And whereabouts did you grow up, Ed?
I was born in Fremantle, my parents were itinerant farm workers so went to many country towns, mainly wheatbelt, I went to school in Meckering,
Well what can you remember about the Depression?
After the bankruptcy of course we had to leave the property, we built, I say we my old man did most of it, built a house using bush timber for the uprights, flattened kerosene tins
for the walls, pulverise ant hill mixed with water, flattened, spaded flat dried by the sun makes a very concrete cement like surface for the floors, straw for the roof. And we lived in that for 18 months and we ate quite well really, far better than city folk because we had plenty of wheat,
which you could use for cereal and making bread or whatever and rabbits was the meat.
horse and sulky as well, in my mother’s name therefore the bank couldn’t claim it. So we were fortunate in that respect, and we had 2 cows as well so we had milk and butter. My mother made the butter, she made our clothes, she made the soap, made practically everything, we were more or less self-supporting. And farmers who
went bankrupt if they stayed in the district, the local roads board – wasn’t a shire in those days, it was a roads board – would employ them for 2 days a week so that your income was 2 pounds a week – 4 dollars – as the value originally came in. So you made do on that and you didn’t get cash you got a order redeemable at a local general store
and you took your order in and got what you needed.
What would an average day be like for you at that time?
We would get up about 7, I’d go round the rabbit traps, bring in the catch, get ready for school, get the horse and we had to ride 2 miles then tether the horse under a shady tree, fit a nose bag on it with food in it
to keep the horse going all day and then we caught a school bus. It was one of the only 2 school buses to operate in Western Australia at that stage and this bus ran from Meckering to Dowerin Lakes, which was a small settlement 8 miles from Dowerin. And we caught that bus and then we had to travel about 5 miles on the bus to school. After school, back
in the bus, get off, untether the horse, put the saddle on, ride home, have something to eat, go and set the traps again.
it’s not there now, long gone. The senior headmaster you’d call him I guess, was very keen on plays so we had an annual play in the Dowerin Hall and we would practice these plays and the mother’s would make the costumes and whatnot. I remember having to walk once carrying my costume 8 miles into town
because there was no transport. So I started off about 2 hours earlier, walked into town carrying the costume ready for the play.
Gee you must have been exhausted?
We didn’t think anything of it in those days, kids were used to walking, you had to walk, no other means of getting around, we didn’t have bikes. Very few people had cars, we had a horse and sulky but
also helping with the milking because, and every morning I would do a small milk round walking, where the horse and cart found it difficult to get in, so I would do that every morning deliver the milk and did various things, kept the dairy clean, always something to do. I was quite happy there it was a good job,
unfortunately they had a teenage girl developed a crush on me and would harass me a bit and had to go, I got the sack.
So what did you end up doing after that?
I went back, it was harvest time, or haymaking time, I went back to my parents place and helped there with the haymaking and then I got a job in one of the local stores in Northcliffe, there were 3 general stores so I worked in there until I
and said we were at war, if Britain’s at war, Australia’s at war and that was it. So my mate Les Beebe and I wrote up to Francis Street Barracks, which was apparently the headquarters of the army here at that stage and said we wanted to enlist, but we never ever heard anything about it. And we heard that the first convoy had sailed in December
for overseas so we said this is no good to us and after Christmas we gave up our jobs, I was working in the shop and he was a stockman working for the Agricultural Bank, and he had a motorbike too by the way. And we rode the motorbike up to Perth, we lived just over the Barrack Street Bridge, which is now part of the railway station, it was a private house there, more or less a backpackers thing.
And we lived there for about 3 weeks and no call up and were running out of money we had to get jobs again, so Les went to Jandakot, worked on a poultry farm and I went to Tammin as a rabbit trapper. And I got my call up papers came there and I caught the train from Tammin through to Northam and I was enlisted on Anzac Day 1940.
and we did actually, what happened when the second convoy left Sydney on the 5th May 40 our unit, 2/3rd Field Regiment was 12 men short for various reasons, some doing specialised training, a couple ill, some didn’t make it for some reasons or other. So at Northam camp they asked for volunteers to go overseas immediately without any pre-embarkation leave.
And there were a lot of volunteers, I was on of the 12 selected.
few days, it was quite good. I know 1 exercise we did, we went out at night and we were divided into a small group and a big group, out in the bush, in the scrub and they put a lantern down by a bush and the small group they spread out around that, about 50 yard out, in a big circle,
and their job was to stop anyone getting into the lantern. And the rest of us, the big group went even further out and we had to try and sneak through the outposts and blow the lantern out. It was quite exciting we got a lot of scratches and prickles and all sorts of things.
So what did you do on your pre-embarkation leave?
I, it took me a day to get down to Northcliffe, I had a day there, took me a day to get back, that was my 3 days. I walked in, walked into the house about 9 o’clock at night, they didn’t know I was coming of course, I
think they knew I was in the army at that stage. They were all home except my father who was away fruit picking, to help out from the dairy farm, little bit extra, so he came home the following night and I went to the local dance, they usually have a dance every week. And I got a little bit of a send off there, and I got a private send off later, came home and
back to camp the next day.
So did they train you down to the Fremantle docks for?
Yes we marched to Northam, the special train straight through to Fremantle and we embarked on the Empress of Canada, which was a 36,000 toner formerly on the Japan, North America run. So it
Can you describe some of the living conditions on board the ship?
Yes we, the convoy had come from Sydney, most of the Regiment was on the Queen Mary but the Empress of Canada had a bit of space, right down the bottom, so that’s where we were, in bunks
And what did you do to pass the time on board?
Lectures, physical training, more lectures, more physical training, more lectures. The thing I remember about the Empress of Canada mainly they had a speaker system throughout the ship of course and they played music most of the day, I think they must
So our convoy changed course to southwest and we were headed around the Cape of Good Hope and we called in at Cape Town. Our convoy comprised 7 big ships, the Queen Mary the biggest ship afloat at the time, the Aquitania which I think was about the second biggest and the Empress of Britain which is also very big ship.
The smallest was 26,000 tonnes so you can imagine they were big ships. When we left Fremantle we had escort, 2 Australian heavy cruisers and a New Zealand light cruiser. When we turned at, is all this –
Australia went onto Colombo and we had a British cruiser take it’s place. When we left Cape Town we had 2 British cruisers, I’ll come back to Cape Town in a moment. We called at Sierra Leone Freetown, which was half way down the coast, down the West African Coast, when we left there we had the aircraft carrier [HMS] Hermes as escort for 2 days
and when that left we had a 3rd heavy cruiser join us, because our convoy was as you can imagine was 7 ships including the biggest in the world was a pretty good target. When we got opposite Spain, heading for England we were joined by the battle cruiser [HMS] Hood and the flotilla of destroyers, we actually had more escorts than we had ships in the convoy.
Oh yes there were 5,000 on the Queen Mary alone. Oh that’s what happened at Cape Town, we disembarked from the Empress of Canada, we went by electric train from Cape Town to Simons Town, which was the naval base, and the Queen Mary and the Aquitania of course were too big they couldn’t get into Cape Town Harbour so they had to anchor in this naval base, which was 20 miles away. So we went by electric train,
was dangerous, there’s too many German submarines. So they weren’t going to take the ship any further. So we fixed bayonets and encouraged them to leave the ship which they did and the crew was replaced by navy reservists. But because they didn’t have enough to make a full crew they decided that the smallest ship in the convoy, the Empress of
Japan wouldn’t go any further. And they took the troops off that and spread them out amongst the other ships and the crew to help crew to Canada. So that is why we were taken off the Canada and sent to the [Queen] Mary to rejoin our own regiment. I understand that the Asiatic crew were subsequently sent back to Singapore or somewhere.
complicated when it should have been quite simple?
Well they wouldn’t give us leave so we did, I think there were about 20 of us went ashore as pickets, 6 Australians wearing a bayonet and 1 South African policeman with a revolver, that was a picket. Our area of picket in Cape Town was what they called District 6 which would
Town, put them inside, which was a big brick walled enclosure, probably a block of land, a full residential lot and it was in the middle of the city. We found that we were catching the same people again, what was happening they were taking them in, taking their details and turning them loose inside these high brick walls, but they had a ladder
so they were putting them in, they were climbing up the ladder and down the other side and going back to the city and we were catching them again and bringing them back again. And some of them were caught 2 and 3 times, it was sort of a merry go round, still we had a lot of fun.
the 1st day we were pickets, the second day we were given leave a mate of mine Bernie Blonde J we were walking down, I think it was the main street and a car pulled up alongside and a middle aged lady said, “Would you like to have a drive around our town?” And we said, “Yes we’d like to.” So she drove us all around town, all over the place and up on top of Table Mountain and so forth. At lunchtime
went to Muizenberg Beach which is equivalent to oh – the what’s the elite area down by Cottesloe?
with her with a black servant standing behind each of us, and there was so much cutlery we had to stop and watch what she selected before we selected our pieces, marvellous meal. And then she drove us back to town and her brother owned the biggest store in town which would have been the equivalent of Perth’s Bones in 1940. And we met the brother and had a short talk
with him and then he, there was 2 of us, he called in a couple of very nice office girls and said, “Take the rest of the day off and show these fellows around town.” So we really did well, we were well looked after.
natives came out in what they called bum boats, 1 person to a boat, small boats and you could throw coins over the side of the ship and they would dive down and come up out of the water with the coin in their mouth. But only silver coins because they reckon they couldn’t see copper coins, the water was brown, muddy water from the river. So we used to throw silver coins over, they must have made a fortune, that was really the only
carrying oil had been torpedoed and there was oil all around the place and wreckage, wood and stuff from, stuff floating all around and we just ploughed through it all. And at one stage a submarine alert sounded and the destroyers were racing around dropping depth charges, we never saw any submarines and no torpedos were fired so might have been a false alarm. Anyway we got to Gourock and we,
for some reason our unit was the first one to land off the Queen Mary and the Mayor of Glasgow was there and gave us a spiel and gave us the freedom of the town, but they put us on a train and sent us down south of England so we never saw really other than the suburbs of Glasgow. On the way down we stopped at a fair size town Carlisle in the north of England,
we were side tracked there for some time because trains carrying troops evacuated from Dunkirk were passing. And it was while there an English couple we were talking to asked us to speak in Australian, they said, “You can speak English well, but now let’s hear you speak your own language.”
and near Larkhill, maybe you don’t know about Larkhill. Larkhill is the British Premier Artillery Training School, so we were very fortunate that we were so close there, or we were sent there I suppose because we were an artillery unit. But we never had any guns, we had rifles we’d bought with us and that was all we’d had. So we,
they drew on the ground the outline of a gun and we’d train on that. We’d load imaginary shells into an imaginary gun and then the imaginary charge in afterwards, ram the shells in, go through all the aiming procedures and what not, fire the gun that wasn’t there.
But it was good training.
It must have seemed pretty ludicrous though to be doing that?
No we could understand the reason for it, we had no equipment, they gave us a few vehicles, bakers vans and things, they’d confiscated from the general public. The Royal Air Force had a number of bases around about and they complained about lights being flashed at night from wood,
they don’t call their forests woods they call them copses, about lights flashing from this particular cops, which was a fairly big piece of timber. So they had a battalion surround it and all the members of 6th Battery, out of every 10 man, 1 man was given a rifle and the other 9 had pick handles
and we beat through all this timber looking for the spies. So that’s how well equipped the British were, we had no guns, no field guns and they never had enough rifles to give us a rifle each, because the rifles we bought with us were taken off us and given to the infantry because they needed them more than we did. So went spy hunting with pick handles, but every 10th man had a rifle. I think we were in more danger
of the man walking behind us with a loaded rifle than we were from any spies we might of found. We did apprehend 3 people, 1 in British uniform and the others in civilians, but we never heard the result, but I think they were just poachers, cause a fair bit of poaching went on in England.
we were put on guard of course, being the newcomers naturally you fall for the guard. We fell in on the parade ground, we had rifles and the order was, the regiment sergeant major was out in front and the order was given to load live ammunition. Okay us fellows from the country had no problems but 3 or 4 of them were city guys and they didn’t have the faintest idea how to load
a rifle. So some bullets were dropped on the ground and a couple of the rifles were correctly loaded and cocked and their pointing there at the regiment sergeant major, he realised what was happening and got out of the road very quickly. These fellows could have easily shot him, pulled the trigger or something. So we 12 instead of mounting guard that night we spent it doing
pocket rifle training, we learnt more in about 4 ours than we probably would have learnt in 4 months, of how to handle a rifle, load it and what not. Us country guys we were all right we knew but these fellows from the city didn’t have a clue some of them.
What other kind of training did you receive following that incident?
Very good training we were trained in all aspects, we went through the gas chamber, wearing gas masks, they had a big gas chamber in Tidworth being a garrison town. We went through wearing gas masks,
we were issued with gas masks there, how to care for them, look after them, how properly to wear them and what to do when you take them off, how to clean them, what not to do, how to speak on a telephone by wearing a gas mask and that sort of thing. Yeah the training was good, I must say that.
a lot of it was sort of on the surface, didn’t look to be anything but I suppose more training for the officers than the men because they had to pick out a gun position where you could place guns, where they could have a good range of fire and yet be protected from enemy shell fire as much as possible. Where ammunition trucks could get into them
easily and where they could be bought out of danger quickly if it was necessary, a lot of that sort of thing. And then of course there was a lot of practice for the staff at each gun position where they had to survey the guns in so they knew exactly where they were so they could work out how to hit a target they couldn’t see. It’s all done
on one of these imaginary guns, so there was 6 men to every gun, I think I was number 4. So I’d have to, number 5 would hand me the shell, I’d have to take the cap off the fuse and hand it onto number 3 to load that sort of thing. And also we had to dig holes, gun pit to put the gun in so that it’s protected.
to re-equip some of the infantry units. The convoy that was diverted to England consisted mainly of the 18th Brigade, which was 3 Battalions 9th, 10th and 12th, the 2/1st anti-tank, which was an anti-tank unit, 2/1st Machine gunners,
a lot of specialised units like mobile laundry’s and postal units and all those sort of things and some reinforcement drafts. Well when they got to England and things were so bad and the German invasion was expected any time they formed another brigade from all these odd units and from the established units they took,
I think about 100 men from each so that 100 of our men were taken and sent to form these 3 new Battalions, which eventually became the 25th Brigade. So we had the 18th Brigade, we had the new Brigade the 25th Brigade and we had a New Zealand Brigade that came with us, that was in the convoy. So that in affect made a division, there’s 3 Brigades in a division. The commanding
organisation was the 9th Division so we in effect we were the first 9th Division troops, even before the 9th Division had been formed in Australia, they had to call us something.
the competition shoot which was at the end of the course. The British units went first for some reason, I don’t know why maybe they drew numbers or something, but they went first and then our turn came. I think the officer might have been George Killey, I can’t remember really, he realised what, the British were doing everything by the book, they were
selecting their gun position, taking their guns in, surveying them in, going through all the procedure and then engaging the targets, which were just wooden canvas contraptions away in the distance. Our bloke saw what was happening and he also saw the terrain in Salisbury Plain is fairly flat but there are little ridges every now and again.
