James Quilliam
Archive number: 1741
Preferred name: Jim
Date interviewed: 15 April, 2004

Served with:

2/7th Royal Australian Field Regiment

Other images:

James Quilliam 1741


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Tape 01


Well I was born at Alberton in Port Adelaide district in the house in which I lived until I actually got married. That was on the 22nd of December 1920, Christmas present for my mother.
And when did you enlist?


I enlisted on the 4th of June, 1940.
But before that, so if I can take you a step back, you were actually involved with Artillery Cadets?
Yes, yes, I joined the Artillery Cadets when I was 17, and when I turned 18, I then joined the Artillery Peacetime Militia, Saturday afternoon soldiers, we used to call them.
And then


enlisted in?
Then I enlisted in the AIF [Australian Imperial Force].
And after enlistment, how, how soon was it when you went to Woodside?
Well I, actually I was already at Woodside in a, in a Militia camp, and I went down from the Militia camp to Keswick and joined up the, joined the AIF. And then I went immediately back up to Woodside again.
OK. And when did you join the 2/7th?


At that time, right from the start.
And you embarked on the Stratheden to the Middle East?
That’s right, the 17th of November, 1940, we left South Australia, Port Adelaide, or outer harbour.
And when did you land in, in the Middle East?
One month later.
And you joined up


with the 9th Division?
Yes, yes. That was part of the. I was a sort of mixture at that time, we didn’t really know which division we were in at that time, but it did become eventually the 9th Division, yes.
And where did you join them?
Oh, I would think probably in Egypt when we became part of the 9th Division.
And from,


from there, was that in Cairo at the depot?
Oh no, we were actually in Palestine, we went from there to Egypt in oh, about February 1941. And from there we were attached to the 9th Division at that stage. And they were on their way of going to Tobruk. We didn’t get there. We didn’t, didn’t


have any guns, had very, very, very few rifles, no, no equipment whatsoever.
Well could you just take me through your movements through Palestine? Not, we won’t go into the detail of it, just the dates and, and the places through, through the Middle East?
Well as soon as we were, we went to a little place called Castina in Palestine, to camp. We were there for roughly, oh December,


January, February round about that time, and then we went to a little place outside of Alexandria called Ikingi Mariut, it was once again the staging camp. And at that part, that must have been around early March, 1941, and at that stage we were supposed to get all our equipment, but we didn’t get any equipment. And consequently there was an advance that started,


or we, advance had started by Rommel, he was coming down towards Egypt, and the 9th Division was following, going up, and they went up into Tobruk, and got to Tobruk. But we didn’t have any guns, and didn’t have any rifles, so we were useless. So our regiment and another regiment in the 9th Division, the 2/8th, was a Victorian-Tasmanian regiment, they couldn’t go up either,


because they didn’t have any guns. And the other regiment in our division, the New South Wales division, had been trained on Fortress equipment, and they went up there and took over what we were, the Fortress guns in, in Tobruk much to our disgust, because we wanted to be there.
So, after Alexandria where did you go?
Well then we went up to a place called Mersa Matruh, which was another


fortress area on the Alexandria side of Tobruk of course, and we built a fortification up there, and spent quite some time, we did get some bombing in that place.
And from Mersa Matruh?
At Mersa Matruh, yes.
Where did you go from there?
And from there we then went to our first bit of action, and that was almost two years after the unit was formed. We got


our first bit of action at a place below, right up on the, on the border, Egyptian border with Tripoli. The, and just on the enemy side was a town called Salom. Hellfire Pass and Salom. And we, we were in, in action there for the very first time, and it


was only on a very small basis. We had one.
We’ll, we will, we’ll talk about that later, we’re just really trying to establish dates and places at this stage, and we’ll go into that.
Yes, that would be two years after the regiment was formed.
OK. So we’re looking at ’42 now?
That’s ’41.
’41, still great. And then from Salom?
Well from Salom, we then went out on. The Germans


were actually surrounding Tobruk and all that area, but of course, they didn’t come any further down, so we went over the Egyptian border and we used to do raiding part, raiding part trips on the, onto the back of the Germans if you like. With the British, we were attached to the British, British Scots Guards.
And then from there?
And from there, we,


we were there for a few months, then we came back to Tobruk. The Australians broke out of Tobruk and the Allies had gone, captured Tobruk again, so all the 9th Division went up to Syria, we went up to the Turkish border, because they thought the Germans might be coming down there. But our regiment went to Cairo, and we took over the depot regiment


for the Military School of Artillery. And the reasons for that is that the, there was only one English regiment that had come out, and they went up, up to the advance, the then Allied advance that was going on right through.
And what month are we looking at now, in, in ’41?
’41, we’re looking in November.
And then from Cairo, where did you go to?
From Cairo,


we went up to Syria, up to Aleppo in Syria. Right, pretty near the Turkish border.
Well how long were you in Cairo?
Three months, roughly three months.
So we’re now looking at early ’42?
January, February. And from Syria?
Well from Syria, at Aleppo, we were there for several weeks, and then we came down to


a place called, oh just outside of a town called Tripoli, a village called Besarma, but there was a big mountain out there, Mount Tabor and from there, we built more fortifications. We were there for a couple of months I suppose, and then of course in July, June, late June, we came down to Alamein.
And you were there till November?


And after El Alamein, where did you go to?
Well at the conclusion of the actual last battle at El Alamein, the Australians were not allowed by Mr, Prime Minister said we were not to go any further, he wanted us back in Australia. So we, we didn’t pursue the Germans, much to our disgust. We,


went off back to Palestine, spent Christmas in Palestine. And then late February in 1942, we got on the New Amsterdam boat, and came back to Australia.
So is that?
Arrived in March ’42. No sorry, ’43.
And then you were up in the


[Atherton] Tablelands, jungle training.
How, when did you land in the Tablelands?
Well soon, we had a couple of weeks leave when we came back from the Middle East, and then we just hopped on the train and went straight up there again, so we would have been up in the Tablelands, the end of March.
And how long were you in the Tablelands?
Too long. Two, two years.


And then, an amphibious landing in Tarakan?
And what, and do you remember the date of the landing?
I think it was the 1st of May, yes.
And how long were you in Tarakan?
Right till the end, I left here in October, I think, yeah, the end of October.
We’re now looking at 1944, aren’t we?


’45. And you were then discharged in November ’45?
Yes, early in November, the 11th I think it was. Could have been the 14th, not quite sure really, to be honest.
OK, great. Well if I may, I’d like to take you back to your childhood? You said that you were, you were born and,


and brought up in Port Adelaide?
That must have been quite different to what it is today?
Very much different. In those days, of course, shipping, passenger shipping used to come into the port itself. And it always fascinated us kids to go down there, there was none of these overhead cranes and all that type of stuff, it was all horses. And it used to fascinate us to get down there among the horses, and just see them,


the horse wandering up to a position pulling a tray, it didn’t need a driver or anything, it just did it on its own. And they used to load, unload things, get down there and see all these strange people that come off the boat, all the coloured people, yellows and blacks and brindles and whites and all these different people, it was quite fascinating, it always held a, still does, holds an attraction for me, it was fantastic.
So how far was your


family home from the, from the actual port?
Oh I suppose, just over, nearly, nearly, in these days, about three kilometres, I should think, yeah. But there was only one railway station further on. We were in the, we were in the residential area, and of course the others were in the working area, Port Adelaide was a working area.
And what was the residential area like?
Oh quite,


oh middle class I suppose, people worked different places, and there was a very, very good train service that went into Adelaide and a lot of people used to work in Adelaide, and so on. It was just a, just a general, very much like this area is now.
And what was your home like?
Well our home was a weatherboard type home, still standing,


large rooms, it was quite nice. I had three brothers, all younger, and oh we, we didn’t have a very big backyard, but we had a good backyard to play and that type of thing, we were always dead keen. My father was an Englishman, and so was my mother, of course. But he, he was very, very good to us kids, he’d take us


to the local football match, we lived very near the, only about half a, oh about one kilometre at the very, very most from the Port Power Football Ground, today, or the Port Adelaide Football Ground. And we used to go over there quite a lot to the football, or he’d take us to a soccer match. And, and also rugby, because he was the Vice President of the Rugby, the Rugby Club, so we used to go and see these


three in winter in particular, these three winter sports.
And which was your favourite?
I didn’t really have one at that time, considerably later in life I took on hockey and played that for five, six years, so that was something different again. I was always a cricket fanatic, as you can probably see by that picture up there, I was always a cricket fanatic as a young kid, and I played


a lot of cricket, as I got a bit older.
You said that you had a reasonably sized backyard, what was in the garden?
Plants, flowers, my father was a dahlia expert and a judge, and he always put his plants in the wrong places, always in our square drive when we were playing cricket in the backyard. He must have had remarkable patience


because, although he used to have some harsh words, it never got past that. And we still kept doing it, I shudder to think now if my kids were doing it, I’d be, but it was just one of those, he was a very tolerant sort of guy, I think.
Well lets, lets talk about your father, what, how would you describe his character?


Strangely enough, he was a baker by trade, and we didn’t see terribly much of him except at weekends, because he was off to work at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, and when he’d come home, he’d have lunch and then he’d go to bed and then he would go to bed again, he’d be up for tea and then go to bed again fairly early, and we didn’t really have very much to do with him then. But he was,


like he could cut down an argument pretty well. It was, it was always in, it was never a vicious argument, it was a discussion. We were very, very lucky in the sense that at tea time, we always sat round and we had a wireless set, one of the early wireless sets, and at tea time, we always listened to the ABC [Australian Broadcasting Corporation] News, and there was always a commentary after the news. And at tea time, we all listened to the


News and to the commentary, and then my father would switch off the wireless and he’d say to my mother, “What do you think about that Min?” and we’d have a general discussion. And even as kids, we could join in, and it was fabulous. Because my mother was a bit of a Suffragette in England, she was a remarkable person too, that


she was the first woman delegate that was, no, that entered and was taken in by the Liverpool Trades and Labour Council. Now I’m going back to pre-war days, pre-First World War days, so that was, that was a hell of a thing, the first woman delegate to be taken into a predominantly male dominated,


very, very dominated by males in Labour, Trades and Labour Council in Liverpool, but she was a woman delegate there. And she was a, mixed up with the Co-operative Movement right throughout England and all in Australia, too.
So your mother was a, a Liverpudlian, I take it?
She was a Liverpudlian, yeah.
And where was your dad from in England?
My Dad came from the Isle of Mann, he was born in Peel the Isle of Mann, I’ve been there to visit there, and I’ve seen where he was born and where he lived.


Quite a romantic story really, that the family subsequently moved to Liverpool to get employment for my father and my Grandfather, and he met my mother there. 1912 they got engaged and he came out to Australia to get a job, because they decided Australia was the place to come, and


my mother was to follow in due course. And so he got a job on a boat, and strangely enough he was looking after, as a Cabin Steward, he was looking after ladies who were coming out here, fiancées of men that were out here, and they were coming out to get married. And some of those ladies later on became, and their husbands, became friends with my parents throughout their whole life. But my father had difficulty getting a job here,


there was a drought and a Depression, 1912-13, and he couldn’t get a job, suitable job on land, and so he went back to sea, and he was working on the mostly coastal boats, although he did go interstate too. And then the war broke out, and so he joined the Australian Army. Went back, went back overseas, first to Egypt then to France, and in 1916, he got leave, went home to England and got married,


he hadn’t seen his fiancée for four years, it’s not bad. And then they got married, and then of course he went back to the war in France, and then after the war, my wife, my mother came out as a war bride. Because he joined up in the Australian Army, he had to come back to Australia to get discharged. They didn’t waste much time, within 12 months, I was here.
That is quite a story. And


how, how. Well first of all, your father was a, was a part of World War I, did he ever discuss the war with you?
Not, not as kids. Anzac Day always took pride of place with him, and we always went up to see him march. And later on of course, I would march with the cadets in the Militia, and I’ve been marching ever since.
And how would you


describe your mother’s character?
Well I was one of the very lucky ones, I think. I, I do know that within, with my brothers, I know I was the favourite, probably because first born, I guess. And when you’re in a strange country, and I guess you have a child and your husband works these queer hours, that you become a little bit more


than just a little baby there. And I think the bond had grown, and, very strong between my mother and I. I could tell her anything and talk to her about anything, but I didn’t, didn’t tell my father.
You said that she was a, a Suffragette, did she work at all?
No, well women didn’t work in those days, not, not here. She had


four kids, my brother was born, was born two years, almost two years, two years after I was, only two days difference in our birth. And then another one came 18 months later, and there was another one two years after that, so there’s six and a half years there, and its four kids, so.
What were your brother’s names?
My next brother down is Fred, then there’s Alec and then there’s


And how did you get along with your brothers?
Oh pretty well. Well they all had to do what I said, I was the boss. No I got on pretty well with them, particularly the second, not the next one under me, but the next one Alec, so. There was a strange sort of thing, I,


I joined the Cubs when I was a young’n, then I joined the Scouts. He joined the Cubs, he joined the Scouts, but the other two didn’t. I joined the army, oh first in the cadets, he joined the air force cadets and he joined, subsequently joined the air force, and of course, I joined the army. But the other two didn’t again, so. My brother, Fred was, had a few medical


problems, not, not very much, but he used to get over excited about things, and he worked in munitions, he was in a key job in munitions, and he did attempt to get away a couple of times, but he worked on ammunition guns and that type of thing for Holden. He was in a key planning position there, so he didn’t get away. And the other one was too young anyway, he was only 18 after the war finished.
I’m, I’m just a bit curious as to what you mean


by over excited?
Oh, he’s a nervous type of guy, a little bit nervous. If anybody’s got anything wrong with them, it was him, and it was quite genuine, yes. Just, just one of those, he’s still the same, he’s over 80 but he’s still the same.
So four boys and a big backyard, what kind of games did you get up to?


Oh, all the. Well as teenagers we were all doing something, playing something, we used to play a hell of a lot of table tennis. And thinking before the war, I remember quite well, when I was even working, we’d, we’d be in there, we’d start playing table tennis Friday night and we’d finish it


Sunday night to go to work the next day sort of thing, and do that. But we, we were, we played sport together as much as possible, even though my brother Alec was a keen swimmer, and he backed out of the general sport, he’d go swimming. But the rest of us, we played cricket mainly, not much football, there weren’t any football teams around in those days.


But our, I became the, the leader of the Bushmen, the primary school, my brother, brother Fred and I, and the kids around the corner and another ring-in, another lad was in my class at primary school and his young brother, and my young brother and another lad, we used to go


walking. Probably hard for you to imagine, but where Westlakes Shopping Centre is now, and the Westlakes development, that was all, that was all forest area and open ground right up through only about two blocks down from, towards the sea from Chapels Hill Road, went right up to the railway line, Grange Railway Line goes past the golf course.


And that was all scrub country right down to Port Adelaide, back of Port Adelaide, where the new bridge goes over the river there. And we used to go down there and go through there, walk through those places, a bird sanctuary, but we weren’t interested in the birds, we weren’t pinching any eggs, a lot of kids used to go down bird-nesting and that sort of thing,


we didn’t. We were explorers, we used to follow the river around and wander around. Oh it was good fun.
And how long would you go out for?
Oh all afternoon or sometimes the whole day. Get a jam sandwich from Mum, and, “Where are you going, boys?” we’d tell her, didn’t worry about it. We,


I, I think we realised then, that if, if you play and game and you do the right thing, you get freedom, you wont’ get freedom if you don’t play the game. And so we did, we were quite. Oh we’d tell them where we were going, oh we used to take bottles of drink, well bottles of water, not drink, bottles of water, all that sort of thing. Just go off.
Well, this is around, around the


Depression time, and what, what signs were there around you, that there was a Depression on?
Empty houses, there were lots and lots of empty houses around, people would suddenly disappear from the area, kids you’d known for a long time where some new kids would come to the area. There were lots of,


of course, great strikes down in the Port Adelaide area, down on the wharf, quite a lot of strikes. And I can remember quite vividly remember going to school one day, we, we lived a fair distance from the Alberton School, and we had to cross the Port Road, because there was no traffic on it like it was, like it is today. And as we were going over, crossing the road the, there was some police, police in the area and they were


sweeping some things off the road. We looked down and they were nails, which were full of sharp nails, and whichever way they fell, they would, they were making a bit of a triangle, the point would shine up. And when the police sent down, and the army sent down motorised vehicles, they get punctures. And the wharfies [wharf labourers] had been out the night before laying all these down, cause there was a big demonstration on down at the Port, and


the police had come along and were sweeping them up. Well us kids being us kids and knowing that some of the chappies were, the wharfies were all our friends and so on, so as the police swept them up, we picked them up and threw them back on again, we were working for the wharfies. But unfortunately my father was on part-time, management decided half the people had to go,


so all the workers got together and said, “We’ll all go on half time, so you can keep us all,” so they did that.
And what changes did that bring to your home when your father took a pay in hit cut, a cut in his pay?
Oh, I suppose we used to grow some of our vegetables and things like that. As far as I was concerned,


I, I went to Woodville High School, I went to a high school, but I was there about 18 months, and when I turned 14, you had to pay to go to high school, before that it was free, although you had to pay for books. But I didn’t, I didn’t get any, I didn’t get too many books, if I couldn’t get any second hand books very cheap, I didn’t get any books. I remember my second year at high school,


when we got homework I’d have to go over and wait for a friend of mine to do his homework, and then borrow his book and then take it home and do it, homework, if I was lucky. But I didn’t have any, I didn’t have many textbooks at all, because my parents had to pay, I think it was three pounds or something, that was more than Dad’s weeks wages. And three young brothers. And so I decided when I was halfway through high school, well second year,


that I was going to get a job, so I got a job.
Before we start talking about your, your education or your school years, I just, talking about the Depression, I’m curious to know what kind of food your mother prepared during this time?
I can’t quite, to be quite honest, I can’t quite remember. We didn’t seem to go, go without because my father being a baker,


I guess there was always extra rolls and things that he could bring home for us, that we could eat. I guess there was enough money there for my mother to buy some meat and things like that, and we did have a bit of garden where we could grow some vegetables. I don’t think we starved.
I don’t know if my mother starved.


It was just one of those things, you, you, didn’t take a great notice about, all, all we noticed was a change in different kids and some kids didn’t have shoes, there were always bare feet, but we always seemed to have shoes, I think they got passed down from one to the other. I probably got the new ones, being the oldest.
And what role did religion play in your home?


Well my parents, I found an old photo yesterday when I was cleaning out, of my mother and father had a class in Liverpool with a teacher McAllister, and that was a Church of England, sort of, but as young people, they must have been late teenagers at the time, could have been early ‘20s.


