James Tattersall
Archive number: 1717
Preferred name: Jim
Date interviewed: 13 July, 2004

Served with:

2/4th Field Company Engineers

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James Tattersall 1717


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Tape 01


Jim, as we just talked about, if you could try and just give me a few minutes summarising your life story. Off you go.
Well the early part of my life was spent in Balmain in Collins Street and that was where my life really started to take shape.


I had three brothers and two sisters and for quite a while we lived there and then Dad eventually moved over to Glebe and the sister still lives in the same house that we were really brought up in, in our youth. Then


from Glebe we enlisted in the army and we went, my first brother, he enlisted in May ’40 and I enlisted in June ’40. He went into the 2/5th Field Regiment, which was artillery, and


unfortunately there were that many people enlisting at the time that they created what they called ‘day boys’ and for quite awhile I was at Marrickville as a day boy. I was eventually went up to Tamworth with the 2/4th Battalion and all of a sudden they decided “You’re got a trade here.” Where they got the trade from I don’t know,


as a blacksmith, and they sent me down to the showground as a reinforcement for the 2/4th Field Company. I sailed in January 1941 to the Middle East and eventually joined the 2/4th Field Company in Tobruk. We served there


until most of the division was relieved and durin’ the evacuation, a lot of the troops was dissatisfied with being relieved as they felt that they should have been there when we broke outta Tobruk. The only unit that was left in Tobruk was the 2/13th Battalion and they eventually relieved


after the breaking out of Tobruk. Coming back from there we went to Syria well the first ah Jerusalem and places like that, the Israel, and then up into Syria to Baalbek. From Baalbek we come to the oil refinery at Tripoli.


It was occupied by I think an oil company and that’s where we were in the barracks there, although all the time we was there I was never with the unit. I was out with a team of, well Arabs they were, building the road between


Zagorta and up into the Cedars. I was in charge of about three hundred and we had a bit a difference of opinion with a chap in the monastery, who we chopped his olive trees down and at that time Sir John Lovery, he was the commander of the 7 Div [Division],


he sorted our problem out and from there we come back down into Israel and then from there we caught the bus back ah the boat back to Australia, landing in Adelaide in early March


1942. We was at Sandy Creek for awhile then we went up to Tenterfield. From Tenterfield we formed what they were then known as the Brisbane Line. We were at a place called Kilcoy and then eventually the other units was at Esk and Woodford.


There was a detachment at Caboolture and that formed the Brisbane line. In August we were going to go over to Milne Bay but just as we was leaving I was sent down to the school of military engineering where I remained for about twelve months as an instructor.


Come back up to the [Atherton] Tablelands. Rejoined the unit and we done amphibious training there. At the time we were going to do the underwater demolitions on Balikpapan but apparently they relieved us of that job and the American


SeaBees [US Naval Construction Force] done it, which was a very fortunate for us. Anyway we landed at Balikpapan about the 1st of July 1945 and it was not until late in November that I finally


was able to get my discharge and I come back to Australia and I was discharged on the 1st of December 1945. Immediately upon my discharge I joined the my other brother, who was immediately discharged, and we formed Tattersall Bros [Brothers], which was a part of my father’s business


or actually took the father’s business over, and as the other boys were discharged they come into the business with us. First of all the only money we had available was our money we got from our deferred pay and we put that into buying trucks and the unfortunate part, when we come back


the people who had never joined up, who probably for some reason or other, they had already bought cheap homes. The price of homes had started to well advance a bit more than they were and we more or less the had to buy homes for our families. Like the three of us had married durin’ the war


but anyway we got on living with life and although we was a bit disappointed the other people had more or less been able to buy homes cheaper than we were, we got on with life and the one of the brothers bought a home at Oatley. I bought a home at Greenacre


and the other brother, he bought a home at Greenacre and eventually the other youngest brother he built a house at Bexley. From there we started buildin’ the business up. We first of all we built a warehouse in Avon Street, Glebe, which my father he owned the block


around. We built the warehouse there and fortunately the brother he was with a chap by the name of Harry Allen and he was working for Matthew Thompsons and we got a contract with Matthew Thompsons doing quite a bit of their work. Matthew Thompsons sold out to


GJ Coles and from GJ Coles we formed an association with them and they sold us a place in Smile Street, Broadway, which was a warehouse. We bought that and that’s where we conducted the business. Eventually the city markets, they decided they was going to move to Homebush


and both the brother and I were on the committee for forming the Homebush or the markets at Homebush and although we had nothing to do with the actual building of the markets we were the advisory for the transport that went into the market. We at the same time Australian


General Electrics, they were sellin’ a property at Auburn. We bought that property at Auburn. It was six acres of ground. We bought that and we established a warehouse there like not it was only old buildings but it was a quite a considerable job to create


pullin’ those old buildin’s down but we eventually we did pull ’em all down and then the eldest brother, he died while that was in operation but his son kept the business and one a the other brothers his son also kept with the business and my eldest son, he


graduated from university and he more or less took over the running of the business. Anyway eventually we were gettin’ too old. To put it truthfully we were gettin’ too old, so we had an offer from Lindsay Fox for the business but he was too low in his price. We eventually sold the property to the Estate


Superannuation Board and we sold the rest of the business to Lindsay Fox, like the transport part of it, but the buildings and that. We kept the a place that we bought over Smithfield. In fact we still own the place at Smithfield under the name of Pakenham. It’s just straight opposite Coles warehouse. Fruit


freighters, we owned fruit freighters in Orange, and we sold that to Downard Pickfords. So we more or less broke the business up. Since then we’ve formed a family trust. Both the brother, the other brother and I, we formed a family trust and the family trust is still in operation. That’s what we’re livin’


on at the present moment but we’re been able to, through the family trust, we’ve been able to put the grandchildren through a good education, an education that we never had, and that’s how we are at the present moment.
Good on you Jim.
That was a good summary thanks Jim,


so now we’re gonna, as promised, go right back to the beginning. What are your earliest memories of your childhood then?
Well my early memories was the going to school at Smith Street. Smith Street public school was in Balmain. It was more or less what they call a primary school to these


days and I always appreciated goin’ to school. In fact it was where I made a lot of friends and when you have a look back over the years although I wasn’t a brilliant scholar, I wasn’t a bad student. Eventually I eventually made it up to


Rozelle Technical High School and it was from there that I left school but durin’ that time goin’ to school you learn to live a life because that was just the start of the Depression when I left school. Work was very hard to come by and that’s where Dad said, “Well, come and work with me.


Help me” and the two the eldest brother and I we worked for Dad.
So when you were when you were at primary school, that was in Balmain was it, or Rozelle?
What was that part of Sydney like in those days compared to now?
Well until the Depression it was a very good place to live but when


the Depression come, most of the people round Balmain they either worked for Lever Bros, Palmolive, Armstrong Holland or, I said Palmolive didn’t I and Morts Dock. When the Depression hit, well most of those


were affected by the Depression and quite a few people were out of work and I remember Dad coming home of a Saturday and sayin’ to my mother “Well Bella, I’ve got a job to move people out to Happy Valley” and unfortunately my father, he was very liberal with his


services. He never charged ’em anything to move ’em out there and it used to take all day Saturday, you can understand with a horse and wagon, moving from Balmain people with their furniture out to Happy Valley [Depression camp]. You remember you know about Happy Valley?
I have no idea what Happy Valley is. You’ll have to explain that.
Hap well Happy Valley was out towards


La Perouse where people built tin sheds and lived in those tin sheds. That’s because they had nowhere else they couldn’t afford to pay the rent and it was quite a few of the families Dad moved outta there. He’d only do it of a Saturday and Sunday and it was a really a something of a unique experience goin’ out there to see how those people lived.


So it was a like a squatter camp was it?
A squatter camp, yeah and like some of the people in later life I’ve met those people and they’ve made very good citizens, like the young kids.
But obviously your family, your dad, what was he up to that kept him in money?
Well we never felt what you’d say felt


the Depression in the way some people felt it, because Dad always had the business and although things were tough he seemed always able to make a livin’ out of the business.
What exactly was his business?
Well he was down the fruit market and durin’ that period


he was able to, although he was owed a lotta money he was able to collect enough money for us to live and also too, the sale of fruit, it wasn’t as very saleable as it is today and at times he used to bring home fruit that had deteriorated and give it round the people and quite a few


times there’s a quite a few handouts. Other than that, things seemed to, in fact one morning like durin’ the school holidays, a chap come down and said, “Joe,” my Dad’s name was Joe, “Joe you mind givin’ me a lift into Railway Square?” and Dad said, “Oh yeah, you can come with me,” he said, “as long as you’re here round about six o’clock”


and he come and like I was on holidays at the school holidays and the chap come in and Dad was talkin’ to him and he said, “Why are ya goin’ into Railway?” He said, “I’m goin’ in to collect some food.” Apparently they handed food out in those days to people outta work. That’s what he was goin’ in and Dad said to him, “What are ya how are ya goin’ to get


home?” He said, “Oh I’ll walk back home Joe,” and Dad said, “Oh no. You don’t walk home.” He said, “You can either wait for me or here’s a shillin’. Catch the train back home.” The tram used to run from Railway Square to round about up what they called the Western Road, Victoria Road these days, and that’s where he did.


Your dad sounds like he was a very generous man.
Well that was Dad’s trouble. He gave more money away than he had I think but like he wouldn’t see anyone stuck. That’s what it is.
And what sort of woman was your mother?
Beg your pardon?
And what sort of woman was your mother?
Well my mother come out from Scotland when she was eighteen. She come out on


the Thermopylae. It was a very ordinary boat and she come out here as a young girl and she worked up on Blairmore Station where Dad was and that’s where they were married.
What was she like? If your dad was giving


away money, what was your mum like as a manager?
Well I think managed more than Dad. She more or less paid the bills. The same as my wife at the present moment. My in fact I reckon my wife is exactly as like my mother. She pays the bills and I spend the money.
And as


a young fella, what sort of what sort of things might you do to earn a few pennies here and there?
Well I quite remember my Dad always followed Balmain football and we used to go with him to the football match of a Saturday afternoon and we always took a sugar bag with us to gather the beer bottles.


You got halfpenny for a beer bottle in those days. I don’t know whether you sell them these days but you got a halfpenny for ’em and we always took the sugar bag down to gather the bottles up and that’s where we got a lot of our money from or if a beer bottle was layin’ round the streets we always collected them. In fact I today I’ve seen six ah five cents on the street and the kids won’t pick it up.


That would a been a fortune for us.
And who were the great players from Balmain that you can remember?
Well, Chook Fraser. I always remember Dad thought he was the one a the best players. That’s about the only one I remember cause he Dad always reckoned he was the best player ever he seen.
So how often would you


go to see a game?
Well any time they was down Birchgrove Oval. Like Dad reckoned they should a never moved from Birchgrove Oval but they moved over to Drummoyne I think. I think it was Drummoyne they and he reckons that a tragedy that they shifted the team from the


the team a bit part of the community in those days?
Yes it was. Like they don’t seem to be the same spirit in the football these days. Like you had to live in the district to play football in those days, whereas today


you can live up in Brisbane and play in Sydney and before you had to live in the area, and they played one a the cousins he played for Balmain and I think he got ten pound a match. He was playin’ first grade. For every match if he played in the match and


they won they got ten pound. If they lost they got five. So it gave ’em an incentive to play.
That would be quite a lot of money to earn in one Saturday afternoon.
Oh yeah. Oh yes.
What sort of working life did the harbour have in those days at that end?
round the harbour?
Yeah well like you know these days it’s more there’s not as much industry and shipping on the harbour.


It must have been different in your day.
No. Well some of the chaps they used to work on the wharves. They were wharf labourers and they used to go into Sussex Street to be picked up and quite a few of them used to work about two or three days a week and work on the wharves those days I


really think was really work, not like today, palletised and containers and
Was there a heavy sort of unionisation of all those jobs?
Oh yeah. You had to belong to a union before you got a job.
And your father’s business, I know he worked at the markets but what exactly was his role in the transport


there? From where to where and
Well Dad used to do quite a few fruit jobs. He done a chap who was a Dick Lamar at Circular Quay. Gandhi was in Pitt Street at Circular Quay. Dick Favalore, he was out at Potts Point.


Tom Smith, he was a an Italian, he had a name a Tom Smith and he was in Oxford Street and he had the greatest team a no hopers workin’ for him. One day we was driving up George Street. I was with Dad and I was only a kid at the time and there’s three of the


other chaps they were on the wagon and the we come up to Liverpool Street. You used to go up Liverpool Street and go up Oxford Street that way. Anyway they were sittin’ there talkin’ to Dad and all of a sudden they hopped off the wagon and Coles had a store in George Street they’d go that went through into Liverpool Street. Anyway they hopped off the wagon and


we picked ’em up again in Liverpool Street. Dad said, “What happened Gillie?” Gillie was his name. He said, “Oh didn’t you see that big Sergeant Adam standin’ on the corner?” He said, “If he would a seen us, the three of us, we would a been in Long Bay,” and Dad said, “What, why at Long Bay?” He said, “Well Tom Smith


runs a few barrows,” he said, “and we’ve been picked up a couple of times on the barrows.” Apparently the barrows was illegal in those days and he said, “We don’t go out to Long Bay in the summertime. We only go out there in the winter time to cut the fine out.” A quite it you really got a good education down there you know,


different things.
It sounds like there was all sort of characters.
Oh characters.
Okay. So what about we touched on rugby league before but what about you, what sport did you play when you were a young fella?
Well I was mainly in swimming and tennis. In fact I used to play quite a bit of tennis and we used to swim a lot


in what they called down at the Ellington Park Baths in those days. It’s the Dawn Fraser Swimming Pool these days. They had quite a lot of competition down there and I wasn’t a bad swimmer at all like. In fact of the whole lot of the our children, like the sisters and brothers,


we could all swim at an early age. In fact we used to swim summer and winter because the Wide Bay Powerhouse it had hot water coming out in the canal just down in Wide Bay and that water used to come out in the winter time real warm and that’s where we used to always swim


in the winter.
So you had your own heated pool.
Oh. I’ve never heard that one before.
Well it’s unfortunate they don’t use the Wide Bay Powerhouse. I’m sure if they did and that’s still the canal was still there the kids’d be still swimmin’ in it.
I think kids people these days would be too frightened to swim in the harbour if they might catch something.
Well funny thing you know.


Like one of the boys that I went to school with, he was taken by a shark in Wide Bay. You want
Yeah, tell me about that.
Well it was Anniversary Day and they used to run the Sydney ferry from Ball what they called Ball Rock to Balmoral. Used to stop at Stephens Street, where the container wharf is today,


Darling Street Wharf and then around to Balmoral. Well we was all goin’, was only about twelve or so at the time, and we was all goin’ for a picnic down to Balmoral and he decided when we got to Stephens Street that he didn’t want to go with the he’d swim back and he dived overboard. He started to


swim back to Ball Rock and he got well I think about thirty yards off the wharf and a shark grabbed him. I it affected us from swimmin’ there for awhile but after awhile we still swum out at the canal. It took about twelve months or so before we forgot about it.
Fair enough.


Okay, what do you remember of your school days and schools in those days?
Well as I said, I didn’t mind goin’ to school. You always went to school more or less to learn something and also to play with your friends at school. My


earliest recollection was the teachers. You’d get the stick, or the cane as they called it in those days. You’d come home and complain to Dad. “Oh gee whiz I got the, I don’t know why I got it.” “Well what was ya doin’?” “Oh I wasn’t doin’ anything.” Now you must a been doin’ something.” You’d tell them what, “Well don’t you think you earned the stick?”


or the cane, “Don’t you think you earnt it?” “Well, could have. Could have.” “Well don’t do it again.” That’s the way it went. These days they’re not allowed to, in fact a son-in-law of mine I said, “Don’t you give the kids the stick?” “You’re not allowed to.”
What sort of things would you get the stick for?


Well probably pullin’ the girls’ hair or somethin’ who’s sittin’ in front of ya and she’d complain and, or probably gettin’ a bit a chalk and throwin’ it at someone else.
I see. So
But most of the teachers I can remember their names.


In the infants’ school there was a teacher by the name of Laidlaw and head mistress was Miss Cowlen and then in the other school, the primary school, there was a head master was Mr Ralph and Mr Curly was my wasn’t my favourite teacher


because he was always beltin’ me but apart from that, Mr Kennett and Mr Lowe. He was a soldier like a chap from the First World War and he only had one leg and I always remember him. He was a very kind man. He always tried to assist ya as good as you can, as good a student


as you were as you was able to, but the thing that strikes me most with the education today, they can pick children up with dyslexia and I think a lotta the children in my era had dyslexia and they couldn’t pick it up. Well they nobody knew what it was and it’s a shame because


some a the children today with dyslexia they can treat it.
So you think there was kids who could have gone better at school
Done better.
But were disadvantaged?
Like a young boy up by the name of Williams. I reckon he was one a the boys with dyslexia because all the other children in his family were quite bright but he seemed to lag


behind ’em. He was about two classes in front of me and yet when he was readin’ a thing he was readin’ it really back to front.
You left school at fourteen, is that right?
That’s right, yeah.
Why did you leave at fourteen?
Well I more or less


had to travel from Glebe over to Rozelle and I was findin’ it a bit you know you had to get the train, the tram from Glebe Point, up to Broadway. Catch a tram, a Birchgrove tram. It was gettin’ a bit you’re missin’ the tram half the time.


So I decided the best thing to do plus the fact that the brother, he was with Dad. I thought it’d be a good idea for me to go with them too.
So the lure of getting paid in the workforce was greater than high school.
That’s right.
And Glebe in those days, again today it’s a very trendy suburb.
In your day?


Well the part that I remember about Glebe there was a police sergeant there by the name of The Blizzard. They called him The Blizzard and I tell ya what, he kept the kids in order. I remember like in those days you used to pay your taxation by stamps. Mum asked me to go and buy these stamps for Dad.