So instead of going through all this other procedure he rushed our guns up just behind the crest of one of those little ridges and opened fire point blank. Not a surveyed shoot an open sight shoot, so we knocked the targets out in about a tenth of the time the others did, so we won. I don’t think the British approved of the way we did it but it was certainly effective.
We of course had First War Lewis machine guns issued to us for anti-aircraft defence, because at the time German fighters were coming over and strafing, they strafed our camp a few times. Our gunners were alert and fired at them until one day some Royal Air Force decided they’d do a bit of low level practice strafing,
but they didn’t tell us they were coming so we fired on them to. And they weren’t happy about that at all and they complained and they wouldn’t come anywhere near our camp after that to do their low flying exercises. As senior officer, now I’ve got to be careful here, a very senior officer in our regiment, the officers had a marquee which was the officers’ mess and they’d had a few drinks one
night and they said, somebody said about this senior officer “Oh he wouldn’t know how to fire a gun anyway” so he said, “I’ll show him.” So he ordered a gun in from the gun park, we had some First War guns by then, some old 18 pounders [field gun] and some 4.5 Howies [Howitzers], not enough for the regiment but just enough to train on. So he ordered one in loaded a blank and he fired it, so that he showed he could
fire the gun, the only thing was he blew a great hole in the marquee, air raid alarms rang for 20 miles around and we had a really irate report from the RAF [Royal Air Force]. This senior officer they got him out of the regiment, they sent him away on another job.
A main road in front that ran from Tidworth to Shipton Bellinger which was another village a bit further down. And behind there was a sports ground where a British unit used to play sport there. We actually watched a soccer match there once, one team
was lead by a British officer who’s a well-known film star, can’t think of his name now [David Niven], anyway that doesn’t matter really much. There was a mansion there, a very old house, quite a big one that Lord Nelson had given to Lady Hamilton way back in early 18th Century, Lady Hamilton was his girlfriend of course.
and a lot of what they said was New Zealand pig’s liver, actually what it was I don’t know but that was our staple diet, this particular meat whatever it was and potatoes. No shortage of it but there wasn’t much variety. And if you went on leave and you wanted a cup of tea or something you seldom could buy
cakes, what you could buy were fish cakes, but seemed to rely on fish quite a lot for food. We got, after we’d been there for a while we got 36 hour leave to London.
we got out at Waterloo Station and there was a pub opposite and we thought we may as well book in there for the night, we were there for a night and we started to walk across, there was 3 or 4 of us and one bloke was Eddy McNally from South Australia. And a British bloke came up and said, “Oh Australians, I’ve got a nephew
lives in Australia. His name’s Eddy McNally, he lives near Adelaide.” And he’s talking to him, what a multi million dollar coincidence, hey?
Gavin Slims, Stevo we went on and left them cause we usually split up into pairs. So we wandered around and had a look at St James Palace and the old curiosity shop and all those things, the Windmill Theatre and the Discovery. In case you don’t know what the Discovery is it was a ship that Captain Scott used to go to the South Pole, built of timber and the sides were about that
thick timber, which certainly they needed because they got frozen in, the pressure of ice if had been thin it would have just crushed it. They eventually took it away, it was moored in the Thames as a tourist attraction but they took it up to Scotland when the heavy bombs started.
wrecked and there’s some bodies in it too, we thought crikey, the home defence had been swamped and hadn’t got time to get around so we clambered through all these broken timber and bricks and stuff to rescue these bodies, but they were shop dummies. So we rescued the first shop dummies, well actually we didn’t we left them there,
and we slunk away very quietly. It was a bit of a let down. But I saw Messerschmitt fighter in the 7th floor, he’d flown into the building on the 7th floor and he was, his tail was sticking out the window. I saw a bus, passenger bus upside down on an air raid shelter, they built
concrete air raid shelters about 7 feet high with a, you’ve seen our bus stops, our concrete bus stops well imagine a much bigger one, they made air raid shelters like that only they had walls all around not just at the ends.
we had ammunition, so we were sent over on the east coast opposite France ready for the German invasion which was expected at any time. In fact the alarm did sound one night and we limbered up the guns and stood too and all equipment ready to go because we weren’t the first lot, we were the counter attack force,
the Australians. The British were manning the beaches and what not and if the Germans had made a landing then we were to counter attack and push them back. But it was a false alarm so it never happened, but we were all ready to do that then.
What kind of food were you preparing?
They had something that was a real eye opener for me, I never even realised they existed we had potato peelers, instead of peeling potatoes like we did in our first camp this was a regular army barracks, you just upended them into a machine and the machine peeled all the potatoes, we thought
I bet you would have welcomed those?
Yeah. But being mess orderly’s we didn’t do guards, we didn’t do training, we got out of all that sort of stuff. And we also had the opportunity to whiz off to surrounding towns, cause no one was checking on us, as long as we were there to help
and the moon’s right, there’s only about 5 or 6 days in each month when it’s actually invasion weather. Which they found out for D-day as well, they could only land at a certain time, cause the moon had to be right, you had to have a certain amount of light, not too much. The weather had to be right, you can’t do it in the middle of a storm or anything, and the weather has to stay calm afterwards so you can bring in reinforcements
and supplies and all that sort of thing. So they worked it out that the Germans couldn’t invade during this period and they gave us 6 days leave. So my mate Stevo and another fellow named Ray we all went together and we went to, you can go anywhere you like in England or Scotland in the 6 days, free pass. So we decided we’d go to Plymouth and we were the first Australian soldiers to visit Plymouth.
Why did you choose Plymouth?
Well it was a naval port, we were interested in naval matters, it was from where the settlers for America sailed way back in those days. And also prior to the war Australia had bought some flying boats from England and they’d sent Australian airmen over to collect them and they were there when war started so they stayed and they were stationed
in Plymouth, that was another reason is that Australians were stationed there.
So how did you enjoy visiting Plymouth?
We did we enjoyed, as I say we were the first Australians there and people just stood and stared at us and we could hear them saying, “Aussies!” and some were saying “Canadians, New Zealanders, Cowboys!” some of them didn’t know what we were. A couple of lads, about 10 said, “Do you know Tom Micks?” I don’t know if you know Tom Micks, you
garrison town called Bulford to a British trumpeter instructor and I had about 3 half hour sessions of training to blow a trumpet. But then we went on our 36 hour leave so I never finished the course, but I did once blow a re-valley. For some reason this particular morning our regular trumpeter wasn’t available so the
Battery Sergeant Major pulled me out of bed and said, “You’ve got to blow re-valley” so I did, it woke them anyway even if they couldn’t understand what it was. So that was the only time I ever played the trumpet because then we moved to Colchester and it fell through, didn’t do any more training.
warning that we were going overseas again and our guns and equipment were taken away and sent to Newport in Wales for shipping and some of the blokes went with them, I didn’t because I hadn’t sort of got a regular position then. So with no guns we were put on anti parachute roles, we still had rifles of course. And
we had to form outposts and picket lines and so forth. The favourite one was a picket line stopping all busses, passenger busses going into Colchester, you’d stop the bus, get on the bus and everybody had to show their pass, cause everybody had to have a pass then and you’d have to examine the pass to see if it was genuine and all that. Some of the passes took quite a bit of checking
especially if the holders were female and young, yeah.
What was the train journey like?
Yeah bit crowded, never stopped anywhere, but when we got to Gourock and they said, “That’s your ship.” It was the Empress of Canada again. Oh, which wasn’t our favourite ship, still.
you were starting on the Empress of Canada again, were you looking forward to going overseas?
I think it was sort of half and half, a lot of us would have liked to have stayed in England cause it was very nice there and we were doing all right, we were equipped and ready to repel any invasion and what not, and I think we would have given a good account of ourselves to. But you go where you’re sent.
if they’d have thrown petrol bombs or something. And they’d built concrete anti-tank obstacles all over the place and, yeah I think the British would have given them, cause the British weren’t beaten. When we got there in June 1940 they had hardly any equipment, their best troops had been thrown out of Dunkirk and were disorganised and not,
not reinforced, and they were in a heck of a state but nobody told them they were beaten, so they just kept going. If somebody had have said, “We’re beaten,” they would have chucked the towel in, but nobody did, certainly Churchill didn’t, so they just kept going. And had the Germans landed I think they would have given them a heck of a hiding.
have been in the thick of?
I’ve got a lot of admiration for the British, they would have certainly, although at that stage of course they didn’t have much they just, they’d have died I think rather than give in, yeah.
and we had a fair escort and we ran into a storm as soon as we hit the Atlantic, the storm, really bad storm which the naval escort didn’t mind a bit because it kept the German pocket battleships away who were at sea. And we finished up in Sierra Leone again. From there we went onto Durbin this time, not Cape Town and we were in Durbin for about 10 days
which was really, great place Durbin. And then we sailed again and finished up in the Suez Canal, we spent Christmas on ship in the Red Sea, the Red Sea’s actually quite blue, it’s called ‘Red’ but it’s not. And we sailed through the Suez Canal, it’s a bit funny being on a ship and seeing the shore going by alongside there and
alongside there. And we landed in Alexandria in the Mediterranean which is the British naval port full of war ships, lot of shipping and we disembarked onto Egyptian soil on the 1st of January 1941.
got off the ship at the wharf straight into iron goods wagons, closed wagons, roof, sides and what not, all iron and I think they’d been carting coal in them. So we stood in those for hours while the train, we finished up at a place called Ikingi Maryut, which was about oh 60, 100 miles
out of Alexandria before we disembarked, so that was all we saw pitch dark, didn’t see anything. And when we got to Ikingi it was just a flat barren country with tents, a pit dug and then a tent erected in the pit, their protection against bombing you see cause it was within range of the Italian
Must have been a few degrees warmer than the UK [United Kingdom]?
Oh yes, yes, it was actually starting to get a bit cold in November in England, yeah, the winter was coming, we had an extra blanket
and this particular chap we’ll call him Jim he got a very special welcome from this lady. He was enjoying that welcome when the husband came home unexpectedly and Jim took off more or less, I don’t know whether he had his boots on didn’t have much on. But the husband in
chasing him raced through the kitchen and grabbed up the nearest thing and got in a couple of hits on Jim as he was disappearing. Now if you’ve ever been hit on your bare back with the sharp edge of a frying pan you’ll know the number of stitches that he had to have to repair the damage.
this is never done in the Australian army other than military police. We thought oh well a bit odd okay “Let’s see your pass first” okay he produced his pass and we looked at it, just sort of remember that. Anyway we showed him our passes and there was nothing on our passes all it said was 6th Battery, didn’t say our regiment or where we were or anything. About, so we thought this
is a most unusual thing, we went around at an army headquarters in London and told them about this and they were quite interested. About a fortnight later a report came out in the papers they’d called 2 German spies in British uniform, now we don’t know if there was any connection at all, whether it was just a coincidence or whether it might have been.
it was pretty grim though having tents in holes and?
Yes it was pretty, very barren nothing to do. We were, I was driving a 30,000 weight truck then with all the gas, anti gas equipment on it. We’d been there about 2 days when we coped a khamsin, which is the dreaded desert dust
storm and it came through the camp and you couldn’t see the door, it’s that thick. The only way you could eat your meal was to get under a blanket and you had to keep some of the dust out and your cup you sort of peeled the top of it, which was sort of a dusty slimy skin and then drank what you could of the liquid underneath.