But we, we actually belonged to a Church of Christ, we were never pushed. Put it this way, I was a baptised member of Church of Christ, so was my brother Alec and so was brother Stan, my brother Fred was not. He was an adherent, he had come along to all the social functions, played football and cricket for a Church of Christ team,


and was coached for many years. When we got married of course, we came down here, and I had no photos to show the part from then. But here, we got mixed up with the Uniting Church, through the children.
Well, I’m curious how that, that came about, because Fred just came after you, and then came Alec, but somehow Fred skipped the


baptism, how old were you when you got baptised?
And was it a choice of yours to be baptised?
Yes. Hard to believe but in those days, I was a, a boy soprano and not a bad sort of singer, apparently. I have sung on the ABC and on 5DN solo on the boy, they had boys clubs in those days that used to broadcast,


on radio programmes, and I appeared on them on several occasions. But apart from that, I was in different concert parties and we, I have sung both as a boy soprano, and also as a teenager before I joined the army in practically every town hall around Adelaide, including Adelaide Town Hall, sang solo in the Adelaide Town Hall with a mass choir of about 400 voices, or something. So I was


pretty, pretty happy about that. But talk to my wife, I haven’t done anything about it since.
So it was Fred’s choice then not to be, to be baptised?
Yes, he was, he was a bit different, a bit different to us. I, I had more influence over my brother Alec and Stan than. But then I was, my brother Stan is still a, well he’s a


lay preacher, he’s in the Church of Christ, he lives at Victor Harbour now, he’s a lay preacher down there, and he was a Secretary with the Church of Christ at Queenstown there, for years and years and years. Alec was something similar at the Flinders Park Church of Christ, he was quite involved in that, he was Choir Master, he still is, he’s a very good singer too. But I, war changed


my ideas a little bit on, on religion. It’s hard to, thinking back it’s hard to come to terms with going into battle and you’ve got your Minister guy and he’s saying, “Lord help us in battle, la-de-dah-de-dah, God be on our side,” and on the other side of the fence, the same things going on with the


enemy. You become rather cynical at times.
If it’s all right, we’d like to talk about that further into your experiences, in, in battle. I’m just trying to, to establish a picture about religion in your home, in your childhood. Were there evening prayers, or prayers before a meal?
No, no, no. If we had visitors, of course, we always had Grace, said Grace. But generally speaking,


no. My parents didn’t ram religion down anyway at all. The only time my parents in a sense went to Church, I think, was my father on Anzac Day, or Anzac time. And my mother would come to our, special in those days we used to have Sunday School anniversaries and all the kids would be up on the platform singing, she’d come to those sort of things, but she was not a regular church goer, until


later in life, much later in life. Yeah, that was.
So, sorry. So you, you sang in the choir and quite a bit?
Yes. Oh yes, I was also in the ABC, the ABC had a boys choir, I was also in that, and


probably one of the leading Adelaide conductors was, used to conduct that, a chap by the name of Gratton. And in those days we used to have what we call a thousand voice choir, which is the primary schools had a, we’d combine our choir and they used to sing in town at the old Exhibition Hall, later it became the Adelaide Town Hall, now they call it, I think, a musical fest, Music Festival, I think they call it now.


But I can, in those days it was a thousand voice choir, and I can remember being on the platform, and you wouldn’t believe it, there was a guest orchestra, and guess where they came from? Off a Japanese war ship that was in Port Adelaide, and they were all Japs, blowing their trumpets and their oboes, I was sitting next, one near me was blowing his oboe, I was fascinated with it. Blowing his oboe,


and only a few. I think they were all spies, they were all over here spying, coming over here spying, finding out what was going on. This was several years of course before. I was only 12, so it’d be in the early 1930s.
And what did you think when you saw these Japanese?
Well they smelt.
What did they smell like?
Oh foreign. They didn’t smell like, they just


smelt, I don’t know, just a peculiar mixture of body odour, I suppose, and probably didn’t shower too much on the boat, I don’t know.
And the instruments, were they, were they just classical instrument or was there a new instrument that you had never seen before?
As far as I can remember, of course, it’s a bit difficult to see when there’s a thousand of you up on a platform and you’ve got this band around you, or down in front of you, it’s a bit difficult to see. But I wouldn’t have known too


much about instruments in those days, anyway. But I didn’t notice anything terribly different to what I heard with our own ABC Orchestra play.
OK, we’ve got a tape change now, so we’ll quickly change tapes and, and keep talking.
Interviewee: James Quilliam Archive ID 1741 Tape 02


We were just talking about your, your singing in the, in the many choirs around the place. You were a part of also the Boys Club in which you, you sang in that, tell me a bit about the Boys Club?
It was a, formed by a, by a chappie originally, I think his name was Bert Woolley, he was, he was Bert Woolley. It was rather strange, when I first went to Woodside, he


was in the same tent, same hut as I was in, he’d joined the army too. But he was, the ABC announcer and he joined this Boys Club, and we got together and we, it’d have about an hours broadcast and you’d have various kids singing, reciting, that type of thing. Some doing poetry and some doing monologues and some. And it was generally a


musical, music show. The resident pianist at the time was an extremely well known Adelaide man, Tom King, he’s legend in musical circles in South Australia, in Adelaide in particular. And I can remember taking some music to him, the piece I was going to sing, I don’t know what it was now, and I took it to him, and he sat there, and he


bashed away, then he got to where I should start, and I’m standing there looking at him, I said, “Would you follow me, please.” Here I am 12, 13, and I’m telling this experienced musician just what he should be doing.
So what did you, what songs did you enjoy singing the most?
It was the English,


“Peacefully it is sleeping, wind through its plain, language for me,” all those types of popular English sort of madrigals, I suppose, we used to call them at one time. And of course, you could always shoot in with “Danny Boy,” but you had to be careful of that, because somebody else may have had a go at it. Not on air, but on church parades and all those


sort of things, you always, you always did your special with “Danny Boy” or airman’s, a million things, all about mother’s Day. Oh you learnt to get the appropriate touch in your voice. I, I, there was music in our place, we always had a piano, it was my mother’s piano actually, we always had a piano, there


was always singing around the piano, so we always had that. And consequently, the Boy Clubs were like that, and some of them were extremely good, some of these guys went onto big and better things. But I didn’t.
Now, you, you made a, a comment off camera that I’d like to pursue, that you said you never had lollies? What kind of treats did you have?


Well I can’t remember, about the only time we ever got lollies was someone gave them to us. We didn’t, I can’t remember ever having any lollies. I think my mother used to make some coconut ice at one time, that was a special treat. But we, I think none of us kids really had anything like that. We, you’d scrounge


everything, there’s lots of stuff left lying around that you could scrounge that people couldn’t take it anywhere, they left the place and they just left it lying around there, and they didn’t want it anyway, you could always go and scrounge it and make something, make a cart out of it. We used to make, we’d used to make carts, miniature, miniature trotting sulkies, you know these trotting sulkies with the two wheels and horses,


well we made a couple of those and we used to have races with those around the block, it was quite interesting.
Where did you get the horse from?
Oh we didn’t get a horse, we were the horses. We were the horses. And somebody would sit down, you’ve have reins or a rope to hang on, well you had to hang on. Oh we used to have lots of fun with that.
And who did you race against?
Oh, your


neighbour, someone around the corner. See in those days, you could even play in the street, or there was a lane or there was a park or there was a vacant paddock. Nowadays, you can’t get a vacant paddock, if you find a vacant paddock you’ve got somebody, and you try to play in a vacant paddock, then a person will have his head over the fence and abuse your kids for being there, that seems to be the shot


now. In those days, no, you could, you had all these places where you could play. And that’s one of the tragedies of today’s life. As a matter of fact, only about a month ago, a young couple have moved diagonally across the road from here, and about four young men, I should say in their early 20s came down, and their girlfriends or wives were inside,


and they had a football and they were playing out on the street on a Saturday afternoon, well there was nothing, no traffic, they were kicking the ball around. And I went up to them after, when they’d finished, and I said, “That was fantastic, thank you for doing that, it takes me back to my boyhood days when we could do that,” but you can’t now, you just can’t do it.
Well you said that you were a big cricket fan, who was your favourite cricket player? Who was that?


Don Bradman. But I think before that, a chappie used to walk past my home everyday as a kid, and catch the train and go to town and came back. And when he knocked off work, he’d come past as well. And he gave me, he gave me my first cricket bat, which was a bashed up thing had half the side missing,


but it was my good first cricket bat. But he played cricket for Port Adelaide, he was the Port Adelaide captain at one time, and he’d also played in an AIF team, I can’t even think of his name now, I think it was Pritchard, or something like that. I can remember him quite vividly, but he used to give us a lolly every now and then, too, the kids up there. We’d be up the corner of our place, our house was only


a couple of doors away from the corner, and that led up to the Alberton Railway Station and a whole row of shops. And we used to do a lot of things there, we stood there taking the numbers of motorcars as they went past, and what types of cars they were. So we, as kids we almost became little experts on, we’d see a car and, “Oh that’s a Citroen


75,” or something. Or, “That’s a Chev [Chevrolet],” or, “That’s a Ford.” We’d be able to tell what type of car just by looking at them. I don’t know what good that ever did us. And we got all these, these numbers of cars we used to write them down. It didn’t do us any good either, but we just used to do it.
Well just going back to, to admiring Don Bradman, what was it about him that you admired?
Don Bradman?


I, he stood out from other cricketers as a batsman. I think, I believe he was quite modest, I have, I have met him quite informally, I only said, “Good day,” to him and that was all. But it was in later life, probably only about ten years


ago, I was dining out at a, at the Barn down at McLaren Vale, I don’t know if you know that restaurant, it’s a very, very, nice restaurant. And June and I, I think it was a wedding anniversary or something, we were just having, having a dinner, and sitting opposite was Don Bradman and his wife, and his daughter and her husband. I, and, and I just said,


“Oh Don Bradman there, and oh yeah,” and he gave you a smile back, and he looked over and smiled at us, and I smiled back again, and as we went out, I said, “Oh it’s nice to see you sir,” just like that, he just said, “Thank you.” Now that’s all. But he, he was in a family situation, and


it reinforced my, I’ve done a whole lot of reading about Bradman and a lot of other cricketers, if you have a look at all those books there you’ll find them, I’m a cricket fanatic. And I’ve done a lot of reading about them, and I reckon he was top dog, and he was used, and I think he was used by a lot of people, and he didn’t like it, he wanted his privacy


to a large extent. He was prepared to give something, but he wanted his privacy also. Unfortunately in lots of those sort of jobs or positions, you become a tool of the, of the world. And he didn’t want to be.
Well often, sports men, you know, you admire Don Bradman, but were there any in your own life, teachers or


Mentors that, that you had growing up?
My wife’s a school teacher now, but I didn’t like school teachers much at all. I only ever liked one, and he was a cricketer too, he was a cricketer. And I liked him because he had a sense of humour, because he could joke with us grade seven boys, and he got into trouble by cracking


jokes and we all laughing at it, and the headmaster hear him one day. And took to him in front of us, and the headmaster was on the outer from there on, and, from us anyway. But that, that chappy was a very nice, some of these other teachers I didn’t like at school. And strangely enough one of them left and went to Port Adelaide school, and that’s where my wife came from, and she reckons he was the ants pants, and


I reckon he was the opposite.
Well what was it, it was Alberton Primary School, what was that like?
It was a mixture, a mixture. Some very poor people who’d come bare feet and ragged clothes and that type of thing. Some hooligans among them.


But I was a little bit unfortunate because I was a very small boy, I didn’t grow until I was about 18, 17 something, so I was a very small kid. And what was more, my parents were English, and as I said, my mother and I were pretty close, and I copied my mother’s way of speaking. When I went to, when I went to school, I was called a little pom,


and then another little boy about that high, tells me that high, that I’m a little pom, I thump him in the ear, I was a little bit aggressive. I got hurt by some of these stings, cause I’m an Australian. So I’d thump him, well I learnt, I learnt very quickly how to look after myself, because I used to get pummelled back again. And so, even at school, I, I used to have a few fights, but they,


in later years, they were some of my best friends.
Well that’s an interesting point to raise, that you had very English parents, but considered yourself very Australian. Did you celebrate Empire Day?
Yes. And right in my photographs that I have here, I have, I have in the infants school, the infants school, I’m a grenadier guard


with my friend, Kenny Gardiner, and there we are, two grenadier guards. We were the centrepiece of our Empire Day Celebrations at infants school, God knows what year that was.
So how would you celebrate Empire Day?
Oh we had a Union Jack and we used to recite a poem about it, or something, “I love my flag,” or something, or that’s got the Australian flag in there too. No, “I love my flag,


the Union Jack, I Honour His Majesty King George the V,” something or other, words to that effect, I can’t remember all of them now. “I swear allegiance to this,” well we had to do this and that, and salute. I, I could remember doing all those things, I’m Australian, of course, there are.


So when you were at, at school, well, I, I don’t know when, primary or high school this is most relevant to, but what did you want to be when you grow up, when you grew up?
I had no idea, except to be a cricketer. I, originally, my first, my first thing when I went to high school, I wanted to be a teacher.


But once again, I mentioned that practically all of our friends were poms, were English, because my father, when he came out and met all these ladies, and when we settled in Adelaide, he re-met them with their husbands, and they became out friends, and most of them were English. And so I had this, all these English people around, any time, when ever, if we visited anybody,


we’d all go to the English people, we’d all get together. Might be three or four couples sometimes, and they were all English, so you would tend to start to speak like them, and that’s how I got this pommie accent. And it got belted out of me a bit later, though they tell me I do speak a little, I’m not pure Australian.
And you mentioned


that you were 14 when you left school, how did, how did that all come about?
Well the main thing, it came about because I knew my parents couldn’t afford to send me to school. We had to pay to go to school, apart from buying books, and I had three younger brothers. And my father still wasn’t in, on very good money at that stage, it would be 1934, 1935. And


I reckoned I should get a job. My mother was not too happy about it, she wanted me to keep on getting an education, and, but I knew the newspaper boy of course, in those days, you used to have a newspaper boy and he used to stand at our corner selling newspapers. So I’d get up in the, get up in the morning and I’d go up the street there, and I’d get hold of the Advertiser, the Advertiser, as it was,


the morning newspaper. And I’d look in there for jobs, and I’d write it down on a piece of paper, and it cost, only cost a penny I think to get into Adelaide, and that was my fare to go to school on the train, to Woodville. So I’d go to Adelaide and I’d go around to see, see about getting a job. Well I went about picking out these different jobs, and I suppose I spent about a week doing that, and then


I’d go to school and I’d be late, of course, and I’d get into trouble for that, but that didn’t worry me. And, and then one day I went there, and by this time, you learn, you learn the lurks. And I went over to the store, “Boy wanted for the storeroom,” in Clarksons, I think it was, they were in Grenville Street in those days. So I’m there at eight o’clock in the morning. And I look up and I look round,


Jimmy, you’re a little runt, storeroom, they want a big strong kid, go, and so I shot through. Well as I shot through, I was only third in line in Rundle Street at Wendt’s, who wanted an office boy. And I thought this is more my sort of thing, and I finished up getting a job that day at Wendt’s, as an office boy. And I’d


say I’d been in town since eight o’clock and didn’t have any lunch, and got him, I suppose, about three, after three o’clock in the afternoon. My mother says, “Have you been to school?” and I said, “No Mum, but I’ve got a job and I’m starting work tomorrow.” “Where are you working?” and I told her, and so she cased the place.


But I did have a, did have some good references, not from school anyway, I didn’t ask for any. But I did have good references from the, our local Church, our Minister, because I’d been in the choir and I was one of his shining lights, I suppose, in the Church hierarchy there, and one of the group. And I got a very reference from the lady next door. Now the lady next door,


unless you’re an older, an old South Australian, you wouldn’t know much about her. Her name was Olive Carter, she had been a teacher, she was a teacher for 40 years, she was a teacher in elocution and in voice production. She taught it out at a Teachers’ College, and she taught in school, as a specialist teacher in voice production, and the right way to


pronounce words. And you can imagine her down in Port Adelaide school, when she says, tell the kids, “Now I want you to count up to ten, children, one, two, three, four,” and you get up to nine, and you hear nine, “no, no, no, no, nine,” and so on. But she was my neighbour, she was an old spinster lady, and whenever she wanted any odd jobs done,


she’d call in my Dad or me, to go in do and these odd jobs. She was also a ventriloquist, and every now and again, I’d get the job of rounding up the kids to go to her place to hear this ventriloquist. But when I was singing, she’d say, “What you are doing, dear?” “Oh, yes, I’ve got to sing at such and such and such.” “What are you singing? And I’d tell her what I’m singing, she’d say, “Well,


will you come and have a, come in here and let me, come to my place and let me hear you,” and I’d say, “All right.” So I’d go into her place, and she’d look at the music, and of course I’d have different marks all over the music, as you do, and she’d say, “All right.” And she’d have a tuning fork, ‘donk’, ‘Dong, dong, dong,’ “That’s the note Jim, that’s the note.” And I’d have to sing that song without music,


in, without any timing, without any piano, even though she had a piano, I’d have to sing that, just sing it. And at the end of it, she’d say, “Hang onto that note, hang onto that note,” and she’d use a tuning fork again, to get the pitch. So that’s how I learnt singing. And she put the, and she gave me a very good reference.


I’ll just ask you about those references, if you were trying to find these jobs without your parents knowing, how were you able to get these references?
How would I get the?
The references?
Oh, well, you learn to do these things, yeah. Oh you learnt to do these things when you were, when you were a kid, you learn off other, other lads, you find somebody who’s got a job and who’s got a reference, and who do you get it from, and so on, so you


do that.
So you were an office boy for Wendt’s, what, what did Wendt’s do, what did they sell?
Wendt’s were the largest jeweller, jewellery business in South Australia. They had the prime spot at number 74 Rundle Street, Adelaide, which was next door to Balfours, I think it’s a jeans shop now. It was a two storey place, and they sold


better class dinner sets, tea sets all that type of stuff. They had a watch making, watch maker repair area, quite extensive, jewellery repair area, and also an optician people as well. And of course selling engagement rings, wedding rings, all that type of jewellery. It was the largest establishment in South Australia, and I was the office boy in head office, of course, and


I was the office boy, and my main job of course was to sweep the shop, wash the windows, wash the toilets, cleaning the toilets every week, I had to do that too. And do the messages, go to the bank, take the money to the bank or get change, or take a cheque along or whatever, and take a cheque out and come back with the money.