I go to the post office and there’s a couple a kids, they were well they were just larrikins that’s all you can put ’em. I go in. I buy the stamps and they kind of picked on me. I to tell you the truth, I wasn’t doin’ anything. Come out and a course the both of them


started you know pushin’ me around and of course you can’t be pushed around in those days and I was doin’ real well and that Blizzard come along and stopped me and he grabbed the three of us together and just hit our heads together and I went home and told Dad what he’d done and I Dad turned around


and said, “Well next time I see him down the Cowley Pub I’ll buy him a beer.” It didn’t please me I can tell ya that.
Interviewee: James Tattersall Archive ID 1717 Tape 02


Jim, could you just run through the siblings and just give us an idea of the age difference between you and the brothers and sisters?
The yeah. Like the eldest brother, William or Bill, he was about two years older than me. I was about four years older


than the next brother, because there’s a girl in between, and the other brother I’d be about anything up to six years older than him.
So there was one sister?
Was the family a religious family?
Were you a religious family?
Well the trouble is


Dad was a Catholic. Mum, she was what you’d say the brethren from Scotland and there was a vast difference. Mum insisted that we there was a Baptist Church in Mullins Street


and she insisted that we go to that church every Sunday to Sunday School. Other than that, that was the only religion we was instilled upon us. Now I, I’ve got no idea as far as religion is concerned. Like my


youngest daughter she married a Catholic and they I’ve got no qualms about them attendin’ the college at St Joseph College at Hunters Hill. In fact it’s the money from the trust that really educate them. In fact as far as I’m concerned, as long as they’re educated then that is all


I can ask for. In fact the son’s two daughters they went to university and education is the thing that children should be able to acquire. The that daughter


there, she’s adopted three children from Korea. One’s at the university at Canberra at the present moment and the other daughter her eldest boy is at university at down there at Sydney University and as long as the children are educated better than I


was. It’s a my education is well at fourteen you don’t not really educated. In fact I was educated more after I left work and went in the army. In fact some a the officers they were really good in educatin’ a lot a the soldiers. Like as I said,


Bertie Vettick, he was a first class. At the school of military engineering some a those chaps there, Major Harper, Major Sheen they all taught ya. They gave me more insight into engineering than ever


I’d learn outside. The practical part of it they instilled it into ya and the chap who was in charge of it was a Lieutenant Colonel McGowan.
Jim we’ll talk about that in great detail
In a little while
But if you don’t mind I might just talk a little bit more about the earlier years initially.
I was just wondering how patriotic you were


when you were a young boy. Was the motherland and Empire a big deal for you?
Well when we went to Smith Street school every Monday morning I can even recite what they say “I pledge my allegiance to my flag and to the great Empire for which it stands. One king, one country and one flag.” I still remember them and that was every Monday mornin’


and I think it instilled into you the love a your country. Like as far as a country is concerned I don’t think I’ve been all over quite a few countries since the war, even America, can’t compare with Australia. It something about it


that like as Dorothea McKellar, ‘I love a sunburnt country,’ and well that’s our country. It’s sunburnt at the present moment but it’ll come good again.
Jim, you mentioned that one of your teachers had been involved in the First World War and had lost a leg.
Did he ever talk much to you students about what he’d been through?
Yes. He


told us he’d been gassed in France. He never laid on how he lost his leg but he reckoned that the mortar fire was something that took a lot of people lives. More than the machine guns he said,


especially on hard ground. He didn’t elaborate a lot on it but he gave you enough to know that war wasn’t a picnic.
Did you get any other information about war from school or from family?
Well yeah. My a couple of my uncles they were in the First World War


and the wife’s uncles they were there and they gave us a good you know what they thought and they more or less tried to steer ya away from war but


I think when you look at what’s really happened the Australian people, not only Australian, the whole world except Germany relied upon a league a nations to prevent it and that was why things went a bit


haywire. We relied upon them to stop Germany arming and like the same thing’s happening at the present moment. We rely upon the United Nations to do a job and although they’re doin’ a certain job they’re not doin’ a hundred per cent.


Jim, when you left school at the age of fourteen and started working for dad did you have any thoughts about what you wanted to make of your life at that stage? Did you have any sort of aspirations or you know priorities?
I know you were very young but
Like how were you seeing your future at that stage?
Well you always looked after money in those days. Like you know


money wasn’t as a growin’ on the trees at the present moment and you was always careful that you was able to have a few shillings in round. In fact when I went into the army I had ninety pound in the bank. That was my sole


savings and I used to bank at the bank in Broadway and mum used to always insist that every week a bit went into that bank even if it was only a few shillin’s but
What bank was that that you were with?
Bank of New South Wales and unfortunately


we had a difference of opinion with the Bank of New South Wales. When we wanted finance to buy the place at Auburn they didn’t reckon we didn’t have enough capital behind us and but the Commonwealth did. They put up the finance. So when I


see that sign ‘Which bank?’ I say, “The Commonwealth Bank.”
So you were your big priority for you then was just to get a bit of money behind you? Set you up pretty much.
Yeah, that’s what it was.
And what about girls mate? When did you discover the finer sex?
Well there’s two girls used to live alongside of us in Collins Street and they were very two


very nice girls. In fact I used to play tennis with ’em, one of them. Used to go out to Kingsford years ago and yet I never had any intentions of takin’ her out and I always remember one girl she lived down the street. She was a very nice girl and she come up and she said to me one day


“I’d like to go and see a movie in town.” It was in Embassy. I’m not too sure of the movie but that Richard Tauber was in it. He was a German baritone and I said, “Oh well yeah. I’ll go into town with you providin’ you pay your fare” and we


went into town I on a Saturday night it was and her mother walked up to the bus, ah tram stop and when I come home, brought her home her father was at the tram stop to meet us. So you had no chance of really becomin’ really involved with the girls and the


wife she worked with my sister in the office and they were havin’ a ball and the sister come home one day, “Look would you like to take Betty to this ball?” I said, “Oh gee whiz. You’re askin’ a lot aren’t ya? I gotta go and buy a suit and all


to go to a ball.” Anyway I decided I’d go and we had what they called the market ball about it must a been a couple a months later. So I said to the sister I said, “Do you think


that Betty’d like to come to our ball?” Like they held it at Grace Bros and, Grace Bros, Broadway. So she said, “Oh yeah.” So we went and we I think we went to three or four balls. I thought “Oh I’ll ask her to come to the movies.” So we went to the Regent


and every Saturday night we kept goin’ to either the Regent or the Victory or one a those movies in town and then war broke out and I thought “Well gee whiz. What am I goin’ to do?” So I asked her to she said, “You’ll have to ask me father.” I said, “I’m askin’ you.” She said, “Well if Dad agrees with it I’ll marry ya.” So that’s how it


That’s very romantic. So how long had you been spending time together before that moment came?
Well it was only about two years. We used to like before the war broke out we used to go surfing a lot.
Where would you go surfing?
Mainly at Cronulla. Used to


drive out to the I don’t think the railway run there before the war did it? It was after the war the railway run to Cronulla but Cronulla used to be one of the favourite beaches with Betty because Gunnamatta Bay, she didn’t like the surf. I didn’t mind anything.


So the two of you would go out there together or would you go with a group of friends?
Well quite a few of us used to go. Used to be around about ten or twelve of ’em and they most of the boys they could swim pretty well but my wife, she had this, could only swim in calm water.


And what other things would you get up to as a couple?
Beg your pardon?
Was there any other sorts of things you’d like to do together as a couple?
While you were courting?
Yeah. We used to go up the Blue Mountains quite a bit. In fact we used to go to Katoomba


quite a bit and it like just through the day. Come home of a night or the wife had the wife’s parents owned a place at Woy Woy on Phegans Bay and we used to go up there and they had a rowin’ boat. Used to row round all around Woy Woy and places like that.


It was really something that you can’t describe these days because everyone’s got a outboard motor in them but we used to go all over Phegans Bay.
Must have been a beautiful spot.
Oh yeah.
Back in those days particularly.
Yeah. I’ll never forget the,


you know Woy Woy at all?
I know Phegans Bay, yeah.
Well we used to go in under the railway bridge, go down the Broadwater and out down to Ettalong through the rip and we forgot that the tide when it goes through the rip it’s very hard to row back


and we had to wait until the tide slackened off before we’d be able to get back from Ettalong but we eventually we got back.
I’m happy to hear that.
Oh yeah.
Were you much of a dancer?
Not really. Just passable. The wife was a good dancer. She reckoned I used to tread on her toes too much.


And you it sounds like you went to see a lot of movies a lot of pictures together.
Were there any particular types of pictures that you enjoyed more?
Well the wife she really had a crush on that John Bowles, Clara Bow and more or


less movie stars you wouldn’t read about these days. I think John Bowles, he was a singer wasn’t he? I and Clara Bow she was pretty good but later in life I took a fancy to Betty Grable.
Good for you.
Oh yeah but


we still enjoy movies. In fact in the summer the movies that come on here. In fact I’m not too sure whether it was last night or the night before Joan Crawford and Millie [Mildred] Pearce was on and I really enjoyed it. You can go back and relate to those movies. They really


back in the early you really appreciated what happens these days they people talk too fast or probably we listen too slow and they seem not to put the same emphasis on the acting but


what when you have a look at the movies these days they’re more sex scenes and things like that. Whereas in the old days they it just wasn’t allowed and I think you appreciated the fact that when they spoke you understood every word they are saying.


In fact some a the Walter Pidgeon and them their diction was very good. Some of the movies I can still remember them. ‘Blossomed in the Dust’, ‘How Green Was My Valley’. They were really good movies. There is good movies at the present day but


I think everything in perspective, you seem to remember the old movies better than you remember the present day movies.
Did you listen to the radio back in those days much?
Well talkin’ about radio, Dad started off with a crystal set. You had to put the earphones on to listen to what they were sayin’


and like when the cricket or the football was on that’s how we used to listen. These days and that’s marvellous that is only what you’d say is the forum of the crystal set. They’ve improved it that much. They’ve improved it. These days well even the with the TV [television]


you switch it on and one a the kids’ll come along, say “You haven’t got that on the station properly,” and they’ll adjust it so you’re got it on the station properly for you.
When did you when do you recall that you first started to get wind of the fact that there might be war developing in Europe?
Well it’s hard to say.


Like we thought that Chamberlain when he come back, “Peace in our time,” that’s what we thought. In fact my wife’s they lived in Victoria Road, Strathfield at the time and we couldn’t believe on the 3rd of September when they announced that war was goin’ to


we was goin’ to we really didn’t believe it would happen but it was a reality and when you have a look of how England stood by herself. Like if France would have retreated to the south and went over to North Africa


and fought the war from North Africa, Italy wouldn’t have come into the war. It was only that France surrendered that allowed Italy to come into the war and I’ll always remember the Italians that Dick Pavalora, he had a pretty big shop at Potts Point and he was talkin’ to Dad one day. He said, “Oh gee whiz Joe, I


don’t know,” he said, “I don’t want this war.” He said, “I’m a good Italian citizen,” and Dad says to him, “Ever thought of puttin’ a Greek flag up on your shop and sayin’ you’re a Greek?” and sure enough the Greek flag was up.
Was that a common problem for the a lot of the blokes around the markets that
They had to work out a strategy like that?


there’s only one chap that they really interned and he was a good friend of Dad’s, Bob Denada. He had the shop in King Street and Dad used to have a lot of to do with him. They interned him because apparently he had some connection with the fascists in Italy. They interned him


and Dad could never understand why they interned him but it’s because of security risk that he was but I think they released him later on but it like as a start they interned him.
It must have been quite a an unsettling time for you blokes having so such a connection with


a lot of Italians.
Well like when war broke out I can tell you that quite a few Italians was in the army. The chap they were descendants of Italians. You wouldn’t say they were Italian, but they were descendants. There was a Vic Parmesama, Tom Bubuda.


Oh chap by the name of Vergona. They were Italian and they was in the army. In fact Tony Parmesama was in 6th Div. Soon as war broke out he enjoined up.
So when did you start considering joining up yourself?
Well not until Italy come into the war


but the brother he joined in May. Italy come into the war round about that time and I more or less had to wait with Dad, stay with Dad until the other brother he left school and took over with Dad, give him a hand and
So once he was free to give


To look after to work with dad
You were then in a situation to
Yeah, that’s right.
To sign up.
And when the youngest brother he left school to he wasn’t anything like eighteen. He was only about sixteen when he worked with Dad. The other brother joined the armoured division.
So what was the feeling in the family about getting involved in the war? Was


there a lot of discussion?
Well I think mum was very disturbed about it but Dad, well he just left it to us. It was our decision, no one else’s, but mum you could tell it was upsettin’ her.


Like every mother. In fact that poem that what’s the name of the chap who used to write poems for us?
We can we can sort that out
He used to come from Gosford.
Well we after this tape we can sort that out mate
Talk about it. So why did you


want to join up?
Well I thought that if we were get to survive everyone who possibly could should join up. I know quite a few of the boys that I went to school with, they were joining


up. In fact one a the young chaps, Jimmy Melville, he was in the same unit as us. He joined up about the same time as me and some a the boys from the tennis, that played tennis, they joined up. Phil Chambers and I thought, “Well


you can’t be left behind. You may as well help as much as you could.” Although the trouble was a lot a the chaps in those days they had no idea of as far as the army was concerned. In fact as far as I was concerned I’d never even fired


a gun let alone known what a gun was like, and as far as mines and that I never even knew what a mine was. The ability to learn was the factor that influenced a lot of people. You had that ability to get in and learn and you was quite willin’ to learn.


Did it also seem like a bit of an adventure to you at that stage?
Well yes. In fact I think sailing down that Sydney Harbour gave me a feeling as you sailed down we I was on the Aquitania. As you sailed down that harbour


you thought to yourself, “Will I ever see it again?” and you’d hate to think that you’d never be able to see it but some a the boys on that boat never come back. In fact I got the photo of the Queen Mary, the Aquitania sailing down past Bradley Heads.
So did you discuss your decision to join up with Betty before


you went ahead and made your plans?
Well we went down to Narrabeen and that’s when I told her that I’d already joined up. I never discussed it with cause I think quite frankly she wouldn’t have agreed.
So what sort of response did you get then when you told her?


she couldn’t understand it. “Why would you want to involve yourself in the war?” but I convinced her that it was the right thing to do and I think she’s been proud of the fact ever since that her brothers and my brothers joined up.
So when did the when did the thought of


getting married come along after you told her that?
Well I discussed it with her. We could have waited until after the war when I come back. I said, “But I think the best thing to do would be to get married.”


I said, “We don’t want to have children before the war though.” I said, “If I don’t come back you wouldn’t be free. Whereas if anything happened to me and I come back a cripple or anything you might be able to find another life for yourself.” Well we discussed it. The hard part about returning and not


returning and she knew my feelings and I knew her feelings. She was prepared to wait for me to come from come home the same as I was prepared to wait for her but we were married in September 1940 and one thing I must say, I’ve never regretted it.


She stood by me in my bad moments and me good moments and there’s been plenty of bad moments I can assure you of that.
Did you have many friends in a similar situation trying to work out whether to get married or not before they went off?
Yeah. Yes. There was a young chap


at the tennis. He was goin’ with a one a the girls who played tennis and he discussed it with her and she said, “No. Wait when you come back.” He never come back. He was a prisoner of war in


Singapore. So it was very fortunate for that girl I think but that Jimmy Melville that I was talking about, he was goin’ with a girl from Balmain. A girl by the name of Mutton. He was more or less a


sort of girlfriend of his and he put off bein’ married and I think it was the last days in Balikpapan he got he got killed. So actually must be someone lookin’ after ’em at times.


let’s talk about the process of you enlisting. When did you when did you find out that things were going ahead?
Well I was drivin’ the truck down, we used to do a fruit shop in Hunter Street and


I said to the chap who owned the fruit shop, “I’ll be about ten minutes away.” I went down to Martin Place, put me name down and it was only about a week and I got the call up notice and went down to Martin Place and I had to report out to Livingstone


Road at Marrickville where they had the drill hall and that’s where I become a day boy. I never got a uniform for about a month. That’s because like we were unprepared for war, there’s no question about that, and I used to go out there on the tram every day from home for about a month and then, as I


said, we went into the reinforcements to the 2/4th Battalion and we up to Tamworth and then they found out I was a blacksmith. I don’t know how and
So there was no real..
I come back to the showground and went reinforcement to the 2/4th.
There was no real test or interview to decide whether you were a


blacksmith or not? They just decided that that would be the case.
Well personally I don’t know how it happened but that’s what I my grouping was and you got more pay for bein’ a blacksmith than an ordinary soldier but I’m not too sure. I think you got about two shillin’s extra a day.


Did you do much training when you were a day boy?
Only marchin’ up and down the street. We used to march every mornin’ up Addison Road, round into Stanmore and back again. I think that was your training.
You must have been pretty disappointed that they didn’t give you a uniform.
Well the very fact


that you go home of a night time compensated for it but the use of their oval quite close we used to go and do a lot of different sports over there. Some a the chaps they


tried to introduce Australian football. Fancy tryin’ to do that against a rugby league players, ping pong, but occasionally you’d have a game of because they some a the boys come from round Erskineville. They had a lot of


Australian Rules [football] over there. In fact I think they had a good team in the comp in the early days.
Interviewee: James Tattersall Archive ID 1717 Tape 03


So Jim, you were confirmed as a blacksmith
And once you’d once they’d decided you weren’t going off to an engineering unit where did you go to?
Well went down to the Sydney showground and from the Sydney showground we had more or less basic training. A very, very simple training, mostly with


knots and lashin’s. That’s about the only training we got there and it wasn’t long in the showground. I’m not too sure of the colonel’s name who was there but he was a World War I veteran and he seemed to know what he was about.