But being on guard was the worst thing in that because you couldn’t see anything and of course the Arabs being used to it they would come into the camp and they’d pinch any and everything they could lay their hands on. And I was a bit lucky on my guard duty because I was just sort of wandering around not really knowing where I was and I bumped into this Arab and he had half a box of ammunition in his arms. But he didn’t like a bayonet being
pricked in his tummy so he dropped it and shot off, I never saw him again but he never got the ammunition. But the dust was so thick. And when we left, orders came down, we’d just arrived there and they, Bardia had already fallen and they were going to attack Tobruk and they wanted more artillery there. So they sent for us but we never had enough transport for both batteries,
so they must have tossed a coin and 5 Battery won and they were going up the desert. But they were 6 men short so they took 6 from 6 Battery and I was one of them.
course everybody’s looking for souvenirs, this was the first time we’d actually been on a battle field. But we very quickly decided that we wouldn’t go looking for souvenirs because you walk in Italian trenches and a cloud of fleas would descend on you, Italian fleas of course, so we gave that away. Our second night we got to Fort Capuzzo which was the big frontier fort which the British
navy had been in with their 15-inch guns and knocked a few holes in it. So on the following or that night we took up position in the dark, we didn’t know where we were, flat in the desert somewhere. This was the night before, no 2 nights before the attack. So we spent that night
carting ammunition up to the guns, cause you only carted up at night time because you were then in range of the Eyetie [Italian] guns.
blow and if you slept out in the open you put your blanket right over you and you’d be covered by sand in the morning. And they had, in the early days people had been run over because vehicles moving around think oh just another sand ridge and drive over it and there’s bloke underneath it. So you slept near something, but you just slept on the ground in the open. And we were taking ammunition in, we had an old lieutenant,
his nickname was ‘Scrooge’. He’d been a teacher or something. We took the first load of ammunition yeah that was okay, the second load we seemed to be going further and further and we couldn’t, it’s pitch dark and there’s no lights of course and we couldn’t find the gun position.
eventually we heard voices but they weren’t speaking our language, so we turned around very quietly and went back the way we’d come. We’d apparently gone through our forward posts because during the night there was a lot of reconnaissance undertaken and they were used to small vehicles going out taking raiding parties out or
reconnaissance parties and what not so they never took any notice of us. And the Italians must have been the same they were used to their mob going in and out, so we actually went into their lines, without knowing it and without them knowing it. We were the first in and the first out, not of the actual fort but only of their forward advance line.
lights of course. No you had to be careful, and there were mine fields around to, if you run off an area where your not suppose to be you get blown up on a mine. And coming up there we also ran into another desert storm, another khamsin and we actually had to have somebody walking in front of the vehicle because we couldn’t see beyond the radiator cap. You couldn’t see
further than there, it was just a wall of sand. And interesting thing there to the driving sand on the metal vehicle built up a pretty big charge of static electricity and the first person to step off would cope the lot, so the drivers never stepped off first, always let someone else.
so your ear drums, you couldn’t hear anything. And then we had to move up and we went through, the Italians had dug big trenches, anti-tank trenches to stop tanks coming in, so they had to fill in one and you had to cross at this one point which was where there had been a road, only the road had been dug up so there was no real road there. And we went through there, there was
an Italian cruiser had been damaged and ran aground in Tobruk Harbour and it was shelling this spot all the time cause they knew just where it was. So you went through with shells landing all around. But we went through quite safely but much later in the night a vehicle going through exploded a land mine. What the Italians had done they’d put 1 land mine on the top
where the engineers had found it and removed it but then they buried another one about 2 feet further down and it wasn’t until the number of vehicles had gone over and impacted the dirt down that it actually blew up. Which was quite a cunning move really.
when we woke up in the morning there was bodies here and there. I saw my first dead Australian, I still remember his name he was an 18 year old named Harry Saw from Victoria. And there were lots – we’ll skip over this lots of bits and pieces of bodies and things lying around. One
of our chaps who was a bushman from the Northam Territory a very well known bushman actually Ben Nicker, he found an Italian body with a pair of fancy boots, he said, “Oh I’m going to have those.” So he started to pull one off and the body came to life, the Eyetie was having a shaming dead, he was quite annoyed that he lost his boots to and he was carted away as a prisoner. Oh and that’s what happened to
a long column of Italian prisoners being marched past, the Italians who were still further in the fortresses of Tobruk evidently saw them and shelled them, their own people they didn’t realise. So there were not only bits of Australians lying around there were bits of Italians lying around to.
of the driver, nothing else, just gone, when you get a load of ammunition blow up it wipes out the lot. So a lot of people didn’t want to be ammunition drivers but another mate of mine George we thought, there were 2 ammunition trucks to each battery, we thought now if we take this job we don’t do any duties, we
don’t do any guard duties, we don’t do cookhouse duties any of those things, so we decided we’d do it and we did, never did any duties, made up for it.
supplies if you got injured?
I don’t know. You had a bandage, every soldier carried a bandage first aid, which was a fair size bandage which you could slap on with a couple of straps to strap around, that was all that we had. Each unit had their first aid men, I think we had 2, how much training they had I don’t know
and they’d drop their rifles and their machine guns and what not. So if you can imagine an area from the street down there to the end of the street up there and a couple of hundred yards wide, just guns, just dumped guns, there must have been thousands and thousands of them. Well they did later on ship a lot across to Greece to the Greeks who weren’t well armed
and whatnot. And the Arabs used to come in with their camels when there was no fighting and load up the camels with rifles and clear off. Oh the Arabs were very, they’d come in selling you chocolates, they’d sell you a date slice too, and I wouldn’t advise eating the date slices. Instead of dates they had cockroaches in them,
and they ate them. You could tell, there was this little bit of doughy stuff and if it had little black things sticking out of it you didn’t eat that one because that was a cockroach inside and it was it’s legs sticking out. And that’s genuine, that’s real.
You don’t look very impressed?
No I didn’t try any of those. And little sand snakes, I don’t think they were venomous, little sand snakes, wouldn’t be more than a foot long. We had one chap he’d been a clown in a circus and he used to carry one in his pocket and if he met someone he’d have this little snake circled up in his hand and
he’d shake hands with ya. I remember one occasion you naturally dig your slit trench at every position and these blokes had got a sand snake and a scorpion and put it in the bottom of their slit trench and were trying to make them fight, they didn’t want to fight but the blokes wanted to make them. But over came a couple of planes strafing so they jumped in and joined them,
they didn’t bother about them then. Yeah well we were there at a place called Fort Palestrino for a day or so and then we were ordered to go out and support a force that was attacking and outpost out in the desert called Mekili. So we started out there and you would have thought there was a major,
you’ve ever seen a major Australian bushfire? You seen the smoke that covers the sky like this, we thought crikey there much be bush out there, big fire, but it wasn’t it was sand, it was a sand storm coming.
2/11th was mainly involved in capturing, we were supporting them. And the Eyeties were retreating quite rapidly but we couldn’t keep up with them, we didn’t have enough transport. So they decided that as 5 Battery wasn’t a full regiment, only 1 Battery they would leave them there, they would take all their vehicles and move Infantry in them. So we unloaded
all the ammunition and we picked up about 20 infantry men and we joined the pursuit and we finished up in the front. There were 2 utes with the Bren gun mounted in the back, went in front, 2 blokes in each and then I was next with 20 Infantry man and there was another one of our fellows Wiley Nelson behind me with another 20, then there was half a mile back to the main mob, because we were the advance.
We were going, we were out of the desert then we were in what they called the Jebal Achtor, which translates into ‘the Green Corner’ of Libya where there was actually trees and, there were actually Italian farmers, quite a few thousand of them, white houses, kids, stock, cows, quite civilised, we were out of the desert. So
were following this retreating Italian army, when we come to a corner it’s downhill we switch off the vehicles so there’s no noise and we just coast down and we come around the corner and here’s a broken down Italian army lorry and there’s a farmer there with an axe smashing up the engine. So we fired a shot over his head, he left the axe in mid air and, he must have covered 20 feet in his first jump I think. And then
the axe fell down after he’d gone, which was – no a bit further on, a few miles further on 2 armoured cars of the 11th Queen’s Own Hussars took the lead and about 2 miles further on they ran into an ambush and both cars were knocked out, the crews killed, and that would have been us if they hadn’t taken the lead. The fortunes of war, you just never know.
And then we got to the edge, we left this fourth hole section, we came back to the desert and there was a big escarpment, 600 feet down onto the flat desert and the Italians had blown the road so we couldn’t drive down. So the engineers sort of smoothed out a sort of a passage and we tied ropes on the back of the vehicles and held it, about 30 or 40
chaps hanging onto it and we slid the vehicles down, and guns, just slid them down. You couldn’t get back of course but hopefully the Italians were going to keep retreating, which they did. So we got into the biggest town there, a town called Barce and we were able to make a few captures ourselves, a few cases of tin cherry’s, condensed milk and stuff.
Italian officers even had a special cigarette for them which was different to what there was for the troops, our troops wouldn’t smoke the ones that were issued to the Italian troops, they smoked the ones that were issued to the Italian officers, cause apparently, I never smoked, they were a bit better. But the others they said was only made of camel dung they reckon.
Barce, just like the chocolate. So what were you doing when you were in this town, was it?
Oh we were only there for a few hours and then we continued on the pursuit, they’d blown, the Italians had blown up the ammunition dumps there so there was no ammunition available. Because by then we had a few captured Italian weapons as well, like machine guns and things that we were using ourselves.
when you got into a town and you found it was clear you would stop to see if there were any headquarters there, anything that would help you in further advancing, maps that sort of thing. Maybe orders that had been dropped or abandoned or something when they were leaving in a hurry, you pick up whatever information you can
especially about the conditions onto the next town and so forth.
it had been mined so the engineers were trying to get out, dig out the mines so we could continue. But the enemy had set up some guns further back, so they shelled the place a bit but their aim wasn’t very good. But one of our despatch, or 2 blokes on a motorbike, despatch riders had been given some orders to take back
and they, instead of turning around on the track where we’d already driven they swung off the side and ran over a mine that hadn’t been cleared, they were both killed. So that’s one thing you learnt to do, not get off a track cause there could be land mines anywhere. So we continued on and we were overtaking Italians, a lot of them
were on foot of course and we’d just take their, if they had machine guns or revolvers we’d throw them in our truck, their rifles we would just smash on rocks, bash it across a rock and smash it and just left them there to be picked up by the troops behind because we couldn’t stop you see.
So was there any threat that these Italians would just ping you off once you were driving along?
No they weren’t, they weren’t putting up a defence expect as set places, all these odds and sods that they’d left behind, never had enough transport before were just walking trying to get away,
towards Tripoli which was also Italian territory. But the British 7th Armoured Division which had been in the desert all the time were quite desert wise, they had made a surprise and very daring cut around the desert and come in behind the Italians and blocked them, so there was quite a scrap there for while, lot of tanks knocked out.
Until the Eyeties surrendered and just about wiped out an army, several divisions.
How are you finding out all this information at the time?
Well at the time we didn’t really know what you were doing, most of the time they never told you anything, why. And I’ll make an observation here, I don’t think any side from what I saw ever wins a war, the other side loses it, because their more disorganised,
So you had to dig in trenches?
Yeah, we were, had a few wounded but not many, because we were being called back to Egypt to go to Greece. That was the 6th Division, the one that had been in the desert all the time and we were the other 3rd of it that had been in England. We had the most experience so we were going to Greece, some of the 7th Division
the 2nd Australian Division was coming up to take over. But they, something, for some reason they were kept, they came a certain way and they were stopped and then the 9th Division that had only just been formed came up and took over. So they were straight into it without, I don’t know how much training they’d had, I think they’d been in Palestine training a bit.
But they were the ones that eventually got shut up in Tobruk when the Germans advanced and we’d gone, we were in Greece by then. So we did the long trip back to Ikingi, joined up with the other battery.
and thousands of lira, the Italian money but as far as we knew it wasn’t worth anything we were using it to light the fire, to clean weapons, even as toilet paper. When we got back to Egypt we found it was good money in Egypt cause Egypt wasn’t at war. The British were in Egypt they were at war but the Egyptian government itself wasn’t at war, so it was good money there
and we’d burnt it, or used it, thousands of it.
fell as it got dark the convoy turned around and headed back to Alex, Alexandria, we call Alexandria Alex for short. And we wondered what the heck was going on, we had no idea nobody told us anything. In the morning when we were about a 1/3 of the way back again, back towards Egypt they turned us around and were heading back to Greece again. And the reason for it all was these torpedo bombers that had attacked us had reported back to
Italian headquarters that there was a convoy heading for Greece. They sent the Italian fleet out to sink us, but the British navy woke up to this, they turned our convoy back towards Egypt and they took our place, the British fleet, and that was the Battle of Mattapan, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it or not, and the Italians got a heck of a hiding, they lost 2 heavy cruisers and several destroyers and a lot damaged,
they didn’t come out to fight again, not against the British fleet. And the British never had any, never lost any ships.
came in within range and then they, instead of running in and dropping their torpedos they sort of circled around the outside a bit and the destroyers were firing at them, cause we only had rifles, we couldn’t do much good. But the destroyers never hit any of them but they were doing enough to frighten them and they circled around a few times and then
they dropped their torpedos and shot off. Of course their torpedos never went anywhere, they weren’t like Germans they didn’t come in and make a proper attack.
there, we were unloaded there, unloaded using the ships and own derricks. And we moved into a camp, a place called Halaron, about halfway between the port city and Athens itself, it’s a bit like Fremantle in Perth only a bit further apart, Athens would be Perth and Piraeus the port would have been a bit further away than
Fremantle. And of course as we were the advance party, the main body of the troops hadn’t arrived yet they were coming on a troop transport, we had the guns and vehicles. So we had to get them camouflaged from a sandy colour to blotchy grey and green to match the Greek countryside. So we had that done and then we had leave into Athens.
utes and reconnaissance vehicles, survey vehicles, all sorts of support vehicles, ammunition trucks. Each battery had a Bren carrier, you know the small armoured vehicle without any top on it, all open, you’ve seen those?
Yeah had quite a lot of vehicles and then there would have been half a dozen motorbikes probably, sergeant majors usually had a motorbike to get around, cause it’s a mobile unit.
it’s higher than Kings Park. Very impressive really, think of all the history that’s gone there. Athens itself is quite a nice place, bit old of course, narrow streets and that sort of thing, a lot of the buildings are old, grey, probably hundreds of years old. People very friendly.
Traffic wasn’t all that good, but what was noticeable there were no young men because they were up in the Greek mountains fighting the Italians. Cause Greece and Italy were at war then, Germany hadn’t come in yet, they were just massed on the boarder waiting to come over, the Germans. So when the main body of the regiment arrived we headed off for the frontier,
because being mobile we could go. As we drove through the suburbs of Athens people threw roses and offered us drinks, waved and what not.
So we headed off and at one place we crossed a river and drove down and then camped on the bank there for a while, overnight and there was a village on the opposite side, and that was out of bounds, of course that was an invitation. So half a dozen of us poked up and down the river until we found a ford we could go across. We waded across and had a look at the village,
came back, continued on up Greece, as we got half way up Greece we came across bombed towns, the Italians had bombed them. One of their biggest towns Lorica had also been hit by an earthquake so there was quite a lot of wreckage there, as well as the bombing wreckage, we spent some time there later on. And we eventually got up to the Piera Mountains,
which form part of the big mountain range there, and we stopped there overnight at a little village and we got an issue of Chinese beer. What Chinese beer was doing there I don’t know but it was very nice. And we got orders in the middle of the night to advance up to the front so we headed off on a narrow road, just one vehicle width bituman. And we hadn’t gone too far and
we ran into refugees coming south, away from the fighting, where the Greeks had been fighting all the time and now the Germans were massed there, waiting to come over the boarder at any moment. So that made driving a bit hairy, dodging pedestrians, refugees on the road and what not.
we were going to run up against the Germans but we didn’t know, the country was pretty rugged and we thought this is much better than the desert, at least some chance of making defences here. And we thought that we were having plenty of support, we knew the, our division and the New Zealand Division, that’s 2 divisions and we knew there was British there, we didn’t know how many and we knew that the Greeks were there,
and they had about 5 Divisions. But they were just almost thread bear then, they’d been fighting the Italians for so long that they weren’t very well equipped and they weren’t very well equipped to start off with, their artillery was pulled by horses and it was World War I artillery. The donkeys was their main form of transport.