Deliver parcels, sometimes into the suburbs because the aristocracy of Adelaide would buy things, but they would never take it home, so I had to go, most of it was public transport, so I had to take these things home, and I’ve even taken our dinner sets that have been packed up in boxes, that big that I could hardly lift them. And I’d have to take them out by tram and then lug them down the street, and that type of thing.


I had some funny experiences with those, very funny. One well known lady, I won’t mention any names, one very well known socialite of Adelaide, came to the door one day when I took a parcel there, and it was a very hot day, and she was wearing a white fur coat. And I can assure you, nothing else.


She was old enough to be my Grandmother. And another day I went to a place and I couldn’t get any sense of the front door, and I went around to the back door, and I got around to the back door, and I knocked on the back door, and I couldn’t get any answer there. And the blasted dog came across, big collie dog came across and was dead across me, so I couldn’t get out of the back verandah.


And every time I moved, he growled, I reckon I stood there an hour before I thought, if he’s going to bite me, he’s going to bite me, parcel first. So I did get out of it, I spent about an hour there.
So how long were you at Wendt’s?
I was, I was there for quite some years, I moved, I then decided that, I wasn’t probably going to get anywhere as an office boy,


so I got a, my mother thought I should be a tradesman, so she said I should be a watchmaker. So I got an apprentice as a watchmaker then, and I was there until I joined the army. And one of the wrong things I’ve done in my life, is after the army, I went back. I, I thought I was apprenticed,


and I’ve got to, got to get into my, my boss. The, the chief of the firm, was a chap by the name of Alan, brigadier, he was a brigadier in the army in the peace time army, post war. He had been in the First World War, and he was one of the first, he was a cavalry officer in the First World War and he was one of the first to join the Australian Flying Corps. He was a bit of a devil himself, in some


of those things, but he was a very strict boss and he came from German descent. And he ruled his, he ruled his business like an army brigadier. I didn’t mind, I got on well with him, because when I became an apprentice, and then I wanted to join the cadets, as an apprentice in those days you had to ask your boss, tell him whatever you’re


doing, even if you were playing football or cricket, you told him. So I told him, I asked him if he had any problems with me joining the cadets, he said, “No.” Then later on I asked him if he had any trouble, problems with me joining the artillery in the militia days, and that’s when he told me, I got his history, he told me about his. And from that time on somehow, somehow, I was,


I know it, I know it now, he liked me, he didn’t like anybody else that worked for him, he liked me, and I know that. Of course when I joined the artillery in the AIF, I did, did that, I told him that after I joined. I joined the AIF and I went in to see him, and I said, “Oh I’m having a bit of trouble getting into the


unit, I’ve got to get released from you,” I said, “I want to join the AIF.” He said, “You’re still an apprentice.” I said, “Yes, I know.” I said, “You know too.” And he said, because he’d been in the First World War. And I said, “Well, I want to join the artillery.” He said, “Well, as a watchmaker.” He said, “You know, I can get you into the air force.” He said, “You’d be pretty, you’d be, it would help you a tremendous amount to be an instrument repairer,” and I said to him,


“Oh cut it out, I want to be in the real thing, I want to be a front line soldier like you were.” And he grinned, he said, “I know what you mean.” He said, “Well, don’t forget,” he said, “Here’s, here’s my release from here that I’ll release you but you have to come back, that’s part of the agreement.” And the other apprentice, and I was released for the time that I, and he would guarantee my employment back there,


after the war. So I got that release, because I had to take that to the civilian, who was vetting people who joined the AIF, and first they wouldn’t let me because I was too young, so I fixed that up. And I changed my birth date.
Well before we start talking about the AIF, I’d like to talk to you about the cadets. You were 17 when you joined the cadets.
What, what was your motivation to, to join them?
I’d been in burst outs,


and one of my mates was in the, in the cadets and I thought I’d like to join them too. I don’t know, I’d had a bit of a hankering for it, I suppose, and I joined the cadets, thought I’d like to be in it, and. Also about that time, things were stirring pretty much, 1937, ’38, things were stirring. And it was quite evident


that there were going to be problems, war was going to come sooner or later. And there had been some invasions, of course, and I thought well, I’d better learn, learn a bit about this, and I joined the cadets. And that turned out to be a very interesting experience, too.
Well what was, what did you do with the artillery cadets?
Well mostly a little bit of drill, turn right and left and marching


forward, we used to do in those days. Learn how to salute properly, learn how to dress properly and we did a little bit of Morse Code, and we learnt to tie a few knots. And we learnt a little about horses because we had, everything was done by horses in those days in the artillery, all our guns were pulled by horses, and so we learnt all about horses and the withers and the necks and tails, and


fur singles and girdles, bridles and, all this type of business. And then the, we learnt all about the equipment and the saddlery and how to saddle a horse and how to sit on a horse. And where the current museum is in, at Keswick, there’s a horse stables, now is, was a horse stables, now is the current museum. And the little building across the thing was our cadet place. And we’d go in there,


and play around with the horses and touch them and see them, get on them, get off them, never go for a ride off them, that was the sort of thing we did. And learnt a little, there was a little gun outside, we used to learn about the gun, the breech and block, the wheels and the recoil, shells and things like that.
Quite a lot to cover for just one day a week.
It was one night a week, and,


but it was, oh you mix with other guys, mix with other lads from different areas too, and that was the interesting thing was. It was very, very interesting when I joined the AIF, that can come later if you like.
If, if possible, because then from the, the cadets, you moved on to the militia.
And, was that just a natural progression?
It was a natural progression to join, once again I was in the artillery, and


of course there was a little bit more, more advanced training. You did get to work on a gun, I did some gun work and got to shoot one, a couple of times. They were big guns, I mean, I was only the loader or something or getting the ammunition ready and loading it, but different ones had different jobs, you, on the gun. You had a lot of gun rules.


And you didn’t hear about things which didn’t make any sense to you at the time, about how a gun is laid on a certain point and you point it, and then somebody’s got to say where the shells land and so on. All this became, in those days, but later on, it was commonsense, but we heard about these things. And you heard, and we did a little. I got tricked,


I found that when you’re on a gun, when we go out, you’ve got your drivers and we had horses, you see, pull guns. And you had drivers, and a couple of drivers would sit on the front, there was only one seat left for, for one other person on the gun, and the rest had to walk. And I thought to myself, “Hey, hey, hey, Jim,” so Harry my mate and I, we said, “We’ll become signallers,


they get a horse of their own.” They would ride a horse and then do their telephones, so we became. They called for signallers, volunteers, and up jumped Harry and I, and that was our first thing, never volunteer for anything. So the, the battery sergeant said, “Right, follow me,” says Wally Col, and he takes us into the harness room.


And he says, “All this is harness, you’ve got to learn all about the harness for a horse,” and he said, “This is all a harness.” He said, “It’s all got to be polished and cleaned up, this is what we call dubbin, that’s a wax polish.” He said, “Polish it all with that, until you can see your face in it.” We’d been had, we volunteered for signallers, we said, “We want to be signallers.” He said, “SIGNALLERS have got to ride a horse, you’ve got to know all about harness, and harness goes on the horse,”


and we learnt never to volunteer again, not in the army.
Well, I was just curious how you started out in artillery and then moved to signals?
It was, was signals in the artillery, and that was how, that was how it started. And then when we cleaned up all the, all the silver polishing, we had telephones, World War I telephones.


We had those hooked up, and then we started to learn Morse code, of course, I learned Morse code in the Boy Scouts. Also the navy code, which is called semaphore code, I’d learned that too in the Boy Scouts, I’d also learned rope tying. And in your signal joining wires together, you used reef knots and sold them up, to put together, army wire. And I’d learnt all that in the Boy Scouts,


so a lot of this was a sort of, advanced stages of going on from the scout training. And you did Morse code of course, did a bit more Morse code. You how to establish communications, we also did what we call lamp signalling, and also signalling with mirrors, and that all


became something new, something interesting. There was always something interesting to do. And then of course, we’d have our usual drill at the same time. That took a while to get, get into that signalling business, after a while, I was still a, still a gunner, I had to go to Woodside camp, that became one of the most interesting experiences of my life. We were doing gun drill, and the temperature was over 100. And the chappie was saying, “Number one goes


to the trail of the gun, number two goes to the layer seat, number three goes to the range, range finder. Number four goes to the breech blockage loader, number five gets goes to the ammunition,” and he goes through all these things, he had all different places on this gun that you’d go. And you did two little, two rows. And you’d have one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and then he’d say, “Number off,” and you’d all number off. “One, I’ve got to go to the trailer, got to go to the trailer,


going to go to the trailer, I’m number one.” And then he’d say, “Change round,” and then you’d change around and you become number two, “Oh God, what was number two, what was number two?” And then he’d say, “Change around again,” and you’d change again, and now you’re number three and you don’t know where the hell you’re going. And then he’d say, “Take posts,” and you had to run from where you were, which was about 50 yards behind the gun, you had to run to this spot on the gun, where he told you where to go. But he didn’t tell anyone when they were standing there. And of course,


you got cunning, and you’d go a little bit slower, just that half a yard slower off the mark, so you’d have to double. So by that time, you’d hope that everybody in their place, and you’d take the vacant one. The only trouble is, well there was three or four out of the seven who didn’t know where they were going anyway. And it came lunchtime, and I’d had, I’d had enough of this,


because the old sergeant major, he was a First World War man, and he was standing under the only shade we had. And it come lunchtime, and they said, “We want some volunteers for the cookhouse,” I thought yeah, I’ll go to the cookhouse, I won’t have to do that any more. So I go to the cookhouse, and another guy comes to the cookhouse. So we go to the cookhouse and it was pretty good, because a little Italian lad is in the cookhouse, and


he’s been peeling spuds for years, family tradition, fish and chip shop. And he, we grabbed a spud out and say something, and away he goes, he does six, and then we drag another spud out, and he does six to our one. And we’re not allowed, well, a little bit older than me sitting alongside me, and, and away we go. Camp finishes and then we got to go to Keswick our first night back in town, we got to go to Keswick, so we go to


Keswick to our night parade. And I was standing there, and through the Keswick gates comes a joker driving a Daimler car. And he happens to be the fellow I was peeling spuds with. You wouldn’t guess who it is? The man became Sir Alexander Downer, and his son is now Alex Downer, the Foreign Minister.
Well on that little note.
Now how’s that for a story.


We have to change tapes now. But it’s an interesting thought that Sir Alexander Downer
Interviewee: James Quilliam Archive ID 1741 Tape 03


Jim, you were talking about being in the militia and being at Woodside and you told us that great story of, of how you ended up in the cookhouse peeling potatoes.
With Alex Downer.
Yes. I’d like to move on now though, and ask you when you actually enlisted in the AIF?
I was in a militia camp, on a three month camp, in, at Woodside,


and a lot of my friends had joined and I, I wasn’t old enough, and I wanted to join, and I wanted to join this unit. So I went down to join, and I’d heard a rumour that if you were only 19 and you’d been in the militia, they’d take you. But when I went to the Recruiting Office, that was wrong. By this time, I’d already got my parents consent, but they didn’t know I was underage,


at that stage. Well they knew, they knew I was 19, they thought I was OK. But then I had to be 20, so I thought well, I came down with another chappie who died here about 12 months ago, he finished up as a high school principal, and Cliff and I we walked in there. Cliff said he was a university student because he was at teachers college, and he got in. And he was, he was


a month younger than me, and he told them he was 20. So then I adjusted my papers accordingly, went home, got another, cause they kept the old sheet, the old application sheet at the recruiting depot, so I had to go home and get another form, got my mother and father to sign again, and when they left I put my age, when I got it back I put my age up to born in 1919. And that’s what’s on my thing there.


Which became a little bit of a problem much later. But by then I had the problem of being an apprentice, I had to get released from that, I had to be employed in the artillery unit in my profession, trade. Well that was easy enough because I went out to Keswick and the adjutant out there, said, “Yeah, oh well, we’ll employ you,” but he had nothing to do with the unit anyway. But he just said, “Yes, we will in the artillery


employ him,” and that, but wasn’t in the AIF, he was only in the, doing the peace time army at Keswick, and he signed to say I would be employed as a watchmaker in the army, but we did never, we didn’t have a spot, but that didn’t matter, as long as they got it, that was all right. So I got through the civilian OK, with a release from the, from Mr Wendt and I was going to be employed as a watchmaker in the artillery, so I got back into the artillery.
And how did your parents


react to you joining the AIF?
Well my father couldn’t say very much, cause he joined it. My mother was sad but loyal. She didn’t want to, didn’t want me to go, but she knew how I felt. I, I was


serious about it, I wanted to go, I thought we should go. My father went and all his mates went and I, I’d been trained for, I’d taken that course of action myself, nobody had to force me, I could have got out of it easily, but I wanted to go. And so many of my friends and mates were all joining, and a lot of them


joined the navy. But no, they were, my parents were loyal, because my mother had a brother that was killed in the First World War, and another one that was a wreck. And she, she knew all about the First World War, and of course, she’d married a soldier from the First World War, too. So they, they knew that, they didn’t find out until I was on embarkation


leave, that I’d swindled my age.
I was going to ask you if they realised that you had put your age up?
Well one of our good Pommie friends, worked for the electric, Adelaide Electric Company and he came around to read the meter. And when he came around our district, he always had lunch at our place. And his son wanted to join the AIF, but his son was my age.


And he’s, he’s telling my mother, I was at home on embarkation leave, and I could hear, “…And I told Robert, no way am I going to sign, put my name down on false identification of you, just because you want to join the army.” I thought hell’s bells, and then after he went, my mother


said to me, “Jim dear, what age did you put down, joining the army, you’re only 19, the same as Robert?” “Oh,” I said, “I just grew up, I’m a bit older than him, I grew up, I grew up a year.” That’s what she did, she shook her head. And that was it.


It was too late then, I’d gone too far.
Well it is interesting that you, you were keen enough to thumb your nose at, at, at the authority and, and to skive around behind your parents’ back a little bit, what, what was that keenness about?
I, I don’t know, I think in, in


many ways, as I grew up I just happened to be the leader of the kids, only because they were all younger than me, and I only picked on the younger ones, so I could be the boss. I, I think really the, that I made the decisions, and most of the decisions that I have made have come off all right. And I think they, my mother in particular would have said, “Well


he made the decision, and after all, you made a decision before referring to me when you joined the army in Australia, without referring to me,” so I suppose she didn’t say that, but she, she would have thought it. And that’s, I think that because of that, they just took it that I was old enough


and experienced enough to look after myself, to an extent.
And when war was declared and Menzies made that famous speech, how much did you think that that was Australia’s concern?
Well in those days, we were only bashed one way, and


we were all still flying the Union Jack, English parents I suppose, association with our English friends, and being in the militia cadets, militia, if you’re going to train for something, well then you’ve got to, got to put your name down where the, where the action is. I mean that’s, that’s all


it is, if you’re going to use up their time, you’ve got to do the job, I’m a bit that way. I’ll fight lost causes even though, the cause is genuine, quite legal and anything else, I’ll be on, I’ll fight that lost cause, if I, if I believe in it, cause it’s to the end sort of thing,


I’m, but I’m a bit stupid that way, but. But that’s, that’s just the way I am. And I can always, I can always see two sides to a question too, I always call it. They say I can argue, I don’t argue, I’ll say an alternate point of view, because there is always an alternate point of view. And


I can see, I think I can see both points of view, try to. But in those days there was only one point of view, I think.
And how connected was it to your training as a soldier, and your, your desire to get into action, do you think that contributed to your willingness to enlist?
I just think it was a, a progression, that I, I did feel


rather deeply about it, about things. As a matter of fact, three days after war was declared, I tried to join the navy, but they wouldn’t have me, cause they weren’t prepared for anything. And then six months later when they sent me a note to say, yeah, you can come and have a talk to us, I was already in the army.


More or less already in the army.
Well there might have been a possibility to transfer over, why did you not?
Well I was, well the army didn’t look like going, and the physical specimens for the first lot of army people was completely out of my range. You had to be six feet, you had to be about a 38 inch chest, and all that type of thing, and no


way in the world can I meet that criteria. Well the navy weren’t too keen, they didn’t care very much about that, could have been a pygmy in the navy to get in. And I did not, I wanted to be a front line soldier, a front line person, in the navy you would have been, and in the, but not in the air force, fixing up bloody instruments. I wanted to be a front line


soldier, that’s really what it was all about.
Well what other training did you receive before your embarkation happened? What other training, you mentioned that you, you started off with the 2/7th Field Regiment, pretty much from the start.
How did you settle into the regiment?


Really no, really no problems. We did basic, a lot of basic, basic training, which was a lot of marching and that type of thing, and certain sorts of rifle drills and gun drills and all those sort of things. Until we got set into, we did training on various things, driving, driving instruction,


cookhouse, you did all, you even had to do latrine fatigues, all those sort of things, you had to do so many various jobs, which were part of your training that you had to do. And we used to have signalling, well in my latter stages in the militia, I’d become a signaller, and when we got into the AIF, the 2/7th I wanted to be a signaller again.


Well two reasons, I wanted my own horse, but we didn’t have horses because we’d become mechanised, but I thought I might get a motorbike. But I liked the, the communication bug had already got me, it got me, and I liked the idea of telephones and signalling and that type of thing, and using a bit of, some very antiquated wireless sets we had


for a while in the militia, using them, very interesting. It was just I wanted, I wanted to be there. And when we, after we done what we called this bullring training with everybody did this, swing around and do all things, you could volunteer or they’d appoint you to certain things. Well a lot of people went for the gunners, I went for the signals, but the interesting thing was, I went into the


signal group, and we went for our first lesson, the signal group, our first lesson. And an officer was appointed to tell us all about how to do signalling, he had to give us all our lessons on signalling, tell us all about it, and train us. And along came the officer, and he stood up there, and he read out the names of all the guys sitting in the, in the room to do the course. And, “Gunner Murphy, Gunner Ward, Gunner Williams,


Gunner Quilliam, Gunner Cameron, my word, you guys have grown a lot since the cadet days,” he was our cadet officer. 12 months after he’s our cadet officer, we’re all in the army, and we’re all over 20, and none of us were, we were all under age. And when we, when we finished, he just


finished, that’s all he said, no more. And when we came out, us mob, us cadets, “We got, no got, what are we going to do, what are we going to do, he’ll go and tell the CO [Commanding Officer], we’ll all get thrown out, what will we do?” And, “Do you think we should go and see the CO first?” We discussed it. And we said, “No, we’ll lay low, we won’t say a word, we’ll just kick in and make sure we do our best and become signallers,”


which we did, which we all did, and then we all became signallers. And then we all got a nice, pleasant surprise by becoming signallers, we found we got an extra two bob a day, while the others only got five bob a day, we got seven bob a day. That was very nice. But it was quite interesting though, because our officer was one lesson ahead of us, in our teaching of our,


of our signalling stuff. Because as I say, a lot, practically all of us had a little bit of signalling experience in the militia. But he was, he was only one lesson, if you asked a question, he’d say, “That’s tomorrow’s lesson, we’ll hear about that later,” he was a great guy, but he didn’t tell on us. He honestly didn’t, otherwise we would all have got thrown out. Because they were doing that, as soon as


they found out anybody was underage or, or had, had trouble with the police, or they thought they were not capable of doing artillery work, they’d transfer them to some other group, there was quite a lot of change before we embarked as a unit, quite a lot of change, but we stayed. And that was how we


all became, we stayed, we all stayed signallers right till the end, with the signallers group, within the artillery of course.
And were there any particular mates by this stage, or friendships that you started that stayed with you, or?
Oh we all stayed, we stayed together within the regiment, but some went into, there was two, four, six, there was six troops


in the regiment, and each, and three battery headquarters. So there was battery headquarters sigs [signals] and then there was troop signallers. And I was in ack [ack-ack – anti-aircraft] troop signallers, started off as a signaller, which was quite interesting, extremely interesting to me, because the corporal in charge of the ack troop signallers, you wouldn’t believe it, was a patrol leader in my Scout group at Alberton Scouts.