We went out once to the Anzac rifle range, which is out Malabar way, and we had a rifle range practice. When we finished we all went for a swim at Maroubra beach. It’s not far from Maroubra, just over the sandhill. A lot a the boys from the


country they decided that they’d have a swim and we told ’em the surf looked a bit treacherous on Maroubra. Like we swum quite a bit on Maroubra. In fact one a the cousins, he was captain of the Maroubra lifesavers and they went in the surf and before long,


if you’ve swum at Maroubra beach she’s a carries a fair few rips. Quite a few of them was in the rips and we had to pull ’em out a the surf there. We had about four reels going out to get ’em but
When you turned up at the engineering unit and you weren’t a blacksmith, was there a problem there?


fortunately I was never called upon to perform a blacksmith’s duties. Like I become a corporal and they never seemed to want a blacksmith. I think the only time I done a blacksmith duty was when we was in Tobruk and they needed a few picks sharpened and I think anyone can sharpen a pick.


Light the furnace or the fire up and
So you just quietly kept drawing the blacksmith’s pay allowance for the rest of the war?
Yeah. Yeah. I never said anything about it.
Good on you. So from the showground where did you move off to?
Well from the showground we boarded the Aquitania down at 6 Woolloomooloo.


That was in January and we sailed on the Middle East, well on we finished up in the Middle East. We
Did you is that where you thought you’d be going when you got on the ship?
Yes. In our convoy was the new Queen Elizabeth and it carried the first troops to Singapore but it left us in the Indian Ocean.


What was the, what were conditions like aboard?
Well when we sailed out of Sydney Harbour it was pretty calm and by the time we went pretty well south of Tasmania and when we got into the southern ocean there was really a terrific swell blowin’. The Hobart was


our convoy and I think after about three days she had to turn back. When ya there was the a Dutch liner that joined us from New Zealand and when you and the Aquitania and the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth and when you got in a trough of a (UNCLEAR) all you could see


was the funnels of those boats. They were pretty big seas and believe it or not, a lot of the troops they were seasick. I mean to say if you weren’t seasick you could go down and help yourself to plenty. Fortunately I never got seasick.
And what sort of situation were you sleeping in then on board the ship?


in the Indian Ocean, in the southern ocean was too cold to sleep up on the deck and you slept down in a hammock. There was a quite a number of people down it wasn’t overcrowded but it was pretty crowded and


the showers and that you’d always find it very hard to have a shower of a morning because there was quite a few want a shower and things like that.
And what did the boys get up to, to amuse themselves aboard?
Well they had certain boxin’ matches and things like that but there was very little you could do


to amuse yourself on the troop ship. You was there was anything up to about five or six thousand men on the boat and there was very little, especially in the once we turned into the pulled into Fremantle. We never went actually into Fremantle itself. They was outside a Fremantle for about


twelve hours and they must have been gettin’ more supplies on and next mornin’ we sailed for was we didn’t know where we was goin’ but we finished up at Bombay. When we arrived at Bombay we were goin’ to be


transferred to another ship. At that time Italy was more or less had command a the Red Sea through Eritrea and Abyssinia and they couldn’t take the risk of a big ship like the Queen Mary and the Aquitania run going up the Red Sea. So we was in Bombay and then transferred to a place


called Poona. Poona was more or less a racecourse that had been taken over by the English army. I think it was the Northumberland fusiliers that was encamped there and we more or less the was under their control.
What was it like


for a young Balmain boy who’d never been out of Sydney before really arriving in India?
Well it really opened ya eyes to see how those people lived. Like in Bombay we only had I suppose a day in Bombay and we was allowed to walk around the streets and


there was beggars everywhere. People with no home to go to and they were sleeping in the streets and some a the building sites we was lookin’ at them and you wouldn’t believe how those building those builders. They had a basket loaded with bricks or something like that and they had a pulley and about ten men pullin’ the rope to hoist the thing up to the


top, a pulley block, and that’s the way they was building the buildin’ but there’s that many men building it that but when we embarked for Poona we went up to Poona in the train. We were on Bombay main railway station and we were on one platform and on the other side there must a


been oh quite a crowd a people waitin’ to catch the train somewhere or other. We know where it didn’t know where it was going. The train pulled in and there was quite a few people on the train and everyone a those people got on the train. They was goin’ through the windows and all to get on the train and they had chooks,


goats and everything and when the train pulled out there were people up on the roof even but everyone there was none left on the station. It opened our eyes. We reckoned the New South [Wales] railways was pretty good.
And did you buy any souvenirs or anything like that round in India?
Yeah. Yes. I did send


souvenirs back home from India. I just forget what they I think they were rosary beads and things like that for the wife and other more or less trinkets. The value of ’em wouldn’t a been very much. You could buy I think you could buy Bombay for two dollars in those days.
So how did you pass the time for a month or so in Poona?


In India?
Well we went up onto the racecourse and there’s a photo there somewhere or other of the boys in the tent and we used to pay one a the local chaps to look after our tent and make our bed and things like that


and I think we used to all chip in, give him about two rupees for the whole week and that’s was his pay and he was quite happy. He reckoned he was a millionaire. So that’s how cheap things were. In fact you’d buy a pair a shorts in the local shop down there for I think about ten


annas and there’s ten annas would a been about half a rupee. So things were very cheap.
And you guys were living like kings there with your batman.
Yeah. Yeah and it was the first time I can say that I enjoyed curry. Like the, we was on English rations there but they had Indian cooks


and more or less they employed these cooks, the Northumberland fusiliers, and they were very well set up on this racecourse.
And what were you doing during the day then?
Well, very little you could do. Like we went for route marches through some a the villages but there’s a chap by the name of Jock Cowdrey. He was the officer


in charge of us and he had the ability to get around and find out what was things and when we was in Bombay he must have went and seen there was Australian jockeys there. It was a Saturday, he must a went to the races. He seen one a the jockeys and he got an invitation to the you know Ali Khan? He was one a the


notable racehorse people at the time. In fact I think a lot of people know of Ali Khan and he had a stud farm just out of Poona and I remember one afternoon he must have got someone to take us out there, probably ar English army crowd took us out there


to this stud farm and it opened my eyes. The horses out there was living a hundred per cent better than the Indians. He had a French stallion there that was very good and Blue Peter the year before had won the English Derby. He was standin’ out there and they that day they took us all round the


stud farm and showed us around. It was really something to hold to see how they treated the horses out there.
And I guess you were doing more training at the racecourse as well?
Well, no. It was only really route marches more
So how prepared did you feel to go to war? You hadn’t had a lot of specialist training?
No. No,


like as far slope arms, the only time I used a rifle was slope arms and used it in drill until we got into Tobruk.
What about other sort of engineer-related training?
Well as I said, knots and lashin’s was about the only thing we done.
But nothing to do with explosives?
No, no. The first time I handled explosives was


at in Tobruk and we you certainly learned how to use ’em pretty quick.
So it kind of sounds like the engineering field company there had less training than the infantry and no specialised training in anything else
That you got when you arrived.
We had more infantry training than engineer training.


That’s when we arrived in Tobruk.
I’d just like to talk a bit about the 2/4th Field Company. Which division were you were working with?
Beg your pardon?
Which division were you attached to, with the 2/4th?
It was attached to the 18th Brigade, 7 Division. There was three field companies. The 2/4th,


2/5th, 2/6th and then they had the 25th Field Park. Originally the 25th was the 2/2nd wasn’t it and they sent them into 9 Div.
So your particular company was attached to the 18th Brigade?
18th Brigade.
Roughly how a field company break down into


other units and specialities?
Well a field company has got three platoons and headquarters.
And are those platoons for special jobs or they’re just general
No. No, everyone was more or less had to the same basic work of whatever come up.


Like we were layin’ minefields, lookin’ after the water, water supply. Like for a time there I was a sent out what they call a lay battalion, labour battalion. It was all made of Sinais [people of the Sinai, or Bedouins]. There’s about five hundred in the


unit and we after the hostilities broke up in Tobruk like it quietened down a bit. They were going to build a what they called the blue line and I went out with a there was a section of a platoon we went out and we supervised the building of this blue line.


We had four compressors and they were spread right along there and they were mostly Muslims and there was a old Scottish colonel in charge of ’em, a chap by the name of McFarland,


and he I got on real well with him. He seemed to put up with all your complaints and never turned h(UNCLEAR) because they he had to do a certain amount every day and to get people usin’ the compressor and compressors’ layin’ idle and they’re down on their knees prayin’ for some damn


reason or other. It irritated ya and you’d go and you’d complain to him and he’d turn round and he every time he, ya’d complained to say to him he’d say, “Son, you gotta have patience with ’em. They’re different to you and they don’t understand what is going on. They they’ll do the job.” Anyway our colonel was a Colonel Frank Irwin,


or he was a major at the time. He come out with the CO [Commanding Officer] he was Aussie Myers and he got stuck into me. He turned round, he said, “You’re about a fortnight behind in building this blue line.” He said, “You’ve gotta smarten yourself up,” and


you got you can’t answer ’em back.” And you thought to yourself, “I don’t have to smarten meself up. You’ve gotta make these bludgers do a bit more work than they’re doin.” But it wasn’t long after that that they decided the blue line was wasn’t necessary. We wouldn’t have to evacuate Tobruk, but a lot late, oh


the same man who went crook on me he was a lieutenant colonel at the time. Then Blamey and them were inspectin’ the Kokoda Track and they said the same thing to him that they said to me. He wasn’t gettin’ enough supplies up to the forward troops. So I always


thought that, it was what he said to me was said to him.
There’s some justice I guess. At the time you were in India did you actually have any specialist engineering equipment with you?
No. No, we in fact we had no equipment at all.
Looking back then, looking back what’s your opinion about how well the government


and the army had prepared you for the job you were gonna do?
Well personally even when even the field company I don’t think they had the enough equipment to do the job that they was meant to do. In fact I think the only time we were really well equipped was when we went to Balikpapan and then


we seemed to have everything. Like if you would have asked us in Tobruk about a bulldozer you would wouldn’t a known what they was talkin’ about.
So might that have been the difference between the British supporting you and then the Americans supporting you later on?
Yeah. Oh yeah. The Americans had everything. Even the money.
That’s the main thing.


From Poona in India, what route did you take to the Middle East?
Well, we come back on the train and we embarked on the Windsor Castle. It was a one a the [Union] Castle lines that run between England and South Africa. It was a boat of about twenty thousand tons and it was reasonably


comfortable and I think most a the troops were reinforcements. They weren’t you know troops that was in the unit at all and we come to Port Tewfik and we went to up


into Palestine. A place called Kostina, and we originally went to the 2/5th Battalion ah Field Company and they directed us. Like we got our movement orders from them


and we went back into Egypt to Amiriya and then to Alexandria and we caught a boat. If I remember rightly, it was a boat that used to run along the Australian coast for CSR [Colonial Sugar Refining Co Ltd] and


it was only it’s only about three hundred miles. We’d embarked on the boat in the morning. In the afternoon we was in Tobruk.
Right. I’ll just ask you a few questions about arriving in the Middle East first. What were your impressions when you first arrived say in a place like Palestine?
Well it was another world. You wouldn’t imagine the difference between livin’ in Australia


and living in the Middle East. Things were a lot cheaper. The money they had money that decimal currency that as far as they was concerned hundred mils was worth a pound and you had a hundred, I just forget the name a them. It was smaller


than the mil, a hundred a them went to that and you could buy spend a hundred a these little things to buy something and actually we only more or less spent very little in the Middle East on the way up to Tobruk.
And what about you know the


conditions of people and the housing and so on that you noticed when you arrived?
Well Palestine in those days was controlled by the British police and they seemed to keep a very firm hand on the, none of what’s going on today. There was friction there, you could feel the friction between the Jews and


the Arabs. You could feel the friction but they weren’t allowed to demonstrate or anything like that and both sides you seemed to get on well with.
Did you ever think about the fact that the first AIF [Australian Imperial Force] had spent time in Palestine during the First World War and here you were?
Yeah. Yes.


In fact we went into a village there in Palestine and a chap who run the local I suppose you’d hotel or whatever you call it, he was tellin’ us about the first AIF over there. What a good fellas they were.


Palestine, both in the First and Second World War was fairly famous for some of its more dubious types of entertainment. What did you see and do?
Well when we when we come back down a bit to one a the towns, Jaffa [Haifa] I think it was,


it the old city of Tel Aviv, it amazed us you know what things that was there. All the things that you never dream of over in Australia. The entertainment that they had were prepared to go to for the troops. There was like the brothels seemed to be out


in the open and things like that but fortunately a lot a the boys didn’t worry about it.
Were you given any warnings about the
Well yeah, yes.
What was told to you?
Told that VD [venereal disease] was very prevalent and things like that and never get to go out just singly. If you went out, always go out in a group


as there’s a plenty a thieves around the place and they was likely to knock ya around a bit and like that’s mostly there’d be seven or eight in a bunch and they never worried ya but you seemed to be more intent on lookin’ around, havin’


a look at the sights. Like Haifa was the old part of Tel Aviv and when you went into Tel Aviv you’d see the difference. Tel Aviv was a modern city compared to the old part a same as in Jerusalem. When you went to Jerusalem you had a guide and he’d show ya the Wailing Wall.


To see these people crying in front of a stone wall amazed ya and then you went through the old City a [of] David and he’d take ya on the path a Calvary and you’d amaze ya to think that all those things are still able to be traced today and the Way a the


Cross and all that. It simply amazed ya and the Gesthemane Gardens and things like that. They really opened ya eyes as far as what we had here in Australia was nothing like it.


Australians the Arabs have a long history of theft and betrayal and a reputation for all sorts of rip offs. Did you experience anything like that?
Oh yeah. Yes. Like in our camp in Palestine everyone was ordered like the rifle had to be secured with a chain round the centre post of the


what’s a name so that they couldn’t be stolen. The rifle was a val, very valuable product in the Arab world over there and you had to be very careful that ya kept ’em under lock or key more or less. In fact one time I was demonstratin’ the Teller


mine to one a the infantry battalions and we’d just come out a Tobruk and shown ’em you know the Teller mine and the S mine a the Germans and all of a sudden the chap yelled out “Hey! Hey!” and he picked up his rifle and there was a joker runnin’ with his pair a boots. You could see his pair a boots


and he let a shot go and he brought him down. It only hit him on the leg, but he brought him down and when the British police, like they were English police come out, he said, “It’s a pity you didn’t kill the bastard.” He said, “I got to file a report in about this.” He said, “If you would a killed him,” he said,


“it was I’d only have to bury him.” As casual as that.
From Palestine did you go to Cairo then?
No, I never had the opportunity to go to Cairo. The quite a few a the boys did. Like it was on the roster. I think when we was in Palestine the I think


ten at a time went and then when we moved up further up into Syria well I think we only got leave into places like Tel Aviv, Beirut.
So from Palestine how you said you moved to Alexandria. How did that how did you move?
By train. We most a the travelling in


the Middle East was done in the on the train and the unfortunate part, you’d be on the train, which not travelling a great distance but there’s that many troops there that they were shuntin’ ’em up and down the main line all the time that they had to put you on the siding to let another


train go past.
So it was a bit of a stop start journey?
It was, yeah.
How comfortable was it aboard the train?
Well mostly they played cards aboard the train. That was their had the card sharks there.
And was there I imagine from my own experiences in the Middle East that every time you pulled over onto a siding there was lots of local


people to sell you anything you wanted?
Yeah. One time we pulled over on a local siding and there was a goods train and we pulled up alongside the goods train and everyone was out to see what was on the goods train. They had tomatoes, come back with tomatoes and everything.
What did you


think of Alexandria?
Well it opened my eyes in Alexandria. We was leaving Alexandria when that battle, the HMAS Sydney had sunk the Bartholomew or some name like that. Sank one a the Italian


ships and that’s there was some a the English based in there. There was the Baram. She had a quite a bit a damage done to her. We seen the damage and it was marvellous what damage had been done to her and she’s still afloat. That was a battle ship, the Baram, and the HMS War Sprite was in there. They were really big battleships them


How much had you heard about the exploits of 6 Division in the months before you were there?
Yes, well we heard quite a bit of how they mounted the Italians up and they didn’t seem to have a great opinion of the Italians


but as far as the Germans are concerned it’s a different kettle a fish. In fact one night, do you want to go onto that or?
Oh well we’re coming towards the end of this tape. I’ll just ask you a couple a quick questions. So you had what sort of opinion of your enemy did you have before you actually met him? What were your thoughts and


Well personally you didn’t really know anything about ’em. You knew they’d been supportin’ the 6 Divi up the desert and you knew that they had taken part in taking Tobruk in the first instant


but you really didn’t have any idea what you was goin’ to what kind of a unit it really was but later you soon learnt that they were a pretty good crowd. Although they certainly had their roughnecks but even the roughnecks you could rely upon ’em.
So what did you know about Tobruk before you actually


arrived there?
I didn’t know I didn’t even know where it was but we knew it was about three hundred miles west of Alexandria. cause like the people in the boat they told us when we “You’ll be up there before nightfall.” We left pretty early in the morning and they said, “You’ll be there before the nightfall.”


