some of them were doing concrete. I wasn’t on the concrete side, I was just on the digging of rocks. So then we were just about finished that and we had to do exercises then. Company exercises along the coast. Before we did that

07:06:30:00

I went along to a bit of a holiday camp to a place called Crack des Chevalier. It was one of these Crusader castles. Good condition. How that was built I don’t know. Sheer, straight up from cliff rock. Anyway, that was quite interesting. Then when I came back from that I got three days in Beirut, so I’m doing pretty well.

07:07:03:00

I went to the races in Beirut. Never again. You make a bet you don’t know whether you’re on for a winner or a place or what. And there’s about ten or twelve horses in each race you don’t even know what your horse looks like – there’s no colours, there’s no broadcast, so it was quite an experience. I had a good time in Beirut.

07:07:30:00

Tripoli was a good place to go on overnight leave. But that was just a break. We got into Lebanon, Syria, whatever you like to call it, in January and we left there in June, end of June. So we had six months, five months there. And we made the most of it. Whether we were working or whether we were playing, we did the best we could there.

07:08:04:00

How did your health and your morale…?
I was as fit as a fiddle, yeah. I was very well. It would be nothing to march twenty miles between breakfast and lunch

07:08:30:00

and then do the same thing from that until tea. We were all fit. We had a call one morning, what they called 3 Gs. I don’t know why they called it that, but there was some reason. And it was down to a place not far from the Cheka Tunnel. Cheka Tunnel was

07:09:00:00

a tunnel through the hills and that carried… and then there was the train going through, the train track and a road, so it was a pretty busy place. But when you come out onto the road on either end you only had to look down and there was the sea about two hundred metres down there. I didn’t like that.

07:09:34:00

After your work fortifying the barracks at Syria, where did you go?
After we did the diggings, as I say, I had a couple of leaves there and then we started doing company simulated attacks. Going up towards Turkey.

07:10:03:00

They’d hide one company and we’d have to take that position. And sometimes we would have to march five miles before we even saw anything of the position. But that’s the way we had to do it. Crawl and creep and do everything over… It was rough country. We finished up

07:10:30:00

with plenty of skin off. But we had good methods of making attacks and they had good methods of defensive positions and that. But we got through that all right, but that was over a period of about a week. Anyway, back to the barracks we went. I think we went back to there. And then they decided that they would have

07:11:00:00

one battalion against another. One in defence and one in attacking. But that was at the end of June and that’s when Rommel started coming down towards Alamein, so we had to hop onto trucks, disguise ourselves as anything but Australians. “Don’t get out with your brown boots on. Pommy’s wear black boots.”

07:11:30:00

“And don’t wear your hat. No-one else wears slouch hats.” Don’t do this don’t do that. So we were nondescripts, I suppose. We were going through towns, any town we’d go through, “Good day, Aussie! Good day, Aussie!” They knew who we were and where we were going. We didn’t even know where we were going.
How did people know you were Aussies if you were trying to camouflage yourselves?
They’d know. How they’d know? I don’t know.

07:12:00:00

But they’d know. They know everything, these wogs, they do know everything. If you’re thinking they can tell you the answer of what you’re going to say to them.
This is the long trip that you did through Palestine to Cairo, is that the one?
Yes. That was the one we were starting on.

07:12:30:00

We went up through Homs, down through Balabac, down through Tiberias and so on to Egypt. A good trip. I had a good seat. I was sitting on the hood of the truck all the way. How I didn’t fall off, I don’t know.
What sort of troop trucks were they?
Three tonners. We used to have

07:13:00:00

all our gear and about ten men in the back. Sergeant or an officer in the front.
Were they covered trucks?
Yes, they had canvas over the truck.
Why did you decide to sit on the hood?
I didn’t like to sit in the truck there, everyone smoking, you can’t move. If you want to get your legs out you’ve got to kick that off or kick him off or something. So I decided I would get up there

07:13:30:00

where there was somewhere to put my feet and somewhere to lean back and have a look at the scenery. And that was good.
And what was the scenery like?
Very nice. Well until… Going through Palestine it was… You know of Lake Tiberias and all that? Beautiful country, green and everything.

07:14:00:00

I did have a swim in the lake. I think everyone did. They had orange orchards and watermelons, great things like that, sixpence each. They were industrious, the Jews and some of the Arabs there. That was good there.

07:14:30:00

But when you get down further, going south west it becomes a desert. Miles and miles of bloody nothing. Until you get to the Sweetwater Canal and the Suez Canal, and that there’s a little bit of a change there. But only for about ten yards on either side of the river and that was it. The canals and that…

07:15:04:00

When we got to Cairo we didn’t go into Cairo. We went just below the pyramids there. We only got there seven or eight o’clock at night-time. We were gone at five o’clock the next morning. And then we were on our way to Alamein.

07:15:30:00

I understand that before you went to Alamein, there’s a couple of months there after Syria, that was July, so there’s a couple of months before Alamein actually started.
We left Syria at the end of June and then our first battle at Alamein was on the 11th of July.

07:16:00:00

So you went to Tel el Eisa. Tell us about Tel el Eisa?
Well when we moved from the pyramids we went to a place called Shammama Halt. And that was only a… There was nothing there.

07:16:30:00

It was just flat desert. So we had to do something. So it was decided we would do nothing – we’d wait until tomorrow. But a couple of planes came over and lobbed a couple of bombs amongst us and we lost some casualties there. We decided we would take up the pick and the shovel and dig holes for ourselves, which that proved to be all right. The next day we were told we were moving out and the next night we were going to go into battle.

07:17:04:00

So we moved up and then about one or two o’clock in the morning, I suppose, we started the battle.
And I understand your position was the Hill of Jesus. What was the Hill of Jesus?
It was just a hill with the name the Hill of Jesus.

07:17:30:00

I don’t know why it was named that, when it was named that, or whatever, but it’s still known as the Hill of Jesus. We took the Hill of Jesus at about three o’clock in the morning. There were Italians there, just a mix of Germans, and they were all in their sleeping gear – pyjamas and everything. So we got them out, lined them up,

07:18:01:00

“Get that way.” And they marched – hundreds, thousands of them.
So can you describe the Italians’ position? How dug in were they?
They just had trenches there laying in. Officers had a bit of iron for a roof. They were comfortable. They had silk sheets.

07:18:30:00

These are the officers. They had their pyjamas and everything looked ducky. Until we came and they got out and sent them on their way. That ended. By the time we cleaned up and got rid of them all it was about lunch time. And then the Germans woke up to what was happening and they started shelling us.

07:19:00:00

We had one truck and that had our provisions for God knows how many days. And that got blown up. Right on top of the Hill of Jesus it was, and a shell landed right in the tray and up it went. All our cold-weather gear, because in the day time it was up around forty, forty-five degrees and in the night-time it would get down to about five. We got cold,

07:19:30:00

especially when we only had shorts and a shirt and boots. And we had nothing to eat except what we carried. So then we had to go and… God knows what we picked up. Things that had been spilled in the sand. Tins that were full, we had them. So that was the way we lived for,

07:20:05:00

say, ten days. Then we captured a dump and all we got was case after case of tinned sausages. We had tinned sausages, sausages boiled, barbecued, any way. We tried them all. That was

07:20:31:00

until… That was the 11th we got in there, then we’d go out on patrol three and four times a night. On one patrol we went out we had a West Australian lieutenant, he was in charge of us, he took us out on a patrol. We went along and along and along, kept on going along. We saw another patrol coming down this way

07:21:03:00

and when they passed I said, “They’re bloody Germans.” And they were. So we didn’t do anything – we just went on and so did they.
And why did you make that decision?
Tubby Lewin, he was the officer, he said, “That looks like one of our patrols coming down.” So he just went straight on and they came straight on and we both got a shock.