He was my patrol leader, he came from Alberton, I knew him, he was my patrol leader in the Boy Scouts, and when I joined the, the artillery and became a signaller, when we got into our signal group, and I was put into ack troop as a signaller, he was my, my two stripe, my boss again.
And did that allocation happen before embarkation?
And what was his name?
David Morris.


And sorry, you said you were in ack troop?
Ack-ack troop.
Ack-ack troop. And, and how many in the ack-ack signallers?
Oh around about ten initially, around about ten.


And how did you react when you found out it was David?
Oh, I was quite pleased because I knew him, I knew he was a, I knew his brother too, he’s also, but he was in an artillery unit earlier, and he got killed on Greece, his brother. I thought I knew him, and oh, went to school with him,


although he was a couple of grades higher than I was. And I felt comfortable, I felt fairly comfortable, and he knew what I, he knew me, he didn’t have to work on me to, to do anything, because I was, I was on his side anyway, as I had been as a scout on patrol, when he was a patrol leader. So he didn’t have to, didn’t have to worry about me in any way. Because he, these people are from all walks of life, and some of them were


quite characters. Nice guys, but, but some of them are, I could tell some interesting stories about some of these guys. But he didn’t have to worry about me, cause I had my patrol leader as my, he was now my bombardier in charge of the signallers.


Well moving on from training, that occurred throughout September, 1940, how did you keep abreast of what was going on in the Middle East or overseas?
Oh well, well of course you had wireless sets around, tandem wireless sets which were around, but you could hear the news going on. Of course you had a theatre at Woodside, you could always see news reels of what was going on,


and we did get lectures from time to time by CO or by other officers, of certain events, which were going on in Australia and overseas. We got taught about, oh, lessons on the rules of war and all these sort of things. Oh we, we did, we did hear about all this stuff, but mainly through wireless sets, and of course you’d be home on the weekends, we used to get weekend leave, so you could go home on the weekend.


You’d, yeah, there were newspapers available to read, you were quick, you were quite informed, but you’re not informed about what you were doing yourself, except training. That was one of our things. And we’d do quite serious training, we did, we did exercises, motorised exercises by then, we were motorised of course. And we had some vehicles,


and we had some guns, First World War guns, didn’t take them overseas, of course. And we used to run around with those, throw them around, we’d have shoots and so on. And oh we had quite a lot of learning, practical learning to do, driving around Mannam and Victor Harbour, and cross country, going into people’s paddocks and blowing up things, and can man too at the firing range, we had a good firing practice out there with real,


real ammunition, real conditions. A lot of this was good training, good basic training, and I’ve even spoken, was speaking the other day when my wife was going off to Weight Watchers, she doesn’t need to, she only goes because her sister does, and her sister’s overweight. So my wife goes along to partner her, in a sense. And I said to them, “Well one month


in the army, or in the services would do you people a hell of a lot of good,” because, all right, we’ve been in the army, I was an athlete and a lot of other people were athletes, and a lot of people were not, never had any army training whatsoever. It would be, astound you to know that some of the leading businessmen in Adelaide did not know which was the right and which was the left foot. Yes, it’s true. And


heavily, muchly overweight, and yet with an army diet, which was quite satisfactory, regular hours, regular exercise and plenty of it, these guys came, well, tremendous physical specimens, really.
And what sort of physical exercise routines did you do?
Marching, marching, then they’d encourage sport,


football or anything like that, soccer any of those things. And I think our, just our general, whenever you did anything in the artillery, you always had to run. You couldn’t walk, you had to run, but I mean, all this sort of thing. You go on leave, there was always a parade on before you went on leave, there would always be private buses organised,


and you’d have your name down to go, and it was going to leave at 12.05 to get down to the city, because somebody played football and somebody wanted to go to the football, and somebody was talking his wife out or something, so this was it. So you had to make sure your boots were nice and clean, so that’s where you, you learn a lot, you learn a tremendous lot about people, you learn a lot about


your officers, you learn a lot about your sergeants, your senior NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers], you learn a lot about your self, and your mates. And I can remember full well on one Saturday, I’d been actually polishing a car to get a few extra bob, Bob and me, a mate of mine, and so we got, we polished the car all right, but by doing this, we didn’t have time to properly polish our boots to go on leave parade.


So we go on leave parade and along comes the officer, worldly officer and behind him is the battery sergeant major, and he was a big tough old outback man he was, he came from a station up near Port Augusta. And old Art’s coming along behind, and the officer points at my boots, and I said, “Oh God,” boots are dirty, there goes my leave. I’ll have to wait until about five o’clock in the afternoon to get the train now, and I’ll have to walk a mile to get the train,


instead of getting the bus and being in town by one o’clock, you know. And, and Art Hamblyn, Art’s coming behind and, and what they normally did, the sergeant of the guard would just say, “Right,” they just say your name, you had to step forward a pace, dirty boots. And at the end of the parade, he’d say, “All those with those boots, get to and clean them and report back here.” And of course you’d go back and you’d scrub


your boots out and you’d come out and you’d stand there, and by this time, all the buses had gone. You’d walk a mile about five o’clock, down to get the train to get down to Adelaide, oh that would hurt. But Art, sergeant major, “You soldier, move lad, move,” and be ridiculed in front of all my mob, I had to move out and race off to the hut and polish my boots. But guess what,


by the time the officer had finished moving around, I was on parade again with polished boots, and I caught the bus. Now sergeant major taught me a lesson, first of all to clean my boots, secondly he was on my side, he knew, so he wasn’t, as soon people called him everything. Oh they’d shoot him with, they’d say look at him,


but by the time we finished with him, oh boy, he was king. If Art said, “Jump,” you’d jump, and if he said, “Jump in the river,” you’d jump in the river because you knew it was all right, he was fabulous. But that’s how you get respect, respect for people. You don’t get respect from anybody who pushes you around, kicks you around and then walks away from it, walks away from responsibility, even in business.


You don’t get any respect unless you, you’ve got to show respect, as well as give respect, and that’s what I learned in the army, I learned a lot of things then. And that was one of them, those parades in Woodside. That didn’t only happen to me, happened to other people, and we, we all learned, it’s one of those things that carries you through in life, and you, you


learn from friends now. I went into the hut, I knew a lot of the guys there, but when I got into this particular hut, I got a palliasse on the floor, that’s yours soldier, Dave Morris wasn’t doing this, somebody else was. And the joker alongside me, and I said, sitting there, I said “Good day, my name’s


Jim,” “Oh I’m Snow, everybody calls me Snow,” because he had fair, very fair hair. “Well what do you do, Jim?” “Oh, what do you do Snow?” “Oh, I live down in the country, I live down at Tantanoola, I actually, I work on Dad’s farm now, but I worked for a


builder for a while, when I finished school.” I said, “Oh, you finished school.” He said, “Yes, yeah, I was at high school, I got my leaving,” which was the equivalent to matriculation in those days. He said, “I was going to teach at college, but they haven’t, we only had a small farm, and they really needed me to help them on the farm, with my Dad and Uncle around the farm, and,” he said, “I was the only lad


in the family, I only had sisters.” And so he said, “I, I thought well I’ll got out and get a job first to help with the finances, I, I’m in the building, building trade,” he said, he was only, he was a year older than me. And he said, “Oh, in the building trade, and but I’ve just been back on the farm helping them out, the building was very handy, working as a carpenter, for the farm, you see.” I still


talk to him, he’s still alive, he still lives at Tantanoola, lives on the farm, never married. And he could walk in here, he could walk in here today, and sit over there, and he’d be listening to this, and he wouldn’t even interrupt, he’d walk in and I’d just say hello and he’d sit there and wait until we finished. And just, but my wife can’t understand it, even though she was in the services.


And, and what sort of other, I mean Snow came from the country, from a farm, you came from Port Adelaide, where had the other blokes in your section come from?
All another one of the, another one of the guys who stayed on the guns was Harry, he lived in my street, so I used to see him. But he was a son of a Minister, he was the son of our Church of Christ, Methodist Minister, actually. And


there’s another peculiar story. I knew his brothers very well, I played cricket with his brothers, but Harry lived in our street, so I could always talk to him at any time, because I was in the militia with him, too. But some of the other boys who, who were the cadets, see being cadets and then being in the militia, see we were together again. So you sort of, mixing with them, with them as well, they become your friends as well, too.


But strangely enough, I’ve been sort of a bit of a loner in some ways, but, but I had my other civilian friends, even my brothers I’d still, come on leave and I’d go out with them, rather than any of the army chaps, that was just. Unless Snow came down to our place and stayed a couple of nights, that type of thing.
Well, what do you recall


of getting the news of, of the fact that you, your section was going overseas?
Very excited, very excited about it, I mean that’s, after all, that’s what you join up for. If you join an active regiment, then you know, you know full well you are going to go overseas sometime, you have to, because there was no threat here at that time.


You know that you’re going overseas and you, and I think you do, well you do, you look forward to it. I was, I was fortunate, I was fortunate that I had friends, I was not tied down to a girl, I’d taken some girls out, but it was purely, they were friends, they were friends, and most of them


are dead now, anyway, but that was all. And when I’d come home on leave, there would probably be somebody else in the navy on leave to go out together or something, and that was it. And but I, I was looking forward to going overseas, yes, I’ve got to admit that.
And did you have some final embarkation leave?
Yes, I think we had about a


week of embarkation leave. I was still mixed up with my church a bit, and so got a farewell from them, of course. And, which was quite profound, and I, I believed in some of the things too, and I still do. Mainly to myself and not for public display, sort of thing.


Look, I’m not a regular church member, I’m not a regular church goer, I am an adherent in a sense that I go to church at Easter time, Christmas time and sometimes a few other occasions in church services, I’ve taken part in one recently, singing, singing in a small group. But I’m not, I’m not a dyed in the wool adherent


to any, any place. And so I, and then with families and of course with our, see I don’t have any relations, no aunties or uncles, grandfathers or anything in Australia, I’ve never known any. But all our uncles were the people, the Poms mainly, that my and my mother knew and associated with, when they came here. So we did have family


gatherings as we called them then, and dinners, usually at our place.
And what sort of send-off did your family, your mum and dad give you?
Well we did have a nice party at our place, they were mostly all these, these people, and some of my, some of my friends, Church friends and those sort of things that, some of them were already in the services, in the navy, too.


But that was, the family one was kept separate from the Church one, which was a, which involved the cricket team, as well, so, fellows from the cricket team. So it was a fairly quiet sort of affair. I stayed, I went out with my mother a few times, not with my Dad because he was working all hours. But with my mother I went out a few times


with her. I had one very, oh that was later when I came back from the Middle East.
I was just going to ask you, what was the, the buzz or the talk in your, in the 2/7th about where you were hoping to go?
Well once again we thought we’d go, we knew we’d, fairly certain we’d go to the Middle East, or we thought we might even finish up in England, because some of the early Australian units that left Australia,


they finished up in England. Or went to England, and then they were sent out to the Middle East from there. And we thought we’d probably go to England, but we didn’t know, we really didn’t know. And but once we’d got to Ceylon or Sri Lanka and left there, we knew it was going to be the Middle East. We, we knew because the Germans told us. Oh yeah, we had,


we had a news broadcast and the Germans did the broadcast, and they told us we, they were going to sink us if we got, we were going to the Middle East, and they were going to sink us on the way.
And what was the trip over like?
A mixture of good. The accommodation was v, v [very], awful. It was hammocks slung up in H-deck which was down under the water line and I think,


just above the outer skim of the ship. And his feet were swinging in my face, and my feet were swinging in his face. We slept on deck whenever we could and that was all right, take you, take your sleeping gear up there, blankets and pillows and sleep on deck if you could, well that was all right, but you couldn’t always do that, but we did when we could.


It wasn’t, compared to later times when the Yanks got into the act, it was like heaven. But it was, we were on deck quite a lot of the time, we had, once again, exercises, sports meeting up there, running races and wrestling races and swimming, and boxing, and all that sort of thing.


Oh there, there always seemed to be something to do or a bit of talk about something. And we were very fortunate on the boat going over, that about three o’clock in the afternoon, the ship’s orchestra was still there, and the afternoon, at three o’clock, there’d be a jam session with the orchestra going, a dance band. You couldn’t dance, because there wasn’t any room to dance because of all the guys in there, but we’d have this fantastic jam session, and


of course they’d play any, any requests, and they always finished up with the “Sheik of Arabee.” And of course, we loved the drummer going to town on the drums in the “Sheik of Arabee,” and all that sort of thing, it was, it was a very, very pleasant voyage, and that was tremendous. And we, after we left Fremantle, we, we picked up other,


some other ships from New Zealand and Sydney, I think the Queen Mary, was in our, the Isle d’France, the Mauritania and our little Stratheden, and another little, little Polish boat called the Battery, and it looked like a battery too. And we got to Fremantle, and we were held up in Fremantle for several days, and now we had a, a couple of destroyers on, coming


across the Bight, and they disappeared and we found out there was a German raider, there was a German raider operating out there, and they went out and cleaned out this German raider, and that’s why the convoy didn’t go on. But when we got there and leaving Fremantle was the most, at that stage, the most emotional part of my life, one of the most emotional things of my life, as we, just.
I might just stop you there, because I know our tapes about to…
Interviewee: James Quilliam Archive ID 1741 Tape 04


Well James, you were just about to tell me about the most, one of the most emotional times of your life?
It was leaving, leaving Fremantle, the convoy had just got into its grouping and we were still within sight of land, and from the, from the New Zealand ship, they sang the “Maori’s Farewell.” Even today when I think of it, sort of grabs me too. It was


absolutely mind blowing as far as I was concerned, and I think quite a lot of the other guys too. To hear these voices, and it was almost like a major choir singing across the water. It seemed to be in parts, whether they had tenors and baritones and all the rest of it, I don’t know, but I mean, there was probably about four or five thousand guys all singing this


“Maori Farewell.” I think I want to go home, you had that sort of feeling, I want to go home, but no, it was, it was very, very emotional. And it kept us quiet for quite some time, thinking now we’ve done it, that’s the sort of finish now, we’ve left Australia, are we going to come back. We all thought


the same thing. And just, we were very quiet for quite a long time after that. Every time I hear it now, still gets me. Not quite as much as it did then. So that was the “Maori’s Farewell,” and then away we went.
And was there any conversation at all about the possibility of, of not coming back?


Ah, you don’t talk about it, frankly I didn’t expect to come back. I’d had enough training in the militia, and I knew what my job was going to be, that I’d volunteered for anyway, I wanted to do this part of the. I had been to Anzac Day parades all my life, even in the Scouts,


I was at Anzac Day parades. I, I think I was fully aware of what could happen, and the worst thing that could possibly happen is coming back disfigured or badly maimed, that would probably be the worst thing that could happen to you. Death in many instances would have been better.
Was there a particular wound that you feared?


No, I, didn’t, from, from, as I said I didn’t expect to come back, so it didn’t worry me what I did. I wasn’t stupid, if my boss said to me, “Jim,” Mr Wendt said to me when I left, “Jim don’t do anything stupid, you can be an honest soldier, don’t do anything


stupid, you come back here, just come back, there will always be a job for you.” So.
And what do you think he meant when he said, “be an honest soldier”?
Do your job, do your job, look after yourself, don’t do any stupid heroics that are going to get you killed, yourself killed, I think that’s what he meant. Because he’d been a front line


soldier himself, and been, and in the post war years, been the company brigadier, and he knew it, he knew it from experience. Because there are some things that you do that are stupid, there’s no sense in it, you don’t achieve anything.
Well you, you’ve just described that very highly emotional scene of leaving Fremantle, and how it dampened the, the mood a little


bit on the ship, but you mentioned earlier that you left without any equipment. And knowing that, how, how did that affect the mood of your particular regiment?
Well we understood, when we got overseas, when we knew we were going, that we were going to be fully equipped. Because in that, that embarkation


period, our guns disappeared, and all our wireless sets, we didn’t have wireless sets, yeah, I think we had one, that wireless set disappeared, and the telephones we had, they were First World War telephones, they disappeared too. And we, we knew that we didn’t have anything, we didn’t have any rifles. And we knew we were going overseas, that all that equipment would be given to us overseas. We had another surprise coming, we didn’t get it.