End of tape
Interviewee: James Tattersall Archive ID 1717 Tape 04


How were the boys feeling in Alexandria, Jim? What was the mood?
Well we only just moved through Alexandria. We knew that we were going to embark the next day on that Fiona, ocean the troop transport Fiona,


and we just more or less had a look around and round the wharves more or less is the only place we looked and they were handling a lot a cotton and things like bales a cotton and it was all done by manual labour. We


were amazed you know that so many men handlin’ one bale of cotton and they told us to keep out of a place called Sister Street [red light district] there. Apparently they were a very bad reputation so we never worried about it. We just waited until the we boarded the boat and we


sailed for Tobruk.
So you were clear at that stage that you were finally getting
Getting to the action?
Oh yes.
How did you feel personally about that and what was the general feeling amongst the boys?
Well the feeling was one of apprehension. You didn’t know what you were goin’ into. You knew that the Australian


forces was retreatin’ from Benghazi at the time, that’s all that we knew, and they were goin’ to try and hold Tobruk. Actually we landed in there about I think about a fortnight before the all the forces got back into Tobruk


and once you got there you was a bit worried about all the boats that had been sunk in the harbour. cause there’s quite a few ships had already been sunk and the only thing you wanted to do was get off the boat and get onto land.
So paint the picture for us. What did the harbour look like when you arrived?
It’s not a


very big harbour like, say Neutral Bay would be about the size of the harbour. Maybe just a shade bigger and to think all those boats had been sunk in that harbour was a job to navigate,


especially a boat coming in of a night time, be very hard to navigate. They must a been very very good navigators to find the wharf even but
So the sun had gone down by the time you got in?
Beg your pardon?
Had the sun gone down by the time you got in?
Well it just about set. Like it was just on


night fall when we we went straight out to the camp, well where the 2nd 4th were, but the town itself was not a very big town but it was bein’ rebuilt by the Italians and it was like the buildings were quite presentable but not old buildings. It was a more or less a small modern city, oh


a modern town. You wouldn’t call it a city it by any means but
So what did you see going on around the streets as you were moving through the town?
Well we didn’t have enough time to have a look around but it’s really small, as I say. It we went straight out to the unit and soon as we got


to the unit I went into one platoon, it was under the control of Lieutenant Buttle and he was quite a quite a good soldier, Buttle. He finished up a lieutenant colonel but the


countryside the country round Tobruk was most foreboding you know. You’d say “Good God what am I doin’ in a place like this?” but after awhile you got used to it but
How far from the centre of town were you set up there with the unit?
Well I think the whole a the fortress there would be


no more than two thousand acres or no, might be about five thousand acres. It wasn’t a very big place. Like to walk from one end to the other’d take all day, from the town out to the front line but it wasn’t very far.


In fact one a the guns could shell the town. One a the big guns that was in there could shell the town.
So relative to the town and the frontline, where were you being stationed?
Well we was out on what they called the Bardia Road, El Addan Road sector. That was where the 18th Brigade held.


They held that sector. 9 Div held Palestine and where the Germans had broken through but we was attached like sometimes attached to the 9th Battalion, sometimes to the 10th, sometimes


to the 11th and also they had the ASC [Army Service Corps] holding one a the waddies right over on the eastern front and sometimes we went over to them. They were pretty well involved in the whole a the like the work that we done there,


we laid minefields in front a their positions. There was a place called Cooma. I don’t know however they got the name a Cooma but they had a listening post there and in the early part we went out and more or less consolidated the listening post. You’d go out there of a night-time and work


quite a bit puttin’ sandbags up and things like that and I’d been out there about four or five times but you went out in the dark and come back in the dark and the listening post was more or less an observation post to see what was going on


and apparently they was able to hold that post all the time but they after the fighting died down well more or less those more or less minefields was a mostly the job looking after water point


and things like that. Like
Before we go further into that, could you take us through the process of initially arriving and letting me know what camp looked like and where it was that you got settled in and what sort of a briefing you were given?
Well for


the first week I was there, there was very little activity although there were quite a few bombing raids. In fact one a the chaps who come with us, a chap by the name of Bernie Wilkinson, he was only in there a bombing raid come over and he was killed the first oh first or second day he was there but other than that,


there’s very little activity except bombing raids.
How did you feel being in the middle of the first bombing raid?
Frightened. To put it honestly. Oh I think everyone was like the Stuka bombers are different to the bombing. They’d come down that low before they dropped their bombs and you’d swear blind they was going to crash


but they’d pull out at the last minute and they’d just let the bomb and away they’d go and the English top hat battery, they was the anti-air craft battery, and they done a damn good job. It when they opened up with their batteries they


certainly put a shield up over mainly over the harbour more than over the front line because they knew that the that’s what they was comin’ in for, to stop ships coming in. In fact some really the supply that we got into Tobruk by the navy that kept it goin’. They wouldn’t a got the supplies in. You couldn’t


have held it. Like not only ammunition but food. They put all those type of things in to the port mainly by the navy. The they used to call ’em the scrap iron flotilla and those old destroyers that should a been pensioned off


but they was able to bring the supplies up quite regularly. Mainly they’d enter the port of a night-time, unload and out before the morning. In fact on that map you’ll see bomb alley. That’s where they were frightened that they’d be caught, in that bomb alley but


So losing Bernie so early in the piece must have been pretty unsettling.
Beg your pardon?
Losing Bernie so early in the piece. In that raid. You said Bernie was killed in one of the early raids.
Yeah, yes.
That must a been pretty upsetting
For the group.
It especially the chaps who come over with him because he’s a he came from Wagga and


he was a very outgoing chap. He was a really the life of us goin’ up from the time we left Australia. It was just unfortunate and bombin’ raid come over and like they was in a truck at the time and everyone was he was the last out the truck and apparently they were after the truck


more than anything and they the bomb just landed near the truck and got him.
So can you give me a bit of a description of what your camp was like? The set up there?
Oh I don’t think you could call it a camp. It was a hole in the ground. Like most of the chaps they dug a hand, a hole to take


two people. Like we you generally had a mate sleeping with you. The chap that was an English man, Frank Headley, was the chap I was mainly with and the he was a lot older than I was and he more or less had a big influence on me. He more or less gave


me, he was one of the original chaps and he more or less gave me a guide what to expect and Frank before we’d go out on any job he used to sit and have a cigarette and he used to smoke that cigarette until the last bit and then he’d be right but he couldn’t go out on any job until he had his cigarette.


He was I kept in touch with him quite a bit after the war. He eventually died down on the south coast and naturally he died from emphysema, from his smokin’ I suppose. So
So he showed you the ropes and
He really did and I appreciate him and later on George Pye, he was


when we left Tobruk he was more or less took over as one a the mates.
So you would dig a basically dig a hole to sleep in?
Yes. It was just a foxhole. You know dig down about three feet and enough that it’d take two men and that’s where you slept


and the time I was with the Sinais’ battalion we went over and they had a big shelter, like a big kind of a cave affair that they were sleeping in. Well you didn’t need any hole there. You just slept in the cave with ’em.
What were the challenges of sleeping in the hole? What were the problems that you had to


deal with?
Well I think fleas more than anything. They seemed to be everywhere, the fleas. I don’t know where they come from. Must been some a the chaps said there was rats around the place. Actually I never seen a rat but they must a been around and the trouble was the sandstorms there. Sometimes


they’d blow for a week and you couldn’t see you wouldn’t be able to see that wall, they were that severe and actually you could do very little. In fact this old colonel that I said was in charge of the Sinais, he reckoned he lay tapes to take ’em


out to work but once you got out to work, the damn sand used to blow into the tank traps that you’re diggin’ as fast as you damn well shovelled it out. So actually you just had to wait and they finished.
How would you keep the sand from damaging your eyes?
Well you didn’t. People who had glasses they were lucky


but there was no goggles or anything issued to you there. You just had to put up with it and
And how would you deal with those fleas? What would you do about the fleas?
Well they used to irritate ya. Like you’d go to sleep and you’d feel a bite and they they’re very annoying, have two or three fleas bitin’ ya at the one time


well but you seemed to be able to put up with anything.
Was there any sort of technique of getting them off your body or getting keeping them away from your area?
Well kerosene is the thing that seems to stop ’em. Like people get a bit a kerosene and put over their that seemed to keep ’em partially away from ya


but after the kerosene worn off, well they were back again.
And how did you go for food? What were the rations like?
Well you wouldn’t say they was very good but they like it was either bully beef or goldfish, you know herrings in tomato sauce.


That’s for the first, say for the first month but they improved gradually. They kept improvin’, improvin’. They got a field bakery goin’ there and they were startin’ to bake bread. You used to get a bit a bread now and again. You wouldn’t get it every day but you never got any fresh meat though. The meat was always


tinned meat and the vegetables, you used to get M&V, meat and vegetables in the tin. Same as the bacon. The bacon used to come in a tin and for the breakfast they did give you English


roll oats. Used to come in a square tin like that and our cook, Jack Campie, he didn’t know how to cook porridge. I’ll never forget, we used to have these biscuits. You know the hard biscuits? He used to crush them up, put in a bit of tinned milk and that used to


be the porridge. He could he didn’t know how to cook the porridge and what he used to do was go out when he got a one of these tins, bury it in the sand. Bury it in the desert. After awhile the sandstorm come and here’s all these tins layin’ around. So one a the boys said, “Look. If you can’t cook porridge we’ll cook it for ya.” So


we had porridge after that.
So when you arrived and got settled in, did you get much of a briefing on the state of affairs in Tobruk and what was going on and where it was going on?
They used to publish a paper, ‘The Tobruk Oil’ they used to call it, and there used to be three or four come round


to the unit and they were more or less tell ya the state of what was goin’ on in Tobruk but the night time they used to have the oversea news of the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] and that is where you got most a your news from. Like we knew how the Russians was goin’. How Crete was


goin’ and I matter of fact Jimmy Woods, I was walkin’ back one day with him, well one night back to where we used to listen to the news and he said, “Goodness me, things can’t get any bloody bad ah badder can they?” and I said, “Oh I don’t suppose so Jim” but after awhile they did. Like Japan come into the war


and especially on the Russian front when the Russians were retreatin’ all the time. Things looked very grim but
So you said that initially there was a period where you weren’t doing much. You were just sort of getting settled in there for a week or so. So the sort of tasks that you were carrying out from there on, did you start that work at Cooma initially?


Was that the first thing you started doing?
Well for the first two months until they started to build that blue line we involved with the infantry. They did the minefields. You’re puttin’ down minefields. Barb wire. Workin’ you know puttin’


minefields or wire entanglements round their positions and a lotta the work as far as the mines was concerned we had to they had what they call an Egyptian mine. It was a cylinder like that and wasn’t too reliable.


Actually the had to run right over the square before it’d shear the detonator and start it made a film on it of mercury and they had to come down and shear it before it’d go off and it was only about six sticks of geli gelignite in it and sometimes the


Italian mine it was more useless than our mine because it was a long square box like that and the tank track ah the tank tracks had to run over that part where the detonator is before it’d go off and we used to get the they had picric acid in theirs


and we used to get some a that and put it in the gypo [Egyptian] mine to make it more effective and we done quite a few of the mines like that, changin’ a bit more effort into ’em and like the ingenuity of the Australian people they were very good but some of these things that they learnt or


we learnt was only through you know bein’ able to adapt to certain things. Like I remember one time there they the Philippines they had oil installation tanks under the water there. They thought it had been ruptured and they asked some a the boys to, oh


oh one a those crowd went down but when they went divin’ down into the harbour to have a look to see if it was fractured they couldn’t stay under long enough and I think that Sergeant Burgoyne he was in charge of the crowd and he suggested that they get the a compressor down to the wharf,


get ’em a gas mask, connect the gas mask up to the compressor and go down with the gas mask so they stayed there and that’s what they done and they could stay down there quite awhile with the down there you know lookin’ around the gas at the tank until they found


where the it was leakin’ so that they could plug it up. So it just shows ya like some a the things you have to do.
So there was a fair bit of clever improvisation going on?
Oh improvisation all round I think. They in fact when I was at the school of military engineering the


Americans were there from Guadalcanal at the school and I explained that to ’em and they reckoned that was the best idea ever they seen but it was just you know things that you gotta try and learn but we improvised quite a bit.


Like with the mi, both with the mines. In fact we had
Was it dangerous tampering with the mines?
Well we lost a whole platoon with the mines. Not a platoon, a whole section. We were pickin’ the mines up. Takin’ ’em from one spot


to put ’em in the other. You know these bloody gypo mines and they’d loaded ’em up in the truck and one a the chaps when he picked the mine up he mustn’t a taken the detonator out and he left one a the detonators in and when they were goin’ to take ’em to the other spot, they all got on the truck


and the mine went off. Blew the lot of ’em. Never found any. They it was a big blow to the whole of the unit I think that just one chap bein’ careless and thought he had the, oh he mightn’t a realised that he left it in there.
How many blokes do you reckon you lost that day?
Well we lost eleven men that day


but we had a chap, he was Sergeant Steinbeck. I reckon if ever a man needed a Victoria Cross he did. We went out one day when the Teller mines were first


used. Teller mine was a German mine and he reckoned they was a better mine than ours. So he decided he’d go out and see how many he could pinch. He went out to this German minefield. He said, “I want a hundred” and they a mine like that, a round circular one, and you could either


the booby trap ’em four ways and fortunate none a them were booby trapped. He got a hundred a them. Brought ’em back and put ’em in our minefield. The crowd that went out with him they wanted to leave Simmons, the


apparently they had a big Italian vehicle like the Italians they took over quite a few a their vehicles and when they come up to pick the mines up where they’d put ’em the Germans must a seen what was goin’ on and they started to open fire but he wanted his hundred mines and he stayed there and he got ’em.


He finished up goin’ to when they come back to Australia he went to the coast watchers. I never heard of him after that and what happened to him or anything. He’s one a the real good soldiers though. I think he come from South Australia.
So you


picked up the ins and outs of mines fairly quickly by the sounds of things.
Yeah. Yes you got very adaptable and very cautious of them too. Especially like if they had anything a bit dubious around ’em. You didn’t you took your care see what it was


but we done a fair bit a minelaying, like the unit, in the early part but after the biggest part was identifying the minefields with the sandstorm. Like the only way you had to identify a minefield was by puttin’


stones round it to indicate it was there and if the too much sand’d cover the stones. You used to build ’em about that high and it’s quite like they say, a desert, but it’s quite a few rocks are layin’ around you know in the desert but it was really a


thing that you had to learn yourself. No one could teach ya but you seemed to know exactly what you was doin’. That’s the main thing.
What how did you go for water while you were there? Was there much water around?
No well water mostly came they did have a distilling plant there


but it wouldn’t distil enough water for ya needs and the water come from artesian water and after ya use it for a certain while it started to go a bit brackish but it was very scarce. You was only well you only got a water bottle filled every morning and that was your


ration. You filled your water bottle up once in the mornin’. There’s a water point on out in the El Addan Road and there was a down in one a the waddies it was the big pumpin’ station and fortunately they never were able to hit the


pumping station with a bomb.
there an occasion that you and a mate decided you’d try and get your hands on some extra water?
Extra water? Yes.
Can you tell us about that?
Yeah. Well as I said, this Bruce Buzzle


he said to me he said, “We need extra water.” He said, “We just can’t exist on the water we’ve got. You can’t even shave yourself and that of a morning.” He said, “And we’ve gotta shave ourself.” So he said to me, “Those Pommies on the water


point out on the El Addan Road,” he said, “when a air raid comes over,” he said, “they seem to leave that water pump and go into their foxholes.” He said, “Be a good time to go and see if you could get some.” So we loaded oh I think about four or five forty-four gallon drums up on the truck and we go and wait there for the raid to come over. The air raid comes and sure enough, away they


go. So we were just about finished five drums and the captain of our unit, ah what was his name? I just forget his name but he comes along. “What are ya doin’ here?” “We’re gettin’ some water.” “Don’t you


know you’re not supposed to get that?” I said, “Well we’re a bit short of water.” and he said, “Well I’m gonna put you on a charge sheet,” and so he went back and seen Buttle. I said, “He’s gonna put me on a charge sheet.” He said, “Oh don’t worry about him,” he says. “He’s too officious.” So that’s what the last I heard of it. So
Did you find…
…it got a bit. Sorry, go on.


Well we brought it back and he distributed a drum round each one a the other platoons. So like it wasn’t all for himself but the water was the thing that was very valuable but no one knows how scarce it was.


Even the cooking. You had to be careful with the cooking that you didn’t put too much water in the bully beef.
Did you find that you got a little bit blasé about the air raids after a while?
No. You seemed to get enough warning about an air raid coming. They seemed to warn ya about an air raid and like they


had a kind of a war air raid warning siren going and you can guarantee within about three or four minutes after that the air raid’d come but fortunately it was mostly to the air raid come on the harbour or for the ack-ack gun position. They never seemed to attack the front line. You


always kept yourself out of the harbour when the air raid siren come.
Did any of your blokes get into sticky situations with those air raids at any stage?
Well I think there was only one time that I think it was about the Easter Monday, we


was on stand by for in case they broke through and they come over strafing and the planes you could see the pilot in the plane and they come over strafing and that’s about the closest that they really on a actual the strafing


but fortunately no one was hit. cause the whole of the unit was more or less together there.
Interviewee: James Tattersall Archive ID 1717 Tape 05


Welcome back from lunch.
Thank you.
I guess one of the things I’m finding amazing is the fact that you guys right from the start were in there clearing mines, laying mines and stuff with without any training and practice.
Well the practice come by usin’ the mines, like locatin’ the mines. The first mine detector we used


it was not really adequate to say, like the modern mine detector these days but it was like sufficed. It gave you a kind of a ring but you must remember there’s a lot of shrapnel around that locate something that wasn’t there.
And so you had those electric mine


Oh yes. We had mine detectors.
If you do detect a mine with one of those, what’s the procedure?
Well you get a ringing in the ear like kind of a buzz and you locate what is underneath. It comes on metal and once you detect that you just take the earth gradually away from it to see what it


is and once you locate and see what it is, the thing is very simple then. You know whether or not it’s got a booby trap on it and you make sure that it’s that part of it’s deloused before you try to move it.
So how would those booby traps be triggered?
Well some a them were triggered in different ways. Some of them you’d trip ’em. Some of them you pull ’em


So sometimes those mines would have other mines underneath them or something or
No, generally the fitting went into the booby trap went into the original mine. Like with the Teller mine they had four holes and you put the booby trap into one a these holes it’d go off and the S mine, it was really an anti-personnel where you tripped it.


Either tripped it or pulled it. They were the German mines.
How sort of nerve wracking is that work?
Well you nearly is takin’ a risk every time you went looking for mines but one thing it did teach ya was to be very careful. You couldn’t take any risk.