So we took off, eventually got to where our gun positions were, behind a bit of crest, and it was the frontier. 6 Battery were okay, they were on good solid land but 5 Battery didn’t draw very well and we were on a low slushy land. We dug gun pits and put up our camouflage over the top of course and were pretty good camouflaging
by then, the German planes couldn’t pick us up, they couldn’t pick up the guns because of the camouflage overhead.
developed we were about a fortnight then from the desert, overcame the clouds it was snowing, we had no more clothing just the same clothing, we had our uniforms on you know the green, grey uniform they have, we didn’t have our shorts on. But the snow was, our feet froze and we hadn’t had any sleep for about 3 nights
except just cat naps because we, you cart all night and we were carting all day cause the Germans hadn’t attacked then.
Did it only snow for that one evening?
Oh no it snowed I suppose 36 hours or something like that and snow was, it got quite deep in some places. I have read reports, people have written books and what not where it was waste deep, but certainly not in our area, it might have been 3 or 4 inches deep that’s all.
on the, the Germans advanced over the frontier and this is another coincident to, there were only several roads, weren’t a lot of roads so they advanced down this main road which came from Monastir coming through to where we were called, a place called Vivi and the big town was called Florina. The German tanks advanced down this road, the tanks first, they had some motorbikes
in front and then the tanks. So 6 Battery, oh by the way I was, went over to 5 Battery to make up the numbers to go over to the desert and I never went back to 6, some of them did but I stayed in 5, I thought this will suit me 5 Battery and I stayed there. So 6 Battery were the first to open fire and their first shell
believe it or not hit a tank, hit the leading German tank.
until afterwards. But it only stopped the Germans temporarily, they then advanced around the sides, not only the road but up each side as well. They fired a lot of shots there but half of our defence hadn’t reached the front. When we were there the guns were dug in the infantry were still walking up,
because they had to walk most of the way, they came by train as far as they could and then they had to walk the rest. So they hadn’t reached their positions before the attack started, so it wasn’t very long before they were pushed back, because the Germans were mounting with tanks and guns and infantry and aircraft, and we had no aircraft, and we had very few tanks. So it was a foregone conclusion
before it even started really. So it wasn’t long before we were being pushed back. We had Greeks out on the right of us and British out on the left of us. The Greeks were being forced back and they actually became mixed up with us, it was dark and there’s fire coming from everywhere it was hard to tell who was an enemy
and who wasn’t, cause the Greeks had different uniforms to us and a glimpse in the dark you could mistake them for a German quite easily. So things were a bit mixed up there.
they couldn’t get 2 guns out, they were just that deeply bogged they couldn’t get them out, they had to blow them up and leave them there. Anyway they got out the other 10 guns and opened fire while 6 Battery withdrew. And we couldn’t hold them, the British were being forced back as well as our left flank, the Australians were forced back as well so we had to withdraw back to this next line
of ranges. So we had to drive at night without lights on a snow covered road not knowing where the edge of the road was, cause you couldn’t see it was all snow and all you could do was follow the tracks of the vehicle that had gone in front. And that was pretty hairy, our eyes were still too from driving all the time at night. But we got back
eventually, got back, got the guns in and then we unloaded and we had to go back to this half way dump and see what ammunition we could get. And the rear guard had come back by then, so there was nothing between us and the Germans, the advance guard. So we raced up to this dump and we got there before the Germans did and we loaded the ammunition, 15 tonnes of it
in about 10 minutes, flat out you can imagine. And when we put charges on the rest of it to blow it up when we withdrew and we got back before the German advance guard reached there.
So what was morale like after having to make the retreat?
Oh it, the morale was good all the time, we knew that, well we thought that given an even go we could beat them, but we never got the even go. We had no air support, British air support was cleaned
out after the first day I would say of the German, once the Germans crossed the frontier, cause they sent their planes over in hundred at a time, they’d send their dive bombers, 100 stokers at a time. And we had nothing, what could you do, we had no fighters, no opposition at all to them.
Back to Servia, I think it was the Piera Mountain range there, somewhere near Mount Olympus, yeah I think it was Mount Olympus, get a bit hazy now. And we held them, we could of held them there because we were in quite a good position with the river in front of us, we blew the bridge, as soon
as we crossed over with the ammunition they blew the bridge up, most of it fell into the river, not all of it the Germans were able to scramble across, but they couldn’t bring vehicles across until they fixed it, but their engineers are pretty good, it didn’t take them long to fix it. But they, we were all right, but each side of us they were outflanking us, they were coming around behind us so we had to withdraw, we had to leave that good position and
withdraw. And we withdrew to a place called Elasson and this was a fairly, the road ran through a range of hills, quite hilly each side with just the road through the middle. And we put, we’d lost 2 more guns then, withdrawing from this position
we had to withdraw over mountain tracks because the road had been cut, they were shelling the road anyway. So we had to withdraw over these mountain tracks so somebody walked in front of each vehicle with a white singlet or something over their shoulder and you followed them, they picked the track cause you couldn’t see. And you had to be very careful because around the sides of mountains the track actually sloped out a bit
and being snow and whatnot and wet, miserable, it didn’t take much and you’d slide right off the road down the side of the mountain. And a gunman limber did slide over, not the tractor, the tractor stayed on the road but the limber is a small 2 wheel vehicle that carries ammunition, which hooks on the back of the gun tractor and then the gun hooks on the back of the limber, so you’ve got a sort of a 3 vehicle then.
The gunman’s limber slide over but not the tractor, so we couldn’t get it back, we had to unhook it and let it crash down the mountain, so we lost a gun there as well.
we were there, we carted ammunition, there was another dump a New Zealand dump this time we carted from. We carted ammunition all day, our first man killed as a ammo driver as I told you. Because you had to be out in the open you see, you couldn’t take cover, and if you had to bring the ammunition up urgently and in day time you were a sitting target, and that wasn’t too enthralling.
However we got plenty of ammunition up and the Germans were advancing down this narrow road but we had 20 guns aimed on it and we also had 4 British 60 pounders, which is a much bigger gun, a 60 pound shell as against a 25 pound shell, they were further back behind us. So they let the tanks mass up ready
for an attack and then they opened fire on them. And they held them back all day, 2 German armoured divisions, they held them back in time to allow the flanks to fall back, because the front went right across Greece, Greece fortunately is not a very wide country, if you’ve seen a map of it you’ll know what it’s like. So we held them up there –
loads of ammunition would you have been carting on that instance?
They estimate, I don’t know I lost count, they estimate they fired, our guns fired between 7 and 10 thousand shells that day. In fact the guns got so hot that the paint peeled off, off the barrels and what they had to do they, a battery is divided into 3 troops and each troops has 4 guns, they had to put 1 gun out of action in each
troop to cool off, and then when it cooled a bit they put the next one out of action, let that cool off a bit, because they got so hot. But they stopped that armoured division getting through, in fact I believe, I don’t know really, I believe that armoured division was so badly damaged that it was withdrawn from the advance and they sent another one to take it’s place, the Germans.
receiving any return fire?
Yes we, 3 of the guns were hit, 2 shells failed to explode, German ammunition wasn’t all that reliable, same as the Italian wasn’t always that reliable either, it didn’t always explode, ours did, nothing wrong with ours. 2 of the guns were hit but the shells didn’t explode.
the news that they’d been killed?
No time to stop and think about it, you were flat out, just thought oh well bad luck, better them than me sort of thing, unfortunately you think like that, you get that way, you get – you sort of accept it as the routine, otherwise you’d go nuts.
Any personal experiences of your own that you can recall from that day?
We saw a bloke up on a bit of a rise sort of, as though he was signalling, I think he probably was I don’t know what he was doing otherwise, so we grabbed him and locked him in one of the vans, we thought he was a 5th Columnist
signalling to the German guns, but whether he was or not I don’t know. But I’ve no idea what happened to him, nobody seems to know what happened to him after that, we locked him in a van and wasn’t our van, so I don’t know what happened to him or what he was even. He may have been a 5th Columnist [supporter of the enemy], there were quite a few in Greece.
Just keep the accelerator to the floor?
Yeah, oh you can speed up, wait until the planes diving at you then slap the brakes on so that he overshoots or you can travel slow, wait until he’s diving at you and then speed up, but then he can lift his plane and still get you that way. And you can’t dodge
first of all we had to go through Lorica the British town I mentioned and as we were going through there was another earth tremor and more masonry came down and the German advance group had got through to the side of it but they didn’t make any attempt to stop us, there probably weren’t enough of them. And the town had been bombed
and for hundreds of years apparently storks had nested in the top of chimneys and of course the chimneys had been blown down and the storks were flying around, no where to go sort of thing just circling around in figure 8’s above the town, I noticed that quite, noticeable sort of thing.
My worst memory of the war would be here, the place had been, there’d been an earthquake earlier, weeks before the debris was still lying around, it had been bombed several times, there was wreckage and stuff everywhere but there was still a few civilians trying to stay on there, most of them had fled. This day, this time there’d been a
strafing attack on it as we were going through and I remember seeing this, never told my wife even this, this little toddler about 3 or 4 trying to run with one foot blown off, he’d fall over he’d try to get up, he’d fall over again, and of course the blood’s spurting out, he didn’t last very long he died very quickly.
well this occurred on Crete, we haven’t got to Crete yet, but never mind. At an isolated village where there was a patrol, by the time we got to Crete of course we had no field guns left, we were equipped with some old captured Italians guns, captured in the desert and a couple of First World War French guns that you open
the breech and you sight it down the barrel at the target, it was the best you could do you had not sighting equipment. But the rest of us were formed into what they called a composite battalion with an anti-parachute role and we roamed around the hills looking for groups of parachutes who had under shot their landing mark and taking care of them. And this
particular chap I think shot through from somewhere and had come to this little village and found a Cretan woman, obviously on her own and had raped her. And the patrol arrived and more or less in the aftermath of it, so they promptly shot him.
Can I just, sorry Ed, can I just pause you there – continue on where you were there Ed?
So the engineers 2 or 3 groups of whatever available vehicles to go and look for other crossing points, and I remembered where we had camped going up to the front and where we had crossed the river, waded across, found a wading place. So we went straight there
Well that certainly worked in your favour?
Hmm. Somewhere along there we had a shell land underneath us, it landed under the bitumen, ploughed in the side of the road under the bitumen before exploding, lifted the truck up and down like that,
Kriekouri – I think it was – Pass, the name of it. We, the guns were camouflaged on a steep hillside with a little village at the foot, and this is the main road that wound through up the hillside, or the mountain side. And when it reached flat ground it ran straight past the little village and straight for some distance. We camouflaged the wells so well and the Infantry
dug themselves in so well this time we were with New Zealand troops. When the German advance guard came along the scouts they weren’t fired upon and they must have reported back that the pass wasn’t defended because they drove right up to the foot of the steep road up the hillside and we didn’t fire on them. So then they advanced along in close order, trucks, troops whatever,
cause they had no air opposition to contend with, we didn’t have any. When they all got within the range and the road was packed solid we open fire with 20 guns and it was a resounding success. Most of the trucks were blown up and tanks blown off the road and whatnot.
there were a lot of bodies, it was impossible see were looking down, it’s impossible to say, a count. But what did occur they immediately, of course called in their air force, cause they have fighter and bombers on demand, just waiting for a call. They came and they cruised up and down over the hillside but they couldn’t spot, we were so well camouflaged. And we were still firing when the plane
came past and went there, we’d fire while he was going that way, when we was coming back we didn’t fire. When he’d pass and going that way we’d fire again, so that he couldn’t spot the gun flashes. But a German bomber flying along a bit lower there suddenly blew up in mid air and we think, were pretty certain that it flew into the flight path of one of our shells. Now when you shell something you don’t fire directly
at it the shell goes up in a big curve and then comes down, and we think he happened to be just where a shell was going. And he was shot down with a 25 pounder shell, probably the only time it ever happened, certainly wouldn’t be very often, if any time at all.
we did, we stayed there Anzac Day 1941 and then we were suppose to leave that night but we got orders to stay another day, the 26th of April because some of the troops, the Greeks had surrendered, they’d fought themselves to a stand still, they’d surrendered and they were trying to get the rest of our troops out. But of course some of the
evacuating ships were being bombed and the evacuation was being held up. So we had to hold them another day, which we did. By the time they organised a mass attack to actually come around up the hillside the day was over and we were able to retreat that night.
We drove through Athens in the middle of the night, German troops were in the suburbs but they hadn’t got into the centre, it didn’t hold us up. We drove, there were a few fires burning, a few buildings burning, bombing apparently. We drove some 10,
But how did you get down off the hill then if you were surrounded by Germans?
Well we continued on over, we were on the side of the hill, on one crest going up to the top, we just continued over the top and down the other side. And they still had to get over,
was marked by burning vehicles and an occasional body here or there hmm. So what happened most of the time was when the bombers arrived, and they usually came in 2s and 3s you’d wait until they got overhead and you could see where they were going to drop their bombs and where the bomb, you soon learnt where the bomb was going to land cause they land not straight down but they go in a forward direction. You either swerve off the road
or you’d stop and people would scatter each side so you wouldn’t be hit. This particular chap on this occasion he didn’t really approve of being strafed, he jumped off the vehicle ran for his life, ran into the branch of a tree and said, “Sorry,” and ran on.
Oh yes – and eventually we got to an embarkation port, a Port O’Rafferty, and we set up the guns there, they were fairly well out in the open and of course the German air force had a field day, they bombed all the rest of our
transport, got some of the guns. But they never attacked because their guns and tanks were held up by our blowing up their roads, the road they would have had to use, so we were only under sort of sniping attack on ground and strafing from the air. And again we were with New Zealand troops. The official history of the war says
in volume 3 the New Zealanders were impressed with the 2/3rd Field Regiment and asked for them twice to support them. Because we had supported them at Elasson and Kriekouri and finally at Port O’Rafferty.