07:21:30:00

Them and us. Nothing happened.
Why do you think no action was taken?
Well one place can’t take action when the rest are going that way. No, it was just one of those things that happened. You wouldn’t even think it would happen, but it did. As I said, four or five patrols of a night-time and you wouldn’t get any sleep of a day time.
That is a lot of patrols. How far ranging were the patrols?

07:22:02:00

Up to three thousand yards. Could be two hundred yards, could be three thousand yards. We didn’t know exactly where they were. We had Italian maps. They didn’t really tell you distances. We had to go on that.

07:22:30:00

They were made in Cairo in 1936, so lots of things happened then. But they were the only maps of that area. We had tank battles from here to the other side of the road. They’d be fighting and slugging it out there and we’d be sitting up watching them. There was nothing else we could do. Around

07:23:00:00

us… We were in a position here and I suppose thirty yards over that side on the side of the hill there were five tanks knocked out. We went out on patrol that night. We must have done four or five patrols. In the morning we came home and… “What’s wrong? Where are the bloody tanks?” The Germans had been in with their trucks, loaded them up and taken them back to their own lines.

07:23:31:00

We were tired, we were out, nobody heard them. They were good. And so were we when we were asleep. One battle there, the 22nd of July, I remember that well. Don Company went out to take a hill,

07:24:00:00

West 24. The 24th Battalion, they had to take East 24. 23rd Battalion had to take Hill 24. The 23rd, they didn’t get very far and they pulled out. We didn’t even get as far as… We started on the Hill of Jesus and down below the hill, I suppose anything up to eight hundred yards away, was

07:24:30:00

the cutting, the railway line and the cutting. That was our starting point. Before we reached that we had about ten killed and God knows how many wounded. Anyway, we got across and we got within about fifty yards of the Germans and we had to stop. We couldn’t go any further because we had suffered

07:25:00:00

that many casualties. I was with five other fellows, but one of them was wounded. He was wounded in the stomach. We had to go to ground. We had nothing for cover except the little camel bush. The camel bush you could see through, but you hoped that no-one can see through that the other way.

07:25:34:00

However, we got out there, I suppose, about seven o’clock in the morning. Nine o’clock that night we were still there and we decided we would have to go back, so we collected who we could and what we could and we started to go back. But behind us

07:26:00:00

there was the German 90th Light Division. They came in trucks. We got twenty yards from them and they were lining up having their tea. “What are we going to do now?” They were, I suppose, about seven hundred men around in a heap. “We’ll go through them.” And we did and we got away with it. We were just getting near our

07:26:30:00

home camp and we struck our A Company, they were coming out to bring us in but we beat them to it. By that time we had lost… In our B Company we lost fifty-four killed. Only thirteen of us bloody walked out. I walked out.
And what was it that made you come to that decision that you could get through?

07:27:00:00

It was either them capturing us, or them killing us. When you’re in the middle of them they have to capture you. They can’t go shooting everyone because they shoot half their men. It’s true.
Was it all guns blazing as you went through?
Not a gun was fired. We walked through, right through them.
Why were you not fired on?
They didn’t see us. A bit after nine o’clock at night.

07:27:31:00

It was really dusk. You could not understand how people can’t see you. But at twenty yards you couldn’t recognise anyone standing up either.
Were you scared?
Nuh. I was never scared. Not throughout the whole war. Thirteen of us got back and we had a fellow,

07:28:00:00

‘Tack’ Hammer, he was a colonel and he had set up a meal for us, for the whole company, and thirteen of us turned up and we hopped into it. One fellow there, you take it as it sounds, one fellow there said, “Well it was a good show fellows, anyway. I’m sorry. How did you get on, Boys?”

07:28:31:00

This Boys was a comic, an out and out comic. “How did you get on, Boys?” He said, “I should have taken my Father’s advice, sir.” “Oh, and what was your Father’s advice?” “Well there’s only three places in the war that’s safe. In hospital, in jail,

07:29:00:00

or in the pox hospital.” He was in Jerusalem within a couple of days. They sent him out of the front line to go into Jerusalem. They were hard. And then after that, we were home for about two days then we got pulled out. We went back to Shammama Halt.

07:29:32:00

And then I was very disappointed then. We had to dig and dig and dig. Bloody trench work. When we’d finished it they handed it over to black South Africans and I thought, “Well I’m a bloody navvy for them.” We had to go back to another place and start digging there too. We’d only just been in that show two days previous

07:30:01:00

and we had to dig for black South Africans. I was ashamed of myself.
And when those thirteen of you came out, or got through, was it sort of feeling like a hero?
I don’t know what a hero feels like. We were soldiers and it was part of war.

07:30:30:00

Who was with you of those thirteen that went through?
Myself, Wally Pryor…
Was Ron with you?
No, he got LOB [left out of battle]. He got left out of battle that day.
Ron Bowen?
No, he hadn’t joined us up.

07:31:01:00

He had been in hospital. Some civilian complaint or some woman complaint, I don’t know. Anyway he didn’t come up until after that the October show. Ron Matthews, he got left out of battle…They keep them left out of battle in case everyone gets wiped out and they’ve got them to start a new unit. Pop Connolly, a Western Australian.

07:31:31:00

Sam Starling, he was a sig [signaller]. Jack O’Donahue, he was a sig. That fellow who was behind me when we went to ground, the fellow who got shot in the stomach, he died. I was almost going to shoot him myself, but I couldn’t turn around. I’ll never forget him.
Why couldn’t you turn around?
We were only about fifty yards from the Germans and they had more artillery than what we had.

07:32:02:00

If you turned your head… You couldn’t move.
And when you made that decision to go through the middle, were you walking or…?
We were walking. It was only about quarter light, darkness was coming down.

07:32:30:00

You could see people, you knew who they were. Why worry about them? Just walk through. Either that or go to jail. Some things happened and you just wonder why.
And how superstitious were you?

07:33:00:00

I wasn’t superstitious. I got a little bit careful after that because during that show I had a tin hat on and I finished up… I didn’t know it then… You see the desert is not sand, it’s gravel, rocks, sand. You name it, it’s there. But I took off my hat,

07:33:31:00

just threw it down and someone picked it up and there’s a big dent in it about that big. I suffered headaches. I still get them. Repat [Repatriation] says, “Take aspirin. They’re good things, these aspirin.” I said, “I’m not taking them every day.” I still get headaches. That must have been a bit of rock that came up

07:34:00:00

because it didn’t break the steel or anything, it just belted it in. However, that’s that.
And what other action did you encounter before the big battle?
We went out until the beginning of August.

07:34:33:00

We just had the ordinary stay still action, a few patrols, not many, just a few patrols. And I got out of it then. They called for volunteers – they were going to make a machine gun platoon. Vickers machine guns. I went on that all September, learning about the Vickers.

07:35:00:00

I got a little pat on the back: “I’ve never seen an action better than that.” And this came from a fellow who had been thirteen years on the Vickers. This is loading. He said, “Now, are you ready to fire?” I said, “Yeah.” “Start firing.” I said, “I can’t.” He said, “Why?” I said, “I haven’t loaded yet.”

07:35:32:00

He said, “What was that?” I said… With a Vickers gun you’ve got to load it twice. Drag the belt in and second one, catch it there, the bullet goes in the chamber. The second one had made a click at the end and I let it go. I said, “You didn’t catch it.” However, I got through it okay.