Some of the other sappers that I’ve spoken to talk about the difficulty in balancing confidence with overconfidence and diligence with carelessness. Did you find that problem, that you got too blasé?
Well, as I said, that was when they was pickin’ those mines up to transfer ’em one place. That was overconfidence. Like the chap must a realised that oh he never realised what he was doing


but you always seem to know when you’re in a minefield that you had to be careful. You couldn’t take a risk. Not only for your own sake but whoever was with ya.
The mines that you were clearing around Tobruk, when had they been laid?
Well most a them had been laid by Italians,


like the Italian mine but like when the Germans started to take over they used the Teller mine and the S mines but I think you’d find more Italian mines originally laid round Tobruk and actually they weren’t a very big problem. Like you just lifted a flap over, had a look whilst it was inside and you knew straight


away where the detonator was. You just removed it. Once a detonator’s removed the mine’s useless.
And once you’d defused or removed the detonators from those mines what would you do? Just leave them or take them away somewhere else?
Well most of the Italian mines we picked up. We brought ’em back to our dump where we had a dump and, as I said, we


more or less renovated our own mines with ’em.
What was your relationship like with the frontline infantry battalions you were working with?
Well I found ’em very good and very reliable. Like if they told you like there was a chap by the name Dick Chalmers, he was one of the sergeants there and any time you went out with him you knew


what he was sayin’ was the exact what you’d find and like we went out with him a couple a times. They used to have that Cooma listening post. I went out with him quite a few time, well not quite a few but a few times with him and he was very reliable and all the men they really trusted him. One time we went out


after one a those guns that was firin’ into Tobruk Harbour and he was a lieutenant, a young lieutenant, and everything he told ya like when the a machine gun opened up he knew exactly where it was firing, what it was doing, if it was firing on fixed line or spraying


and you had every confidence that he was telling you right and like long as ya took notice of him, you had no troubles. He was only a young I never even knew his name to tell ya the truth. Like he was out the 2/9th Battalion and you had every confidence that he was leadin’ ya out to the right way.


It was unfortunate they had three machine guns (UNCLEAR) damn gun but like when he’s talkin’ to me he said, “Two a these are German machine guns and there’s one Italian.” He said, “I’m not frightened of the Italian guns,” he said, “that bloody German gun is the trouble.” So apparently he must a had a lot of experience with ’em.


when you went outside the perimeter with the infantry patrols what were you going with them to do?
Well like mostly we’d guide ’em through the minefield if we was goin’ through a minefield. To guide ’em through a minefield you used to lay white tape down and they had to keep inside the white tape because you’d pick the minefield the mines up in between that white tape.


After they got through, well you’d wait until they come back and you know whatever they were doin’. They’d just have a reconnaissance patrol and like I don’t think they was lookin’ for trouble half the time.
So the path through the minefield was one that you had left in the minefield or one that you’d cleared?
No, no you had to lift the mines up. There was no actual path through it.


These were your own minefields?
Yeah our own minefield. Mm.
Okay, so you’d just open a gate for them and
Then put the mines back after they’d returned?
That’s right.
And you what do you think they thought of you guys?
Well I think they had a pretty good opinion of us. We seemed to be able to work with ’em pretty well. There was no problems as far as their working is concerned.


So besides mine laying and mine clearing you mentioned you had to help construct the blue line?
That’s right, yeah.
And you had some Sinaisi labourers
Yeah, they were Sinaisi. Some of ’em come from Khartoum and other places in the Sudan mostly and like different parts of Egypt. They were all Arabics.
Yeah I


guess in some places the Sinais also had a bit of a reputation of being a bit sly and a bit devious. Did you encounter anything like that?
Ah well the old colonel said, “You don’t leave anything layin’ around.” He said, “Because they own it once you leave it layin’ around.” So we never left anything that you know of any valuable.


Was most of the work you were doing in the day or the night?
Well it was both day and night. Like the when we were on paratroop patrol that was night-time. You would finish in the day on the blue line and you’d take these Arabs out and


they had two hours on, four hours off and you’d more or less wake them up and tell ’em to “Your turn.”
What was the climate like and how did it affect your work?
Well durin’ the day it was beautiful. Like you got like a summer’s day here


and then in the night-time it was just the opposite. Very cold and the desert was very cold in the night time and you really needed a blanket over you.
Was it when you were working in the day was the heat a problem?
No. No. It like it was you’d sweat but


the dust was a more of a problem than the heat.
So with the dust being an issue what chance did you have to wash?
Well if you was near the Mediterranean water you’d always have be able to have a swim there but the trouble is that you’re not always there and


like in the harbour it was too oily to swim in the harbour but outside was all right.
But aside from that there were no bathing facilities?
No. The like they’re supposed to shave every mornin’ and it was more or less a dry shave every mornin’. You couldn’t waste the water.
What were the standards of hygiene and sanitation like then?
Well it was pretty good like considering. It was


like in the ground that you built the thunder boxes but the ground was that heavy. Fortunately we had the compressors and we was able to dig deeper than most people but like the sanitary wasn’t too bad.
Given that you were being


occasionally shelled or bombed and there were Germans around you, was it a very stressful place to be, Tobruk, for you?
Well to start with you really found it very stressful but towards the end you seemed to enjoy it more, put it that way. If you could a say enjoyin’ it but it wasn’t in fact


like when they more or less said that we were goin’ to be evacuated quite a few of ’em wondered why we were bein’ evacuated and apparent with the Australian government wanted us relieved out of Tobruk.
What interaction did you have with the other nationalities that were in the Tobruk perimeter?
Well when the Polish crowd took over from us


like I stayed behind for a few days to show ’em different things, different parts of the where the minefields was and they seemed to be able to speak English very well. They like it was only one or two that couldn’t understand what you were sayin’ but most of them, they understood everything you tell them


and as far as the English was concerned, well you had no trouble with them at all. Like I think they were glad of our company and we were glad a their company. Most a the English was like field artillery and ack-ack. Ah in fact on that map it tells you the exact units that was English


and what was Australian.
How much of a chance did you have to keep in touch with home?
Well it was only by letter writing and at that time you weren’t allowed to say where you were but I remember some a the chaps writin’ home but, especially from around Sydney, sayin’, “Well


it’s a little bit better than Rookwood.” That gave them the impression that you know things weren’t too good.
So how often would you write home?
Well to my mother and father and sisters and that probably about once a month but the wife I tried to write at least a once a week.


Like I knew that if I wrote to her she’d tell ’em that I was all right. In fact there’s a poem in that book that’s well worth repeating. It’s about a chap writing a letter home. Did you ever read it um
Anyway we I was gonna ask you what


did it mean to you to get letters from home then?
Not only a letter from home, other people, other chaps. They’d hand you their letter, “Read this,” and you used to read the other chap’s letter. There’s no privacy. Whatever went on in your family went on in some other family and like from letters from home


I actually knew where the wife’s brother was and where my own brother was.
So when the mail would turn up there’d be a great exchange of
As soon as the mail arrived everyone was down to collect it. It was a thing that really kept ya in touch. You knew how


things were goin’ at home and you were more interested in how good things was at home than how good things were over there.
You mentioned the ‘Tobruk Truth’, the little newspaper that they used to print up
That’s right.
Did you ever see any of the propaganda that the Germans were dropping around?
Well they used to drop leaflets every, well every couple a days askin’


us to surrender, we had no hope of gettin’ out and Lord Haw Haw, he was the man who used to use the propaganda and used to he used to come in quite regularly in the overseas transmission and you used to laugh at him you know. Thought it was a great joke but, “You’re like rats held


up in the hole,” he said, “and it’s only a matter of time before you gotta surrender.” Like that he was tellin’ us that the German navy had us blockaded. No chance a gettin’ past the German navy.
And how much did you see of the German navy?
I don’t think we seen ’em. In fact when I come out on the I come out on the HMS Harding.


I happened to talk to like a petty officer. I got talkin’ to him and he reckoned that to bring us the Australian troops out they had to come off the blockade between Italy and Benghazi and he reckoned that


they were sending, before they took ’em off the run, thirty thousand tonne a week was goin’ over to Benghazi and only eight thousand tonne was gettin’ through. So they must a sunk a fair bit.
How would you describe the morale amongst your unit during the Tobruk siege?
Well everyone


more or less, as I said, they were surprised that they were being withdrawn and I think every one of us would a been quite happy to stay there until they were actually able to fight their way out. Everyone I I’d spoke to they seemed surprised that we were gonna be relieved.
So prior to that everyone was coping fairly well?
Yeah. Like


unless you got sick or that you had no problem at all.
What were the common sorts of sicknesses?
Well there was what they used to call a desert fever. You it was caused by the flies more than anything and some of the troops suffered from it and I know
What did that do to you, desert fever?
Well a kind of a fever that you got. Something like dengue fever or something


like that but once you got rid of it, well it was you was right again.
What other sorts of sicknesses would be common amongst the troops?
Well apart from homesickness I don’t think too much.
Any gastric or anything like that?
Well there was very few cases of gastric around


there. Like I don’t think too many of ’em like you may have had it a loose motion some a the time but most a the time was pretty good.
Ah you mentioned that eleven blokes got blown up one day by mistake. Were there other men that were lost during the time from 2/4th Field Company?
Ah yeah. Yes, we lost like that chap,


Bernie Wilkinson. There’s big Fitzy, Fitzsimmons I think his name was. There’s a chap from Darwin, I just forget his name.
Were these usually through accidents or through enemy action?
No, enemy. Like big Fitzy was out on a patrol one night and they like we used to go out with the infantry on patrol and just


unfortunately he the chap by name of Whitfield I think, he lost one of his hands. He was evacuated. Quite a few, Charlie Hawker, he was evacuated, he got wounded and like just wounds not serious, well they


was wounds serious enough but
I guess when you’re playing around with minefields then legs and hands are common things to go.
Yeah. Tony Cooper was another one. He was hit by a mortar shell, or a mortar shell exploded near him. He was evacuated.
Did you ever actually see the enemy or it was just shells and bombs?
Nah. No. Mostly in the dark. You don’t see too many men in the dark.


So you they were just kind of out there around you but
Not in sight?
Yeah. In the like in the distance you wouldn’t know. You knew they was people but you couldn’t say, “He was a German or Italian or…” A thing that astounds me, like that Tobruk cemetery


was like the 2/4th Field Company, chap by the name of Dick Sands. He designed that memorial and it’s the memorial that stands today but there’s a cemetery that’s about thirty kilometres sou’west of Tobruk that was used when those on the desert up there’s about three thousand men there.


It’s called Knightsbridge. I don’t know how it got its name but that cemetery there is pretty big. There’s about three thousand allied soldiers there. I don’t know how why it’s not mentioned more often. Has anyone mentioned that?
The cemetery outside Tobruk or
Not from memory, and that’s where your 2/4th casualties are buried is it?


most of the 6th infantry, 6th Div Infantry. Infantry on their push up to Benghazi and the 2nd ah the 9th Div. They have some buried there and quite a few English chaps and there’s Germans and Italians there.
The men who were in 2/4th Field Company with you, were they mainly from Sydney or


from whereabouts?
Well originally it was Sydney. Formed in Sydney. Some a the officers was Victorian and Queensland but most a the units was formed out a Sydney and the like the militia like before the war


they were based in North Sydney and the showground and a lot a NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] come out of that, and the officers.
How would you describe the junior officers that you were led by?
Ah like the officers themselves?
Yeah. What’s your opinion of that leadership? Say not at a high level but


lieutenant, captain sort of level?
Well most a them rose up through the ranks. Most a them finished up lieutenant colonel. They like when they come back from the Middle East the army was expanded because Japan was in the war and most of them rose
Were they good for did you think they were good leaders?


Well I reckoned they was exceptional. Like that Bruce Buttle, he was and there’s a chap by the name of Brooks. He was one of our junior officers and like they all had university educations.
When you


were in Tobruk what rank were you holding?
I was only a corporal.
Not only a corporal surely, you know. Corporal’s an important one. It does the work.
What do you mean that don’t work. Good God I worked
I said the corporals
I worked harder
I said the corporals are the ones that do all the work. So how did you come to be evacuated out of Tobruk?
Well I come out the unit was evacuated


about three or four days before me and I come out on the HMS Harding and we joined the company back at Amiriya in Egypt and as I was sayin’, the we rejoined all the Italian prisoners of war that was held there because they had the purple patch on the in their backside to identify. We claimed ’em all


as 7th Div engineers.
Because you also had a purple diamond as your
Yeah, well that was our colour patch, the purple diamond.
How did you feel when you pulled out of Tobruk?
Well I was quite happy to leave. Come back more or less to civilisation because it you couldn’t say it was a civilised area there and


like the first day in Alexandria was something, like Amiriya’s just outside of Alexandria.
So did you celebrate a little bit?
Well to tell you the truth I very seldom drunk in the in fact it was quite a while before the end of the war before I had a drink.
I must also ask you how you felt later on


when you heard that Tobruk had been given away almost?
Well I tell ya what, we was very disappointed. Like after they broke out, they broke out quite easy and they was back in like the 2/13th Battalion was back in Egypt soon after and I reckon we


would a been had the same glory as 2/13th Battalion and like they were the only unit that stayed behind. They come out in December.
But then when Tobruk was later lost
Oh well
How did you feel about that given the blood, sweat and tears that you’d shed in Tobruk?
Well one thing we couldn’t understand how


they were overrun it so easy and I don’t blame Altonet gettin’ the bullet over it. Like he was in charge of the like of the operations there and that’s when they transferred him out to I think that they transferred him out to southeast Asia didn’t they? India or one a those places.


From Alexandria where did the unit move off to?
Well we first moved up to Palestine and it was then I was able to go and see the wife’s brother. He was I knew he was in the camp just down the road. I went and seen him.
What unit was he in?
He was in the


2/2nd light ack-ack and it was good to see him. I hadn’t seen him since we’d left home and he was just as pleased to see me I think, someone from home, and we weren’t in Palestine very


long before we moved up to a place in Syria. It was Syria at the time. They call it Beirut now. We moved up to Ras Baalbek and there was quite a difference in like the climate. The nights up there were very cold.


Colder than down in Palestine and place like that and that’s where we found the climate a bit it was up on the Turkish border like, Ras Baalbek. It wasn’t long there we was only there for about a fortnight, and they we moved over to Tripoli and that trip over to


Tripoli really opened our eyes. We were come over the big mountain range there, what they all the Cedars, and that trip was worth goin’ over to the Middle East to see.
Why? Just for the scenery?
Just the scenery, yeah and like when you come over


onto the Mediterranean side, that blue water of the Mediterranean was worth seein’. We come down through Beirut and then further north up the coast to Tripoli. We went into the oil barracks there. I was only there for about I wouldn’t a been there a week and I went out


with these about oh be about three hundred labourers buildin’ the road up towards the Cedars, from Zagorta, and that’s where they all they gave me a plan where the road was going and it went through near a monastery


and in the monastery was these, well I thought they was dead trees and it showed ya the road goin’ through these dead trees and ‘course just knocked ’em over and the old chap who in charge of the monastery he come out like a ravin’ lunatic wantin’ to know why I was knockin’ his trees over. I said, “Oh they’re dead.”


“They’re not dead, they’re olive trees and that’s the way they are when they lose their leaves.” I said, “Well I didn’t know that” and I said, “this is where the road has gotta go” and I tried to show him the map but he wasn’t interested in the map. He raced off and all the Arabs, apparently they knew that they was olive trees


and they were laughin’ their heads off and thought it was a great joke but next mornin’ who should drive up was Major General Laverick. He come over and he said, “You seem to be in a bit a trouble.” I said, “No. I’m in no trouble. Why, what’s the trouble?” He said, “Well we’ve had a report you’ve been knockin’ olive trees over.”


I said, “Well that’s where the road’s goin’.” He said, “Have you got the plan there?” and I showed him the plan. He said, “Oh yeah.” He said, “It couldn’t go anywhere else could it?” I said, “Well I don’t think so.” I said, “Cause there’s a ravine on the left hand side and the monastery on the other.” So


he said to me, “I see you got a cuppa tea on here. Can we have a cuppa tea?” I said, “Yep. You have a cuppa.” Anyhow he had a cuppa tea with us and as he was leavin’ he said, “Don’t worry about those. We’ll fix it up.” So and he finished up bein’ the Governor of Queensland and he was a very nice chap. Easy to talk to and


he didn’t seem to be worried about his olive trees but I believe they compensated ’em for the trees.
I bet there was a compensation claim that went in, I’m sure of it.
I’d go and see (UNCLEAR).
I’m sure by the time the compensation claim got there
There was three hundred trees that were on the claim but it’s nice you had a cup a tea with the major general.
That’s a nice story.


Again, I’m kind of interested in the fact that you here you were building a road but you didn’t have any real road building..
No. Oh no.
Construction experience did you?
No. All that the they built the roads they’d bring in a load a ballast and these chaps they’d knock ’em into shape in the road and that was the ballast for the road and then they’d bring in more or less crushed


sandstone and lay it on top. That’s all it was and the you had to get the right camber on the road to for the water to run off and they seemed to make a good road.
So what were you doing? Just supervising their labour gang were you?
Yeah. Yeah.
Still it’s a lot of responsibility for somebody who’s not an engineer by trade.
Well you soon learn.


Where we were in camp we was more or less the 2/5th ah the 2/6th Field Regiment was there and they used to have a truck goin’ in for leave and quite awhile we were you know just finished for the day and goin’ in the tent and make our own


amusement. They had like a kind of a hall that they played table tennis in and this George Pyre he said, “Hey, this is no good to me.” He said, “They go into leave into Tripoli every now and again.” He said, “How ’bout findin’ out?” They had a Salvation Army chap as a kind of a


community officer there and so I said to him, “How do these chaps go in for leave?” I said, “We’re got there’s twelve of us here and we haven’t been into Tripoli for quite a while.” “Leave it to me.” And the chap the adjutant he went and seen him and he said, “Once a week you’ll get a leave pass.” So he gave us a leave pass into Tripoli and


I’ll never forget we was in Tripoli this after awhile and this George Pyre he never liked the movies. We all used to go to the movies and that but keep together but George, he always wanted to go and have a drink. So we leave him here this night and when we come to pick the


bus like the truck back up to the camp, it was a fair way out of Tripoli where we were, no George. So we said, “Well we can’t leave here and go home,” get the truck used to leave at a certain time every night. So we chased around to try and find George and we finished up


finding him. He was quite drunk. So we wondered how we’d get back and one a the chaps suggested, like the contractor he lived in Tripoli. “We’ll go and wake him up and ask him to drive us back.” So we goes down and knocks on the door and a lady come out and, “What do ya want?”