Well you mentioned that you went to the Middle East with a stop over in Ceylon, did you have any shore leave in Ceylon?
We had, we had an afternoon’s leave, that’s all. And Snow, oh, on the trip, on the trip, going over, we were very fortunate they wanted some, we had to, they wanted some signalling


between the ships, we volunteered for some signalling between the ships. And by doing that, we were using flags, Morse code, now you couldn’t use wireless sets anyway, we didn’t have them. So they didn’t want to use any wireless sets, or even the ships stuff, because ships were for operational use only. But any stuff that the commander on the, army commander on the ship, he was only looking after the army, he had nothing to do with the driving


of the ship or where it was going, that was the navy business. Then we used to signal to the ships and send messages between the ships, and that was fantastic training for us, because we used Morse code, using flags like this. And we used some semaphore, now I’d learnt all that in the scouts and so we had done a little bit in the militia, but we learnt it all in the scouts. And so it was a piece of cake,


it was fantastic. And then we used some lamps, did a bit of lamp signalling between boats, and that was tremendous. We got a lot of practice in signalling in, in that sort of work, which we didn’t usually use because we usually used wireless and telephone work, telephone procedures. We didn’t use, very rarely, I can’t remember using flags at any, at any time after that, it was


a good bit of practice to learn your codes, and remember your codes and so on, and it kept you occupied, kept you occupied. So you couldn’t get morbid about, about things. Particularly those who were emotionally involved with either girlfriends or wives, some of them, some of them were married and had children,


that must have been pretty, pretty hard on them. But I had made up my mind, I made my, made up my mind that I would not become emotionally involved while I was in the army, with anyone, any, any woman, female. And I kept to that. No, no, well put it this way,


no emotional commitment. And I kept to that, did keep to that. I did meet my wife during leave in 1944, we met at a wedding and I was best man and she was the bridesmaid to her cousin, and when I was on leave, her cousin knew I was on leave, and she said, “Jim,” she came to see me, and she said, “Jim, look would you be best man at, I’m getting married


and Max is in the army,” she said, “We haven’t got any, anybody else to be in the army, he hasn’t got any, he’s on leave, he’s on special leave, would you be best man?” I said, “Yeah, all right, but one thing, I want to, I want to meet the bridesmaid first, I want to see who I’m.” Because I’d been to a wedding a week earlier when I was on this leave, and once again I’d been hijacked into it, and I was with a girl, and


the only time we were together was when we signed a registry and walked out of the church. And we went to the reception, she sat that side with the bride and I sat that with the guys, and I had to leave because it was in an area, other side of Port Adelaide. And I had to get back home, and the last train left at, and I raced off, I don’t even know what she looked like, I don’t even know her name, never. So I said, “I want to meet the bridesmaid,” which I did,


and I met June, she came over to her cousin’s place, she didn’t even, she hardly recognised her cousin, I knew her cousin, because she was in, she was in our group of friends at the Church. So I knew her cousin, and I’ve even admitted, I’ve even admitted I knew I was going to marry her, that night. It’s most peculiar, but I didn’t tell her, but I still had a month’s


leave left, because I had about seven weeks leave at that time in 1944, and we went out together every night. She was working, went out together for that month, every night except one night I took my mother out that night.
Well it’s interesting, it’s very interesting hearing about all the weddings that were going on in the war. We’d better return though to your, to pick up your story. You landed in the Middle East in Palestine?
And when.
At a place called


Ankara I think, we pulled in, in the Suez there, then we went by train to Palestine, to Castina.
And what sort of shape was the Castina camp in, when you arrived?
To the best of my knowledge, we had tents that had already been put up. But of course, you, going over there into the winter season, you were into December, it’s


winter and it was very muddy, quite muddy. But we did have tents and they were waterproof, so six men to a tent, yeah, six of us to a tent. And we had little bunks there which were wicker, or cane, cane bunks so they were off the ground, they were all right, I had no complaints.


Except one. One guy had two children, one was 12, the other was seven, he was a bank manager. Another guy was married, he had two children, Ernie. Paul Fox was about 35 and he was a bachelor,


John Tyson, he was about three or four years older than me, and I was a kid. Oh and Bob, and then, then Bob, there was Bob, he was engaged, he died a month ago here, aged 90, so once again he was six or seven years older than me, and I was a kid. And these older guys, not so much


John Tyson, he got involved with another group of friends he knew, and we were all in the same tent. And when we went on leave, we went, this tent went on leave together. And I wasn’t allowed to go with any of my cronies or any of my mates, I had to go with them, they were looking after me. And I, I had the name of Jimmy, fancy being a big, brave Anzac and being called Jimmy. And Jimmy had to go with them. And they gook me around, and we didn’t go into meet any of the


fancy ladies in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, we went into the nice places. And we had our glass of beer or lemonade, appropriately. And we didn’t booze, and we didn’t drink all the, all the heavy wines and we didn’t go to any naughty places at all, we went to all the religious places. We went to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, oh


we went to school, went to school one day in Tel Aviv. We were walking past the school, and the kids saw us as they were going round, and it was a high school and it was a senior class in high, high school, and they came to the fence and started to talk to us. And we were talking to them, and one of them said, “Would you like to come in and talk about Australia? Our next lesson


is English, can you wait here a moment,” and she raced away and she brought back her teacher, the teacher was a Canadian, and the subject they were going to have was English, as the next subject. And the kids told her what they’d like us to do, and we said yes, we’d come in. There was only three of us there at that time, the others had gone somewhere, we were meeting them, there was just three of us. So we finished up in the classroom. And one of our chappies who


was, he came home and became the head of the building department or something, in Adelaide, he, he gave a little talk about our education system in Australia, and so on. And it was quite interesting because the teacher was talking about the difference between adjectives and adverbs, and I was listening there, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh God, I heard about this only a few years ago.’ And I’m back in the classroom, and some of those kids, I reckon were as old as I was.


Then. They were quite old, they were very senior kids. And I wrote a, wrote a letter to my mother and told her about it, I said, “The only unfortunate part about it, we didn’t tell them about our kangaroo farms, we should have done.” And that probably got published in the paper here, my letter got published in the paper. So that was something different.


It’s a very different story, I haven’t heard that before, because there is quite a different picture that normally gets painted of Australian diggers in the Middle East.
They, I, a responsible bank manger, another chap who was senior, well he was a senior worker at Exa, but he has a couple of children. Bob, Bob Wetherill worked for a Trustee Company, Elders Trustee


Company, he was one of their country Managers post war. John Tyson was a, also worked in Elders as a young man. And Paul, I don’t know what Paul, don’t know what Paul worked at, I know he was an amateur wrestler, but he was a very, very nice guy. These, these were very nice people.
Set people, and I’m


with them.
It’s interesting though to hear you giving a talk in a school. Do you think in hindsight, that was a public relations, sort of exercise?
I think genuinely the kids we spoke to over the fence, wanted to know something about Australia. Well they were all Jewish children, so there was


probably thinking about one day coming out here, I don’t know, I don’t know, because we didn’t know their backgrounds. Because we were only in that class probably only about an hour, and that’s all we did know about them. I think we had a cup of tea with them, something like that afterwards.
And you were telling us that story with, I guess, a bit of a wry smile on your face, about being Jimmy the Kid.


How irritating was it for you to be the youngest in your group, and?
A bit embarrassing, cause my friend Snow was in a different tent, and we had a very good canteen in Castina, in the camp, and you could always go along and upgrade your, your meals. And I used to love poached eggs on toast, so I went


about seven o’clock at night, I used to go down to the canteen and have poached eggs on toast, and I think maybe, I don’t know if I ever drank beer in those days, I can’t remember. And a cup of coffee or a couple of cups of coffee and play table tennis. And we did this, and we went back to our tent about nine o’clock this night, and it was my birthday, my 20th birthday, 22nd of December. So I go back,


and I said to Snow, “Hey Snow, let’s make out we’re full, let’s make out we’re drunk.” And he says, “All right.” So we come up to my tent, which is, there’s a couple of ways but we went past his tent. We come up to my tent and we’re both singing, we’ve got arms around each other, and we’re swaying around and, “Hey,” making out we’re drunk. Well, bank manager, sat bolt upright,


so does Etzer, so does, so does Bob from the Elders Trustee, they sit bolt upright. “Jimmy, coming home drunk on your birthday,” and without a word of a lie, I’ll swear this on any stack of Bibles you like to give. The bank manager, Tiny, he was about six foot two and built like a wrestler, grabbed me, put me over his knee, and started to


belt hell out of me. “I’ll teach you, you young b, b, b,” belting hell out of me. Gee, I sobered up. Now here I am, a big brave Anzac, being belted by, I come back and here he thought I was drunk. But this is the type


of people they were, and you learnt to appreciate it, you learnt to appreciate it. I learnt then that these guys were looking after me, because they recognised that I was young, but I thought I could look after myself, but they were going to make sure I would be looked after. And honestly when we, when they went on leave, they said, “You’re coming with us,” and I didn’t object, because I was living with them in the same tent, and I’m getting to know these guys,


and so we, we’d go on leave and I went to lots of these places like Jerusalem and those places, Sea of Galilee, and all that type of thing, when a lot of people didn’t go there. And when they show all this on TV, I go, “Yeah, I know, I’ve been there, been there,” not in civilian life, but in army life. I’ve been there and, I can understand, I learnt, I learnt


a lot going it with the guys, because they were temperate fellows, they were temperature. They admittedly a couple of times they played up, but they were never offensive or anything. But some were pretty wild, but they learnt, they learnt to adjust. And it’s a fantastic thing if you


can survive to be in, in the type of environment and be with these guys. I know it’s hard to explain to anybody, you just have to be part of it. Cause I can meet these guys now, and there’s no bally-hoo, there’s no hugging or grabbing, “Gosh, I haven’t see you for,


how you going?”
You’ve talked a little bit about identifying with being an Anzac in the Middle East, did you identify more with being an Anzac rather than a digger?
Well, no, no, I don’t think so. Probably, we, we were, I think all of us at times we were saturated with Gallipoli in Australia,


and we known as Anzacs and as far as we were concerned, the New Zealanders were part of us too. And so you sort of, you couldn’t say anything about a New Zealander, even if a New Zealander was a thorough bruiser and he got into all the strife in the world, and he, he was the cause of it, you’d be in there to help him out, because he was one of us. No other reason, he was one of us, he’s an Anzac, he’s an Australian, Australians and New Zealanders,


just like that. And that did happen, many times. But you don’t, you, we were Aussies yes, but we had the Anzac tradition sort of went along with it, and that’s what we were trying to maintain, the Anzac tradition, really. Unconsciously probably.
With a sense of humour?
Sense of humour. Oh yes, these,


these guys, there’s only of them, John Tyson is the only one left now from that group, and he’s, you walk in, you say good day, you don’t even talk about the wife. And then you suddenly, sort of, “Oh, I’ve got to get going, the misses is picking me up in half an hour.” “Oh, how is she?” It’s a most, even my wife


being in the air force, see they didn’t have that system. My brother was in the air force, he’s in the air crew, but they didn’t have that relationship because your air crew could be picked for this six weeks or something, and then you’d change, and you’d get shifted off to another part, and you’d get a different air crew. And even some days your air crew would change, and you didn’t have this contingency for five years, five and a half years,


not, not all the same bods by all means, but you didn’t have the same closeness with people. And I’ve tried to explain it to civilians in time, but in the army, navy’s a bit like it too, although you can get transferred to other ships, but in the army, if you’re sticking with the unit, you work with him, you play with him, you sleep with him, well along, he sleeps alongside you.


Every hour of the day, every minute of the day, you’re with him, or he’s near you, he’s around you. He knows you, he knows what you’re thinking. When you’re quiet, he knows what you’re thinking. I know what he’s, what so and so’s thinking when he’s sitting there, I know what he’s worried about. He knows what I’m worried about. You, you know these things. And I know one thing, I know if the guys coming


out me with a bayonet, I know that I can rely on him to do something. He knows what, how he can rely on me, it’s a certain thing. I know his capabilities, I know how far he can go. He knows how far I can go. Can you say that about your wife? Can she say that about your husband of today?
But trust like that and respect, doesn’t happen instantly.
When you were in that tent with those six others,


or five others, how long do you think it took before you really got to that point?
Reasonably quickly, reasonably, fairly quickly. Because you do talk, and a lot of the talk is quite foreign to me, they talk about their families, or the wife having a baby, and how they had trouble getting la-de-dah. You don’t


talk about the details of things, but you start to see things in a different light and it is amazing. One of my very, very good friends who died twelve months ago, I have a, I’ve got a picture of him, him and myself when we came back from the Middle East, a picture of us together. And his wife called me his


very best friend. I didn’t think I was his very best friend, but I knew I was a very good friend of his, and I spoke at his funeral too. But when he tells, when he’s sitting there, and they say, “What did you do Jim?” you know, and I say “I’ve had a fairly non-entity of a life, really, nice parents, bought up all right, went to school, got a job, joined the army, you know, nothing very glamorous, particular about that. “When I listen, listen to a


chappie who tells me that four years old, he had an older brother who was five, but at four years old his mother walked out and left him playing in the backyard. And to this day, or to the day he died, he had never seen his mother again, he can’t remember a father figure. And from that day on, he spent his days in orphanages, foster homes, and then when he was kicked out at 14, he went bush, he was sent out,


so there’s ten cents or ten pence or something for a train trip, use the bundle of clothes that you’ve got, he’s sent out from an orphanage. He finished up on the West coast, working on a farm, living in a, living in an outhouse, on a barn, up on the straw, that’s where he lived. He got fed that was all. He was the same age as I was when he joined the army. And at that time, he was living in, he’d come to Adelaide,


got himself a job in the, in a, oh what do you call it, a scrap metal yard, he was living on his own in disused houses around Port Adelaide, there was plenty of them around, not far from me, he was living in disused houses, so he joined the, joined the artillery. Now, you listen to that story, if you’re lucky, if he tells it to you, I knew it,


he told me, after quite a while he told me about the story, and I met, I met his older brother later on too. But he hasn’t got a mother, he’s had no formal upbringing, all his things was a succession of foster homes where foster parents got paid for taking him, in the depression years.
It is very interesting hearing about his story, but nevertheless, we’re here


today to talk about you. So.
That’s where you learn.
That’s where you learn another side of life, and you have some compassion, and when he gets into trouble, you have compassion for him, because you know it. But if you don’t know it, you’ll thump him, you’ll thump him. But if you, if you know his story, he, from that age, he had to look after himself. Now what a beautiful life I had.


Someone to look after me, even in the army I had someone. If they tried to do that to my friend Moggy, he’d be on the drawback, he’d be on the drawback, he’d be very, very, very, very cautious. He had to, had to know, really had to know you first, he was very cautious. That’s a learning process, you learn a lot.
And what was his


Oh we just call him Moggy.
OK, well, going back to, you were in training camp in Castina, then you were moved to, Ikingi Mariut?
Ikingi Mariut.
At a staging camp?
It was a staging camp, just out of, just out of Alex. The idea there of course, we were going to get equipment and then the, by this time, Rommel was starting to make a drive,


drive back to, back down again. And all the different towns were falling, Benghazi, and then Derna fell and then they were getting down to Tobruk. And the 9th Division by this time was over that way and they, the infantry of course had rifles, and they, they were up, they’d gone up to Benghazi, gone up to


Tobruk, just forward of Tobruk. Some of the other units were up there, we didn’t have any guns, so we couldn’t. And I’ve learnt since, I’ve learnt since that we had to buy our guns from the Poms, we had to buy British guns, and they didn’t have any British guns there to give us, so we couldn’t buy any, so we didn’t have any guns. What do you do without guns, we’re artillery people. So we couldn’t do anything, and the, one of our regiments in the


there were three artillery regiments in the division, and one of them trained on fortress guns in, in Sydney. And they were actually a fortress group, and then they had been changed over to a field regiment. And they knew more about fortress guns, and there were some fortress guns in Tobruk, so they went up, they got the job of going in there and using them, and any other artillery pieces they could get hold of. And we were annoyed about that because we were


the senior regiment. And the junior regiment got the job and not us, and we couldn’t get to Tobruk. And we gave, we gave them every piece of equipment we pinched from Australia, which once again were a couple of old First World War phones, telephone wire that we had, rifles we had, we gave it all to the other regiments. We didn’t have any guns, so it didn’t matter. They took everything. And they


went up to Tobruk, and of course, Tobruk closed around it. And so they were in there, and we were stuck in the desert, awful place. And very heavy dust storms at time, you couldn’t. I got very, actually, I got very ill that night, the night we arrived in the place, and I was the,


sick both ends, terrible pains in the stomach, I couldn’t carry my gear, we had to march to our camp, we were about, oh, about four miles away, and I couldn’t march to it, I could march, that was all. Held up by two guys and another two guys carried my gear. And when we got there, there was some tents already standing. We, medical officer wasn’t there, we didn’t have a medical officer, didn’t have any medical orderlies, and so I


slumped down on a ground sheet, and threw my overcoat over me, and we had a beautiful camp sin sand storm that came, and blocked out the place for about two days, and there I lay, sipping at my water bottle, and partly unconscious. And then after a couple of days, the doctor came out from Alexandria, an English


doctor and I got picked up and carted over to him, and he, he examined me right, left and centre and said, “Son, son,” not “Soldier,” “Son.” “You had a very acute attack of appendicitis,” he said, “I, it seems to have settled down now, and


it, I don’t know,” he said. He took quite a time to examine me with all the rest of them pushing and prodding, he said, “I think you’ll survive it, you’re very, very fortunate, but if you ever get that again, you must have your appendix out immediately.” I’ve still got it. But in 1983, I


I did have a problem ever since I’ve been home out of the army, almost every, every month I’d be racing off to the toilet, and I’d have a set of the runs. And I fixed it up by using my army prescription which was a couple of bex or tablets, and going without a meal or two,


settle down and it would be right again. But in 1983, I collapsed in Norway when we were on holiday, and when I came home, I got pressure put on me by a certain lady, and I did go off to the doctor, and I said, “I have a bit of trouble,” and I said, “Now, I want a proper examination, not a fly by night one.” He said, he was, he


joined the air force late, he was younger than me and he joined the air force when he was 18, a bit of a larrikin in the planes, he was well known for it, but he was a larrikin doctor too, well known. But he was a damn good doctor, being a larrikin he was up to all the tricks in the world, and he was very good. And he pushed me around, and he said, “You’re going to get it sport,” that’s how he talked to me. He said, “Don’t


think you’ve got cancer, but we’re going to find out.” So he, he organised in the surgery there, for me to get immediate x-rays, so I did, and then he, then he said, “I’ll give you a call when the X-rays have come out,” well within a couple of days he had my x-rays. And he rang me, and said,


“You’ve got problems,” I said, “Oh yeah.” He said, “Can you come, come and see me?” and I said, “Yeah, what’s the problems.” He said, “Well, you’ve got something wrong, I don’t think it’s cancer, but you’ve got problems.” I said, “All right.” So I raced off, and he said, I said, “Well, what do I do next?” He said, “Well you’ve got to see a specialist,” he said, and this is the way he talked. And he said,


“You’ll need an operation, do you know a good guts specialist,” and I said, “Oh cut it out, how would I know one? You’d know one, who’s the best you know,” and he mentioned a fellow’s name, and I said, “Well, he’ll do, if you reckon he’s all right.” He said, “Yeah.” And I said, “Well when can I see him?” he said, “Well as soon as we can. Hang on a minute.” And he got on his other phone, I know, he got on his other phone, cause I heard him on the other


phone and he rang up the specialist, and he said, “You can go now,” because he was only about a mile away. He said, “You can go now,” he said, “Come here and pick up the x-rays first, and go and see the specialist.” And I, this was, this was about two o’clock in the afternoon. So I went to see the specialist and he looked at the x-rays, and he said, “You’ve got something there, but I don’t, can’t, looked like cancer, but I don’t think


it is, I don’t think,” he said, “But it could be. But we’ve got to operate, take it out whatever it is,” he said, “As soon as possible.” I said, “Can you do it tomorrow?” He said, “Hey, hey, hey, hardly, I’m a specialist,” he said, “I’ve got other people to operate on.” He said, “Go home” he said, “And get ready and I’ll let you know.” Well I think


that was a Tuesday and on the Friday I was operated on. And he came to see me after the operation and he said, “You’ve got a calcified, you had a calcified abscess on the bowel which has been there for a very long, long time.” And Vet Affairs won’t accept it, because I didn’t go to Vet Affairs, I didn’t go through Vet Affairs,


I didn’t go to Repat [Repatriation] Hospitals, I didn’t complain about it or anything, so, you know, that’s that. And yet he told me it had been there. When I told him what had happened, he said, “That would have been it” he said, “You had an abscess on the bowel at that time, that’s what happened.” Because he’s dead, my Doctor’s dead.
OK, we’ll that’s a good place for us...
Interviewee: James Quilliam Archive ID 1741 Tape 05


Just, just to, to finish up your time in Ikingi Mariut, I hope I said that right?
Ikingi Mariut.
How long were you there?
Several weeks, but I can’t remember exactly how long to be quite honest. In my regimental history book, I could tell you, but it was only, comparatively probably six weeks, I would think, something, something like that, only a few weeks.
And then from there you moved on to Mersa Matruh?