07:36:02:00

Where was the gunners’ school?
The gunners’ school was at a place called Burgh Al Arab. Burgh Al Arab, I saw that two years ago and it would be bigger than Adelaide. Houses hotels shops and no-one living there. Except the hotel. Marvellous.
How far away was it from where you had been in action>

07:36:32:00

That would be I suppose ten or fifteen mile away. Close to the sea. But we were close to what they called a NAAFI canteen – Navy, Army, Air Force Institute, I think that was it. A fellow said to me, “You’d be about the worst bloody

07:37:00:00

writer that I’ve ever seen.” I said, “So what? You’re not so bloody smart yourself.” He was a fellow from the 13th Battalion the New South Wales lot. He said, “Here’s a piece of paper.” He said, “Write on here such and such artillery or whatever, put any headline you want on there. Please supply the bearer with one box of Scotch whisky. Make it Dewers. And we want some gin, too.

07:37:30:00

Half a dozen bottles of gin. That’ll do. Right now sign your name.” I signed it. He took it back. Next thing he’s back with a dozen whiskys and a half dozen of gin, so we hopped into it. We did that every night. He would take that down to NAAFI canteen and they would book it up to this fictitious unit, so we finished up as full as eggs every night. Next morning we’d be out.

07:38:03:00

Yep, that was part of the compensation we got.
And why did you want to go to gunners’ school?
I thought that B Company and Don Company got most of the action. We didn’t, but everyone thinks, “God what about A and Don Company? Why aren’t doing it?

07:38:30:00

We’ve got one of these stupid bloody commanders there. They want to do everything.” So I said, “I’ll get out of this. I’ll join the machine gunners.” I did and the first thing that happened to me I got attached to Don Company. I didn’t get any further. That was good. Then we had to start practising for Alamein.

07:39:00:00

That’s when they brought in these sticky bombs, about that round. It had a short stick on it. It had a light metal covering, you pulled the pin out, you go up to a tank and slam it on and then go like hell. They’re supposed to blow the side of the tank out. They do, if you’re lucky. And we had to

07:39:30:00

try that out on different trucks. There were dead trucks; they were laying everywhere. You’d go and bang that on and off you’d go, and the next minute there was a door flying through the air and a bonnet going somewhere else. They worked. They were effective. Anyway, we had a couple of days of that and that was all right. Then we had a few night sessions of what we had to do. Go there recognise this and do this.

07:40:01:00

So… And then they started feeding us. I could always eat and I did. I ate well. And, that’s right, we were all ready; we knew what we had to do. I was complaining about… You see on the Vickers gun there is the gun itself and then there’s the tripod…
Interviewee: Laurence McEvoy Archive ID 1693 Tape 08

08:00:32:00

Bill, you were just giving us a description of the Vickers?
Yes, forty-nine pound for the gun and forty-nine pound for the tripod. I had the tripod and it was over my neck under the arms, but I also had a rifle over that side. I also had a pack on my back. I also had

08:01:00:00

a water bottle. I also had a shovel shoved down my back. I reckon I was carrying more than my weight. But at times you had to run. I didn’t like that, but there was nothing I could do about it.
So if you did have to run, what did you discard?
Well you couldn’t discard anything. You were holding onto this

08:01:30:00

and you can’t take one hand of or that one falls down. You couldn’t get rid of these things until you reached where you were going, then off comes that thing, out comes the shovel, out comes your rifle.
How many men did it take to carry this weapon?
Three. One for the tripod, one for the gun, and one for the ammunition.

08:02:00:00

And you had another man, if you could spare another man, carrying spare ammunition, and he was really under great pressure. A box of ammunition is a thousand rounds. Carry two of those in each hand, plus your other gear. He was not well off. But

08:02:30:00

that was his job.
When it actually came to operating the guns, how did that work?
The fellow who carried the tripod, he was the gunner. He’d run out and slam that down where he wanted and how he wanted. Then the man with the gun would come along, he comes along and puts the gun on top. The third man, he’s got a bucket of water, a tin of water,

08:03:00:00

and then he poured that in because it’s a water-cooled machine. Then you take the ranges. There was a range finder. If you were after anything you could ask him. If not, you just go on your own, but it was handy to have a range finder though. It would really take four to be really operational

08:03:30:00

if you’ve got a position to go to.
And what role did you play in this team of four men?
I alternated between gunner and the number two. The number two, you’re lying down there and as the gun goes off you get covered with all these empty shells. Some of them are hot,

08:04:00:00

some of them go down your shirt or elsewhere and it’s not very good. When you’re on the gun you’re fully exposed and you’ve got your thumbs down. You know what your target is, or about where your target is, so you just let go. The number two, he’s lying down there and he’s feeding the belt in and seeing how the water’s going.

08:04:30:00

You have to change. He takes the belt back, get rid of that, get the other magazine and put that two. And you bang it twice to get it operational and you keep going. If somebody says, “Hey, what about over here?” “Righto, where?” You just take a guess, they take a guess where you are, they yell out, “Hey, bit of fire over here.” And you do that.

08:05:00:00

Most of it is organised. That is being disorganised, but it was effective.
What kind of training exercises did you go through?
Training exercise? You’ve got to learn many things. You’ve got to learn how to carry it. Then the second thing they teach you is how to take a lock apart.

08:05:30:00

The lock is the thing that keeps it going. There is forty-nine pieces in the lock. In the end you’ve got to do it blindfolded. I could never do it, but neither could anyone else. Just before Alamein I went over to one of my machine gun battalions and asked a few questions, and by the time I left there I had a spare lock. I pinched one of theirs.

08:06:00:00

So if my lock broke down I had another one. That’s the way to do things. You learn a lot, then you learn what to do, how to load properly, how to tap properly. Tapping is one of those things. You don’t swing the gun anywhere, you tap it. Tap it on the handles, bang, bang, bang,

08:06:30:00

bang, bang, bang. You should be back exactly where you started from. It is remarkable how you can be so finicky with a tap. After that you go on your shoots. You have your faults and how to fix them, what to do. The only fault I had was I ran short of water,

08:07:02:00

which is one of the worst things because the barrel becomes hot and distorts or whatever. That was the only thing that ever went wrong.
What happened when you run out of water?
They say, “Stop!” “What’s wrong?” Well you should be able to say, “Got to replace the water.”

08:07:30:00

Most of the time usually that’s the first thing you do is give it a bit of knock. You think, “Oh God, I’ve got take that lock to pieces,” and everything like that. No, that was only thing wrong.
And what action did you see now as a machine gunner?

08:08:00:00

On the first night in at Alamein we got through without firing a shot and set up a good position. That was on a Friday night. But before then they had the big opening. I think it was about thirteen hundred guns all started at once. Whoomp.

08:08:30:00

And the sky was just like daylight. You could have sat down and read a book. Anyway, we had twenty minutes of that, I think it was, then it got back to normal and then we got to the start line and we started off. Just before we got where we reached where we struck a bit of opposition. But it wasn’t for the machine gunners. The infantry looked after that. Then we set up

08:09:00:00

our guns. Then we had a bit of a spell. I couldn’t see anything out in front until just before twelve o’clock. A couple of tanks came over the hill, and they came down towards us. There was an anti-tank gun over to our left

08:09:30:00

and they stopped about fifty yards from it. Before the tanks could swing one of their big guns around, this anti-tank gun scored a hit and knocked him out. But the other tank was quicker than this one – he just blew this anti-tank gun. He was gone. He got back to his home after that. About half an hour later

08:10:00:00

I said, “No-one’s got out of that tank that’s knocked out.” And another fellow there, there was me and Ron Morgan and Ron Matthews, we were on the one gun. And Morgan, he was sitting behind the gun. I said, “Now at the back of that tank there’s a trap. Someone will be coming out of that soon. Have you got it?” “Yep.” And I just stood

08:10:30:00

aside and the hatch opened. The fellow got halfway out and Morgan, he got him. So he fell out. I said, “There’s more in there.” So we got the lot.
How many came out?
Four. Anyway that night we were going over to

08:11:00:00

Point 29. What a damn trap that was. Anyway we were going over to Point 29 and it got dark and Morgan said, “I think I’ll go out there. I want to get a Luger gun.” A German pistol. He said, “You coming?” I said, “No, no.” I said, “I will get enough tonight.” He said, “Oh well, I won’t go anyway. I’ll get enough tonight too.”