Whereabouts is Port O’Rafferty in relation to Greece, is it south?
South of Athens yes, the nearby village is Marcopoli, these sort of names get burnt into you. And from there we were evacuated, I was, thought I was very fortunate I was evacuated on the British cruiser [HMS] Ajax that had been in the Battle of the River Plate
in South America and they sunk the German pocket battleship, it was one of the cruisers there. And the sailors couldn’t do enough, cocoa thick you could almost eat it and bread and butter, I don’t know when we’d eaten last, 2 or 3 days before probably. And we just collapsed all over the deck, I slept on one of their best tables, I had my rifle one side and tin hat the other
so that if the ship rolled I didn’t roll off, they held me on. And when I came to we were steaming into Souda Bay into Crete, and there were 2 destroyers with us and they’d bought our troops to. So the 2 destroyers, it was only a little jetty in the bay, they pulled in there and unloaded and we unloaded into lighters, boats. We climbed onto the ship with netting and we got off the ship climbing down
the netting again. And when we got to shore the New Zealanders went one way and the Australians went the other, the New Zealanders went up to the head of the bay up towards the aerodrome and we went up to the entrance to the bay in the hills there. We never had any rations, nothing to eat, we found that we could buy oranges and goats
milk and things like that from the Cretan villages so we didn’t starve. And as I said they bought in these old guns and some of the regiment banned those and the others were formed into the composite battalion, the anti-parachute role.
because there were hardly any vehicles, communication by telephone was non existent, radios had largely been lost or damaged in Greece and there were hardly any. The rifles we had bought out from Greece with us were taken from us and re-issued to the infantry who were short of rifles,
in exchange we got American Hodgkiss rifles from the First War that weighed about 3 times as much they were covered in thick grease which we scraped off with sticks and then we used some boiling water to get the rest off and we had 30 bullets each.
Were there any leftover Italian weapons?
There was a fair bit of it around that had got there by one means or another, they probably shipped some over to Crete for the use of the Greek army, and they bought more over to supply us, or re-supply us when they could of given us new 25 pounders which they had in ordinance stores in Egypt. A couple of those might of made a lot of difference, instead of
the things they gave us that you had to open the breech and look down the barrel to see what you’re going to shoot at and then half the shells didn’t explode.
a lot of the time didn’t fire because if they’d fired it would only have bought a dozen stokers and they would have been destroyed straight away. So they tried to keep them for when the paratroops, which we were expecting, tried to keep it for when they came. But of course when they did come so did the stokers with them. The initial attack was made on May 20 and we, didn’t attack us, there
was our 5 Battery were at Maleme drome which was the biggest drome on Crete, they were there with 4 old Italian guns. Our 6th Battery were up at Retimo drome which was the second drome with 2 old Italian guns and we were in the middle at the entrance to Souda Bay which was the harbour, the anchorage and we were suppose to protect that. Well they didn’t, the paratroopers didn’t
land there they landed at the other 2 places. They landed on, actually landed right on top of 6th Battery gunners and the gun crews were 6 men and to protect them they had 1 rifle, 1 rifle between 6 men and of course they were slaughtered until the survivors were able to gather some captured German weapons and eventually recapture the guns and got them into operation.
The paratroopers were, we only encountered a few of them and those had come down in the wrong area and they came down with a Tommy gun but very little else because all the rest of their supplies were dropped with a separate parachute. Not all parachutes had a man in it, a lot of them just had supplies. Well their supplies had landed somewhere else
and they couldn’t, they didn’t know the country, they didn’t know the terrain and they couldn’t find their supplies so once they ran out of ammo for their Tommy guns they were more or less unarmed. And those were the ones we encountered and had to round up.
the fight went on for 3 or 4 days and then the Germans captured Maleme aerodrome, once they captured that they could fly in field guns, tanks whatever so it then became hopeless against what we had which was practically nothing. So the order was given to evacuate again but we never got the order, the communications were so bad. The composite battalion I was in never got the order,
neither did 6th Battery get the order at Retimo, so they kept on fighting, actually they were winning there, they were protecting that drome, the Germans never captured that drome until we had to evacuate. And the troops left there, being isolated and had to surrender, the Australians, so that’s what happened to our 6th Battery. But 5 Battery faired better cause we were up the other end, they were able to make a fighting withdrawal and
30 miles across the island, it’s flat in the middle of Crete otherwise very mountainous. It’s a chalky sort of soil and you move at night and the dust, the white dust rises up like clouds and you’re breathing this in to and you’ve got no water, it makes you very, very thirsty. We got half way across the island and we found, there had
been farms there but they’d, bombers had destroyed them. We found a well that had water in it so we used braces and belts and sorts of things to lower a tin hat down and get enough water out, everybody had a nice drink and I think everybody had, I did too a second drink during the night. In the morning we didn’t have any more drinks out of that well there was a very dead Greek in it, had been dead for some days,
the water was a bit greeny, but it was lovely water when you hadn’t had any for a long while.
the Germans up, coming across the plain, cause they had vehicles, they’d landed vehicles in gliders and what not and we were on foot, we took a long while to get across the 20 miles of plain, whereas they just drove across quickly. To stop them overrunning us when we reached this mountain ridge, hilly ridge we got these 2 anti-tank guns there and stopped them, because they hadn’t come over in sufficient numbers and they had to wait for their tanks to come to,
sort of thing. So we were able to hold them up for a while, while most of our blokes were evacuated. And on the last night we were there and the last night of the evacuation we got notice about 9 o’clock at night to get down to the beach as soon as possible.
armaments and what not. You didn’t stand the whole time but you stood a fair bit of it. And we were attacked of course by stokers and fighters but as every man still had his rifle in addition to the ships anti-aircraft guns there were probably 500 or 700 rifles as well. So the planes got a fairly warm welcome,
they didn’t press their attack all that much and we never got hit, although some of the other ships did.
How many were a part of that convoy?
There were in our particular one there were 4 ships, there was a brand new light cruiser [HMS] Phoebe, there was a minelayer the – hmm forgotten, and 2 destroyers [HMS] Kimberley and [HMS] Hotspur, we got off on the Kimberley.
say it varied a lot, we also had mixed with us Yugoslavia troops who’d got away from Yugoslavia when Germany invaded that, we had some Greek troops, we had some Jewish troops who’d been in labour units, bought over to Greece to do, cart supplies and stack supplies and that sort of thing, and work on roads
and all that sort of thing. Some of those were certainly not first class troops.
How was the Australians morale in comparison to some of these other troops?
A lot better, I don’t know perhaps Australians are more used to change and what not, not so regimented or something like that, there’s some difference. A lot of the European troops we encountered seemed to be very regimented they followed the book sort of thing, like I was telling you about that gun shoot we had, the British followed the orders whereas the Australians did
something different. We were certainly more inclined to be innovative sort of thing, do something that wasn’t usually done or the unexpected or.
little city at the head of Souda Bay, but the Greeks were very, they never had anything we got a cup of tea and they had wines. But a couple of our chaps in one restaurant they got what they thought was quite a tasty meal, they really enjoyed it so they had a second helping. And there was an English speaking Greek there and I asked him “What is it those chaps are enjoying so much?”
he said, “Oh that’s breadcrumbs and snails fried together,” we didn’t have any.
in an open plain with camel scrub, which is scrub about this high on it, rather prickly grey scrub, nothing else. And they had tents there and that was Khassa Camp, it was one of the training camps that the Australians who stayed in the Middle East, who didn’t go to England, had been training, the training camps. So we needed 250 reinforcements to
build us back to our strengths. We had I think other units lent us a couple of vehicles, we had nothing else, we had nothing we never even had a piece of writing paper to write a letter. We had rations certainly and we had tents to sleep in and we had our clothes that we were standing up in.
We’ll just pause for a moment. So you mentioned you just took on some, what do you call them reinforcements?
Yes we needed 250, they took a while to arrive, some of them had been in the Middle East for some time. Some had been in army camps in India, had come from Australia to India and
Dolorosa, the street that God carried his cross going to where he was crucified. Looked at the wall around the old Jerusalem city and the various gates through it, back in King Herod’s time, full of history there, oh stacks of history. We saw everything we could in the very brief
time. We even drove down to the Dead Sea and sat in that for a while.
As I say we sat in it, it’s so salty that you can’t sink in it, you can just literally sit in the water and stay there, like a chair, but don’t get it in your eyes cause it’s bitter and salty, it’s quite an experience really to sit in water and not sink, the Dead Sea.
And we crossed into Jordan, just to say we’d been there, we never really saw anything. Jericho, we looked at the whole city of Jericho, history everywhere there. Countries pretty barren mostly fair bit of rock, limestone rock, but down near the river, the Jordan River, it’s
orchards and farming, growing things, lot of grapes growing.
Did you witness any accidents or?
One of our fellows, one of our ammo drivers, Nugget, he was mixed up, I never saw the accident this is what I was told. He was mixed up in an accident and he finished up with a donkey coming through his windscreen and sitting in the seat next
That’s terrible, that’s not very chivalrous?
There’s no chivalry about it, definitely not. We had to, in some places had to tie our rifles to the tent pole at night because there very adept at creeping around in the dark and what not and some units had some rifles stolen out of their tents while they were asleep.
think anyone really wanted to. We were not to go into their villages, not to interfere with any of their grazing activities, they did a lot of grazing, they don’t really do farming they just do grazing on the open country. But no they didn’t seem to be a very attractive race the ones we encountered, no doubt
there were better ones elsewhere.
What things did they have for sale?
Everything, including women, all sorts of mementos I’ve got some, a number of little cooper ornaments, their great at making those. Yeah you want something you’ll ask
You mentioned that you stopped to buy drinks, what kind of drink stores did they have?
They had their own particular brew a beer, very weak only about a quarter of the strength of ours, their main beer was called Stella, that was the better of the ones they had, the only one worth
So what other places did you visit apart from, you did mention Jerusalem?
Tel Aviv is mainly Jewish people, that’s where most troops went, there were plenty of theatres, it was on the beach, plenty of swimming, descent restaurants, plenty of beer, mostly German beer.
How did they cut the top off?
You put a cord around, soak it with kerosene or something, light it. Or you get a wire ring that fits just where you want it and heat it until it’s red hot, put it down on the bottle and just hold it there for a second or two and the heat will cause the glass to crack,
You’d file the edges could you?
Yeah, hmm, sandpaper them. Yeah and we also went to Haifa which is another Jewish city, very la di dah, I’d say, must be where the elite Jews live. And of course we went to
our mail was coming through and also there was a very nice town, or there’s several towns around the shores. It was just a change from, and there weren’t Arabs, or very few Arabs and those that were there were a better quality, it was sort of a nicer place to go, depending on what sort of a leave you wanted, whether you were just after women folk or drink or
Were women folk popular with any of the Aussie troops?
I would say yes, hmm. There was Tel Aviv, 2 cities side by side, Jaffa, Arab city, Tel Aviv, Jewish city side by side, you don’t know when your in one and when you walk out into the other. Yes plenty of women available there.
you didn’t want to buy much, you might buy couple of postcards to send home, you might buy a souvenir or two, you’d buy some beer, you probably buy something to eat. You didn’t normally buy anything to read because most of it was in Arabic or Jewish so it wasn’t any good to you, not that any people bothered to read. You might buy a pack of cards say for back in camp or,
didn’t spend a lot of money really, didn’t have it to spend anyway.
Galilee where the Jordan River runs out and then it runs down and finished up in the Dead Sea. And they had, it was an agricultural settlement, very busy people, never got to talk, well you couldn’t speak the language anyway but we sort of had a walk around and saw their husbandry ideals and what not. Yeah they worked hard, cultivating and
mostly vegetables they grew, grapes and they had some stock, but the Arab terrorists were there, or Arab scavengers, couldn’t really call them terrorist, they had to protect their place all the time, they had guards around it all the time. And in the middle they had a big tower with a lookout on top,
with rifleman up there, as they are now at each others throats. Not so bad during the war because there was so many troops there, there were British troops, there were Australians, there were New Zealanders, they didn’t want to stir up too much of a, and besides that they were both nominally on the British side, not the German side. The Arabs and the Jews were both,
supposedly supporting the British and French.
Did you do those manoeuvres at 100% or?
Oh yes, you’d go through as though it was the genuine thing except you didn’t actually have a target to fire at and you didn’t fire at it. They had a firing range, Asluj, it was out in the desert, cause not all Palestine is desert, most of Palestine itself is not
desert it’s sort of a hard sun baked country a lot of it with a low shrubbery. The Northam part is quite fertile, that’s more hilly but out the southern end you run into the Sinai Desert which is just a sea sand, and that’s where they had the artillery range. And you’d go there and use low ammunition there, you’d engage targets,
they had canvas and wood targets away in the distance. The only thing was you couldn’t fire a barrage, you would fire a salvo and then you had to stop for a while and then you could fire another salvo. And why you stopped because up where the shells burst as soon as the shells burst the Arab scavengers would come out of the hill looking for the brass off the shells,
the riffling bands off the shells which are made of brass. And they would collect those, obviously they sold them. So if you fired again immediately you’d knock off some of the Arabs and that might of upset the Arab supports so you didn’t do that, you waited until they went in and collected it and then you fired your next round.
What was the general attitude amongst the troops during all that training?
Yeah I think those that had been through Greece and Crete were very happy to have the time off and recover a bit. And of course the new blokes needed the training cause they hadn’t had their full compliment of training, they had to learn a lot. There was never any tension amongst us, we all seemed to get along fairly well. We had a canteen of sorts, they had
some theatres, most camps had a theatre which showed films that changed about twice a week. The theatre wasn’t actually a first class it was a brick wall, no roof, mud floor and boxes and things inside, that was your theatre, no daytime shows of course there was no roof, only night time. I think
they charged something, not very much, so my mate and I used to go 3 and 4 times a week, if we’d seen the show in our own theatre we’d go to the next units theatre and so forth.
What interaction was there at all?
Yeah I suppose there was a fair bit, probably more than you realise. For instance when we were on manoeuvres we would occasionally set up a position alongside Jewish orchard or something and of course being Aussies, Australian troops we’d raid their orchard. The Jews never complained, 2 reasons
curious cause when there’s a US [United States] naval ship in Fremantle Harbour today it’s in the newspapers and you notice them on the train or in the city and there’s women wanting to date them?