I said, “We’re after
Interviewee: James Tattersall Archive ID 1717 Tape 06


Ready to go another round mate?
Good on ya. Jim, if you could just pick up that story for us. The one with George
You found him again and you had approached the house.
Well we knocked on the door and the lady come and she said the, I think his name was Mustafa or some name like that, “He’s not here. He’s down in Beirut,” and


Charlie Weston said to her, “Can we borrow your truck? Can we borrow it to get back to camp?” She said, “Oh no, no. I couldn’t lend you the truck. Not with one a youse drivin’.” She said, “If you like I’ll drive ya out.” So she drove us back out to camp. That’s how we got back out and next mornin’ George turned round and said to me he said,


“That was a beautiful lady you had in that car ah truck. What’s her name?” I said, “George, you were too drunk even to know what she was like.” “Oh,” he said, “with the women,” he said, “I can find out how good they are.” So poor old George. He
Bit of a scallywag old George.
That’s where we had to bring him out of most a the time but


he’s a very likeable chap, George. Did you ever meet him, George Pyre? He lived at Gosford.
So how long were you there working on the road in Tripoli?
Well we worked there unto just after Christmas in 1941. It would a been about a week or two weeks


into the New Year and America had come into the war and we gradually went back to Palestine and from Palestine we had a new OC [Officer in Command], chap by the name of Jelbart, and he took over from Frankie Irwin, and he was the OC comin’ back to Australia.


I got on pretty well with Jelbart. He never seen eye to eye with some a the officers but he I seemed to get on all right with him and we caught the New Amsterdam out a Port Tewfik back to Bombay and we transferred to a smaller boats. We


was on the Dilwarra and the other boat was the Navarsa and we sailed to Colombo and I think we was in Colombo for about a fortnight. Some of them sayin’, “They don’t know whether to send us to Rangoon or


back to Australia.” He like Curtin wanted us back in Australia and the English government wanted us to go to Rangoon.
So you didn’t get any official word? You were just hearing rumours?
Just wait and you know wait and but I think most of it the trouble was, the Japanese navy was very active in the area and they had to more or less find


a time for us to set sail because some after some days we’d set sail and we’d finish up back in Colombo and I think that’s what it was. The Japanese fleet may have been too active on the way back to Australia but it to fill in the time there we had lifeboat races


and we had a pretty good crew as far as the rowing was concerned and a couple a times we won. A couple a times we lost.
Were you one of the rowers?
Yeah, I rowed and Tony Nicholson and a chap by the name of Williams. I, it was all pretty big beefy men and


the chap who was the coxswain he was off the ship. Like he was one a the crew and he was pretty good. He used to always tell ya to try and get in where the current was past us. Current helped us a lot but event
Sorry, go on.
We eventually sailed for Colombo.
What do you think the blokes were hoping for at that


stage? Were they keen to find some action or were they keen to go home?
No, I think most of them realised that by that time the Japanese were startin’ to Singapore had fallen, or Thailand had already been invaded and Indochina as it was named, Vietnam, the French had already


surrendered that. So more or less and they were invadin’ the Philippines. So more or less had to more or less hopin’ to get back to Australia.
And that’s the way you felt at the time?
Oh yeah. Yes. I nothing like home in a case like that but we landed in Adelaide, come back to Adelaide.


We got a the on the train and we went up to Tenterfield and from Tenterfield we was given seven days leave and after that we come back to Tenterfield.
What did you do with your seven days?
Well I seen the wife and
And how did that reunion go?


Well she was very pleased to see us and so was mum and my sisters and a couple a days I went and worked for Dad durin’ the leave but it was half hearted work I can tell ya that.
Never a moment’s peace.
Yeah but I think mum was very pleased to see us


and the sisters and they made too much of a fuss of us, that was the trouble, but like when the leave was over we knew you had to get back to camp and that’s all about it and Tenterfield at that time a the year was pretty cold. Like it was gettin’ towards end of March by the time we got up to Tenterfield.


We weren’t there very long then we moved up to Kilcoy up in north a Brisbane. Not much farther north but it was north and the other units they were around and we started do a bit a work. Like lookin’ around as far as the reconnaissance was concerned.


What one like a big ravine what they called Campbell’s Pocket and we done a lot of surveying in that area to see what could be done there but we weren’t really doin’ very much except you know lookin’ around to see what could be fortified.
As far as developing the Brisbane


Developin’ yeah but round about August I come back to School a Military Engineerin’ and the unit, they moved down to Brisbane and went up to Milne Bay.
Was that a shock to you? To suddenly get pulled out to do that training?
Did you know that was coming?
We were quite surprised


that we went over to New Guinea so quick. Like one time we was there at Kilcoy and down on the Brisbane wharf a couple a days later the boat sailed ’em up to Brisbane. I never went up to Milne Bay. I went down to the School of Military Engineerin’.
How did you feel about that?


when I first got there I felt out a place to tell you the truth.
Were you disappointed that you weren’t still with the unit?
Well in a way but it was something different and the fact that you’re closer to home and you it made a big difference as far as that is concerned.
So where was the school?


Casula. Just outside of Sydney. You know where it is? At it was a very pretty good school there and it was staffed mostly by permanent soldiers. That was the staff, the nucleus, and we were just comin’ back from the Middle East


where more or less we was able to impart into the students that was goin’ through some of the knowledge we gained there. Our first influx that I was there was quite a few a the Americans from Guadalcanal was on the first course and those Americans


they were bein’ trained, like they’d been in some of them had been in the army ten or fifteen years and they were trained as engineers and they really knew what to do as much as we knew anyway but
Did that make it awkward for you trying to
Well, no
Work with them?
They seemed to be quite happy to


understand that they well a thing they couldn’t understand, like when I was talkin’ to them they said to me “How long you been in the army?” and I told ’em. “And you’re a volunteer?” I said, “Well, yeah that’s the only way this army’s run of ours is you’ve got to volunteer.” He said, “Don’t they conscript you to go in this goddamn army?” I


said, “No. No. You volunteer,” and he couldn’t understand it. He was shakin’ his head. As I think we should a been in a giggle suit accordin’ to him but
So how many of you were taken to the school to start instructing?
Well there was a the team I come down with there was a Major Taylor,


Dick Yates, Adrian Griffin, Bertie Reddick. There would a been about twenty of us altogether come down. Some of them


like they were officers besides me. Like I was only an NCO. I come down there as a warrant officer and
Thackeray, he was WO1 [Warrant Officer – Class 1] and


like there was a quite a sprinkling of officers and NCOs.
So what sort of things were you instructing on?
Well I was with Ray Taylor, Major Taylor, a


lot and he was in like explosives and sometimes I used to go with Bertie Reddick. He was in water supply. They each taught a different subject. Major Sheen, he was a mathematics teacher and I tell ya


what, he could he’d leave ya standin’ but a funny thing you know unless you sat down with him like when he had a class I used to come sometimes into his classes and he used to put figures on the board you couldn’t understand but if you sat down with him and talked to him he could teach ya and he taught me most of me maths and


I think that was the trouble. He couldn’t impart his knowledge to a class and yet individually he could teach ya.
Pardon me. Couldn’t hold that. Sorry Jim.
Yep. Like in the bridge building we


they designed a well there’s a chap by the Major General Steel, he designed the steel bridge. It was more or less a permanent structure that he was tryin’ to design and we had a steel bridge there that we used to play with and it wasn’t until just before I left they got the


bailey bridge there and that was really a good bridge, the bailey bridge. We
Why was it so good?
Well, it was easy to construct. It come in panels and you could put the panels together it’s like a Meccano set. You put ’em together and just roll ’em out on big rollers. You could roll it over a gap of a hundred feet quite easy.


You balanced it from one end to the other so that it’d roll and that finished up the major bridge at the end of the war, the Bailey bridge. I think they used it in Europe quite extensively and you could assemble it so that it had three storeys on it, three lots a panels. The only time we


ever were called upon to use it was up in Balikpapan. It only had a like a single storey but was quite a good bridge though.
Where was it developed?
In England. It was an English bridge. They had designed it more or less for the Norman invasion I think.


what aspect of the instructing which element of it did you enjoy the most?
Well I think the most satisfaction of it that you was able to impart certain knowledge to other people that were just coming through. Like young NCOs. Most of them was sergeants or something like that


and you was able to give ’em first hand information on different aspects of what was required of ’em.
Do you think you were a good teacher?
Well I don’t know but I seemed to get by and well the fact that when Major Taylor went back to the 2/4th


we was all supposed to go back together and he this McGowan asked for me asked him to leave me there for another few months that he got better replacements. So I couldn’t a been too bad.
So were you able to leave base while you were doing that work often?
Well, no. Ya some weekends


you had Saturday and Sunday off but mostly you worked the Saturday and you only had Sunday off and then that Sunday you stayed in camp but if you a full weekend you was out for the weekend. Able to go home.
So you were able to see family and the wife occasionally?
Oh yeah. Yeah.


In fact some a the times like you had to stay in camp she could come up and visit the camp and have lunch with me at in the camp. She done it a couple a times but
So were you thinking at that point that you’d be happy to continue just doing that, the instructing, or were you feeling keen to


rejoin the unit and get more involved in the combat?
No. Well I would have rather been back with the chaps I knew. cause like even when I went back went got back to camp there were quite a few a the chaps who were there when I left were still there. Jackie Simpson, he was there and Jack Dow, Rusty Burke. You know quite a few of them I could


name. Jackie Davin, Billy O’Keefe. They were all there and like I knew them. Some a them had moved on. George Bryan he went back to Wagga but I found like the I would have rather been with the unit and cause when ya come up


against these students you must remember, some a them are majors and things like that and they had a university education against my seventh class education and you realised that you although you’d learnt a lot, technically they knew more than you.
Did they have a respect for you because of your direct experience?


Oh no, they seemed to accept ya. They some a them even the officers instructors there they seemed you seemed to get on quite well with ’em and a chap by the name a Captain Kim I got on well with him and the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] there he was a


World I veteran and he seemed to smooth the path right through for ya. cause I think he knew more about the engineerin’ than most a these other people cause he was a permanent army. He like after the First World War he stayed in the army.
What were the living conditions like in Casula?
They were


very good. You lived in like a hut and each one had a individual bed. It was only about I think about three a you in the room and that was pretty good. They were pretty big rooms and you seemed to be able to get on with the


people who was domiciled with ya. In fact one a the chaps he related to that Ezra Norton, Dick Thackery his name, and that Ezra Norton, the Sydney hoop, that was his uncle and he liked the races


this Dick Thackeray. He used to go out every other long weekend go out with races with him quite often but I don’t know what happened to him. He was supposed to go back to the unit the same time as me but he never he would a taken over as the RSM up there but I he never got back. So I don’t know really what happened to him.
So it sounds like


it was a fairly comfortable time for you.
It was very, very comfortable. Ya seemed to be able to meet a lot a different personnel coming in all the time. The course that lasted around about six weeks and then you get another course in and they keep changin’ the course over. You met people


from all different walks of life. They didn’t seem to worry you where you come from or what you done or anything like that and one thing about it, when you was talkin’ to the like the officer students, they didn’t seem to worry that they was only talkin’ to a warrant officer or anything like that. They


just accepted the fact that they was in the army and you was in the army but
So you put in about twelve months instructing at Casula?
round about twelve months, yeah and like of a weekend you’d be comin’ back to camp


and the Americans were at Warwick Farm, big American camp there, and you’d come back and you’d get mixed in with them and they were quite good company. One thing about it, they could talk. They really could talk. They’d tell ya where they come from. Alabama and I


was fascinated by their you know their drawl but
Did you have any issue with them as far as their tendency to throw money around the local girls and charm their socks off?
Well that was the general idea. They were the trouble was they were better dressed than us. They their uniform


fitted ’em and that was it seemed as if it was tailor made. I remember the first uniform I got, my mother had to remake the damn thing and she spent a lot of time you know fixing it up just to fit me but they always seemed to be


well dressed. Always presentable and they certainly had the gift of the gab. They could talk but I had no trouble with ’em. They in fact the American soldier I think he’s just as good as an Australian


soldier. He’s the only difference with the American he was more liberal. Like if he was wearin’ something and you said, “Oh gee whiz I like that.” “Do ya want it mate?” and he’d probably give you some of the uniform. You couldn’t do that with an Australian. He’d have to account for his uniform


but I had no worries with the Americans.
So when did you get word that you were finally moving on from Casula?
From Casula? Well I’m not too sure of the date but McGowan, Colonel McGowan he turned round and said, “We’ll be sendin’ you back to your unit,”


and he more or less gave me the instructions where I had to report to, Sydney Central Station. To the transit officer there and he he’d take care a me from there. I reported back to him and he told me to come back in a week’s time.


So I had to go home for a week and I reported back as soon as he said. I gave him the papers again, he said, “Oh you’ll be goin’ out about two o’clock in the afternoon. You’re goin’ to a staging camp up at just out


Indooroopilly up there in outside a Brisbane.” I got up there and I was there for about a damn month and I said, “I’m supposed to go back to the unit,” and every time they turned round and told me to go and take charge of a work party that went out loadin’ forty-four gallon drums out at the petrol dump.


We used to load so many trailers a these forty-four gallon drums and that was the day’s work. I was there quite awhile until this Captain Merry, you ever met him? He was the chap in charge of the gatherin’ all the 7 Div engineers together at the staging camp at Strathpine. Like they were goin’ to come out a the


Ramu Valley and when I bumped into him in Brisbane he said, “Where in the bloody hell you been?” and I told him. He said, “Well you should a been back here.” He said, “I’ll see ya back there pretty quick,” and a couple a days later I was back in Strathpine. I stayed there until the unit come back off leave then


and then we moved up to, no they were there for quite awhile and we moved out to the Brisbane outside a to Ipswich to a bridging school at Dinmore and I think we was there for there for about a month before we moved north again up to the Tablelands.
So how was it


reuniting with the unit?
Beg your pardon?
How did it feel?
To be reunited?
I was quite happy to rejoin ’em and…
What had the unit been up to in your absence?
Well they’d been first of all they went over to Milne Bay. They were part of the 18th Brigade at Milne Bay and when they finished there they went into Oro Bay.


That’s just a place just south of Buna and Gona and then they come back to Australia and then they went up again into the Ramu Valley. They supported the 18th brigade up into Shaggy Ridge. They seen plenty of action they did. They’d


So they had plenty of stories to tell you?
Oh yeah. Yes. They reckon I missed the best part of the war and I reckon I did too but quite a few of them had malaria. In fact the brother, he come home a couple a times on leave and all he done was stay in bed with malaria but


the other chap he went with, like the other brother, he was with the armoured div before he went into the air force. When he went into the air force before he went overseas and he reckoned it was the only way of goin’ overseas was to get out a the armoured div because they was over in Western Australia. So that’s why he joined the air


force, to get away from West Australia and the other youngest brother when he joined up he went into a survey regiment and they were towards the end of, well in 1940 and he went over, ’44 rather, he went over to New Ireland. He was over there


for quite awhile and the war finished when he was over there.
So hearing all the stories that the boys passed on about what you’d missed out on, I imagine that would have made you even keener to sort of get over there
And get involved in something.
Yeah. Yes. I was quite


happy when they mentioned, in fact for a time they thought we may have went into Morotai or one a those places for the invasion but the Yanks done that themselves and the Philippines, a lot of ’em was hopin’ that we’d be involved in the Philippines but I think [General Douglas] MacArthur wanted that for himself. So


you were back with the unit. You did the bridging course?
Bridging course?
And how long did that one go for?
Well we was up there for at Dinmore for about a month and then we went up onto the Tablelands.
And what did what happened in the Tablelands?
Well we done a fair bit a training on the Tablelands. We was at


Kirai [?] and I think that’s about the first time that the 7 Div engineers was all together since Ingleburn and we done a fair bit of training. We used to come down to Cairns for different amphibious training


and things like that on Trinity Bay and we was moved around quite a bit there. Trinity Bay and out on the Mulgrave River for bridging, like pontoon bridging was mainly the Mulgrave River and different times we moved around quite a bit but


it was a very pleasant place up there on the Tablelands. I found it quite interesting. It we used to have swimming carnivals up there in Lake Eatram and Lake Burine and able to get around and have a look.
You enjoyed the countryside?
Yep. Oh I reckon the best part of Australia up there but


the people around, especially around Gordonvale, there was a big shearin’ mill there. They were very sociable and hospital, hospitable. They seemed to enjoy the troops bein’ there. In fact the cricket


was on there the other day and the camera was showin’ some of the mountain ranges and Yorkie’s Knob, they picked Yorkie’s Knob up and I said to Betty I said, “That’s Yorkie’s Knob there,” but it showed the mountain range just around Cairns. Some of the features you could still pick up.
So you’d get an opportunity


to mix with locals on weekends and the like would you?
Oh yeah, yes. We on the weekend a funny thing like Ray Taylor used to, he was our OC [Officer in Command], he used to let us take a jeep and just drive round the countryside and sometimes we’d drive down to Babinda. It was down on the


Johnson River, Babinda, and you’re able to meet the local people down there and down to Gordonvale and one day we decided we’d go down to just have a look around and there was a hotel on a railway line. That’s the only


thing that was there, the station and the hotel, and we called into the hotel there and the lady who run the hotel she said, “I’m sorry boys, there’s no drink here.” She said, “The husband he’s gone into Cairns to get the beer.” She said, “He hasn’t come back yet. We don’t know when he’ll be back. He should have been back here before lunch.” Five


o’clock, no husband. So we left the hotel cause there’s no beer. I reckoned that’s where they got the song, ‘The Pub With No Beer’ from.
So how long were you in that area doing that training before you left?
Well I reckon


we were moved up there in round about October ‘44. We left to go over to Balikpapan in round about June.
Interviewee: James Tattersall Archive ID 1717 Tape 07


Jim, the I guess the unit had been sitting around at Atherton for quite some time before you got anywhere.
That’s quite right. Yeah.
How did the morale go being stuck up there for so long?
Well they were certainly gettin’ a bit fidgety but like the fact that they was able to have so many sporting contests and things like that kept ’em occupied and


we were moving from the Tablelands down to Cairns and Cairns back to the Tablelands and down to the Mulgrave River and things like that. Kept ya kept ’em occupied and like each different site gave ’em a different atmosphere, especially at on Trinity Bay. That was where the surf was down there and


gave ’em something to do.
Was there any feeling that you might be missing the end of the war?
Well I think a lot of the people or the troops thought they had been left out with the invasion of the Philippines. They seemed to think that we should a been involved in that but


some a the others island hopping like Owen Harbour and Iwo Jima, the casualties was too high to appreciate it and the Americans done it by themselves and
Was there any feeling that Australia had almost been superseded by the Americans in the Pacific?
Well that that’s what the feeling they thought that we weren’t wanted. The Americans


wanted to make it American show and actually that’s what it was. The Americans, even when the British fleet was released from Europe they wanted to use American ships more than the English ships, although in the invasion of Balikpapan there was English and Dutch ships there.