08:11:30:00

So we didn’t go. But that night… I’ve missed a night. I’ve forgotten what that was all about. Monday morning we set off for this Point 29 and we were attached to Don Company

08:12:00:00

and we kind of got lost. There was five of us then got lost. And they said to me, “Where do we go?” I said, “Right, well follow me.”

08:12:32:00

A sand wadi, we went down those. I said, “We’ve got to go up there and we’ve got to go out there.” As soon as we marched from… “We’ll stop here. Right, we’ll go again.” Every time we moved from one position to another they’d land a bloody shell there. They missed us. We got up with our unit and there was this

08:13:02:00

great bang. And we had the ammunition trucks coming up – there were five or six of them – but a shell landed in them and they all had ammunition and mines in them and they all went up – bang! Killed everyone in them. However, but that lit up the scenery. And we’re going along there and a fellow, Jack Marshall,

08:13:30:00

we had to go over some dannert [large coils of barbed wire] wire and as soon as he touched it it set off a couple of flares. We were walking around in daylight then and that’s when they shelled us. That’s when I got hit. Four of us got hit with the same shell. There was Lieutenant Basil Sheppard, he just about lost a leg. And I was only about from here to you away from it.

08:14:01:00

I got blown up and all I got was a bang in the arm.
So when you saw the flares go up, what was the first thing that came into your mind?
I thought, “The stupid bugger! What’s he doing there?”
What do you remember of being hit?
I remember going up and banging down to the earth. “Where am I?”

08:14:30:00

My bloody arm was hung up like that. I couldn’t straighten it. I couldn’t bend it or anything. I couldn’t get it out. So I had the gun, I took it off my shoulder and I went over. Someone was going past. I said, “Here’s the Vickers gun. Do what you like with it. I can’t use it.” “Righto,” he said and off he went. He went one way and I went the other. I got down to 17th Battalion; they were in reserve. They said, “What’s wrong with you?” I said, “Buggered if I know.”

08:15:01:00

There was blood everywhere. They stitched me from there up to here.
You said there were four of you who were hit at that time. You were wounded in the arm…
Matthews was wounded. Morgan was wounded and Basil…
And how were Matthews and Morgan wounded?

08:15:30:00

Morgan was hit here, but he had a thick book in his pocket which diverted the bullet away from that and it just went through and he was right. He had to go to hospital. Matthews, he got hit in the leg.
And how did all four of you return to camp?
I got back to the 17th. I don’t know where the others went. I wasn’t going to stay around

08:16:00:00

because I was useless. They crawled. I was taken to the CCS Casualty Clearing Station. And they sent me back further to the ambulance centre and then they an argument about what they were going to do with me.
And how were you feeling at this stage?
Oh, not bad.
Were there any signs of shock?
No, no. I knew

08:16:30:00

everything that was going on. Then they started having an argument whether I would go back to action or go back to hospital. They were arguing the point there and I said, “Well you’ve got to fix it one bloody way or the other.” “Oh, oh, let’s have another look at that arm again.” They were pulling and pulling it, but it wouldn’t move. “We better send you to hospital.” And that’s where I went.
What was the pain like when they were pulling your arm?
Oh, I had no pain then.

08:17:00:00

It was deadened. It cut the nerve so I lost all that. There was nothing there. No, they had me on the table and they were pulling it, but it didn’t hurt. So I finished up in hospital.
And whereabouts was hospital?

08:17:32:00

That was in Alexandria.
How did you get from the CCS to Alexandria?
In an ambulance. I went back to the ambulance station and they took me there. Must have been ten of us in that ambulance.
And what were the injuries that the other men had sustained?

08:18:00:00

One fellow he had been shot through there and it came out in a lump out here. There was one. Another fellow, he had a bad leg. I don’t know what the others had.
And what state were they in?
Some of them were crying, some of them were cursing.

08:18:30:00

It wasn’t a happy sight. I got back to the hospital. I was hungry and they wouldn’t give me a feed. They said, “No, you’re going to wait.” And then my sister came along and she had chicken. So I ate that.
How did your sister know you were there?
She was in the hospital. She was nursing in the hospital.

08:19:03:00

And how long had your sister been in Alexandria?
I don’t know. I never had much to do with her. This is off the side here. She came down to Dulles camp to an officers’ party or something. Of course it was raining, mud everywhere, so she could see people coming out of there slipping and sliding and everything

08:19:30:00

and she thought they were drunk. She thought, “Drunk in camp.” I thought, “Well you ought to know.” Yeah, she was in the hospital just outside of Gaza there. The 4th AGH [Australian General Hospital], I think.
Can I just ask you, when you saw your sister coming along, what did you think?
“Here comes my dinner,” I think.

08:20:05:00

We a jointly held family. But we were good. But he went away, she went away. None of us used to worry. They’d come back. That was the attitude.
And did she look at your injuries?
No, well it hadn’t been treated or anything. It had been cleaned up.

08:20:30:00

All that came off and I was bandaged and I had to walk around like this. I left there and then on a hospital ship and I went up to Haifa.
What was the hospital ship called?
The hospital ship was the Aba. Only a little thing.

08:21:01:00

They were gentle in a way, but bloody rough. You could be asking for a drink of water all night, but they wouldn’t come along. “We’ve got this to attend to. We’ve got this to attend to.” And your tongue’s hanging out like a red tie. They didn’t worry. Of course there was a lot on the ship too.
I was going to ask, what was the state of the other men on the ship?
There were various ways. Legs off, arms off, heads off bloody near, no…

08:21:33:00

It was a pretty crowded ship.
And then you got to Haifa. How long were on the hospital ship for?
Oh that was only for a day and a night or something like that. It’s not far.
And what did you think of the doctors and the nurses who were working at these places?

08:22:00:00

I don’t know what I thought. I don’t even think I thought of them. They had a job to do and they were doing it. As far as I know they were doing it well. Not the run-around staff. They did what they had to do except bring me a drink of water or bring anyone a drink of water. No, not much I know about that

08:22:30:00

apart from that I had a decent sleep.
And once you got to Haifa you were transferred to another hospital?
Yeah, to another hospital. And then the physiotherapist took over.
And what did they say was actually wrong with your arm?
They didn’t say anything. They said they’d get it fixed. That’s when they passed me over to the physiotherapist. But

08:23:00:00

after a month, no further, it was still up like that and stiff as a bone. I went down to Gaza Hospital again. This was in late November then. As far as our battalion was concerned I think fifty of them came out.

08:23:30:00

They were the ones that could walk out. Then they came back to a place called Diat Suneed. That was a camp. And I was in hospital near there. The old colonel came along and gave us a parcel. We shared that around. The other fellows came in and they brought parcels in.

08:24:00:00

It wasn’t until near Christmas… I was thirsty again. The fellow next to me was a fellow who came from Broken Hill. He was in the air force. Jack Bullwinkle. I was on half a bottle of stout a day. I used to shove it under my bed,

08:24:30:00

under my mattress. I finished up with fifteen or twenty of them. He said, “It’s about time we had a party.” “Right, we’ll have a party.” He said, “I’ve got a bottle of whisky.” So he got one of the sisters there, “I’m entitled to a bottle of whisky a week.” “That’s what you think.” “I am. Sergeants, particularly flying sergeants, they’re entitled to it and I haven’t had any for ages.”