From there we went up to Mersa Matruh, yes.
And what was the camp like at Mersa Matruh?
It wasn’t a camp, we didn’t have a camp at Mersa Matruh. By this time, we were in our, our particular groups, now the guns were situated in one particular area and they had dug-outs. And I was in, what they called the observation post, forward observation post, and we had to, we had to dig a dug-out on the side of the hill,


and fill it with sand bags and then cover it with piece of iron and sand bags on top of the iron and that type of thing, and that was our, it was a fortress area. And we had to prepare that and then we had telephone communication back to our gun, and so on. Some of the other signallers ran telephone lines and buried them and, and then we talked to the guns and they talked to us, and that’s what we did.


So could you explain to me what your role as a forward observation signaller is?
Well, a 25 pounder gun for instance, and some of these others guns have a range of about, if you fired a gun here, with the super charge and the shell, probably have a range, could be up to about eleven, twelve thousand yards. Now in, in the desert areas,


you would probably have, probably two thousand yards between the enemy and yourself, the front line of the enemy, and the front line of your own people, sometimes it could be up to two thousand yards, sometimes shorter. Now you wouldn’t put your guns right up close behind the infantry, no way. They would be some distance behind them. If for instance you had your gun stationed at that particular spot,


right there, and your observation post is at, on a particular hill, you’d have to make a compass bearing, or take a compass bearing, usually using a map, from your, from your observation post to your gun, you know that’s on a certain bearing. Now, a target appears enemy


motor vehicle appears out somewhere, it doesn’t have to be dead in front of you, it can be, you could be looking out to your right, or you could be looking out to your left, you want to hit it. So you have to send a message down by telephone from the observation post to the gun position, to tell them there’s a target, and where it is. Now the officer has to know the bearing,


or the compass bearing if you like, put it that way, of where he is to the guns, and from where he is to the, to the target and work out that angle. And then give that angle, the resultant angle from there to the guns, to them, cause they can’t see the target. So that’s a little trick with guns. Gun position officer usually has somebody else to help him, somebody who knows a little bit about maths, to help him on the.


Now he does that and then when he’s got that, he then gives the orders to the signaller. And the signaller has got a certain system and sends, sends them out in a certain order, a particular order. He’ll tell you what type of target is a gun fire target, which means the guns have to be ready to fire at salvo. So then the gunners get that and know


my signal, the signaller down the gun position, he writes all this down and as soon as he gets it, he tells his officer there, he repeats does the officer down there, what I’m telling him. And he’s yelling out to the guns, “Gunfire target,” would be the first thing he’d yell out, so everybody gets ready, cause they know the dour guns are going to take part. But only one gun will be ranging. And then we would send down, we’ll say, “Number one ranging gun, number one ranging gun,” and we know that number one gun is ranged,


going to range it, or number two or number three, it just depends on what you want. And then we send down the orders, we tell him how, what elevation he’s got to set, put up his gun, we tell him the number of yards we estimate it to be. It’s not going to be ten thousand, it could be three thousand, four thousand, five thousand, and then we’d give him the order to fire, and he only fires one round.


He, when that round lands, our officer and his assistant, will note where it goes. Now, we’ll take it to be a stationery target, you’ll see where it lands, where that round lands, well it’s not going to hit the target by any means. It could be to the right, it could be to the left. In addition to that, it can be plus or it could be minus. Now,


normally, normally with a static target, normally with a static target, a chappie would say we’d lift the range by about six hundred yards. And by that, he’ll then see a line, he’ll work out a line where the, which way the line is where the gun is firing, it’s firing on a particular line, one landed here, one landed there, there’s the line. And then he’ll adjust that to either right or left.


And he’ll keep adjusting that right or left until that straddles the target. When it straddles the target, he will then add it or subtract the distance in between. Take four hundred, or add four hundred. When it gets, gets it down, until he gets it, say a hundred yard bracket on it, then he’ll give another order to reduce


it, or increase it by 50 yards, then he’ll ask all the guns, for all round gunfire. All the guns will fire, four rounds of gunfire. So they all have a little bit of adjustment, because each gun is not standing alongside each other. So they make their own adjustments for each gun. So with all that, and the differences in air temperature and the differences in the quality of the ammunition and the guns and all the rest of it, we can straddle that target,


pretty well with gunfire. But the signaller has got to be pretty quick to give the information down, particularly if its a moving target. You give that, but in doing so, you learn how to shoot the guns yourself, which I have done.
And you still hadn’t seen any action yet, so what exactly were you doing in Mersa Matruh?
Always training,


always going out on shooting exercises, keeping you, keep you up to, up to the mark. We had tractors and drivers, we got a bit of practice driving in the country. You’d take them out and they’d toe out the gun, people have got to learn to pack up quickly, jump out of things, get the gun into action fast, very quickly and so on. And,


and you, you’re just learning all these things, you’ve got to learn a bit of the art of survival too, learn how to live on rations, bully beef. By this time, we, you haven’t got a cookhouse, we didn’t have a cookhouse, we had our own set of rations, there was the officer, his assistant me, sometimes another signaller,


the officer’s batman and generally a driver, together, not always, all that crew, but generally. But you’re in that particular area at Mersa Matruh, so we had our own cooking facilities, so we cooked our own meals. We’d go back to the regimental headquarters and get some tins of bully beef, and tins,


stuff like that and all sort of business, get a bit of flour sometimes, you’d make patties out of bully beef and a bit of flour, self raising flour, bit of butter, bit of butter and tinned butter, tinned butter or margarine, tinned everything.
So this was really your first taste of trench life.
How, how were you adjusting?
Well we could get carried away or, every


night, we. We used insecticide powder, it was full of fleas, so you had your hair cut, would you believe I even had mine shaved, I went bald. And it scared the hell out of me, because it took 12 months to grow again, because I have very, very fine hair, very fine hair. And


it took me 12 months to grow, scared me, never bald again. But the fleas and things were very, we had insecticide spread all over our gear. You’d lie in bed and you were covered in insecticide on top and underneath, but it kept the horrible animals away.
And what equipment were you using for this training?
Well all we had was a telephone in that day,


we managed to get hold of a telephone, but we didn’t, didn’t have any rifles. And as our boss, captain had his binoculars, that was about all.
And so how long were you in Mersa Matruh?
Well a good couple of months there, and then we, then we got guns there, while we were in Mersa Matruh, we started to get guns in Mersa Matruh, and we started to get some rifles too.


And we did start to get some more equipment, I think we got a few odd lights, which the survey people used at odd times, we started to get a few things together, but that was at Mersa Matruh, we started to get it. Not, not when we went there. And they always keep you busy by digging further trenches, and you build your first line of defence, and then you build your second line of defence and all that sort of thing. Oh, they always keep you busy. And then of course,


the bombers used to come over at night, because Mersa Matruh had a fantastic harbour, also it was a rail head from Alexandria stopped at Mersa Matruh. Supplies could come up by rail, but then they were in store houses up there, they built big stores houses of food and stuff for the Allied troops that were further up. That was in Mersa Matruh. Then the boats used to load at Mersa, some of the boats used to call in, other boats used to come down from Tobruk.


Quick dash down to Mersa Matruh, load up rations and shoot back to Tobruk with it, with the rations. Or water or whatever, or sometimes other troops, but Mersa Matruh was the rail head and you, there was a rail train that went up there to Mersa Matruh, and it had a fantastic harbour and a fantastic swimming area, where we could keep reasonably clean by going down swimming. Didn’t get, didn’t worry about any fresh water


after that. Because, the only fresh water you had, you drank, but you did get access to the beach.
And whilst you were in Mersa Matruh, what did you know about what was happening in Tobruk?
Oh we, we were informed pretty well, we, we did have access to a wireless set, we had a field wireless set, oh we had our wireless set by that time. And we tuned into


the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] broadcast and the German, Radio Berlin, we always did that, tuned into both of them, to find out what was going on, because you can’t believe either.
That’s really interesting, because you’ve got both sides of the story then?
It was. And we knew all about Darwin, we’d heard about Darwin. We, coming from Radio Berlin. And


some of the chappies who were captured, some of our Australian chappies who were captured, were interviewed on radio in Berlin, and they actually did speak, but they didn’t give anything away, they couldn’t. But they’d just say, “I’m all right, I’m being treated well,” or something of that nature, for the people back home. Whether they heard it, I don’t know. And we used to hear Lord Haw Haw [radio [propagandist for Germany], and


he told us where we were, we said, “Thank you.” He told us what we were doing, we said, “Thank you.” That’s, he used to tease the jokers in Tobruk, we often to use to hear him tease about the, looks like rats in a hole, and that’s how they got the Rats of Tobruk. Name of course, we used to hear all this, so we used to hear it from Berlin too, they’d tell us, they knew where we were, their intelligence. Oh we bombed there last night, and we set aside


your, and there were fires burning, we have burnt your supplies of petrol, or something. We all cheered, because they didn’t, they blew up the, the biscuit factory, the biscuit dump, and all those horrible hard biscuits got burnt, so we cheered that. But they, they, you’d listen to that, it was their propaganda, it was a petrol dump, but we knew it wasn’t. But we used to


hear from BBC what was going on, where the war was going on, and so on, we used to hear. We knew Rommel was still at Tobruk, cause you’d get, get that information passed around anyway. They used to put out newsletters quite frequently, almost every day of what’s going on around the place.
And how, how did you. First up, I’m quite interested about the captured Australians on radio, how did you feel when you


heard the captured Australians?
Well you hear about them, you hear them, and so on. But you don’t take much notice of it, because you, sounds like an Australian voice it may be put on, it may be real. Secondly, so what, I’m here.


You’ve got to be, you are a clear, a soldier, an infantryman were even more complex. An infantryman is a terribly, terribly complex character, but even artillery man, and we were, I suppose, not anywhere near as complex as the infantry, although we worked so closely with them. But you,


you’re thinking about yourself too, “I’m all right, I’m alive, I’m here. He’s there, he’s probably all right, there’s nothing I can do about it. I can look after myself and what’s around me.” It’s a selfish thing, but at the same time, you are unselfish and you’ll look after your mate. To see that he’s not put in a nasty position. Or you’ll


give him your only piece of, or your fruit cake that you got from your mother, and that’s the only piece left, and so you give it to him, rather than have it yourself, you do it, you do it. You are, you are a soldier, I think is rather a complex character, infantrymen are even worse. I’ve seen, I’ve seen problems, I’ve seen people killed and that type of thing.


Our own driver was killed, and we were devastated. But, the enemy started firing and somebody yelled out, “Give me, give the, give me a hand on the gun,” and I left, I left a particular position where I wasn’t doing anything of importance, and jumped on and helped a gun, helped people out, you do those sort of things. I mean I could have said, “No bloody way,


I’m staying here in my tent,” but I don’t, you don’t.
Were you ever concerned about becoming a prisoner of war?
No, it didn’t ever enter my mind.
Well you were listening to all this action happening around Tobruk, and yet you’re still stuck in Mersa Matruh, how was that making you feel?
Well we were wanting to be, we were wanting to really be up there, we were very annoyed about not being able to get up


there, but that, that was tempered somewhat by developments just after Mersa Matruh. It was thrust upon us, the importance of building this fortress area, because if Tobruk fell, the next point was Mersa Matruh, that was going to be the next part for the Germans to attack. And so we, we were a little bit fair dinkum about digging the holes, and God, when I think about those limestones.


Trying to dig in limestone and I was swinging this pick all over the joint. Being a watchmaker, fancy using a pick. And one of the batman, batman was a ganger on the East West Railway, former gang, and he said, “Jim, this is how you do it, you only lift it up that high, and you just chip away, just chip away, keep on chipping, that will do it.” I was going ‘boink’ and then you’d hit the limestone, and that would shake


and vibrate, and you’d go, “Ewwww.” But learning, you learn a tremendous amount.
Well you did move on from Mersa Matruh, and, and you got close to your, your first sign of action, can you tell me about that?
Well that’s right, that’s when we got, then we started to get fair dinkum. We went up and we actually, because we were an isolated regiment and the 2/8th was also an


isolated regiment, they were in the same boat as we were, we, we became Poms, an English Group. And we started out supporting some Scots Guards, a battalion of Scots Guards. And we were right on the coast, around past the city of Veroni, which is a border into, I suppose it was Tripoli, Tripolitania, or whatever you call it then, and that’s where the Germans were. And we went


up as far as, within sight of, we didn’t go in to, because we couldn’t get into it, because we were on the coast and flat area and the sand hills, and directly ahead of us was the town of Salom. And that was as far as the Germans had come down, to this Salom, which was on the, there was an escarpment above Salom which was a high point, high ground. And they had all the high ground, and they had come down into the town of Salom, which is on sea level. And


that was their front line. And we were up with the Scots Guard, now we were only probably about a mile away from this, maybe a little bit more, two miles, at the very most. And what we did there, we only, could only use one gun at a time. We took, we took one gun in under darkness into the sandhills, the English had been in there before, we took over from a regiment of English.


And our other guns were deployed further back, in a defensive position. One gun was taken up in the dark and we planted it in the sandhills, and then, there was the observation post office, his assistant and myself, we were taken up to an observation post, which is only another dug out, dug in the sandhills. But we didn’t like that one, so we got another one.


And so from there, you could look at the enemy position which was the town of Salom, and the, the road coming down from the top of the hill into Salom and every now and then you’d see a, a car come down, or a wagon come down, usually truck, so you’d usually try and have a shot at it. But we found out the very first day, that the Germans had


all the high ground, and they had a damn sight more artillery than we did. Because they’re, they’re protecting their rear, cause, they’re protecting their rear, you see. And, although that’s their forward point, they’ve surrounded Tobruk, but they’re gone down further, and now they’re protecting their rear, and they had more guns than we did. And so, we’d see a truck come down from the, on this track, and we’d send an


order through to the guns, by telephone wire, through telephones. And they’d put a shot away, but what we found out, we’d get one shot away, and we’d get about ten back. Because other people had been in the gun positions before us, and the Germans had all the high ground. And they’d been observing for quite some time, where this other shooting was coming from, and they knew exactly where we were.


So we had to find another position. So we quickly found another position for our sniping guns, and we reckon it was a better one. And we still kept doing those things, and they step, the still kept shooting back. Well at one stage, on one day, on one day recorded in our history book, we shot away eight shots, and we received 225 back. And amongst them, were a number of duds.


And I think we had only one real battle, real casualty, this chappie Bob who died the other day, who was buried up to his neck in the slip trench by a dud, landed alongside the trench and showered him with sand, and didn’t go off, there was quite a few duds that came over. So there must have been some dirty work in factories, German factories, or wherever they were


built, the shells were made, must have been some sabotage gone on there.
So this is.
That’s on, what we called, excuse me a minute. That’s what we call the coastal area, overlooking Salom.
And how did, how did you respond to your first taste of action?


To be totally selfish, exhilarated, at last it was the real thing, at last it was real. And we had some, and once again, a learning process, we had Scots Guards, they, and they were the infantry boys, and they used to go out on patrols every night. And it was totally flat ground, and they were totally under observation.


And I learnt, we learnt something else. The officers of the Scots Guard, the captain and the lieutenant of the company we were with, and, and they were, they were, hard to describe. They were outstanding, outstanding officers. Now one of them one day, we were in the open, up in the open,


and we see one of, one of these officers, he’s about six foot four, I reckon, tall, lanky guy and he’s running along towards us, from the enemy lines, along the beach. And I could see him with the naked eye, and the boss has got the glasses, field glasses, and he says, “Hey, that’s, that’s David.” And he said, “And, and there’s some Germans chasing him, they’ve got


police dogs.” He said, “He must have been up there hiding all night.” Anyway, the joker comes bounding along the beach, and I said, “Oh, I’ll help him out.” So he sends an order down to the guns, to fire a couple, a couple of rounds down as quick as they can, onto these, onto these Germans that are chasing this fellow on the beach. Which we did, we got two rounds away, and then they had to scuttle for cover, we got umpteen dozen back. And this chap kept running along the beach, and when he got to


where we were up in the sand hills, threw himself down and then crawled up the beach, so they didn’t know where he was then. And he crawled up the beach, and he came, came up to where we were, cause he knew where our little pit was. There was nothing ostentatious, it was only like a, a hole in the sand, that’s all, like you dig any in the sand hills down, in the sand hills here at West beach. And just there, and he said, “Oh thank you,”


what did, “Oh thank you, the blighters nearly got me,” like that. Do you know who he was? He was a cousin of the then Queen, Boze-Lyons.
What was he doing down at the enemy lines?
What you learn about people? He, he went out the night before on a patrol, and they didn’t achieve anything, so he thought that he’d stay


up there and have a look to see what was going on. And he hid himself in a, in a barrel, 44 gallon drum and he stayed in there all day. And at night time he got out, then he couldn’t back. He had all the trouble in the world before he got, to get back, and it was in the day time when we saw him, was when he thought he’d got away form everybody, and he was making a break while he got down to the beach, and was making for a


run along the beach, cause he couldn’t get the other way. Now, he’s dead, he got killed later on. And I saw him, his name recorded in the castle at Edinburgh, his name’s recorded there from the war. But you learnt, you learnt to respect these dudes, the way they spoke, by jove old boy. And I heard them,


we heard them talking one day, and he was telling his captain what he, he’d been doing. And the captain was, name was Duncan McRae, Captain Duncan McRae, and he was, “Oh what have you been doing, old boy, what have you been doing? Haven’t been around for a day or two.” “Oh yes boss, I wasn’t doing fuf fuf fuf fuf,” sitting, you know.” But no way, these guys were,


they were professional soldiers, these Scots Guards, they were, were something out of the box. And their officers were, not portrayed as you see so many of them portrayed in films, they were, they were. They may have been old school, they may, a lot of them felt responsible. They felt responsible for their troops, and they were damn good, and they were, they were very...