What sort of training were you doing in preparation for Balikpapan?
Well we were doin’ underwater demolitions but they were bailed because the Americans took ’em over. Like they had the SeaBees they went into the Philippines and they were very competent in what they were doin’ and they more or less took the role over.


So all we our unit when we landed at Balikpapan from the water’s edge up on the beach and that, that’s the only thing we had to worry about as far as mines was concerned.
So prior to that you were training to remove mines laid below the water line?
And obstacles?
Obstacles more than mines.


In fact they showed youse the type of obstacle at one of the camps we was at what you was likely to have to contend with. There’s a concrete bollard that kind of a triangle and they reckoned that they were the obstacles we’d likely to find on these beaches.


To prevent landing craft and tanks coming ashore.
That’s right, yeah.
And you would deal with them in what way?
Well blow ’em up. Put the explosives into ’em.
While you were moving around between Atherton and the coast and Atherton and the coast I guess engineers in most armies have a reputation of using their skills and their equipment to make themselves fairly comfortable. Did you guys look after yourselves in that respect?


Like as far as the our showers were concerned we had first class showers. Like we was able to reticulate the water to our advantage and they was able to like run the pipes through a place that was heated and in our camp we had hot


and cold water and that was the advantage with the engineers. They had the know-how, how to put the water onto the camp but most of the camps had been previously occupied. So it was only more or less improvin’ on those camps.
And as engineers I believe it’s always easy to find a few extra materials lying around that nobody
Seems to want and loading them up.


Yeah. I’ll say we scrounged anything we could. In fact even the forest trees were used. They’d cut them down and use ’em for our advantage.
What sort of training did you have in amphibious work and transshipping and so forth?
Well I think we only went


about three times out onto three or four times out onto Trinity Bay to come back in. We started to go out and swim back in in some cases but that went overboard soon as we knew the SeaBees was gonna take over.
So there wasn’t really a great deal of training?
No, not


a great deal on the amphibious training and as far as underwater demolitions was concerned.
The guys that had been up in New Guinea, what did they tell you about the Japs?
Well it’s a funny thing. Like when we were comin’ home to Australia they reckoned that the Jap was a chap that used to


wear horn rimmed glasses and he could hardly see and had a straw hat on and things like that. Altogether about the false impression. This there’s no doubt about him. When you have a look the Japanese had been trained a lot longer for that war than we were training. Like the Rape a Nanking and


that should a woke the woke everyone up what they was up to.
So what did you what did your other unit members say with about what they’d seen and experienced of the Japs?
Well they reckoned you a Jap was a very sneaky fellow. He’d come through the bush. You had to be very careful and always had to


put a guard out of a night time and mostly of a night-time they’d operate.
So they’d warned you that there could be
Dangerous customers. Were you able to ever get back home from Atherton or any of these places for a leave or
No, no. I never come home from Atherton


or anything. When we was up there, we was up there.
And what about the we’ve talked a bit about how you made the camp comfortable but what sort of rations were you getting up there and decent or not?
They were very good, don’t you agree Tim? They were pretty good and like they seemed to be able to get like the canteen always had beer


when they wanted it. They used to be able to draw a ration from the Cairns brewery and they seemed to be able to get a regular supply there.
You said that at one point you were training to demolish underwater obstacles but then that need passed when the Americans took that duty over, so then what was to be your role


in the Balikpapan landings?
Well actually until we got on the HMAS Kanimbla we didn’t really know our role but once like goin’ over on the Kanimbla they had a what they call a sand net and the first time the intelligence was that good that they can pinpoint


each building in that town. They pinpointed the bank, the brothels, the hospital, everything and also they was able to pinpoint where they’re likely to strike the oil runnin’ down to the refinery. If they set it afire they’d be able


to bring the oil down but fortunately the American bombers bombed that finally to the ground. There was none of it left when we invaded.
So what, again what were you supposed to be doing then? What was your role as engineers?
Well we had to assist the infantry ashore. Like we landed like


the party I was with we had minesweepers and we made sure there was no mines layin’ round on the beach but the beach we landed on, there’s no real positions at all. We actually landed on San Rosa beach and that was the beach that the people swum in the town. They’d walk outta the town onto that beach. That’s how


close to the town it was.
All right. Well I just want to wind back a second. When you departed Australia to go up that way, which boat were you on?
We was on LSTs [Landing Ship Tanks]
We our transport went down to Townsville and loaded on Townsville onto a Liberty ships and things like that.


And what sort of supplies and containers were you taking over with you?
Well when we was leavin’ Cairns all our supplies that we were usin’ in Balikpapan they were in big cases and it was all marked. In fact


when we was markin’ ’em it was just before they went to the wharf and when they got to the wharf, the wharfies had started to grumble about handling wet paint and things like that and they started to refuse to put the stuff aboard these Liberty boats. Anyway the chap who was at in charge,


Sergeant Moss, he was supervisin’ you know where they was goin’ and things like that. He come back and told Ray Taylor they weren’t loadin’ the boat. He said to me, “Go and get,” I think it was 3 Platoon, Rusty Burke’s platoon, “and line ’em up in the truck and follow me down to the wharf.” Went down to the wharf. He went


over to the stevedore and he said, “What’s the trouble here?” He said, “Well we’re not gonna handle these things with the paint,” and Ray Taylor turned round and said, “Listen. I’ve brought my men down here. We’re gonna load this boats and if any a you interfere you’ll be in that bloody water as quick as anything.” He said, “Now step aside and we’ll load them onto the boat.” So that’s what we


It was fairly common for wharfies to sort of strike and refuse to load military vessels. What did you think of that sort of action?
Well I thought it was unnecessary, like it was only like they had gloves on to start with and how in the hell would that paint get on their hands with gloves on? I thought it was plain stupid because


like it would the paint would a got on the gloves and the gloves, I don’t know what they done with the gloves when they finished with ’em. They’d probably throw ’em away.
It’s not exactly patriotic kind of activity is it?
Oh no. No. No. I think that’s the only time that we more or less had anything to do with the wharf labourers.
Oh just that in a lot of the veterans I’ve interviewed I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody say the


wharfies did put something on the boat without trouble.
And so you said you were loaded onto Liberties and LSTs?
Like the LSTs took what they called kind of a pontoon for in case the wharves were destroyed and they had ’em strapped to the side, the LSTs, and that’s what we


the troops went on that. The transport and the Liberties that like the drivers and all that went with the transport but most of us went on the LST except the like the chaps who drove the trucks.
What was the voyage over like on the on a shallow draft ship like an LST?


it wasn’t comfortable, especially those LSTs. They rolled a fair bit, especially that these pontoons on the side. They’d send a fair bit a water up in between ’em every time a wave hit but they were we seemed to be able to cope with it. A few of them got seasick but not too many.
Were they crewed by Americans or Australians?


They were Canadians. They were Canadian crew. That’s the one we went on.
How’d you get on with the Canadian crew there?
Oh we seemed to get on pretty well with ’em but I’ll never forget the first day outta Cairns. We boarded the ship in the mornin’ and they had pork for dinner. Some of the boys et it but quite a few


of them couldn’t.
And what was the weather like on the way over?
Well it was pretty rough going like in the morning we put out at it was half a cyclone blowin’ and once we got outside the roof she was a full cyclone and but she was like not too good but other than that,


like it was only a few of them got seasick.
Were any of the vessels or cargoes lost in the cyclone?
No. No we didn’t. Seemed to be able to get it all up there.
And the pontoons didn’t provide too much of a problem through the cyclone?
Except for the water come up in between ’em. That was the only trouble.


So how long was that voyage up to Balikpapan?
Well it didn’t go to Balikpapan, it went to Morotai.
Oh okay.
It we called into Milne Bay and we went ashore there and some a the boys showed us where they were where the camp was but we was only there for oh a couple of hours and we pulled out and continued to Morotai


but Morotai was a big American base where the Liberators were bombing the Philippines and Balikpapan, Sumatra and all those places. Java and they had all the Liberators there, quite a few of ’em.
And so how long were you at Morotai?
I was only there for about


three or four days. It was just more or less a staging so that the invasion fleet could be gathered from there.
Did you go ashore or remain aboard?
Oh yeah we went ashore there. We come off the Liberty ship, went ashore and we was in a bit of a camp that was there for about three days, three or four days, and


we boarded the HMAS Duntroon. It was going to be one of the invasion ships. We went over on the Duntroon then.
What were your feelings as you headed off to that invasion given that you thought it was probably gonna be a lot stickier than it turned out to be?
Well you’re always anxious about it and


the very fact that there’s always boats in the one convoy made ya think to yourself, “Well you’d be unlucky to be the ship that be picked upon.”
There was quite a heavy shore bombardment off Balikpapan wasn’t there? What did you see of that?
Yeah, well before we even got there they those Liberators


they were attacking it but we come down the scrambling nets about three o’clock in the morning so that go into the boat that was gonna run us ashore, the invasion barge.
How difficult was that, getting down those nets?
Well I tell ya what. Comin’ down with a full pack it was a bit awkward and


I was the first one down onto the what’s a name and as the chaps come down I’d hold the boat steady while they come on and I tell ya what, I was always glad when the chap put his foot onto the boat and walked up a way. Like that’s where we should have had training, comin’ those down those scrambling


nets. Did you come down ’em? Well we come down the scrambling nets and that’s the first time we seen ’em and it wasn’t too good of a job especially like standin’ there on the it wasn’t a big swell certainly, but even a small swell and then when everyone was in the boat we it was still pretty


dark and we started to drift. We left like it started up and just went and he turned the engine off waitin’ for a certain time and the we drifted down and we come I suppose about half a mile off the HMAS Shropshire and all of a sudden the Shropshire opened up


and the shells were goin’ straight over the top of us and fair dinkum, if ever anyone wasn’t frightened that’s when he’d a got frightened because pitch black. All of a sudden you didn’t know it was the Shropshire and she opened up with these eight-inch guns and ‘bang, bang, bang’. It was goin’ over the top a ya. That’s the first time that you really knew you was in the war zone


but like when we started to run in towards the beach there was the Australian destroyers and the Dutch destroyers and there was the first time I seen the rockets bein’ fired and you could actually follow the flight of that rocket for a fair way and it was really something to see. You had a


first class view of what they were firing. Then all of a sudden it ceased and you was within about oh I suppose about three or four hundred yards of the beach when they stopped and you’re just runnin’ the I I’m not too sure who they were on the LS, [LST] on the invasion barges but they knew how to handle ’em.


They run ’em right up on the beach and I suppose you was in about, by the time they dropped their ramp down you was only in about eighteen inches a water. Just walk to the beach and then you started up the beach and soon as you got to high water mark got the old mine detectors out and


there was no mines around where they put us.
What that ramp came down on the beach what were you expecting to happen?
Well we got off that boat as quick as we could and like there’d be about forty of us in the in the boat. It was only a small landing craft


and she was pickin’ up the infantry and that that come behind us but we swept the beach and made sure there’s no mines and they all landed behind us.
When you saw all that gunfire support going into the beach and the rockets and everything like that did you believe that anybody would survive what was going on there?
Well I


reckoned it’d be very hard for ’em to survive but we landed actually very close to the town on this beach and apparently what they expected us to land up the coast, which I think the 6th, 5th and the 6th landed up the coast didn’t they and they met more opposition than we did because the air strip was up the and that’s where they expected ’em to land to take possession of the


air field. There’s no there was very little opposition where we hit.
You were a warrant officer at this stage
So what exactly was your role in the way that you organised people and got the beach cleared?
Well, like goin’ over in the on the Duntroon we


was allotted a task. They had these sand maps there and they more or less with the we was with the 18th Brigade and they told us exactly where the 18th Brigade would be at a certain time, how far we advanced and like we would support them was the


9th and 10th Battalion. I think the 12th Battalion was in reserve and they were supposed to take be only go a certain way in a certain time because like these war ships, they were still shelling further up the hill and we just kept with


the like to the timetable that they allotted us and I think by lunchtime we had reached the target that they allotted us and by four o’clock in the afternoon we were supposed to be on what they called Farm Hill, just as you go up into the refinery. We’d already reached that point at four o’clock in the afternoon. So really


they weren’t positioned at all and the unfortunate part about it, like when we reached that object we were supposed to come back to our group up with our unit and we started to come back and we was back down on the base of the hill and the Liberators


come over and they bombed the part where those 2/9th Battalion and they lost a few men through that bombing but you couldn’t blame the Yanks. They weren’t supposed to be there but they overstepped where they were.
So they got ahead of their schedule?
Ahead of their schedule. In fact they had like a control ship,


American control ship, and I think if they would a sent the message back to them they would a relayed it back to the air force. They just you know thought everything was goin’ so rosy there.
What did you think of this American approach to war with so much firepower and so much equipment compared to what you’d had in the desert?
Well there was no comparison. Like the firepower that they had. Like


the support that they had was a lot greater than we had. Like twenty-five pounders was about our best support as far as artillery was concerned and like we only had our guns in position with a like the guns that used to


tow ’em whereas they had trucks to take their guns anywhere they wanted ’em. A big difference with a truck than a ordinary tow ah thing that used to pull the our guns but I found the Americans all right though. They’d give you the anything you asked for. In fact before we


left Morotai we went and to the have a look at some of the minesweepers, mine detectors rather and Ray Taylor said, “Oh gee whiz, they’re very good,” and the chap in charge he said, “Do you want a few?” and Ray Taylor said, “Well how many could you give us? We got we use two in each platoon


and we got four platoons.” He overstated a bit because we had three platoons and headquarter company. He said, “All right. I’ll give ya eight.” So we got eight mine detectors off ’em. They were the brand new mine detectors. Never been used before. So
And were they better than the Commonwealth ones?
Oh they’re better. They were real up-to-date ones. Ours, I


think we used ours in the desert and things like that and if we would have issued American with how many forms would you have to put in and he just gave ’em to us and we were quite happy to take ’em.
You’ve mentioned a couple of times that sort of thing. Do you think the Australian army was a bit over burdened with bureaucracy?
Red tape? Yeah. That was the trouble. Like some


a the chaps if they lost an article you had to put fill a couple a forms in to replace it. I don’t know how the Americans worked really but they don’t didn’t seem to worry about stores. Just they must a just wrote it off.
Do you think that red tape and administration affected the efficiency of the army?


Well I don’t know whether they suspected that Australian troops’d sell their equipment or anything like that but it would a been wrong to think but that must a been in the back of their minds. We might a flogged a few but I don’t think anyone would.


How do you feel about the fact that the landings at Balikpapan or how necessary do you think that those landings were given the state of the war in the Pacific at that time?
Well the very fact that we landed in July and the war was over half way through August shows you the Americans


must a known that they were going to drop that bomb there. Like they would a planned that months before wouldn’t they? So I think it was a good picnic for us, there’s no question about that. It was a picnic. Like we lost a few men. I think


we lost two, no fault of the Japs. We lost three no fault and we lost two other men. They was unnecessary losses. Like the five of them. If they would a been back in Australia they wouldn’t have run into the trouble that they run into.
So you think it was a bit of a


wasted effort?
Well it was a wasted effort because they must have had that atom bomb planned a long time in 1944. They must have had that and once they dropped that atom bomb the war was over.
So what after that initial sort of landing phase what did you do on Balikpapan?


Well after the war was finished?
No. I mean you landed and you supported to your objective for the day and then in that last month of the war what were you doing on Balikpapan?
Well somehow or other we got mixed up with the 25th Brigade and they were going to do an opposed river crossing on the Macassa River


and number 2 platoon of ours they were gonna build a bridge and I’ll never forget that. Like we went out to have a look at the site where they was goin’ over and there was a well a kind of a old house just near the site and there’s Jacky


Simpson, there’s me, Ray Taylor, Junior Whitman, he was one of the lieutenants, Jack Collins and Bill Rouse. We were gonna you know survey the site before just to have a look where the bridge were goin’ and these in the hut on the verandah there was these we thought they was just local residents just sittin’ on the hut


and fortunately the two jeeps had Bren guns mounted on ’em and anyway the three chaps they went inside and one or the three of ’em come out with a rifle and they never had a chance to even aim the rifle. The chap with the Bren gun on there


he opened fire and he took the three of them out straight away. I think it was I think it was Roy Lewis who was on that on the jeep and firin’ the Bren gun. It was lucky that they never had a chance to use the rifle because we were unprotected. We didn’t have


the only thing was the two Bren guns we took out. So we was lucky in that way but like the next night they put the bridge across and they done a very good job. We only had one casualty in the bridge. Like cause apparently the Japs were on the other side of the river and the, and a machine gun


opened fire durin’ the construction of it and we had the 32nd left outer group, left outer battle group as their band. They were carryin’ the panels of the bridge and they dropped one and it hit Keith Hall in the back as it dropped. He was the only casualty.
This was a bailey bridge


I take it.
A bailey bridge, yeah.
That was being constructed under fire across the river was it?
Well it was only the
Sporadic fire.
One burst of machine gun fire but I don’t know whether it was the like they would a had a coverin’ party on the other side of the bridge. It could a been them opening up but we had no trouble puttin’ the bridge over.
What sort of span was that?