08:25:00:00

He put it over and he got a bottle of whisky. So we had whisky and stout, so we got full.
So what was Christmas Day like in 1942 in this hospital in Gaza?
We had a very lovely luncheon. Very good. And those who could get out of bed, their bed was made up,

08:25:30:00

white covers on it. “You are not to sit on that even.” “What do we do? Go down to the hut?” And someone said, “I’m going to Diat Suneed. Who’s coming?” I said, “I will.” The unit was there. I got there and I didn’t know where the fellows were. So I went, “Where’s B Company?” I was going back to B Company.

08:26:00:00

They said, “Just over here. The next row,” or something. Anyway, “Have a drink before you go.” “Yeah, righto. Thanks.” Got a bottle of beer and I went over to the section where they were and they got treated kindly at Alamein. There was only two killed, I think, a few wounded. They welcomed me back, we had a drink and then we ran out of beer.

08:26:30:00

So a fellow – I forget his name now – he said, “I’ll go and get some.” Now I’m wearing hospital blues and all I had was a pound note in my pocket. So I put the pound in, most of them threw notes or whatever they had, and off he went. He was away for about two hours then next thing he rumbles

08:27:00:00

along with a wheelbarrow full of wine and we got stuck into that. And I got full. I had to get back to hospital. I got a ride back to hospital and I just made it back to bed and I collapsed. But it had been raining. My boots were muddy – shirt and trousers and everything. I flopped on this bed. The matron came along. “Who do you think you are?”

08:27:30:00

I said, “You go away. See me in the morning.” Then I dropped off to sleep. I woke up. I had my pyjamas on. They’d changed me and put me under the sheets and blankets. But she didn’t forget. She came back, the matron, and did she roar. She roared, “You’re out of here. You’re better.” The doctor came along. He said, “How would you like to go back to your unit?”

08:28:00:00

I said, “I’d love it.” “Righto, then we’ll arrange to take you back to your unit.” My arm was still up like that. I got back there and this fellow said, “You’re no duties.” I said, “Righto, that will do me.” So I was sitting around doing nothing. The others were doing training. The next thing we were told get ready to board ship. And that’s when we came

08:28:30:00

back to Australia.
But when you got back to your unit, back to your men, what action, what battles had they seen in your absence?
Well after Hill 29… Hill 29 would have been about that high, but everything was flat and below flat, and that was a prominent part. And God knows how many people were killed or injured taking that. They reckon it was one of the most crucial battles

08:29:00:00

of the war. Anyway after that the unit went over towards the railway line. They had two or three battles there and then they went across the railway line. They got beaten in one battle and had to go to what they called the blockhouse.

08:29:31:00

The blockhouse was, I think, an engine maintenance shed for the railways, but they’d set up a hospital there. And they had German, Italian, Australian, English doctors there. They operated so-and-so, “What’s wrong with him?” “I’ll operate on him.” They took as people came in. They reckoned it was a good show.

08:30:01:00

That was the end of their battle then.
How was morale amongst the men when you got back?
Good.
And what mates had you lost at this stage?
Oh, Frank Cornelius, he got killed the last day of the battle. And he would have been about forty-five or forty-six. He was from Western Australia.

08:30:32:00

I think it would have been about four of them that got killed. And we had been together for a long while. You’d be waiting there. “Where’s Frank?” “Frank’s not coming back.” “Oh, I see.” But then you’d find out where he was killed or how he was killed. “Where’s Snow?”

08:31:00:00

“He’ll be back, but we don’t know when.” He got hit in the head. He came back, but he got killed later. You didn’t forget they were there. They were your mates, the way they were.
For a young man you certainly saw a lot and you dealt with a lot of grief?
Oh yes. But that was the end of my war.

08:31:31:00

The rest of the time was in the hospital here in Daw Park. The 105. The others went on to New Guinea. I didn’t. Some of them went on to Tarakan.
Let’s talk about coming back to Australian then. You got news that you were going to board ship. What ship was it?

08:32:09:00

I’ve got a photo of it somewhere. I’ll have to come back to that.
That’s fine. So what was the mood like on the ship coming back?
Lovely. It had been provisioned in South Africa. It brought reinforcements back for the 8th Army

08:32:31:00

and it had been provisioned in South Africa. And they had fruits that you had never even heard of it. Tins of it. Miles and miles of it. Cream and everything, was rich food. Not bully beef. Cooked lamb and cooked beef. It was very good. I never missed a meal.
And how long were you on the ship back to Australia?

08:33:00:00

Only about three weeks. We did call it at one place – some atoll. Just in the middle of the Indian Ocean somewhere… Atu Island? We loaded up a bit more oil there and came away.
Did you get off the ship there?
No, no. Some nurses did get off the ship.

08:33:35:00

So there were men from your unit who were still fit and able as well as injured men?
Yes, yes. We came home, we got some reinforcements from Victoria. I’m still mates with them. They were a good crowd. But they got to the Middle East

08:34:00:00

just as Alamein finished. As a matter of fact some of them were coming up to have a look around and about the last shell that was fired killed about five or six of them. It landed in the middle of them, so that was that. I didn’t know who they were. But it was bad luck.
So how many men were on the ship on the way back?
Twenty thousand at least.

08:34:30:00

You made a mention of the nurses. How many nurses were on the ship?
There was a whole lot of them. There would have been two hospitals on there. So they would have been the staff of two hospitals.
That’s an awful lot of men for those women to cope with.
Oh yes. On the ships that were coming home…We had the Il de France, we had the Queen Mary, we had the ship I was in,

08:35:10:00

the Star Of Bermuda, and another one. We didn’t take much notice of it. It was full of provos and screws.
And where did you dock in Australia?
We stopped outside of Fremantle

08:35:30:00

and the Western Australians got off then. Then they came from there to Melbourne. The South Australians got off there. The Victorians got off there. Then it went around to Sydney then on to Brisbane. It went around Australia. They came from all states.
And as you stopped at all these different ports, were there people there to greet the ships?
Oh yes. Those from Perth rang up Adelaide. Those from Adelaide rang up…

08:36:00:00

They all knew. They talk about, “Don’t talk. The enemy will sink your ships.” Well that was a whole lot of hogwash. People knew… The New Amsterdam, that was the ship we were on.
By this stage Japan had entered the war. What was it like travelling through the Pacific?

08:36:31:00

No, we didn’t go into the Pacific. We came across the Indian Ocean and into Perth, Fremantle, then Melbourne. I was a bit worried when I was going to go to hospital to get something done. All the others were, “Well we’ll be up in New Guinea. We’ll show them.” And they did.
And how did you react when you heard that Japan had entered the war?

08:37:01:00

Well it was a shock. It was a shock. But when they declared war and we heard about the Philippines and when they bombed Pearl Harbour. The next thing that we knew they were in Malaya. I thought, “They’re in Malaya. Then it won’t be long. There’s plenty of them.

08:37:30:00

They want to take over the world and they’ll be in Australia soon.” Well they didn’t, so we were lucky.
What was your homecoming like when you got back to Adelaide?
We went out… Opposite Dawes Road hospital there was a vacant block.

08:38:00:00

where the Dawes Road school is now – that was all vacant. But they had new tents on there. I was still with the unit so I went into the tents. And we decided what we were going to do. One fellow, he knew a baker. “I’ll go and get some bread.” Someone said, “While you’re at it, get some beer.” His mate, he had

08:38:30:00

control of the Spring Bank Brewery. It was awful, but if it was cold it was drinkable. So he came back with three or four loaves of bread and a case of beer. So we had a good night the first night we were there. And then we got seven days leave and we enjoyed it.

08:39:04:00

What happened? Nothing much happened there.
What treatment were you starting at that stage?
Nothing. We just got home. I hadn’t gone back to hospital then. So I got home and when I came back I was just in the camp one day and I was over the hospital the next and they said, “We’ll treat you,” so they started working on me.