Hmm, well of course newspapers weren’t permitted to comment on troop movements anyway or on the fact of what troops were there, whether they were British, Australian, New Zealander or whatever. New Zealanders mainly trained in Egypt,
Do you think you would have preferred to be training in?
No, no because Egypt’s mainly Arabs and while Cairo’s quite a nice town sort of thing, much bigger than Tel Aviv, many of the Jewish people you couldn’t tell them from ordinary Australians,
Syria got so bad it looked as though they were going to let German air force into Syria. So the high command decided that we’d better occupy Syria to prevent this happening, cause that would have endangered the Suez Canal very badly, which was the lifeline. So they used British troops and the 7th Australian Division, I was in the 6th the 7th was the next one, to invade it
and they had quite a fight there. Some of our 6th Division units who had recovered a bit went up to help and we sent up an advance party and some guns but we never actually got into action. But we stayed there as garrison for some time.
up in the mountains, we lived in Quonset huts [prefabricated buildings], we had to drain the radiators every night otherwise the water in them would have frozen and cracked the engine block, it was quite cold, snow. I recall one occasion leaving, some terrific ruins there, Balbec, Balbec
is where we were and there’s some terrific ruins there, huge ruins. And we left there, snow 6 inches deep all around the place, put water in our radiators and headed off, came out of the mountains with the snow packed 6 feet high each side of the road by the snow ploughs, which they used to clear the roads. And looked down there and there’s Beirut down there brown and green, not a trace of white anywhere
and in an hour we were down there, quite hot, quite tropical, quite steamy, and you look back up and see the white topped mountains up there. That’s quite a thing to do.
most of us had pullovers of some type, eventually they issued us with an army pullover. We had our great coats, overcoat type thing. You usually wore a couple of shirts and that sort of thing. Cause at one stage we weren’t allowed to wear the pullovers, we had to have a shirt but you could have a pullover on underneath, which wasn't all that good cause they get a bit prickly. But
you had to be uniformed you see, you had to look good.
Yes it was sort of a garrison position there, because they maintained positions there, like we had the advance guard there in case Turkey decided to go in with Germany, and of course they were right next door. But the Turks weren’t going to go in with anyone, they were neutral, really neutral, which was just as well because it would have made things pretty uncomfortable if they’d have come in.
at bit of West Australian some of that awful New South Wales and some Tasmanian Cascade and what not. Anyway Japan came into the war yeah and it snowed on the, not where we were but over on the Hebron Hills over near Nazareth and over towards the Dead Sea, and you could see it in the distance, the glisten of the white on the hills. And of course
most of our recruits that had come to make up our compliment hadn’t seen snow, so there all out there gazing at the snow.
Whereabouts did you celebrate that Christmas?
Well we had this big marque and there was hardly any room on the table for food cause it was all bottles, I’ve got photographs of the bottles, just sheer, a sea of bottles on the table, doesn’t look as though there was anything to eat but there was
What did you do during that month?
Oh probably continued training, manoeuvres out in the, either in the hills or out in the plains, we did both. Manoeuvres on the plains in case we went back to the desert, manoeuvres on the hills in case we
So whereabouts were you embarking and what ship did you embark on?
We, the advance guard again, I usually end up in those with the guns and all the vehicles, we drove from Palestine across the Sinai Desert, they’d made a beautiful road across the desert by levelling the sand, winding around the sand hills, levelling the hills and then pouring on hot tar,
and the tar soaks in and when it cools, dries, hardened makes a good solid road, good road and cheap road too. So we drove through the desert, there was sand hills and then all these empty 40 gallon drums that had contained tar still lying alongside the roads where they’d made the road. Crossed the Suez Canal to Port Tufic and we stayed in the railway yards there overnight
and in the morning they said, “That’s your ship go and get loaded on that.” It was about a 30 year old BISN, which is British Indian Steam Navigation Company ship, the Garmula. So we loaded on that and of course being artillery it had an old 4-inch gun on the stern, so we provided a gun crew for that and the rest us, there was only about a dozen of us, the advance guard, with
all the guns and vehicles on board we were the ack-ack defence. We established 2 posts, 1 on the bridge of the ship and one on the boat deck, the other high point. And we lived there, we didn’t do any duties or anything, well we were on duty all the time as ack-ack. We ate, went down and ate with the rest of the ships crew and whatnot.
You just mentioned that you were on the boat for?
Yes we were on the Garmula, we took off and we called in at Aden for water, we didn’t go ashore, very barren looking place. And then we headed out into the Indian Ocean and they said, “Sail independently, watch out for Germans radars.” So we sailed independently, we never had any troubles. We called at Cochin
What did you manage to do in India for 12 days?
Coaling, cause we pulled in tied up to a jetty, there were 3 other ships with us all of the same type, the Garmula, the Nurmahal, the City of Hankow and the Havildar and the Havildar tied up
alongside us, the Indians bought out a barge full of coal, they put a ladder up the side of the ship, or a plank rather, a plank up the side of the ship and each Indian had a basket and he filled the basked with coal, he walked up the plank, have you ever seen people carrying bags of wheat, probably haven’t that’s happened long ago? No. The plank goes like this and they’ve got to walk on it, it’s quite an effort to,
it’s a knack to walk up there. They walk across the ship and tipped the basket down a shoot and then they walk down the other plank and fill their basket again and come back and do it again. And they have gangs of them so that there’s a chain going, you can imagine how long it takes to fill the bunkers of a ship with coal doing it like that, it takes about a week. So when they’d filled our bunkers then they extended the planks across and started
on the ship that was tied up alongside us, the Nurmahal to fill her bunkers to. And we on the ship could roam around Cochin, there wasn’t much in Cochin couple of theatres, nothing else really.
a magician show, you know Indian rope trick and all those things, their quite mystifying some of them. They wave their hands in the air and a couple of pigeons and out of the top pocket a rabbit, I don’t know who they do it it’s amazing, entertaining. So when all the ships were coaled we took the sea again, we had 1 Australian Corvette the Bathurst as
escort, it took us out into the Indian Ocean for 1 day and said, “There you are fellows on your way were going home.” So it went back to port and we proceeded independently each ship took off in 4 angles like that and we opened our sealed orders that day I think and our next port of call was Fremantle. This
caused great excitement on board, but the Indian Ocean there were quite a lot of Jap [Japanese] raiders and submarines and things finding and sinking a few of the ships coming back bringing troops. So a severe storm came, just a couple of days later and this storm stayed with us for 12 days, a really rough storm. So to go from Sewers to Fremantle took us 8 weeks cause we were stuck out in the Indian Ocean. The storm was so
severe we were doing about 50 miles a day.
Yeah and we got leave and my parents, the last letter I had from them they were down at Northcliffe, way down south, down Pemberton way, but they said they were coming to Perth, they were going to lease the farm and come up. So we didn’t know where they were, so we had to get to the post office and ring the Northcliffe Post Office to find out their address.
So we rang, I knew the postmaster of course, I rang him and he said yes 105 Fifth Avenue Inglewood, so the bloke I was with Eddy Phelps we caught the train up to Perth and caught the tram out to Inglewood and went to 103 Fifth Avenue, wasn’t them. So went to all the other avenues, sixth, central, seventh, eight, ninth, tenth.
And we’d just about given it up then and we came back and went to Fourth and we said, “Oh well this is it, it’s hopeless,” our last attempt we’ll try Third Avenue. So we walked into Third Avenue and – as soon as I walked onto the veranda and heard the kids’ voices I knew it was the right place. Cause then there was great excitement then we had to be back on board the ship by midnight, which we were
and the ship sailed in the morning. But my, old George Moss who was to be, as I said my future father-in-law, he was AWL he’d gone out to see his family at Kenwick and hadn’t come back in time so we sailed without him. It took us 7 days to sail across to Adelaide and the lightly laden ship did it rolled with the waves coming in from the southern ocean from the South Pole
the ship was rolling like this, quite exciting. We berthed in Adelaide and the wharfies were on strike so we unloaded the ship ourselves and we went up to Aldgate in the Adelaide Hills.
What did you do in those 6 days?
My parents of course were in Inglewood then so I stayed there and used to go into town each day and meet the blokes, who’d come on leave with me, and one of them stayed with us, George Sandercock, he didn’t have a family anywhere so he stayed with us.
Meet any girls when you were on leave?
Well one day I was waiting at the Perth Railway Station for somebody, I can’t remember who, I don’t know who it was and I saw this girl coming across, it was about half past 5 knock off time for all the girls in the shops, and this girl was coming across Wellington Street, yeah that’s right. I thought you
and we were catching the train to go back to the camp in Adelaide my mate Stevo claims I said see that girl I’m going to marry her, 3 years later I did. But that’s another story sort of thing. But we got back to
Adelaide and we were warned that we were going to Darwin, cause the Japs were expected to invade Australia. But they sent an advance party off, and I wasn’t in it this time up to Terowie, which is well out towards the Northern Territory. But eventually they called them back and we went up to Queensland instead, we went to Townsville. We were there when Townsville was raided by the
first air raid on Australia by the Jap flying boats and the Yanks [Americans] were here by then, in fact the cities were full of them.
a fighter squadron at Garbutt Drome, which is the big army drome there and they sent up a couple of fighters and the Japanese bombers were coned over here and the Yanks were firing at something over there. Anyway the Japs dropped their bombs and went off, disappeared and never saw them again. But the following day the Yank pilot through, I think it was a national radio hook up told how he saved Townsville
and chased the Japs away. Not very factual but good public relations, good for the general hearing.
their boast was that when it rained and it rained heavy and frequently the water could run 3 ways, it could run back towards Townsville into the Pacific Ocean, it could run north into the Gulf of Carpentaria or it could run south west into Lake Ayr. They reckon that that was the actual point where the water could run one of 3 ways. Whether that was
dinkum or not I don’t know, but it was a good story.
Yep so you’re back with the regiment?
Hmm. And when we got to Cairns we were divided up, by then I omitted to say that before we left the Middle East they changed the set up of the regiment from 2 Batteries to 3 Batteries, originally we were 2 batteries of 12 guns each, they changed to 3 batteries with 8 guns each.
Cooktown was very interesting, though. It’s on the Endeavour River where Captain Cook beached his ship when he was exploring here, they still mine several minerals there. The town was 30,000 at one stage but it’s only 500 now since the Palmer Goldfield collapsed. Yeah it was a very interesting place and we had 25 tonnes of ammunition and we carted it from A to
B to C back to A to B to C, kept moving around in a big circle all the time, I don’t know why. So we stayed there until we had Christmas 42 there and then a militia unit took over and the threat of Japanese invasion had faded then, we went back to Cairns and rejoined the unit. And went up the [Atherton] Tablelands and started training for New
Did you have most of your fitness and health back?
Yeah, yeah. Up on the Tablelands we rejoined our Division, 6th Division, up till then we’d been detached and attached to the militia 5th Division for home defence. We were glad to be back with our own division and put our own signs on our vehicles which was a kangaroo over a boomerang, that was our sign. And we started training for
jungle warfare and this was quite different, instead of having 6 men to a gun they had 10 men to a gun because of the difficulties of the terrain and the jungle and what not. So we were doing jungle training and they took half of our guns away and gave us some Australian invention, one that had been made for parachute dropping, so it was in bits you had to put them together.
We later used those in New Guinea and they were a failure, it was much danger to our own troops as the enemy as the shells didn’t always go where they were aimed.
You know what sort of nasties were out there?
Well there was a stinging tree with fairly sized leaves and you just had to brush against it and you got all these little needles in you and they’d stay for weeks. And we had all sorts of things, dysentery, scrub itch which was a little insect you picked up from dust,
trucks to pull the guns we had no Caterpillar tractors for the jungle you see, so they pulled stuff ashore. We still had our ammo trucks but we had 10 wheeler ones now, all 10 wheel drive sort of thing so that you, and we also had big winches, power winches on the front because you got bogged a lot. So you’d run a long steel cable out and winch, put your motor and your
wheels in turning and your winch working you could pull yourself out of most places. Except once I got too far out to sea and I had to get 2 blokes to pull me out when the tide came in. The tides drop and rise quite a lot there. So 6 Battery were first, the 6th Division were relieving 3 American divisions because the American divisions wanted
relief so we were replacing 3 with 1. We went into action fairly quickly the Americans hadn’t done any patrolling, they had landed and established a base between 2 rivers and that was their fronts. And our job was to go over the river and deal with the 18th Jap army, which comprised 3 divisions.
Anyway we started on that and from then on it was entirely different warfare, there’s nothing like the frontline, no trenches nothing like that, you have a base which is surrounded by gun pits and what not and that’s where you operate from. And just about everyday you’d send out maybe 20, maybe 30, 50 blokes on a patrol and you’d patrol out in the jungle and try and find and
ambush a Jap patrol, and the Japs would be doing the same thing from their base, which might be several miles away. So that you weren’t face to face with your enemy all the time, it was only when you ran into one of the other patrols, or one of their patrols tried to get into your base, that sort of thing, so it was an entirely different type of warfare. Often the enemy could be just down at the corner and you wouldn’t know
because there’d be a ridge of jungle in between and you wouldn’t know he was there. It didn’t make it all that good until you got used to it. And the Australian guns were a failure because they bounced around too much and the sight shifted and the shells landed in the wrong places, oh everything went wrong. So we were there for
in action for about 6 months I suppose before we were relieved.
it would have an extra base, an axillary base. But we would have to drive back to Aitape to pick up the ammunition, so we had a cloth canapé on top of the truck, one would be driving and the other one would be standing up with the rifle because there could be Japs anywhere, you never knew where they were, might just be a sniper or might be a patrol you see.
our uniforms generally with what we used to call B for betty, betty means B for bugs, to stop scrub typhus and various things you could pick up from the kunai grass. Kunai grass was a tall bamboo like thing that grew to about 6 feet high, very thick and the only way you could tell there was somebody else in it was the tops of the leaves moving as people were moving through and pushing the stalks.