It was a hundred and five feet. It was a fair span across this river there. We had to have it in position by daybreak and we finished it with about oh I suppose an hour to spare.
How many men would have been involved in putting all that together?
It was well without the left outer


battle group the band of us, without them there was forty men there.
So how many hours to build that hundred foot bridge?
Well they started building it when it got dark. I suppose it’d be a good twelve hours or ten hours at the most. Ten to twelve hours and like soon as


it was finished the tanks were rollin’ over it. It was pretty safe.
That’s a good bit of kit.
Oh yeah. Mm but they weren’t the real big tank but it was like a reasonable size tank.
Interviewee: James Tattersall Archive ID 1717 Tape 08


So what happened next for you over there after the bridge was built?
Well there was a town there that like we was quartered in the town itself in one of the Dutch homes. That’s where our headquarters are and we’re told we


couldn’t take that up. We had to find our own campsite somewhere else. So we went lookin’ for a campsite and there’s a brewery that had been bombed out but when we had a look over it, there’s quite a few good features about it. Had a spring runnin’ through it


and I think Captain Mackenzie was the chap in charge to find the site and he recommended this site and when the boys come and had a look at it they said, “Good God look at all the work we’ve got to do.” Level the brewery out and get rid of all the rubbish out of the old brewery but it turned out one of the best sites ever you seen. Like


when we invaded that part for a booby trap they’d put a sign and the some of these good cars. A couple of Rolls Royces, couple of German cars there that you’d never seen the likes of them. So they just put the signs on them and no one’d touch ’em. They’re booby trapped.


Soon as things quietened down they went and got the cars and they’re drivin’ round in a Rolls Royce and when we come to this site Lloyd Edwards, he was a an officer who was well up in the electricity he said to Ray Taylor, he said, “Look, those cars. No one owns ’em. They’re got good engines in.


We’re got generators here. They can drive a generator.” He took the engines out of ’em and drove these generators and we had lights right throughout the camp. That was one point and the water supply we had the spring. Like we had a pretty big pump that’d make a dam for the spring to go into


and we pumped running water and up on the what they call the tank farm where the f(UNCLEAR) was, a lot of galvanised piping. We had the piping runnin’ right through the camp. So we really set ourselves up in the campsite and when the war ended the Dutch administration took that over


and the Dutch administration turfed us out of that campsite back onto the beach and we lost our good camp. So but it was really a first class camp. You got no idea how well we had it but like all the scroungin’ that they done. They found pipe and everything. We had another thing,


they had an we had an Fijian sergeant and he like for the toilets what he done was somehow or other they got the dieseline to come down into the like all the excreta


and they he used to burn it and we had really a good camp there.
So once again some clever improvisation.
Improvisation, yeah. We improvised everything there but
Did you have much to do with the locals?
Very little. Like I think the trouble is you didn’t know whether


they was Japanese or them. They looked very much a lot of Chinese in that area. We had a one a the chaps he was a Chinese and he seemed to be able to deal better with the locals because apparently he was a k(UNCLEAR). He could speak their language. He seemed to get around them but not too many
You had a Chinese bloke in the unit?


Yeah. He was Australian Chinese and he seemed to be able to bargain with ’em for a lotta things that the average man cause not too many of them spoke English there.
Did you have any Aboriginal blokes in the unit at all?
Um yeah, in Tobruk we had


they used to call him ‘Darkie’ Arnold and he didn’t mind it. He was about the only one.
That was only for Tobruk?
In Tobruk. Oh I don’t know where he got to. He seemed to leave the unit somewhere along the line.
So can you tell me about the day you heard that the war was over? Was there any pre-warning that


it was getting really close?
No. Like the day before you had no inkling it’d be over. You knew that the atom bomb was bein’ dropped and all of a sudden the news come over that the war was over and it was a good feeling to think that as after all those years it had finished and


it was quite awhile before they thought about demobilisation though. Like it wasn’t straight away.
Did you do a bit of celebrating on the day you got that news?
Well things were a lot slacker. They didn’t seem to worry too much about discipline and things like that but like I think the first


crowd of ours started to be demobbed about like the end of October, that’s the first start batch that went back to Australia.
So what did you do while you were waiting to get back?
Well a lot of swimming on the beach down at Balikpapan I know that.


At that stage you were camping around the beach, is that right?
Well just around about the beaches and no, not initially. Like when the war first finished the Australian was in command of Balikpapan but it would be about three or four weeks after the Dutch took over as the administrators at Balikpapan. In fact


there’s a lot of rumours that we were going to go down and take over Java but there’s it’s only rumours. Some of them went over to Sumatra. Some I think some of the 2nd 6th didn’t they? Go to Sumatra. Mm and they were only there for a little while and they all come back but we found it


very easy goin’ as soon as the war was and everyone was thinkin’ about gettin’ home but they started to recruit for Japan and Colonel Gelbardi, he said, “I’ll put your name down as go up there as the RSM.” I said, “No, look


I got a father that’s got a business at home and I’m gonna get home.” He said, “Oh,” he said, “you signed up for the until the war finished and the war hasn’t finished yet.” I said, “Well I think it’s unfair that I should be have to go up to Japan when I don’t want to go.” I said, “I’d rather get home and help my father.” I said, “He’s a sick man.” I laid it on a bit thick for him. Anyway


I went to Ray Taylor and Ray Taylor said, “Don’t you worry. You’ll go home,” but it wasn’t until the end of November that I come home and I could a been like amongst the first draft out. So…
Little bit frustrating?
Well yeah, cause like I knew my father he’s he wasn’t well at the time. He was startin’ to get a bit of age


on him and I knew he had to a business running and to run the business at durin’ the war wasn’t easy and I knew as soon as we got home we could help him a fair bit. So we soon as I come home, I think it was the 1st of December I got out


of the army and we come back to the showground.
So how did you get back home and were you able to send word through to the family and to the wife that you were on your way?
The morning I knew I was gonna to embark on the HMS Implacable, that was a big aircraft carrier, I sent a telegram to the wife


that I’d be coming home, name of the boat and everything. I had lobbed home before the telegram. She was a terrific ship comin’ back home and she had quite a few troop ah troops on her and I think that was the biggest aircraft carrier to come through the Torres Strait at the time. She come in through the Torres Straits and down the Whitsunday Passage and it was


dawn breaking as we come to through the Whitsunday Passage and it was oh I don’t think you’d get a better sight. All those islands just as dawn breaks comin’ through there.
So it was a nice atmosphere on board?
Oh yeah. Yeah and we arrived off Sydney Heads around about eight o’clock in the morning.


All the ferries were runnin’ over to Manly and coming in the harbour they lined the decks, the crew and all the troop support and comin’ through that Heads, you’ve never seen such a sight. The people in the Manly ferries they were wavin’ and so were we. It was a something to see. We berthed


at the same wharf we left, 6 Woolloomooloo. So it was out to the showground and soon as we got to the showground they just gave us our leave pass and we’d go home and I think it was seven days leave pass we got and I got the wife


was stayin’ with her sister at the time. I got home and I said, “Where’s Betty?” “Oh still at work.” She worked in the army section of the post and I said, “Well I’ll ring her up and tell her,” and she said, “I’ll meet you on Croydon Railway Station.” She they lived at Croydon at the time


and so I met her at Croydon there. I don’t know who was the most pleased to see each other and that was the more or less the finish of the war as far as I was concerned but
You had a nice reunion with the family?
Beg your pardon?
Did you have a nice reunion with the family?
I think after I


met her on the station we went down to me mother’s place first down at Glebe. Met up with the mothers and the other brother. He’d been already discharged and, eldest brother, and the other two they were away. So it wasn’t until the well the chap over in Bougainville he never come home until half way through ’46.


It wasn’t until ’46 that he was discharged. The other chap in the air force he it was well after Christmas before he come home.
So all the boys got home in one piece?
Oh yeah. Yeah. It’s unfortunate with Betty’s young brother. He was we got the photo of his like his burial up there


and I wanted a couple of times to for Betty and I to go up and just visit his grave site but she won’t go.
So it was a difficult thing for Betty to deal with, her brother being killed?
Oh it was. Like she was very attached to him and


I think that even now it affects her. She finds it very hard to come to terms with it. I think that’s why she don’t want anything to do with Anzac Day and things like that. She’s quite happy for me to go and it has


I suppose a few sad memories for her cause he was well he’s six foot two. He weighed about fourteen stone and he was only nineteen when he died, so but a thing she don’t seem to be able to cope with it


and then like the other the elder brother of hers, he was in New Guinea and whatever he contracted he wasn’t home no more than three years before he passed away. He it was a kind of a sleepin’ sickness that he got. Sometimes he’d get on the train and he he’d be travellin’ on the train for quite a while,


could be five or six hours, before someone’d come and shake him up, ask him what he was doin’ sleepin’ on the train and he never knew he was asleep. That’s how he more or less died. He whatever he contracted up there that
So those


things had an impact on the way Betty felt about the war no doubt?
It has. Like she says, “As far as I’m concerned you’ve been lucky. You’ve had a the family all come home from the war.” She said, “One a my brothers never come home and the other


he only lasted a few years before he passed on.” It has affected her, no doubt about that. Like I wanted her to go to Anzac Day reunions and we have real good reunions but she won’t go. She won’t even into the Anzac Day march. Like the daughter and them they’ll go, but the wife won’t.


She just can’t put it aside I suppose.
Did you feel like you wanted to talk much about the war when you got home?
Well no, no it, like I when I got home all I wanted to do is start a new life and get start over again


and see what we could make of it and fortune’s been very kind to us. It has. Like in 1995 I had a operation for cancer and I seemed to get over that and even this year, I had one on my nose and seems to have cleared up again. I think the old


fella up there don’t want me. He’s rejected me a couple a times.
Good to hear. How do you think your experience in the war changed you as a person?
Well I don’t think it changed me to any extent at all. It made me envious of the people who stayed behind and was able to


gain things out of like by being home. Like those able to establish a home and things like that. Whereas we come home after six years had to more or less start a afresh and you had to start a family and things like that whereas they had a family. They had their roots in the ground and we more or less was just startin’ off


and the very fact that you’d behind, there’s no question about when you left the army your six years had gone down the drain you may as well say. Whereas if the war wouldn’t a been on you would a been that much into a family life. Like


I was getting towards thirty before my first son was born and you felt that you’d get startin’ to get on a bit in life and like things that could have happened early in your life never happened as far as a family’s concerned


but as far as going to war I’ve got no regrets. I think it showed a better part of your life than ever you did and not bein’ in the army and some a the friends that in the army you’re still friends with ’em but like they ring up and I ring them up and you can that


relate to them whereas some a the chaps who never went to the war well they’ve gone out of my life a long time ago. They didn’t have the same feeling for it. They were good friends, I there’s no doubt about that, but not the same as chaps ya you’re strugglin’ to live with


and like even now some a the chaps who’s passed on I can still remember them and like some a the boys I went to school with you’ve forgot about ’em. You don’t even remember ’em but they really count, the men you


met in the army days. They really made ya know you was a man. Well, now we finished or…?
Just about, mate.
Just about.
Just about. Bear with me. What does Anzac Day mean to you?
Well this is the thing. It’s coming


up ninety years ago since Anzac Day, the first one, and I think Anzac Day should be started to be celebrated right from now and get ready to finally commemorate Anzac Day ninety years on cause Anzac Day I think that’s when we found out we was a nation. It’s not


that we went to war or anything. I think Anzac Day, the spirit of Anzac Day is something that’s lived in most Australians through Anzac Day and I don’t think anyone can get such a good feeling that they’d walk down that street on Anzac Day along George Street. Down Martin Place. I’ve walked down Martin Place quite often


and it means nothing to me to walk down Martin Place, but on Anzac Day it’s a special day and that’s where, I think that should be in everyone’s spirit. That I think without Anzac Day it’d be quite a dull affair. Like the RSL [Returned and Services League] clubs


and that don’t mean anything to me but oh I belong to Auburn. I’ve belonged to Auburn for quite a lot a but I very seldom go there. I belong to Five Dock and the only time we go there is like when they have the meeting once a month. They have that meeting for Rats of Tobruk and I go there.


Other than that I never go near them but they do a good job, there’s no question about that. They do a good job for returned servicemen but I think the drawback if my wife would come with me I might go round more often but she don’t want to go, so.


In fact I kidded her join the race club with me but she decided now that she don’t want to be a member. So that’s her decision, not mine but I still go. I still I only go to the Rosehill, the SCC [Sydney Cricket Club] now. I used to belong to the AJC [Australian Jockey Club]


but I had to give that way. I couldn’t drive home with that sun in your eyes.
How do you feel about the trend of late for more and more younger people to participate actively in Anzac Day?
Well I think it’s a good thing that they do realise that Anzac Day is a is


a day for to celebrate, as like they’re not celebratin’ war or anything on Anzac Day. You’re just going there to celebrate with the friends that you really met up with durin’ the war. That’s all I think the lot of us go there for is to, and the likes a Ted and a few of the other chaps who keep the


associations goin’ they’re the people that’s keepin’ Anzac Day together. That’s pay tribute to them that they’re able to do that.
Can you tell us the name of the association that you’re in with that Ted is coordinating?
The 7 Div Engineers’ Association. Yeah, Ted’s the secretary. He’s not only


the secretary, I reckon he’s the president and he’s the chief writer. He keeps The Purple Diamond goin’ and I think The Purple Diamond keeps the association goin’. The same with that Rotor magazine that Joe Mosely, he keeps that association, him and Gordon Hughes. Like I’d


give Ted a hand but he’s on the other side of the world and I’ve got a son, he suffers from Parkinson’s disease and every afternoon we go up and give him a hand. We don’t do much but we just you know give him a hand to get things straightened out. Like sometimes, I say we don’t give a hand but


one afternoon we went up there and ah Red Leaf College. They were sendin’ out their annual reports and there’s about must be about a thousand of these reports that go out. Some a them they go out for two dollars forty-five and others goin’ overseas. They’ve gotta have overseas stamps on and some a them goin’ up to


Queensland, some to Victoria and places like that, different like. So Betty puts the stamps on and I tell her how much to put on ’em, but we enjoy it. It’s something to do, and like when all the mail is in I’ll tie the bags up, put ’em outside for the mailman to take ’em and something,


so that keeps me busy.
Great. What are your feelings about war as a general concept these days?
Well regardless of what anyone thinks there’s only one person’s who you elect as your Prime Minister


and if he elects to go to war and you don’t agree with that, next time you don’t vote for him. That’s the only thing I can say. But as far as this Gulf War is concerned, I think he’s done the right thing. Like when you read what just havin’ a look


at the information we’re gettin’ in the newspapers. Either our Prime Minister was wrong or those newspapers have been tellin’ us lies because you take what was happening in the newspapers, the atrocities that Saddam Hussein was committin’. And the present moment they’re against us goin’ to war but


you’ll remember that boat that was held up in one a the Grecian ports, Port Piraeus? And it’s supposed to have atomic material on? You never hear about it now. And all the photos that the weapons of mass destruction. All the chemicals that were around and where is it now? There’s none of it. It never existed. Well how did they get the photos of?


Someone must a been either telling them a lie or fabricatin’ something but other than that well, but as I say, if you don’t believe in what John Howard’s doin’ well don’t vote for him next time. Personally I’d rather not vote for Costello, he’s the treasurer


and every time I get a tax bill I more goes to Taxation Department than our Prime Minister. Where we used to go to Coopers & Lybrand as our tax agent, now it just shows ya, we changed over four years


ago to Macquarie Partners and we get our taxation through Macquarie Partners. Last bill I got from the Taxation Department, which was about six weeks overdue, it went to Coopers & Lybrand and yet every other one has come to Macquarie Partners. It wasn’t Macquarie Partners’ or Coopers & Lybrand’s whose fault, it was the Taxation Department’s.


Jim, this interview is gonna be around for a long time.
As a resource in Australia, I just wanted to offer you an opportunity just to make a final statement, to pass on a message, a reflection, anything you’d like to sort of


get across at this point about your war experience or how you feel about war or you know anything in particular that you’d like to sort of pass on at this point?
Well personally like I don’t like war. I reckon it’s a waste of time and war’s to a certain extent


is more to do with religion and the way people think rather than what they really should be thinking. Like I never be I’m not an atheist but I don’t believe in one religion is better than the other and when I was with the Sinais I think they tried to convert me to Muslim.


They had that bible of theirs [the Koran] and they used to read it to me but it made no difference to me. I got my belief and what I believe in. I might be wrong but what I believe in I think the Australian way a life is a lot better than their way a life. Like


I think everyone should these have a good education. I think that’s the main thing. That they are educated to think for themselves more than think what the other man wants them to think is the main thing in life. They think for themselves and sort their own problems out, it’s better than anything in this earth.


As far as war is concerned, you can’t have people runnin’ round in this world dictatin’ to other people. We can’t, couldn’t put up with Hitler. We can’t put up with Saddam Hussein or the chap in Afghanistan. They were only out there for their own purpose whereas


you must have democracy for people to think the way they want to think. Finished?
If you think so mate. That’s good enough for me.
Yeah, that’ll do.
Well done mate.
Thanks very much.
Thanks so much.
Thanks for your time.


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