We met a lot of them later on, and we, we changed our minds about the pictures we used to see about the, about the British officers old boy, there was something about them, responsibility.
And how long were you, were you near Salom?
Well once again, I can’t, I suppose I should have referred to my book,


shouldn’t I.
No that’s fine, I just wanted to know if it was…
Several weeks, and then we had a, then we had a far better job then. We, we went, we left there, somebody else took over from us, and we left there and we went out behind the Germany lines, out in the open and that was, you know, once again, we were right then behind


the German lines. And as a, our guns we’d take out, but once again, they were a certain distance apart, and then we’d go up as far as we possibly could, safely could, using wireless that time, with a wireless man. Only the officer, driver, his assistant and myself, you’d go out, you’d have a look


at some targets, which were in a sense being, looking. Well looking at the German front line, but he wasn’t overly worried about it, because there was plenty of space from there on. You’d shoot something up, and then disappear. Although you couldn’t move during the daytime, because he was on the higher ground, he’d sight you.


So you’d have to stay there, you’d have to hide, you couldn’t do any walking around. You’d stay there, you’d shoot up, and then, go quiet and did a lot, do a lot of observing, see what’s going on and making notes of what’s going on in the German lines, you do a lot of that. And there was several of us there, just doing that sort of thing. Then late


in the, late in the afternoon, just before dark, you’d get a coded wireless message, and that was where you had to, that was where you were going. And this was, you were going to a rear position. And it was given, and that’s why every day when we went out, we had to pinpoint exactly where we were going, so we could get this wireless message which told us where to go. Now it was given in code


first, and then it was given in directions. East four kilometres, west seven kilometres, south so many kilometres and it was given in that way, we had to go and the, and the boss in the dark, there’d be no light, you’d drive your vehicle and he’d be going by compass bearing. And he’d have, this


compass bearing and the driver would be watching the, or his assistant or somebody else would be watching the speedo [speedometer], to see how far we were going. And this is how we’d go, we’d go on this compass bearing, several compass bearings during, during the night, until you eventually got to a particular spot. And when you got to the spot, you’d find all your guns there and they, our guns would be on the perimeter. All the, say we say, what we call the


echelon vehicles, that is the food supplies, petrol supply, all that side of the business, would all be coming up from way back. They’d come to this particular place that we called the night lager, and gets quite a write up, in even German books. And then we’d come up, we’d refill with petrol, we’d have a meal, they’d bring a meal, we’d have food that night, they’d bring us rations for the next day or for some days. And before first light, before first


light, we had to all disappear. You weren’t allowed to smoke, you weren’t allowed to leave a cigarette butt, you weren’t allowed to leave any tin, nothing, everything had to be taken away, most of it was taken, you’d put it in a rubbish bin by the, by the echelon people who’d be first out, they’d be first away and take everything away. But there was not to be a sign that we’d been there. And the next night it would be somewhere totally different. And we used to do that every night. And the Germans


couldn’t find it. And they expected, they thought, Rommel thought and his chiefs thought there was a major dump out there, and they decided, one of his generals decided he was going to raid it, send a raiding party out. And Rommel got so enthused about the idea, that he decided to join it. He


got quite enthusiastic, this is reported in several books. And I don’t know, didn’t even come in the, in Rommel in the Second World War that I’ve seen on TV, they didn’t show that. And, he, they did come out and raid. Well, that created a major panic, we called it retreat from Bug Bug, because that was a water hole not terribly


far away, our only source of water. And so, so we had to get going. And everybody started to fly out, away, back into Egypt, out of the way. And there was some, some fantastic stories about that. Because when we were running like hell, we didn’t waste any time, you just picked up your gear and went. The gunners didn’t wait for the observation post people out there, we just headed in the direction and said “Go,”


went fast, fast as we could. Eventually we all caught up with each other, but the, the chief of the operation up there when we had to start moving, getting out, when he found that even Rommel was there. Well they didn’t know, they didn’t know if Rommel was going to come out, he, he said, he said he wanted to come out and be in it, and he led the pack out. They had tanks and God knows what. They got in touch with the air force, and the air force came out,


while we’re retreating, still running, the air force was bombing the hell out of them. And cleaned up a number of tanks, damaged the vehicle that Rommel had, which formerly belonged to a British general, badly wounded his driver. And one of the shell fragments clipped the heel off his boot, off Rommel’s boot, how’s that for a story. That’s recorded by


Phil, German general by the name of Schmitt, who was in that and he recorded that in one of his books. So, it’s also recorded in some of our history too.
And how did the Germans know that you were there?
Oh well, they’d know because they were getting this shooting that’s coming at them from these different, this direction. They’d know that somebody’s down there, they’re too close, I mean, even if a 25 pounder is landing in there, it can only be, the maximum range


it could be, would be twelve thousand yards away from you, well that’s a little bit too close. If it’s two thousand yards inside your perimeter, that’s a little bit too close. They think, well there was a lot of this going on, so other guns are doing this.
I’m sorry, how did you know that the Germans after you?
Well we got a, I don’t know, I think, I think first of all we saw it. I think first of all we


recorded it, or somebody recorded it at one of the observation posts, they must have done. I don’t really know now, because I’ve probably trying to keep my wireless set going, going at that stage. That’s a good point, I don’t really know. It may be somebody back, back further had spotted it, or perhaps one of the airplanes had been flying around and seeing a bit of movement and mentioned it.
And how


did you know, and did you find out that Rommel was leading the charge?
Yes, only later.
How did you feel about that?
Oh feel very important. I was very, very much later we found out, we didn’t find out for a very long, long time. We felt very important then, to think that he himself decided he’d be in it. To be quite frank, until we got Montgomery,


until we got Montgomery, all our British generals in the Middle East were not worth a cracker.
Well, I’ll stop you there and we will pick that up when we come back from lunch, because I think that’s a very interesting place to stop. How are you feeling?
A bit hungry.
Interviewee: James Quilliam Archive ID 1741 Tape 06


Jim, just before we move on, just like to spend a bit more time talking about those raiding parties. How close did you actually come to the perimeter at Tobruk?
Well it’s a bit hard to, I wouldn’t know to be quite honest, I wouldn’t know and I doubt if anybody would know. It’s just a question, a lot of those places, see


German had most of the high ground and you could only go so far, and then you can’t go any further, because they can see everything that you’re doing. So you go so far, and that’s it. So it would still be a fair distance from Tobruk. But it’s still a German, it’s a German frontline and they can’t, if we’re prowling around out there, they’ll want to know what’s going on. Are we planning an attack, and are we trying to dent them in there and cut them off, in Salom and that type of thing.


They, they’d be wanting to know all those things. So it was simply a harassing thing to keep annoying them, so that it also takes the pressure off Tobruk, they’ve got to put troops there. If you’re harassing them, and those sort of things up and down your frontline, they’ve got to take troops away from Tobruk, so we’re helping them in a backhanded way.
Well yes, strategically, as you’ve just described it’s


forcing the Germans to look after their rear?
Their rear.
As well as their front. And at the time that you were on those raiding parties, how successful do you think it was. How, how could you determine whether you were being successful?
I think you were being successful, or we didn’t know at the time, but we did find out when Rommel joined,


and they did, they called it a reconnaissance in depth, in other words it was a fairly big thing that they came out with, in tanks, looking, in armoured vehicles, looking for the, for something that was out there, it must have been worrying them. So we can only assume from that, that we were doing some good. Because nobody comes chasing you, unless you’re really annoying them, do they, even in private


life. If I don’t, if I don’t annoy my neighbour, she won’t even talk to me. If I do annoy her, I bet she will.
And you’ve mentioned that you would go out with an officer in the morning. And, how, in what way did the terrain inhibit or cause you problems, when you were?
Well it causes more


trouble at night, in the daytime you can see where you’re going. But at night time, when you simply were going on a compass bearing to get back to this night lager, as we called it, you only were going a compass bearing, go so many kilometres, and then you had to change direction, and all this sort of business. And you were just belting along, and we’d run into slit trenches. And you’ve been going nicely, and all of a sudden you’re over a dip. You don’t know how deep it is, well it’s black, you can’t see anything,


you’re only on a compass bearing, so, you’re not allowed to us, you can’t use lights. And so, at night time, it was quite hazardous for us, way out in the, way out in no man’s land, because it was actually no man’s land we were operating in, and it was quite hazardous. Oh, we had a couple of narrow squeaks, but got through. You get out of it somehow. We were, oh, you got lucky running with you sometime. Though,


another group, not ours, a couple of Englishmen, they went the wrong way and drove into the German lines, so they were all right, they finished the war. It was, it was creepy in a sense, you know, you don’t know where you’re going, but it’s a hell of a relief when you suddenly find all these vehicles, and you say, “Oh, thank God.” Because you’ve only got to make a wrong, say


travel five miles on a, you’ve only got, you’ve got a compass bearing say, 135 degrees, and you’re going 135 degrees, and the joker put the wrong number, it should have been 235, you’ve gone five kilometres on that, you don’t know where you are, you’re lost. And it ain’t nice to be lost in the desert, not at night, though you’ve got a better chance of survival. The Germans won’t get you, unless you drive into them.


But it was, quite, quite interesting at night, I’ll put it that way. Interesting, interesting to get back to this at night. And a little bit, you were always anxious going out in the morning again, we weren’t quite sure if one of the German patrols had been nosing around, and had found


evidence where we were the day before, which they can quite often do that sometime, or they, mind you, our own people used to do it to, so a little bit anxious in the morning going out, to be sure we’re not going to run into a trap, get caught. All part of the, part of the exercise I think.
And did you run into any booby traps, at all?
Not out there, no,


not out there, no. That was reserved for later occasions in Alamein.
Well you were detached from the 9th Division temporarily.
Yes, yes.
And came up against a British Scots Guard regiment.
You’ve spoken a little bit about your frustration of not getting to Tobruk, but how did you unit,


or your regiment, react to this detachment?
We, we liked it. Generally speaking, we were quite happy about it. We, you trained for two years, and you hadn’t fired a shot in anger, you get, I tell you, you get disillusioned. You get terribly annoyed, you get, in other words, browned off, is a common term to use, browned off, and you look elsewhere.


And, and that’s horrible, and, and although we were not with the 9th Division, we felt very happy and very content that we were actually really doing something. We’d been trained for so long for it, now this is the real thing, get stuck into it. And the object of the, of, one of my officers,


he used to do some hair-raising things later on, and he used to say, “Well let’s get this bloody war over, and we can go home.” And really that’s in a sense, what it’s all about, lets get it over, lets get out of this and lets go home, caused it dragged on and on and on. There was also some exciting times, too, and when we had to retreat,


we were going through, we don’t know where we’re going, except we’re going back, and we don’t, really don’t know who’s after us, because you don’t when there’s a few thousand of you all running, going hell bent out of the place. And some of the stories about that are quite humorous, too. When the man in charge of our mechanical stuff, captain, Captain Wally,


they’re going past and they see a, an axle with two wheels on it, and it comes from a, a particular type of tractor that we’re using. And he stops his vehicle, and he yells to his guys, sitting in the back of the truck, “Grab that, that axle.” Well they grabbed the axle, and then about four of them got to lift this damn thing into the truck, and then there’s no room for them to get on, and they’re hanging in the sides, and they’re supposed to be in a full blown retreat, all going 60


kilometres an hour out. And then we, he recalled later on, and his thoughts on it were, ‘What a stupid bloody thing to do.’ And there are, you get all these funny things. And somebody else stopped to drop, to pick up a, an overcoat that the tommies had, the English people had beautiful overcoats, ours were horrible, ours were like maternity gowns. But they had these beautiful fitted double-breasted overcoats.


And a tommy had left, thrown that out or dropped it, and one joked wanted to stop the vehicle to go back and pick up this tommy coat. I’m not interested in picking up things, we’re interested in going that way. You get all this humour that comes out, at different times.
And what did you, you think of the British and the way their organisation was run?
I think the


AIF news, around about this time, I think it was probably just after that, or around about that time. Published an article and it was typical, we thought it was typical of the British commanders. It said, “While Rommel is feverishly rushing around the front line in his armoured car, so-and-so


is placidly smoking his pipe in Cairo,” and that summed it up. Cause when Montgomery came there, he kicked all the officers out, who were placidly smoking their pipes in Cairo. Had all the others banned from Cairo, who were somehow stationed in Cairo, and were just living there and having a gorgeous, marvellous life, he just banned them,


just banned them, shoved them all out. And as soon as we started to hear about that, Montgomery went about three notches up. So that’s just, I think that was the difference. And we, we were, in many ways a little bit, quite, not a little bit, quite resentful by the British commanders. Because we had lieutenant commanders coming out to, there was three divisions in a corps. And


our chappie Morshead, had been the most successful general in the Western desert, most successful, including Tobruk. But when it got onto the big play, they brought Poms out from England to take over control. Now Morshead knew more about the stuff, than them all together, because he was there. But they,


but later on, they’d bring out all these lieutenants. What’s his name, the former Governor here, Sir Willoughby Norrie, was one of them. And they came out, and they were raw. They might have been involved in the First World War, but this was different. And we were annoyed that, we reckoned our general should have been a corps commander, not just commander of our division, but he wasn’t. And that’s the way we,


we didn’t take to them too kindly.
And what did you think of Rommel?
Well we’d had reports of him from some sources. And one time, oh this was later on, in the early July thing, they captured some of our guys and, and he came out and said. He actually asked to see these, these people, these prisoners. And he came up to the Australians, and


said, “Oh nice to see you again, fellows, you kept me out of Tobruk, it’s nice to see you again.” He was quite, that’s the report we got back, but we didn’t know that until much later of course. But generally speaking at the time, we regarded him as a, a pretty good adversary, a pretty good General. And we did think that he, he was outwitting our fellows. But, so I,


try to outwit me, you’ve got to have your confidence there, you’re not going to beat me, mate. Our, our infantry lads, they, they did things that. Our first brush with the armour, came later in July, June and July, with the British armour and British people.
Well that’s a good point to move on now. You then went to, for a couple of months in Cairo.
Cairo, yes.
Tell us what happened there?


It was very, it was quite an experience. We went, we went to Cairo, and we were on our way to Syria, because the 9th Division by this time had come out of Tobruk and they had gone up to Syria. The allies were, thought, there could be a German attack coming down through the Balkans, through Turkey and then through Syria, which was virtually undefended then. So the Australians would get, were going up there to what was a,


well, a division up there, in case something happened. But on our way through, some reinforcements had arrived from England, and the British were going to start another attack up through, up through that area. And there was an artillery regiment there, and they’d been there for quite some time, and so they decided to send them. Whereas,


it was the Middle East School of Artillery, and officers came from all the, all the countries, all the allied countries to learn about shooting, and a operating a field regiment. And, so that, we got stuck there, we were not very happy about it, but after a short while we came, we didn’t think it was too bad. Because we were able to regroup, reorganise, get ourselves into order again,


got some new reinforcements came in. And the, each day we would go out as a regiment, with the, and we’d go out to certain points and we’d have these new officers would be in control of things. And all we did, we did all the action, did all the work and all the action. Our drivers drove the guns,


and then we’d, they’d say, “Take post,” and they’d have to drop their trailers.. They’d be going along in their thing, and they’d suddenly get an order to drop their trailers and get into action, and so on. And then, I was once again, up at the observation post again, and you’d be up there with a, a new command, a new captain or lieutenant or something, with the colonel from the School of Artillery. And


there’d be a 44 gallon drum marked out there with black paint, and they’d say, “That’s your target, that’s such and such.” And we’d get an order, “Guns are in position, guns are already there,” and, and then he would give the orders, and I’d send them down as he gave them. As a signaller, I’d send them down the gun position where one of my, our sigs was there. He’d give them to the officer there, to the


Pommie officer there, or could be New Zealander or Australian, could be anyone. And then he’d pass it on to the gun. Now, sometimes, you get into these jobs, and you know, you’re very, very confident and you’ve got a fair opinion of the game. And you’d, you’d know, you’d hear the chappie give, say, give the range, thirteen thousand. And


you wouldn’t, you wouldn’t, you’d think, you’d know, admittedly, that’s bloody wrong, it should be about seventy. You know that’s immediately wrong, you see. And you wouldn’t say, “Oh, you’re wrong, Sir,” no way. “Excuse me, Sir, did you say only thirteen thousand?” And he’d have a look and say, “You’d better make that seventeen.” Little tricks


like that, that you learnt, that you learnt how to do to help these guys out. Because coming to school and this, the colonel, I suppose he was ferocious when you were a lieutenant and he’s your chief instructor. But when, when you’re doing this all the time, you’re, you can help. We’d do it to our own officers, we’d do it to, if a new chap came up, you’d do it.


But just little things like that, and they came to appreciate it, even the colonels reckoned we were the best regiment that had ever gone, ever worked in that school, after we left, hell of a wrap up. And even came to see us at Alamein one day, when we were there. He was coming past, and he just, he saw the guns and he, “Oh they’re Australians, I wonder if they’re…”


And he came over, and as soon as she, well he saw something, and he said, “Oh, 2/7th,” we was wrapped in it. Just a strange thing like that. But Oh, we learnt, we learnt a lot. We learnt how to be a, to get back to a little bit of parade ground stuff and smartened ourselves up. But in doing that, we smartened up our gun drill. And it gave us the opportunity, instead of having one man,


who operated the, the brain of the gun, or the gun layer as we called it. Instead of having number, only one guy doing it, all the gunners of that crew had a chance to sit in and do the laying of that gun, and gain some expertise at it. So that when you did come into a position, if the gun layer got wounded, or taken away or something had happened to him, somebody else could hop into that seat without any trouble at all. And we learnt those things, re-learnt them.