There quite a lot of fun if you’ve got a, stuck in one of those with the enemy as well cause you never know who was who and they were full of scrub typhus those. And scrub typhus was quite a nasty thing, you lost all your hair off your body for a start and in many cases it was fatal. But as long as you used this betty on your clothes all the time and you had putties on so that there was no
space between your trouser leg and your boots to keep anything out of your ankles.
What other sorts of nasties were out there in the jungle?
We had a few pythons, one of our blokes his nickname was ‘Dasher’, so you can imagine sort of guy he was, he caught one and tied it up to a tree, about a 12 foot python, had it tied up to a tree. The python must have had a feed just prior because it stayed there, it didn’t mind being tied up to a tree
camp site like, your main base was it under canvas?
No we had tents yes, they bought a thing called a 2 man tent, each Soldier got a strip of triangular piece of canvas and if you put 2 together you made a little tiny tent, 2 man tent. And it rained every night of course in New Guinea, quite heavy every night, the night downfall we used to say. When we were at Aitape, when we’d come
back to be relieved for a while, have a spell for 3 weeks I think there was big RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force] base there, 3 squadrons and they had a movie on every night and we were invited to go any night over to watch their shows and we quite often did. But we had to go across a river on a suspension bridge, okay so everybody would, after the show was over
you’d hurry home because the rain would start about 11 o’clock at night, just about every night. And one night the show was a bit longer and everyone was in a heck of a hurry to get home, too many got on the suspension bridge at once and there was some loud bangs and the whole lot ended in the river. And the river was full of crocs, but nobody got bitten, I think some walked on the water until the land, they got so frightened of the crocs, I’m sure they walked on the water. And the crocs
probably got a fright anyway and cleared off, with all this noise suddenly landing in the water, no one was bitten.
Was the rain a constant problem?
Yes your shirts actually rotted on your back cause they were wet, dry, wet, dry, wet most of the time, they just rotted away.
That’s lucky, how did you know it was a centipede, did you see it?
I killed the blinkin’ thing, they were under my mosquito net, cause you had to use a mosquito net every night you see even if you were sleeping on the ground you had to throw this mosquito net over you and keep the mossies
Germany and it became an Australian protectorate, that is under Australia control until such time as they could have self-government. So it was still an Australian protectorate when we were there, but the Germans had built a road along the coast which cause is the only place you could build it cause it’s so mountainous as soon as you get inland. And there were coconut plantations all along, just in from the shore, I mean the sea was there the sand here and the coconut plantation started
there. And it was only this little strip of sand and when it was wet it was hard and you could drive on it, and it was much better to drive on that then try to drive on this remanence of this road, that had logs across it and holes and mud and sand, oh you know it was a mess. So we would race along the wet sand and as the waves went out you’d go out to sea a bit following the wet sand
as the waves come in you’d come in again, so you’d have a wavy course along. But if you misjudged then you got stuck and that’s what like I did that time, took 2 blokes to pull me out. We were doing this once when the vehicle in front of us was hit, must have been a small patrol or something and cause that blocked the track and that upset things a bit.
We didn’t get hit, in fact along the beach you were in more danger of being strafed by Yanks than, twice we were strafed by Yanks fortunately they weren’t good shots because we had a load of ammunition on.
Moem and Cape Wewak, and the Yanks were told to bomb the 3rd one, what they do they bombed the second one where our 2/1st Field Regiment was there, 7 Australians were killed and 4 other troops killed, 11 killed and they bombed the wrong place. Yanks are trigger happy. Thereafter any Yank bombers they would send 1
Australian plane to lead them, and he would go and drop a smoke float and that’s where the Yanks would bomb. They couldn’t trust them to go bombing on their own.
all these Australian made 25 pounders, the short ones, the folding ones, took them away and they gave that Battery 4-inch mortars, I don’t know if you know what a mortar is or not? It’s a tube on a big iron plate and you actually drop a bomb in it and there’s a charge down the bottom and it shoots the bomb out and the bomb goes out and then down like that, for over ridges and what not,
that was 6th Battery. 53rd Battery kept their ordinary guns but 5 Battery were given 6-inch guns, much bigger ones, 155mm, the equivalent to 6 inch. This was for long range work cause they could fire a heck of a distance further, but they were so big of course they could only operate along the coast, cause you couldn’t get them inland anywhere. So we had a lot of fun with those to,
when they fired, there was only this little narrow section before the mountain ridges started, so all the traffic had to come along this little flat section. And before these big guns fired you had to stop the traffic, from in front, about 200 yards back from the blast from the guns. And this particular day there was a ute with 4 or 5 fellows standing in the back and an engineer officer in the front with the driver and we stopped them
and he said, “Oh rubbish, rubbish, rubbish, were going through,” and he’s an officer so what could you do. So they went through and the guns fired, the windscreen was blown in and the blokes on the back were flown flat, they stopped after that, they didn’t do that again.
I say unpopular with the Yanks with Australian troops?
Not all that popular, in Townsville we had an incident, one of our chaps got into a bit of a blew in a pub in Townsville and was knifed, stabbed by an American, cause the Americans are pretty good with knives, and always have been. But he survived
hadn’t we covered in terms of the time you spent in the islands?
I can tell you some little incidents, we had to take a couple of guns inland to reach a target, it was out of range and it was causing the troops a certain amount of consternation, they couldn’t do anything about it. So we said we could take 2 guns inland a distance so we’d get within range of it,
and we’d be able to blow it out of existence. But the only way to get inland was on a river, now the rivers up there flow, there’s lots of rivers and they all flow out of the ranges, the mountains of course so that the beds of the rivers are fairly solid, there’s lots of gravel and stone and what not, because any soft soil is washed out to sea years ago.
I think there’s a plane flying over, is that quite loud – ?
The river was the only possible way of getting guns inland, so we had these Caterpillar tractors, we took 2 guns, Caterpillar tractor pulling each gun. We had our 10 wheeler trucks loaded with the ammo and we had guides, there’d been a flood there, there’d been a big flood
actually machine gunners had established a post on an island in the middle of the river. And this flood came down and washed most of them out to sea, cause it bought down trees this big, you know everything went out to sea. The engineers were building a bridge, putting in piles this thick, they weren’t there when the river went down they’d either broken off or been washed out, out to sea. Anyway the river was now
calm, just a small soft current flowing out to sea. So we started in with the guns, the guns went first and the 2 ammo trucks followed after and we had a guide walking ahead to pick out the hardest parts of the river, the water was only 3 feet, 4 foot deep. And our vehicles, we had a snorkel to the carburettor
and the diff [differential] and the gear box and what not and around the spark plugs were all cased in asbestos grease to keep the water out so it wouldn’t stop the engine. So were following these guides along and coming down the current, the current was just flowing slowly like this was an Australian hat and somebody yelled out “Grab that hat.” Somebody did, lifted it off the water and here’s ‘Snowy’ White,
one of our blokes floating along underneath the water with just breathing through his hat, it was little things like this that kept the morale up. Everybody had a good laugh about that.
Anyway we got the guns up and they did the job successfully and got them back. But the riverbeds are quite hard in places, not the whole lot, you’ve got to pick it. And really that was the only way of getting anything heavy inland. They tried tanks there at one stage and they were good on the little coastal strip but of course they were no good in the mountains, they couldn’t get anywhere. So we didn’t use tanks a lot.
Another occasion when we were back on our 3 weeks leave in, not leave but recreational time in Aitape we did a lot of swimming there, there weren’t many sharks there. But nobody had bathers of course so we went swimming in the buff, and it was quite a sight to see because we’d all come from the Middle East, were all very tanned and brown except for just where
your shorts were worn. And there was a new sister come, there was a general hospital there and the new sister was supposed to have said as she was driving up to the hospital from the aerodrome, “Oh look at all the swimmers there all wearing white shorts, white trunks.” Actually we weren’t wearing anything it was where they hadn’t been sunburnt. But that’s an understandable mistake I guess, we couldn’t do anything about it. We did have
2 cases I recall of war weariness or whatever you’d like to call it. One joker they had him in a strait jacket in the hospital, somehow he got out of the strait jacket, one of our blokes too. Got out of the strait jacket, ran down to the sea and said, “I’m going back to Australia!” and jumped in and swam off, we haven’t seen him since, he was going to swim back to Australia from New Guinea. And by the time, well they didn’t have any
boats to chase him, a couple of blokes swam out and tried to find him but he’d gone. Another bloke’s climbed up a coconut tree and wouldn’t come down, he was up there for – oh – about an hour and a half and they tried to coax him down, he wasn’t coming down, he’d had the war he was going to stay up there. Eventually he fell down and broke his leg and they whizzed him off to hospital and we never saw him again either. But
they were the only 2 cases of war neurosis we had in our unit.
Did you find it comical or upsetting?
Oh well we certainly didn’t find it comical, no we just sort of accepted it, this is what happens. Every unit had some cases I think, depending where they were and what they were doing. One Christmas there we were promised a bottle of beer per man,
we didn’t normally get beer up in the front, so we thought this is great. So they called for volunteers to go back and get this ration of beer, 1 bottle per man. So my mate old George Sandercock drove the other ammo truck and I volunteered and we had an officer come with us named Mac. And we drove back, it was about a 4 hour drive back, at walking pace through on these old tracks,
and we got back to the depot where the beer was suppose to be and there weren’t many blokes, there were a couple there and we managed to wake a couple up and they said, “Oh sorry there’s no beer there was a lot broken coming by ship from Australia” he said, “We haven’t got any left.” But we thought oh this is great, but our officer wouldn’t have a bar of it cause these blokes were smelling of beer. He went off to the base CO’s [Commanding Officer’s] tent who was
snoring off in his tent, half pulled the tent down and woke him up, and we got our beer too, all in unbroken bottles too, they had plenty there but they weren’t going to give it away. And we got it back to the unit at dusk on Christmas day, that’s how we spent Christmas day. And a lot of them drank it immediately, although it was warm, some buried it in the sea sand, wet sand to let it cool off and had it the following day. But that
caused a sudden rise in malaria cases, so that didn’t work out so well after all. That little bit of alcohol just tipped them over into malarial attack when the Atebrin had been holding it down. Cause the Atebrin didn’t kill it, it just held it in. And at one area we got in blokes were going down with malaria left and right and that was a defence like
self wound, you could be charged for getting malaria because you were suppose to take all these precautions. So they doubled the dose, we had to take 2 Atebrin tablets a day and where possible you had to go to an officer, open your mouth and he would put the 2 tablets on your tongue, then you would have to have a drink of water and then open your mouth and show him that you’d swallowed them. Cause there were that many cases of malaria, the division was loosing
that many men back to hospital it was affecting them. But it wasn’t that it was eventually found that in that particular area we were in at the time there was a malarial parasite that was immune to the drug we were taking everyday, the Atebrin and that’s why it wasn’t stopping the malaria. When we moved on out of that area the malaria cases dropped again, but we were being blamed for not taking our tablets.
That’s a bit unfortunate?
Yeah unfair, we were quite cross about that, although we didn’t know at the time that there was this particular anomaly in the virus, we were just cross cause we had to take 2 tablets. When I got back here I was more yellow than the Japs, cause it was a dye, actually, Atebrin.
a bit of equipment and what not, the officers were quite concerned, oh the Japs made a sneak raid there and dropped a mortar shell. It’s funny they only dropped on shell in though, couldn’t make it out. What actually happened it was the crew of that tend had got hold of a large earth ware jar about this big and about this wide which contained sulphuric acid for the batteries of the radios and they’d washed it out and cleaned it and made a home brew in it,
out of coconuts and some wild plums and stuff that grew there, some of that other native fruit. And because it was fairly potent they tied the lid down tight and dug a hole down under their tent, about 3 feet deep and buried it there to mature. And while we were out of camp it built up such a head that it blew up, shattered the tent and everything and that’s what they thought was the mortar bomb. I don’t think they ever knew that it wasn’t a
mortar bomb, it was a home brew that blew up, but we knew.
Rocket fuel by the sounds of it?
Yeah, yeah cause some of the guys would drink anything, torpedo juice and, which put them around the bend, yeah, things weren’t normal by any means there.
44 gallon drums and you used it for 24 hours and then dieseline was poured in and the contents were burnt, because if you did the normal thing and dug a trench and buried it when the nightly flood came it would wash out, so you’d have it scattered all around the camp, and that wasn’t very hygienic. So they used these 44 gallon drums with a
circular hole cut in the top. Well one morning Tiger wasn’t feeling too good apparently, he was in a bit of a hurry and he rushed out but he sat on the wrong drum, the one that had just been burnt and it was red hot. So he was the only bloke to have a circular wound on the rear, in the regiment, he got well and truly burnt there.
Any other incidents involving action with the Japanese up there?
Yes we had, we were camped right on the beach, the beach was there and we had our half a dozen tents here and we had a guard there and we had a guard there, but somehow a Jap got in, he pinched 2 rifles
because we weren’t with the commanding officers or anything, we were just a small group on our own. But one of the big problems of the guards at night were smokers, they couldn’t go the whole night without having a cigarette. So we would have to get them right down in the bottom of the slit trench and cover them with whatever we could, so the little glow wouldn’t be seen, because a glow above ground would have fetched a bullet straight away. They
were a flaming menace smokers on guard duties, you felt like shooting them yourself.
Gracie Fields. The one and only time we ever had a live entertainer and she was good, she put on the show at the air force, wherever they held the movies and everybody that could they got there, and you know she’s got a very high pitched voice, yeah it was very entertaining. The only other ones that I can recall never came when we were in action but came into camp
was Billy Cotton’s band came when we were in Tidworth, England, he was one of the big bands in those days. And we had various other entertainers in Queensland and what not, but that was the only time we ever had an entertainer when we were in action, was Gracie Fields.
no it would be just the one picture and I think they would abbreviate it a bit to. Oh at one stage, not with us but in one area they found that the troops were watching the picture one side, cause they just had a big canvas screen up, no back to it just canvas, and the Japs were watching it from the other side. And the Japs couldn’t have liked this particular show because
half way through the show they threw some grenades into our side. And that’s when they woke up that there were Japs watching it too, but that wasn’t in our area I don’t know where that occurred.
radio, they had a couple of sets that were capable of picking up some of the radio stations. The only other news we got was what was either told to us or we had an area publication for New Guinea called Salt which was published about once every 2 months or something. And if you were lucky some of the air force would occasionally bring up a few, a
bundles of copies of it. And sometimes as they flew into their aerodrome they’d drop it over our camp before they got there. Well a lot of it would be blown to bits by the side slip of the plane and others would float out to sea, we wouldn’t get, although you could swim out after them, some of our blokes did that too, swam out after them. So we didn’t get that too regular. But actual news about New Guinea and what was going on elsewhere no we got very little of that. We got
more from Tokyo Rose which was the Japanese propaganda station.