08:39:31:00

“Get your arm down to that way.” And it wouldn’t go any further. And it was August or something. And they decided to operate. So the surgeon he said, “I’ve never done this before.” There was me and another fellow, Ron Chinner, he had the same thing…

08:40:00:00

What was that? That the doctor had never done before?
A nerve transplant. So he did Ron one day and I was in the next. Ron, he got about as far as he could do something, but you would be following through with your shoulder. Unfortunately, he died years and years ago. And this one

08:40:30:00

didn’t take. The surgeon was telling me, “I’ve done many of those things. You two were the only mistakes. The only failures.” All right. I’m getting along okay.
Interviewee: Laurence McEvoy Archive ID 1693 Tape 09

09:00:32:00

We were talking about the injury to your arm. On your arrival back in Australia you had some leave and then you were back into hospital for five months. How long did your injury take to heal and what was the process?
After the surgeon had a go at me

09:01:04:00

it was plastered. My whole arm was plastered. But I had a few accidents with that. Fall over or whack it and a bit of blood would come out. “Oh God, might have to do that again.” But everything turned out all right. Then I had the physiotherapist or whatever they are, they came along with this electrical thing and they’d dob and dob.

09:01:30:00

“Do you feel that?” “Do you feel that?” “Does that move that.” They do all these things. I thought it was a waste of bloody time anyway. I complained. I said, “This physiotherapist is getting nowhere except moaning and groaning that I shouldn’t be here. What do you reckon doc?”

09:02:01:00

“Well we’ll get another girl in.” And she was bloody worse. But I did find the next one, she was good and she wasn’t getting these things and pressing there and seeing if that finger would go and that sort of thing. She would massage the arm and get the arm on the table and squeeze it out.

09:02:30:00

Anyway she got it in a critical condition and then I had a bit of trouble. I went down to the pub one afternoon and I came back with a couple of bottles of wine. I thought, “They better not find this.” So I put them in sarsaparilla bottles. “Right, that goes in my locker.”

09:03:01:00

And we had a fellow, a colonel now by the name of Freddy Lemessurier. I knew his son – he was an officer in our unit. Anyway someone must have told him that something was wrong down in our ward. And he picked on me. And I’m standing up there beside my locker and he roared the tar out of me.

09:03:30:00

Meanwhile all the staff were going through everyone’s lockers. He said, “I know it’s coming into your lockers. And if I catch anyone they’ll go onto a charge sheet.” And all that. Then someone got the idea of searching the ablution box. So all out there to ablution box. They didn’t find a drop. So Lemessurier he said, “Well

09:04:00:00

apparently it’s all gone now or it’s been hidden where no-one will find it.” He gave me another dressing down and off he went. “Where did you put it Mac?” I said, “In my locker.” It was in there in sarsaparilla bottles. That was all right. So I thought, “We better drink that.” So that night we had a bit of a party and got rid of everything.

09:04:30:00

No more was said about that. But I got picked up in Adelaide shortly after that for coming out of a hotel. So I was on a weekend leave, so they took me back to camp, this was on a Saturday afternoon about one o’clock. They got me there and they confined me to my bed.

09:05:01:00

Monday morning I was up before Freddy Lemessurier again. He said, “You were coming out of a pub and you were drunk.” I said, “You’re half right. I was coming out of a pub.” “And they say you were drunk.” I said, “Look at it this way. I left here at eleven o’clock. I got picked up at one o’clock. I hadn’t had a drink because I went in there to sign in for the rest of

09:05:30:00

the weekend.” “Oh.” Then he turned on these other fellows, the provos. In the end he said, “If you ever come back here with one of my fellows and charge him with being drunk, you’ll be in jail.” So I got out of that, but I didn’t get any credit for my leave. The doctor said to me a couple of days later, he said to me, “How would

09:06:00:00

you like to go down to Strathalbyn.” I said, “That would be all right.” He said, “The register of the hospital has got you down not to have any more leave from this hospital.” I said, “That’s fair enough, I suppose. When I get down there I’m out of the hospital, aren’t I?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “But the good thing about that, when you’re readmitted you’re starting another.

09:06:30:00

You’re not on that old rule. This is a new one.” “Righto, that’ll do me.” And I had good fun down at Strathalbyn. I came back to hospital. And things went on and on and on. They said, “You’re nearly better and you’re going to get discharged because you’re B2 or whatever. What are you going to do?” I said, “I don’t know. What is to be done?” He said, “We can send you to a nice little unit.” I said, “Righto, that’ll do me.”

09:07:00:00

So I went to a dental unit. I was only there for a day and the fellow said, “I’ll take all your teeth out and I’ll make you a good set.” I said, “Gold teeth?” He said, “I can do that.” I said, “No thanks. It doesn’t matter.” So that dental unit was a conscientious objectors’ unit. That didn’t suit me. So

09:07:30:00

I came back from leave one time and they said, “How would you like to go to Broken Hill?” I said, “That’ll do me.” He said, “It’s probably your last leave anyway.” So I went back there only for three days. I came back and he said, “They’re getting your papers ready for discharge. What are you going to do?” He said, “What were you doing before the war?” I said, “Something that I’m not going to do now. Milking cows.”

09:08:00:00

“Oh well, there’s rehabilitation plans.” I said, “It doesn’t really matter.” So I went home and I had a good time until my money ran out. I thought, “I better go and do something.” I knew a fellow who worked in the post office. He said, “Come in. You’ll get a job.” I went in there I got a job. So that’s that. The end of my hospital.

09:08:31:00

Your body took a long time to heal.
It didn’t take long to heal; it took long to function. To straighten that arm and get a bit of use in it. That didn’t take long at all. After this new girl starting massaging and doing things I could understand instead of

09:09:00:00

putting electric probes and doing this and asking silly questions…
I was wondering how long it took for your mental and emotional side to heal do you think?
Oh no. I didn’t have any emotional or mental… As a matter of fact I started making slippers. You get these kangaroo hide and you cut out these slippers

09:09:30:00

and you sew it up. And I was pretty good at it. Some of them I used to give away, some of them I used to sell. Some of them might still be out there at the hospital, I don’t know. I think I made a pair for myself. A few mates, “What about making me some of those?” “Make it yourself.” “I can’t.” “All right,

09:10:00:00

I’ll make you one. Be ready tomorrow morning.” And some of them when they came back a second time I used to charge them. At Broken Hill there was a girl who worked with the Red Cross there. She said, “You’re fit and well now. What would you like to do?” I said, “I wouldn’t mind joining the air force now.” She said, “Are you dinkum?” I said, “Yep.”

09:10:30:00

“What would you like to be?” “I don’t know. Wireless operator?” “Right, first thing to do? Read these books.” So she got me all these wireless operating books and I looked through them and I said, “Bugger the air force.” So I didn’t go on with that.
And what job were you eventually able to find?
I went in the post office there and my mate was a postman

09:11:00:00

and I thought I would become a post man. I had a nice little round. I had nineteen pubs on the round. And it was all walking. So I did all right. I took on the bikes after that. I could manage to ride with one hand. I had a few crashes.

09:11:30:00

I wasn’t long as a postman then I was inside sorting the mail for Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane and whatever. I also used to do the weather there. Nice little job. I cheated a bit. Doing the afternoon plans in the morning and things like that. It used to pay well, that.

09:12:00:00

Weather observer. Then three of us used to do it, share it. “I can do Saturday.” “I can do Sunday.” “I can do Monday.” We split it up between ourselves. I stayed there until 1949, then

09:12:30:00

I came down to Adelaide.
I’m particularly interested in the years immediately after your discharge until the end of the war. When were you discharged officially?
In November ’43.
When you went back to Broken Hill, how were you received?
Oh I don’t know. Well I think…

09:13:00:00

See when I got back there I didn’t like it. There was too much black market skulduggery, everything. But I kind of got out of that. I was having a drink one day and a fellow came around and he said, “Do you smoke?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Do you want some cigarettes?” I said, “How many have you got?” He said, “How many do you want?” I said, “Half a dozen packets will do.” “Yes, righto. I’ll do that.” I said, “When can I get them?”

09:13:30:00

He said, “Give me time. I’ll bring them tomorrow afternoon.” Next day he came along he had half a dozen packets of cigarettes. I said, “Thanks,” and I put them in my pocket and I walked away. He grabbed me and he said, “You haven’t paid me for this.” I said, “Did you pay for these?” “Yes.” “And how much were you going to charge me?” He said, “I’ve got to make a living, you know.” I said, “Well make it off someone else. I’m keeping these.” At that time there was a ring of fellows around us. He never even threatened me.

09:14:01:00

I said, “If I see you at it again I’m going to report you.” That was the end of that black market guy. I grew up there. I knew a lot of people. Some of them I saw when they were on leave. Some of them just bobbed in now and again to have a yarn. “How are you going?” And that’s about it.

09:14:30:00

And who did you talk to about your war experiences?
No-one. That was private. That was my life. I haven’t even told my children, my grandchildren or anything. Only you. It was something that happened years ago.
Well how did you explain your wound to people, or your injury?

09:15:02:00

“What happened to you?” “I had a bit of trouble there. I got out. My time was up.” You tell a lie like that. No, it was really none of their business. You’ve got my whole life there. Not much of a life, but I enjoyed it.

09:15:30:00

It’s quite extraordinary that you didn’t want to share what happened…that people might not have been interested?
I looked at it as it was my life I want to tell it. I’ll tell it. It was private business.
How did you react to being discharged instead of being able to go with your unit to New Guinea?

09:16:03:00

Well I couldn’t really do much. But looking back I thought I wouldn’t have minded a job up in Cairns or Queensland or something, and I’d see some of the fellows that I’d known. It didn’t happen. No, that’s about it. I could have done a job done something, but I didn’t push it.

09:16:36:00

Even when I started work, I was getting a bigger war pension than I was getting from work. Now I was working for three pound ten and a penny. Seven pound and twopence a fortnight in the post office because I was under twenty-one. I couldn’t get paid as an adult. After the war, if you were under twenty-one

09:17:01:00

you got paid adult wages. I thought, “Good Lord, I could have made a fortune!” But no damage done.
You went back to Broken Hill at the beginning of ’44. What sort of news of the war filtered through to Broken Hill?
Somehow some of my unit and some from other units found out that I lived

09:17:30:00

in Broken Hill and they used to come down from Queensland. They were AWL [Absent Without Leave] from their unit. They used to come down. They’d get on the rattler from Sydney to Broken Hill: “Where’s McEvoy? Where do we go from here? How do we get on the train? We don’t want to be discovered. So you tell us where to get on, when to get on and where to get off.” We’d go over the club have a beer, have a bit of a yarn,

09:18:02:00

lose a couple of ounces of tobacco: “Here take it. You need that.” That was lots of the ways I found out. Working in the post office, I had access to all the news in the telegraph office. I used to go in and read the telegrams – whether they belonged to me or not it didn’t matter.

09:18:30:00

That was the way I caught up with what was going on. I might get a letter now and again from my mates, but they didn’t have much time to write.
And what did those telegrams tell you?
The telegrams? They would get press telegrams from Sydney or Melbourne and the news that went in the paper the next day was in them. That’s how I used to get it the day before the paper was printed.

09:19:07:00

And what sort of reports on the radio were coming through?
I don’t think I ever listened to radio. I don’t now. The only time I look at the television is at seven o’clock at night. I might finish at eight o’clock and say, “Right,

09:19:30:00

we’ll put the CDs [compact disks] on.” Half past eight I’m in bed.
And what was the male population, the percentage of the male population like when you returned to Broken Hill?
I suppose it would be fifty-fifty. There would be twelve and a half thousand men and the same number of women.

09:20:04:00

As people joined the army, they left the mines. They got their pay made up by the mines and there’s another vacancy. People would be coming in from the country or the cities and that. “Have you been here long?” “Yes, I’ve been here for four or five years.” That’s a lie. Because the unions wouldn’t let anyone be employed unless they had five years’ residence

09:20:30:00

or eight years’ residence. They would make up some story. “How long have you been living in that house?” “Oh, we just moved into there. We were out at…,” some other house. They’d tell all the lies and they would get a job. So you lose one, you get another one.
And what did you hear about the end of the war in ’45?
I was at a dance and the dance was dull.

09:21:00:00

And then… Was that the day, or the day after? That might have been the night of the announcement. Anyway I went to this dance and I had a good time. That was about it. I went back to work the next day. Yeah.
What sort of celebrations did Broken Hill have?
What did they have?

09:21:32:00

None as far as I know. They didn’t have marches or anything. Anyone that got off the train they just went on with their lives. They didn’t have a march through town or anything like that. No.

09:22:03:00

That’s the way it happened, just like that. A little country town. Some of them were more exuberant than others. That was that.
And after the war, how important has it been for you to stay in touch with the 2/48th?
When I came down from Broken Hill, that was about 1949 or 1950.

09:22:34:00

One of the two. And I came here and I worked. I used to meet the fellows, some of them. Different fellows, they worked near me or with me. We’d have a pint then going home and then go catch the train. One fellow said, “Why don’t you joint the Rats of Tobruk?”

09:23:01:00

I said, “Why?” “Well, keep the comradeship up.” Okay, I went there. The meetings were rough. There was not much to a meeting, but we used to get together. Different fellows I knew in other units. Anyway in about 1980 I stuck my neck out, I was president there

09:23:32:00

ten, twelve, fifteen years. I only gave it up last year. I said to Murray Jones, “It’s all yours. I’m out.” So that was that. Meanwhile, with the 48th around about 1980… I had been going to the meetings twenty years, thirty years. Around twenty-five to thirty years.

09:24:02:00

I knew a bloke who was president and he said, “You’re going to be the next president.” He said, “Some of you young fellows have got to pull your weight.” “Right.” So I accepted that. But they had a ballot and it was rigged. I got beaten. That was nothing. I was vice-president and there was nothing much to do. Anyway, after four or five years, the president, he broke his ankle.

09:24:33:00

He got out. I got in. I’m still president. I do all right. Only trouble is I’m spending too much money now.
Today, looking back on your war experience, what do you think was the most satisfying

09:25:00:00

operation or posting that you had?
I had good, satisfying camps. What I miss is a lot of mateship, but I get that through the 48s now. We organise trips away and I’m pulling the plug now.

09:25:30:00

We have no more trips away. Except one. We went to Port Vincent in February. And I asked a fellow – he makes the local arrangements there – I said, “Well, Nugget, we’re getting sick of coming over here. You’re the only one over here now.” I said, “I think you’ve pulled the last one. We’re going to have a good trip this one.” So we did.

09:26:01:00

I also said at the time, “We’ve got a trip up to Berry in October. We generally have Alamein Day up there. Alamein Day is the 23rd of October. It’ss a Saturday and it’s going to be a bigger one. We’re going to have our dinner and we’re going to have the mayor and do this that and everything.” He said, “That’s good. I’ll be there.” And I mentioned it at a meeting here –

09:26:31:00

we have a meeting every month. I told them that. I said, “Are we going to finish?” “Yes.” “And are we going to have these people?” “Yes.” “And are we going to have a good time?” “Yep.” So at Berry we used to have… We would have had anything up to a hundred and thirty fellows there.

09:27:07:00

Back in the ’40s, in ’42 when Alamein was on, you went in with about six hundred, nearly seven hundred-odd men and came out with only forty odd. That’s very high casualties for Australia. And Alamein was probably

09:27:30:00

one of the last great Imperial battles. What was the view of your battalion at the time – not now, at the time – of those that were in charge?
I’ll put it this way. What would my mate say if I said, “I’m not going. I’m going into hospital. I’ll bang me foot or I’ll put a bit of soap behind my knee and I’ll get a flushed knee.”