What was your impression of her?
Oh she wasn’t, she didn’t sound very authentic you could tell it was propaganda. Not like old [Lord] Haw Haw in Germany, we used to pick up his what’s it names too, his theme song was,
Did they raise a laugh though?
Oh you’d get a laugh out of it yeah, he coined the term ‘the Rats of Tobruk’, said they were always underground, well naturally they were underground. It’s the safest place. He called them the Rats of Tobruk cause they were defeating the German attempts to capture the fort. Course the 9th Divi took it up as a compliment rather than a –
Tokyo Rose, what were some of the things she had to say?
She was mainly against the Yanks because in the Pacific area, a lot of it you couldn’t really follow or understand and you probably had to be an American to. But she’d make violent claims and threats of what was going to happen here there and everywhere, you know.
were there any of those that you heard of?
Yes I have seen Fuzzies we called them, the New Guinea natives, Fuzzies, they had fuzzy hair. They were very good mostly we used teams of them with knapsack sprays to spray oil films over any water, stagnate water or pools of water to stop mosquitoes breeding, we used that quite a lot and they thought,
Just exactly what condition and location did you find them in?
One was when we raided what was a Japanese base but it had been abandoned, they’d shot through the night before apparently but they’d left these women there, cause they couldn’t move fast enough and they had no transport of their own to move them, there were no tracks. So they were just there, they probably would have just died if we hadn’t got there and given them some food and –
was just an opening in the jungle, the major portion of the jungle had been taken away, spaces cleared between the big clumps of jungle, big clumps of brush or vegetation with cleared bits here and there, not very large cleared bits. In an area this size you’d probably have one big clump and a little bit of cleared sort of round there,
and they had all sorts of rubbish lying on the floor, on the ground. Old, a lot of old paper stuff, I don’t know what it was whether it was their old newspapers. And a lot of postcards, they were a bit heavier, Japanese postcards all printed in, pre-printed in Japan apparently and issued to the troops, a lot of those lying around, some of them had quite nice pictures on them. Being a bit heavier cardboard they’d
lasted better, and their bits of tin and food scraps and ends of bunches of bananas, fish skeletons, just general rubbish.
Well just like this women for instance when you found her, how was she treated?
Oh we’d give her something to eat, give her water, indicate that she could have a wash if she wanted to. Give her some extra clothing if she wanted it because most of their clothing was in shreds, if they were still capable of that they would probably feel embarrassed. I think they were well beyond that, but we’d fit them out in clothing yeah, army
What was the reaction amongst the troops upon discovering that women?
I’d say pity and anger, sadness perhaps, cause they really were an object of pity, they probably just go back to their native village and die, they wouldn’t have had much help otherwise.
Some of them may of survived. We occasionally got an Indian ex-prisoner of the Japs too, cause they must have taken a lot of Indians and they were using them as porters, as we were using New Guinea natives, only we were paying them, Fuzzies. They were using the Indians captured, probably Indian troops from Malaya, Singapore perhaps Hong Kong using them as
unpaid slaves. And they were, they couldn’t speak our language either, I know we rescued 2 out of a swamp, they’d, up to here in swamp and they’d walked across this swamp, they’d escaped from the Japs and got into this swamp and I don’t know how long it took them to walk through this swamp but they got out, they were covered in leeches of course and blood,
and of course muck from the swamp. We cleaned them up and give them something to wear and send them back to base and hopefully they would survive and get back to India eventually, or wherever they came from.
need salvaging. If anything perhaps looked like a document or a map you’d save it and pass it onto somebody and might be able to understand it, probably of no use anyway but you couldn’t miss out on a chance. Any ammunition you’d bury or burn, explode, any clothing or anything like that you’d burn.
You certainly wouldn’t occupy it, no you’d want somewhere a bit cleaner than that. Mostly you’d just bypass it and go onto the next objective. We used the Fuzzies quite a lot because our raiding parties had to take with them radios of course, it was the only means of communicating back to base,
and they were big and clumsy and they’d have wet batteries, so we’d have natives to carry the wet batteries. We had a lot of trouble at first cause the natives would carry the batteries, anyhow upside down, by the time they got there, there was no electrolyte in the battery, it had all drained out, probably on their legs and they wouldn’t realise it was sulphuric acid.
of course, some people made quite a lot of money out of two-up and some lost quite a lot. I didn’t gamble and I didn’t drink and I didn’t smoke, must have been a goodie-goodie, mustn’t I? But some of the blokes used to give me money to hold, because as I say I didn’t gamble. I sometimes held in excess of a thousand pounds of people, because one bloke in particular he had a
cattle station in Queensland with his brothers and when Japan came into the war they drew straws to see who would stay and continue raising meat for the troops and who would join up. And old Fred lost or won, whichever so he came as a reinforcement to our regiment, and he was always at the 2 up and he was always winning to. So he used to give me 500 pounds to hold, because if he went back the next night and lost he would loose
the 500 as well. So when the next night came along and I’d give him a 100 and keep the 400, if he won okay he’d give me some more to hold, if he lost well he’d only loose the 100 he’s still got the 400 left, so I was a walking bank. I never charged interest, didn’t I miss out!
It sounds like they trusted you more than themselves?
Oh well the gambling urge gets them yeah, they keep thinking oh well I’ll just have one more bet and I’ll win it all back and they lose that. It happens you read about it in the papers now don’t you, that case up in Karratha I think, the bank manager didn’t he do something like that?
And oh we listened in on and off for about 2 hours to this and suddenly shells started landing all around us. And we had to open fire in return and we fired a thousand shells that day and eventually, there’d been a few Jap guns we hadn’t been able to pinpoint, they’d been harassing us for quite some time. They were in caves with only the barrels sticking out sort of thing
and air reconnaissance couldn’t pick them up and we couldn’t pick them up by triangulating the sound and what not because of all the hills and things in between. Anyway I understand they had to drop the Japs a radio set so they could pick up the Emperor from Tokyo telling them that the war was over, they wouldn’t believe it until they heard the Emperor say so.
So they were out to attack us that day after we’d had, got the amasesis, so we fired the last shots.
For sure, when you’ve made it so far?
Yeah, yeah. I was very lucky as I say I got a bullet through the shoe there and I got a bit of shrapnel in my hand there, you can see the scar still, but it wasn’t that bad I never reported it we just kept going.
So what happened after you’d, like released a thousand shells?
Well their shelling stopped, we were told much later by a prisoner that we’d actually destroyed their gun, the one that was, the troublesome gun and the others had knocked off,
I don’t know why whether they’d run out of ammunition to they decided it was getting a bit hot so they stopped. And eventually they allotted points, you got so many points for service and if you were married you got extra points and what not. That’s how they discharged them, longest service first and I think about the second batch that left our mob
I was in because I had long service. So we boarded the same ship that had taken us up there the Duntroon and we got, we called in 2 other ports down the coast to pick up other long service troops. And when we got down to Finschhafen they commandeered us there and loaded on a lot more troops and we went
to New Britain, which is another big island there and up some more troops to Jacquinot Bay and took them around to occupy the capital Rabaul which was the main Japanese base for the whole area. Cause they had no other means of getting occupation troops there, this was after the war. And we didn’t know how the Japs were going to receive us so we crept into their harbour there at midnight with everything blacked out, we had war ships with us as well,
and in the darkness I walked into a gun barrel and just about knocked myself out. I was crook for a long while with that.
and of course they had a guard on every night, even though the war was over they still had a guard on, cause there’s stuff there that could be pinched. So I couldn’t let my parents know, we didn’t have a phone, I had no way of letting them know so I wasn’t very happy about that. The person who was responsible for it was well known for this sort of thing, wasn’t at all popular with AIF
troops. But I had my revenge later, after the war I became a trammie and was driving trams and this particular character lived at home and he worked there, he was in the army, he used to catch the same tram every night of the week at the same spot. And a couple of times I drove that tram and he never caught it. I don’t
you if you, you probably don’t remember the old trams we had here they had a platform back and front and they had a collapsible gate, extendable gate across each platform. And if you put the gate up you couldn’t get on, so when I saw him waiting there I’d put the gate across. And I was quite within my rights in doing this because you stop the front platform being crowded and the driver could have been impeded. So I did that twice to him.
So you finally got off guard duty, how were you demobbed?
Oh a few days later just there and then, just handed in your, I think we handed in our uniforms and things, must have had something to wear to come home though. I think we probably handed in like the surplus things and just kept what we were wearing.
stationed at Bandiana which is on the Victorian, New South Wales border, what’s the big town there? Anyway that’s where she was stationed and I saw her on, I went AWL off the troop train and stayed there overnight and then went onto Melbourne the next morning and caught up with the others and they covered for me. So that was okay.
And she got, put in for leave and got leave and came home and we got married and of course once she got married she could get out of the army, out of the Women’s army so she did. So we lived there for about 12 months I think, my parents went back to the farm and they cancelled the lease and went back. And we lived there for about 12 months and then we moved down to Bennett Street in East Perth because it was closer to the tramway’s barn. We lived there while our house was being built
in South Perth, we had a house built in South Perth which was very close to town also. And we lived there for 28 years until we moved here 20 odd years ago.
and as I’d put my age up a year I cut myself off from some of it, I’m not sure what. I think going back to university was one of them, or not going back but going to, cause I never went to university, I never went to high school either. That put me out of that but I wasn’t really interested to going to that, I just wanted to get a job and get on with it.
I didn’t believe you should only just catch the ordinary working man, the ordinary porter or whatnot for pilfering or whatever, I thought the upper authorities were equally, should have been apprehended equally which I did and got into a lot of trouble over it cause your not suppose to do that sort of thing. It’s all right catching the ordinary
wage man but leave the salary people alone, their not to be touched.
and explained the position to him, he allocated a detective to go with me, we went out to a place in, oh one of the suburbs and we apprehended a railway painter, a painter employed by the railway who was suppose to be painting west Perth station who was home erecting a garage with timber and iron that had been delivered on a
railway truck from railway stores. And of course that involved a few how this could be done, how could it happen, how those quantity of stores could be taken out with no accounting for them and one thing lead to another and yeah.
And some of the things they did really made you mad, now I can quote a case, people up in the goldfields, this particular case once a month they would buy a case of fruit from the markets and that was their fruit supply for the family for the month. They put it into the goods shed to be railed up to Wiluna or wherever it was,
a porter would come along with his hook, break a plank on the side of the fruit case and take out an orange or whatever it was. Okay that was 1 orange gone, but then it went through several hands until it was actually loaded in the railway trucks to go up there and by that time half the case had gone. So when the case got up there if there was any fruit left in it is was very little. And he’d paid for that case, he’d paid the freight on it and what’d he get, practically
nothing all because somebody wanted an orange. That used to annoy me that. And another thing that happened too, people down south would kill a yearling cow, beef, clean it, you know remove the in trails and rail it up to Perth to be sold in the meat markets up here. But on the way somebody would fancy a kidney and they’d take the kidney
out of the carcass. So when it got to the markets the health inspectors would say oh there’s no kidney in that one it must have been deceased, that carcass can’t be sold it’s got to be burnt, it’s finished. So the poor chap that sent it up from down south, lost his carcass got no money returned for it and had to pay the freight as well.
The only other point was I was
going to mention why I thought our unit was unique. We had the lowest numbers, cause each state started from WX was West Australia, SX was South Australia, NX New South Wales, VX Victoria, that’s how they started from 1. We had WX1, we had DX 1, which is Northam Territory, we also had –
the first British troops, first Australian troops to land in Britain in World War II, we were the first artillery unit to be, Australian artillery unit to be equipped with 25 pounders, we were also the first one to loose them all in Greece. We were the first and only Australian artillery unit to fight in snow, in the last war, we were the first one field artillery to fire on
German forces, what else did we do, we’ve got a whole string of firsts I can’t recall them all but that will do to your honours.
active members now, on Anzac Day we’ll probably have probably the same 8 will march but we’ll have another dozen sons, grandsons marching in lieu of their parents. And we’ll have 1 or 2 eastern staters who haven’t got a unit here to march with, they’ll be marching with us. The artillery units raised
in the eastern states, we’ll have 2 or 3 of those probably, but that’s all we’ll have on Anzac Day now. And to our monthly meetings we get down as low as 3 so were going to fold, the association has folded in South Australia and in New South Wales so it’s going to fold here soon, were the last one going. Which is a pity but that’s how it goes.
at all, it’s purely, it’s really something you can’t explain and to people that haven’t experienced it can’t sort of grasp, it’s something that is quite unique. I mean after all when you spend 24 hours a day 7 days a week for 5 years with somebody, and a lot of that time depending on them for your life, it does form a basis
for camaraderie that’s quite different.
No, no, none at all. I think it was sort of, I suppose it’s a sort of duty really. I had a girlfriend when I enlisted and she said, and I can remember her exact words, she said, “Go do your duty,
I’ll still be your cutie, go do your duty.” So that’s one person anyway that regarded it as a duty. I suppose it was really if you were in a position, if you were able you didn’t have a family of kids and that sort of thing, I don’t think those people should have had to go. You were young and
free and unattached well, just the same as the average person would go to the help of someone who had an accident or something. You certainly wouldn’t go to the help of someone in a burning house if you had a wife and 6 kids and so forth, because you have responsibilities, if you are single you don’t have a lot of those.
Some people went for the, thought it was a trip, free trip, some went because they, members of their family expected them to, some went to get away from situations no doubt. I don’t know if there’d be any general reason for enlisting.
that you’d like to pass onto future generations?
I don’t know about future generations we seemed to have done all right we can’t get rid of our own kids without a stick. Our son comes in 5 nights a week, our youngest daughter was here this morning, our older daughter rang and her husband rang, our adopted daughter, or our foster daughter, not adopted