09:28:03:00

What would he think? Or what would I think if he did that? No. We’d miss our mates and that was one of the best things that ever happened in that war. We had mates. As I say, we have Boys Days now. We started off with seven of us. There’s only three of us now. But that’s only a little number out of that.

09:28:30:00

But at the time back then, did you feel that the government or the generals in charge were sending lambs to the slaughter?
No, no, no. The war’s there, we knew we were in it, and we knew what we had to do. And what’s more, we were competent, we were fit. Our battalion was run by a fellow by the name of Hammer, ‘Tack’ Hammer, or as he said, “Hard as nails.”

09:29:07:00

And he would say to us, “Remember the motto? Non Commo Victus. Never beaten.” We lived up to that. We only had three colonels and they were all good. They all belonged to the battalion. They’re all dead now, but we miss them. And they helped us. They didn’t go preaching

09:29:30:00

lolly-polly songs and all that sort of thing. They said, “Get the bloody job done. You officers? You know where you belong. With your men. Stay with them.” We were out on a stunt one time, just a peaceful thing, and the transport officer sent trucks to bring the officers back. But the colonel was there and he said, “Take those bloody trucks out. The officers are going to walk home.”

09:30:00:00

So that was it. I think it was who you were with and what you were doing. We had pride. Even though we’d never admit it. We had pride. We loved the 48th, still do.

09:30:33:00

When you look back, what was the proudest moment do you think?
Oh dear. I don’t think there was a proudest moment. There was unfortunate moments.

09:31:01:00

Oh, I can say that when we walked through the 90th Light Infantry of Germans and no-one said a word and no-one did anything. I suppose we can look at that and say, “We did it. Proud to have done it.” That’s about it. Other things they just happened and went the wrong way.
And how much did luck have to do with it do you think?

09:31:31:00

Luck had a lot to do with it. You could be sitting next to a fellow and the next thing he’s fallen down. “Get up, you silly bugger.” And he doesn’t answer – he’s got a hole in his head. Yeah, luck. One night a bomber came over – this was in Tobruk – and one of our fellows, he was not with his company. He went up to find out something from headquarters. Anyway,

09:32:00:00

there was an air raid on. Just two or three planes or something. He lied down, never got up. He didn’t even have a mark on him yet he was killed. A bomb landed close to him it blew his lights out. Yeah, he was always in trouble.
Well you had your fair share of trouble.

09:32:30:00

How do you think that your war experience changed you?
I think I grew up. When I finished with the war I went out and had some of the youth I missed. I played up. Just ordinary play up. But I played up for a long while until I went broke. And that was that.

09:33:07:00

And what sort of trouble did you have adjusting?
I didn’t have any trouble adjusting. I just wanted to do what I wanted to do: “That’s what I missed and I’m going to have it now.” When that’s over, “Oh well, I better get to work now.” Many good things.

09:33:32:00

You say, “What do you do on Boys Day?” We don’t talk about the war. We might talk of things that happened. Like I had a mate, Darky Elliot. And Darky had been wounded in Tobruk and this was in the first part of Tel el Eisa. It was the day we were doing the 22nd of July show. I remember it. And Ron Daniels, he was a mate and he said,

09:34:02:00

“I’ve seen some runners in my time, but Darky Elliot would have taken the cream off any cake.” He hopped out of his Bren gun carrier and he went backwards, flying. “Where you going Darky?” “I’m bloody going home. I’ve been hit.” I looked around and I saw him. You could see him running, but he was gone over the hill. He did. He ran a mile in less than four seconds.

09:34:30:00

I think that was funny. But telling you it’s not funny. But it was to me. Old Darky. He was one of the mates.
And how much do you think the larrikin image fitted your battalion?
Oh there was some larrikins there. One story that’s been going around for a while. There were two fellows,

09:35:00:00

George Hall came from up Tibooburra, way and Shorty Boys – he was the one that told the colonel the three safe places to be. They were in jail in a compound. And Shorty said to one of the guards, “Hey! You got smoke there? I wouldn’t mind one.”

09:35:31:00

“Yeah, here’s one.” He lit it for him and old George puffed it for a while and the guard went away and George stuck it on one of the wires, one of the barbs of the wire, and him and Shorty went. They climbed through the barbed wire and off they went and they got shickered [drunk]. They came back. There was an officers’ mess on, but they came back from where they were –

09:36:00:00

they were blind drunk. George, he had Shorty on a donkey and he was leading the donkey in. While he did he went straight into the officers’ mess. They were all formal – they all had their bow ties on and everything. And George couldn’t speak. The colonel said, “What are you doing there?” “I just wanted to say good night to old George.” They didn’t.

09:36:30:00

They got sent to jail then – sent to Jerusalem. Why they did it? I don’t know. They were full.
And how do you think you would like the 2/48th to be remembered?
I don’t know. We’ve got a book written. I do a magazine three times a year. It’s remembered. The women

09:37:00:00

they join us, and where we go they go. We have a dinner they’re invited. We have mixed luncheons two or three times a year. Used to be three, now it’s only two. They come along. They miss it. “When’s our next mixed luncheon?” “Have a look.” “How many women have we got here?” “We’ll bring some more along.” That’s what they try to do. They come along and they enjoy themselves. Most of them do enjoy themselves.

09:37:30:00

Maybe I should rephrase that question. What would you like the 2/48th to be remembered for?
I don’t know, other than the men. Yeah, the fellows. And they go from, as I say, Jim Dow, he’s a High Court judge, to Bob Ainsley, he’s a High Court fellow, to ‘Tack’ Hammer, God knows what old Tack did. But

09:38:00:00

he did well. He was over at Brighton. He had a tourist business there and a shop and all that sort of thing. He was always the boss. There was a time in Mount Gambier – we had a reunion there – and Tack Hammer was there and they put on a skit.

09:38:30:00

Henry Kennedy, an identity. Mount Gambier is not Mount Gambier unless Henry’s in it. Henry died though. Henry came in and he said, “This is a skit on the battalion. I’ll make this up. Dum dum dum dum. The trum drums are going and the whistles are blowing and everyone is marching and everyone’s at attention.”

09:39:11:00

Another fellow got up and he said, “Right, battalion, shunt.” Everyone step marched up. And Tubby, he said, “Everyone’s really at attention. Sergeant major goes up

09:39:31:00

the colonel comes out. God. He walks like God. You’d think he was God. He thinks he’s bloody God!” That’s the end. But the way it was put over, it was priceless.
We’re coming to the end of our session today. Is there any final words that you would like to…?
No, nothing. The war’s forgotten. I finished work

09:40:00:00

when I was fifty-eight years of age. Someone asked me about a computer. I left work because of computers. I wasn’t going to understand them and I wasn’t going to be messed up with them. And I’ve had a happy retirement. I’ve had a wonderful time and I’ve been well looked after.

09:40:36:00

I enjoyed living life until this bugger slit me down here. He said, “You’ll be right.” Twelve months I haven’t been all right. However, I’m still leading my unit but I can’t march. Every time I get up to march I go over that way or go over that way. I’ve had it. I’m over the hill.

09:41:04:00

That’s my story. Now you want a song? That song is not for women – really truly.
Sing it anyway.
There’s two ways of starting it…
We’re all black bastards and we dearly love our Queen
Inta quish quish martee munga reah Bardim
Queen Faridah Queen Faridah
How the boys would love to ride her
All Faridah give it bukshee
All Faridah give it bukshee
She’s the Queen of all the wogs
The jackals and the dogs
Inta quish quish martee munga reah Bardim…
INTERVIEW ENDS

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