We’d been learning a lot through the action, but back at the school we learnt a lot, only proves it. But it had its drawbacks. Cause we, we were only about six miles from the heart of Cairo at a place called Heliopolis we were. And it had an electric tram, similar to the Adelaide, Glenelg tram. And you could simply hop on that tram,


and in twenty minutes you could be in the heart of Cairo, the den of inequity. But we didn’t have enough money, and we had weekend leave. And some times, we didn’t even go out for the weekend, we stayed in camp. Quite often at night we’d stay in the camp, we didn’t have enough money to go out. And oh, well, once again, I,


I’m not terribly interested in, in going out into a, into a bar and sit there and guzzle all night, and that sort of thing. Because if you wanted any drinks, you’d get them at the canteen, you’d get drinks at the canteen. So quite often, we used to stay behind and play housie, housie, whatever you call it, and, and have a couple of drinks, and stay and have a chat and have a sing song and that sort of thing. But occasionally we’d go into Cairo,


I went there on two occasions with another, another great friend of mine, who’s brother became an international singer, a tenor. And Blue and I, we went to the Cairo University where we heard the Palestine Symphony Orchestra give a concert, and that was out of this world. And another, another time we went in there, the same thing, to hear a,


one of the New Zealand servicemen named Tony Rex, give a, a recital singing, he was a tenor. He later went onto the world stage, too. In fact I saw him in Adelaide about eighteen months later, when he came over to Australia with a New Zealand company, theatre company. Not theatre company, all sorts of company,


sing and dance and all that sort of thing. It was in our Theatre Royal in Adelaide, which is not there now. And Tony Rex was one of the star act there singing, he eventually went off to Europe and England. So, I saw two international events in Cairo. Then hurt my leg, I spent my, spent my 21st birthday in the


American bar in Cairo, I was unable to walk and the other guys I went with, I stayed in the bar while they went out all day. And all I could do, because they closed the bar for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and all I could do was read, and I read magazines galore, until they came back and we had tea, we had lunch there. They went out, and they came back and we had tea there, and then we went to the pictures. And you wouldn’t believe it, the


picture I saw was twenty thousand, or Forty thousand horsemen, and they had a Fitzpatrick Travelogue of Adelaide, on my 21st birthday. And next day I went into hospital, and I was there for about three weeks, I had a very, very badly ulcerated leg. It was a British hospital, too, I was there for quite some time. Yeah. And then came out, and all, about a month I suppose,


at the most, and we were away again.
And how was it, do you think that your leg became ulcerated?
Well anything over there gets ulcerated very quickly. You’re always having trouble, you’ve got to take vitamin B or vitamin C or something like that. But whatever it was, I used to get a lot of desert sores, I’m still like it, my skin is very thin. I can just go that and my skin breaks,


and I’ve got to bind it up straight away. And I know how I did this one, I was, I was in the high jump contest and I kicked the bar, I didn’t jump high enough. And I didn’t take any notice of it, I had a shower, a hot shower, but it just ulcerated, and oh, it was mess. And I have a, I have the, General Blamey, he was the


General in charge in the Middle East, and I had his wife come along Christmas morning, to say, “Merry Christmas,” and give me a packet of cigarettes, I suppose. And I can remember matron saying, I was the only, the only Australian in this hundred bed ward, and the matron was Australian, I think I might have got a bit of favoured treatment at


time. But I can remember looking up and I was dozing off, and the matron said, “Oh gunner,” I was only a gunner in those days. “Gunner Quilliam, there’s a lady here, a visitor to see you.” And I thought “Crikey, I haven’t been down the, the shops,” you know, so I don’t know anybody, what lady visitor would come to see me. And I look up, and I


thought, I remember seeing one of those. And Lady Blamey had obviously been on the town all night, she’d been partying all night, I’m sure of it. You know how they get, some, some of the, some of the powder stuff was creamed on, it was creamed on and it, in the warmth of the day, it had cracked a bit, you know. And there’s all this cracked, parched, it was like


parchment it was. And the overdone lipstick, and that was Lady Blamey. She’d got herself chief of the Red Cross or something, and, I thanked her very much for the, I think it was cigarettes and it might have been a little cake or something, I can’t remember now. I was very courteous, of course, but, “Crikey, I thought, what have I got here. Have I been naughty or something?”


But she did come, and, come and see me. But as I said, I was the only one in that hundred bed ward, so that was out at Heliopolis, so I was grateful to her, for making the effort, anyway. But, I was worried.
And after you got better, your regiment then went to Syria, tell


us about that?
Oh well we were going into semi, semi hostile areas, cause there’d been a French mandate since the First World War, Syria. And when, when France capitulated, of course, it then became German territory, in a sense, although France wasn’t actually German territory, it was German


occupied. And so the troops who were in Syria, were French troops, but fighting under the German banner, in a sense. Because it had quietened down by the time we got there, the fighting, we were definitely there as a safeguard in case anything did come down through Turkey. And, I think, a number of the people


were happy to see us, they stood off a bit, and I think we probably stood off from them a bit. We didn’t know how long we were going to be there, but there was. As it was close to Turkey, it was well renowned as the clearing house of spies, our spies and their spies, cause Turkey was neutral. And so it was, it was a, what greeted us


when we got there, in the Town Square, where they had some bodies strung up, hung up in the square, because they were spies, they were German spies, and they’d just strung these bodies up in the square. A nice sort of welcome. But it was there that, on pickets one night, on the town picket, my friend and I, the one I went to concerts in


Cairo with, we saw the most magnificent human specimen I’ve ever seen in my life. He was, he was an Arab, and I would think he was probably from the hills, but once again, he must have been about six foot two, three something like that, four, well above average height. Leanish, brown, sun brown,


and very clean burnice, very clean, there was some special thing he around here. But I noticed as he walked, he had this robe on underneath, and he had a dagger, a jewelled dagger in one and something else in another, in a bit of, bandolier or whatever you call it, that went around his stomach. And he walked down this


very crowded street, very narrow street, very crowded. And he walked down, no he didn’t walk, he, he moved with authority, I think that’s the best way of putting it, complete and absolute authority he moved down that street, and people just went away like, like waves before the bow of the ship, they just, there was no bowing or scraping, they just moved as he walked


down. And he walked down with this complete air of authority, I don’t know who he was or what he was, or whether he was just a chieftain from the hills. But he was, not arrogance, at first we thought arrogance, and we thought, no, its authority. I am capable of looking after myself, I am capable of looking


after all you people, now let me go about my business, without interference. Some of the boys over, the local, the local lads, were pretty wild. But he was, he was outstanding. I mean these things stick in your mind, I mean at 84, 83 years of age, I can, I can still picture it, quite vividly. And it is, he was the most outstanding character I’ve ever seen in my life,


in person, doing that. That was down, we were looking after the, making sure that none of the, our boys, or our chappies went into the ladies quarters, where the locals used to go to.
And this was in Aleppo?
Aleppo. But of course the most embarrassing thing after you’ve been on picket, and you’re sitting there and you’re talking to them, like I’m talking to you, talking to these


ladies and you ask them why they’re there, and a lot of them could speak English and so on. And chat away, and then after the pickets, after they’d finished, after we got it closed down, we’re going away, they’d always invite you inside. Yeah. And you’d quite, oh you’re not coming in, no.


It was amazing experience to be there, it’s amazing to, to speak with a lot of these ladies, which we did it also in another place, Tripoli.
What is it about brothel pickets that I guess, surprised, or shocked you?
Well as the, the type, practically everyone I was involved with, was a civilian,


we were looking after civilians, making sure that none of our chaps went in there. It was a type of man that was going into these civilian places. But some of them were the head, the head people of the town, and well respected people of the town, these men, were going in there. And some of the women were,


I remember talking to one, and her husband was in the Free French, in the army in Syria, and he was still away, and she was waiting for him to come home, so they could get back to normal life. She had to earn money somehow, because she had a couple of children, and that’s what she was doing to earn money. It was a strange thing, I,


I never had, I never would criticise them, because that’s a way of life, and unfortunately in, in some of their part, some parts of their country there, a girl got banished to that sort of life, for doing nothing more than going out with someone who was not her brother, on several occasions. Or without a, without a relation to a place, any place.


And she was, that’s where you go. So I was told over there, that’s what they told us.
And on those pickets, did you encounter any incidents of, of blokes not wanting to come back to camp, or…?
No, no, we didn’t, all the ones I was on, we didn’t have any trouble at all. The main thing was to keep


yourself out of, out of mischief. Cause invariably, of we also used to, we also used to go around the town, there were some bars and places that were open to our troops, and you also then went as a, I mean, we’d be with a, two and three in this place, and two and three in that place, and then you’d all get together and then you’d go through and take, make sure all our guys, all the troops were out of the bars. But every time you went to a bar and clean it out,


the proprietor of the bar would say, “Have a drink.” Well if you had a drink in everyone of those, you’d be as blind as bats, and you’d never get back. But I, I learned to accept them on occasions, and make sure, I was always, I’d just have a little bit and that was it, that was it. On one occasion, I didn’t.
What, what sort of recriminations there were if you turned them down?


None, once again you can be polite about it. And you can be polite and say, “No thank you, I do not drink,” or, “No thank you, I’ve had enough, thank you very much.” And thank them and be genuine about it. People are not too bad that way, that’s the way I found them. And I think most of us, I suppose I was with a good mob, so.


What other duties did you have in, in Syria? I understand that you then moved to Besarma.
Yes. Well Besarma was once again, a sort of staging camp, once again we got drilled, we got some more reinforcements, we had to do some minor sort of exercise around, but our main job there, there was a big mountain


called Torville nearby, and so we went up making fortress areas again, digging fortress areas. And that was a damn sight more pleasant than the camp life, because the camp life consisted of guards, and you walked around with a bloody stick again. Rifles they kept under lock and key, in case the Arabs pinched them or the locals pinched them. That was a very interesting exercise again. At Besarma, there was a little village


and two of my sigs went into the, two of our sigs went into the, I was in the same hut, in the same tent, they went into the village. And of they got talking, they were invited into a house to have a cup of coffee, they were very, they were very hospitable people, you know, over there, they were. And they got invited in to the place to have a cup of coffee and they had a talk, and


while they’re talking, the father, through his son, George told Doug and Laurie that he had a brother in Australia. And so they questioned, questioned him about his brother, and he said, “Oh he came from, he lives in a place in the South part of Australia, called, in the country, called,”


he didn’t know how to say Eudunda, but he spelt the name out, and George wrote the name for us, Eudunda. And we found out the name of the guy, and Doug said, “I know your brother, I came from Eudunda, I know your brother, I have played football with his son.” And one of those relations is only on,


first main road that you strike down there, Richmond Road, they deal in fabrics, that’s one of his relations, his uncle. And we did find that elsewhere a couple of times. I met another chappie one day, and he spoke beautiful English and he said, “Oh yes, I’ve lived in America so long.” And I said, “Oh, what are you doing here?” He said, “Oh


I’ve come back here to spend the rest of my days.” And we found this people had shifted around, and even in, there was a bit of a nightclub in Tripoli, I’ve forgotten what they call it, can’t remember what they call it now. But we went there and an aeroplane flew over, and the joker looked out and he said,


“Huh, looks like an Avro Anson from Australia up there.” And we said, “What do you know about Australia?” he said, “I’m an Australian.” We said, “What are you doing here?” he said, “I came over for a holiday before the war started,” he said, “I can’t get home now, so I got a job here.”
Well that’s a very good place for us to perhaps conclude our….
Interviewee: James Quilliam Archive ID 1741 Tape 07


I’d just like to. We’re back. I’d just like to, about your journey to El Alamein. How were you prepared for the journey?
It came as a surprise to us, generally speaking, because we were, I suppose enjoying life in Syria, cause not far away of course, was the slopes of Lebanon, which is a playground,


snow playground for the Middle East in those days. And some of the guys used to go skiing up there, quite a place, a number of chappies, a number of chappies, not just ours but some of the others, did a lot of training up there. It was possible for action, as infantrymen in the snow. So it was a nice life, we’d get, it was all of a sudden, we’d been up in the mountains building,


building another fortress area. And then we suddenly found that we had to take, take our slouch hats and our bags, wipe off all signs off our vehicles, because we had a boomerang and a koala bear or something, on it. We had to take off all our signs, and we were supposed to look like Poms. So some of us


still had our forage caps that we had given to us when we joined up, which nobody ever wore it. And so we suddenly found these forage caps in our kit, and we put these caps on, trying to look like Poms. Well as we got on the trucks and away we went, it was fairly quick notice, we didn’t know where we were going, we hoped we were going home, but we didn’t know, although we could read the signs that were happening in the desert. But we still hoped we were going home.


As we were going, going out, all the people in the streets, lining the streets and all the kids, saying, “Goodbye Aussie, come again Aussie, goodbye Aussie, come again Aussie,” all that sort of business. And you just started to talk to them, and they’d say, “Where you going?” and you’d say, “Oh we’re going home.” “No, no, you’re not going home, you’re not going home,” they knew where we were going.


They knew we were going to the desert, we didn’t, they did. We, we had not been told anything, and it didn’t matter, you can’t camouflage it, you’re Australian, they can pick you easy, so they knew we were Australians. Even though we were supposed to be going away in secret, there was no secret. And then of course we get down further and we go through Cairo, the streets of Cairo, and there’s a bit of a mixed reaction there.


Some of them didn’t like us, I don’t, I don’t think the King liked us very much, he preferred to have the Germans and Italians there. But it was a mixed reaction in Cairo, but we didn’t, we couldn’t care less about that. But when we got to Cairo, we knew where we were going. We’d gone over the,


we had gone over the canal, and we knew that was it.
Before we go further than, than through Cairo, I’d just like to take you back to the comment that you made about going home. Why did you think you’d be going home?
Well we were aware of course that the Japs were coming into the war, and just generally, we wanted to go home, we wanted to come home, we reckoned that’s where we were needed, not, not over there.


And prior to that of course, the 7th Division and the 6th Division had already gone home, cause we’d taken over from the 7th Division in Syria. So we felt our place was at home, not over there. So we hoped we were going home.
But you weren’t, you were heading out to the desert, and just past Cairo now, and, and. Whereabouts did you stop, heading towards Alamein?


To be honest, I can’t remember. It was a question of virtually re-fuelling in different places and keep going. I think the drivers sort of, swapped over at different times, I know we were driving at night time. I can’t, I can’t remember ever, we did stop from time to time, yes, but whether it was just plain traffic jams or what it was,


I don’t know, I can’t remember. But we just kept going until we got to one of the other, one of the parts, a particular spot in Alamein.
And when you got to Alamein, what were your orders?
I think you might have to appreciate getting to Alamein. The road from Cairo out towards Alexandria,


was chock-a-block of vehicles coming back, battered vehicles, people in a terrible condition, physical condition, it was an army retreating, and everything was retreating, we were the only ones going forward. And they, they were taking up almost the whole of the road, and yet we were trying to get to the fighting spot, with all these


other people retreating. And its amazing the, the sort of non-combatant vehicles that get on the road, when they’ve got to move, even your air force ground people have got to get out, because they’ve got to get out backwards to another air field. Well they’re non combatant, they’re not fighters in the true sense. They’re doing a fantastic job mind you, but they’re not fighters, they’re not allowing the fighters to get up there,


they’re blocking up the road, so it becomes mayhem, it was a complete. Only need a squadron of Messerschmitts to come over, and they could have wiped out the 9th Division, it was complete chaos. Cause you couldn’t get off the road, because you’d get into sand, and you’d get bogged. So you didn’t, just thought well, stay in your truck and hope you get there.


If you’re sitting in the back there, there’s nothing you can do, it’s a driver and, well half the time I was in the front anyway, with him. You just go to sleep, and hope he doesn’t go to sleep, or then he stops for a while and next thing you know, we’ve been stopped for an hour or something and everybody has a sleep. And the driver wakes up, and he drives again. And you open up a tin of something in the back, and hand it around and everybody digs a fork in or fingers in, and


pulls out a cold sausage to eat it, and that’s how you get to Alamein.
And what was the scene like when you got to Alamein?
Relatively quiet when we got there, but our guns, I know they, and our gun position, we were with them for a short while. And they set the guns down there, and they put them,


spread them out a bit, and they said, “Oh, oh that’s good, that’s our tanks out there, that’s good, we’ve got somebody in front of us.” And then we found out they weren’t our tanks, they were German tanks. And they suddenly changed their high explosive shells to get rid of them, and put in the armour piercing stuff. But then fortunately, it was only a bit of a reconnaissance mob, that had come down and they’d gone far enough, so they turned around and went back again. So we then reorganised,


and we started to get some semblance in a couple of days, took a couple of days to get some semblance of order and then we got into order and we started the, started to, to defend first and then fight back. Our, our method was mainly attacking, right from the start to push the Germans back as far as you could. But it was before that,


it was complete and utter chaos, it was terrible. Everybody going back saying, “You’ll be sorry, you’ll be sorry,” oh cheerful. We weren’t too, I guess we weren’t too, too nice to them, put it that way. But they had, they had a terrible time.
So how long, for how long were you attacking before


you could actually feel some, some leeway?
I think right from the start. We were fairly well trained, we were pretty good organisation, the 9th Division, we had great faith in our leaders. We were trained, we’d had lots of practice, and we had had that experience in the desert, doing things.


And so we were confident in doing things, and we started on the coastal sector first, and we had some success, we started to push the Germans back, they’d, they’d gone a bit too far and they had to retreat a bit. So for the first part it wasn’t too bad, we got, in about a week we got accustomed to the place. And then we started some of the hard,


the hard fighting which came in July actually, we were there in June, I think. So it was a little bit static, just a little bit nibbling away which was all right. Then in July, I, I think it was harder, it was worse than the Battle of Alamein itself, later on, the last battle.
Why do you say that?
Well we didn’t have the resources that we had


at the big Battle of Alamein. All the fighting was done on the Australian sector, total fighting was all done on that sector. It was attack, counter attack, attack, counter attack, we’d have to retreat again and then we’d come back again, backwards and forwards all the time. And that actually lasted right throughout July and into August. And oh,


I, I think that was our toughest fighting. We, we didn’t get as many casualties, but the infantry did, but we didn’t get casualties. But the. I, I, just on a personal basis, a lot of us, and some of the historians agree that, that July and early, July fighting was some of the hardest and the toughest out.


Its, once again I dip my, I dip my lid, as my favourite author would say, to the infantry guy. I’m, I’m on an observation post, it was only the captain and myself. And this observation post on the top of a hill at point 26 they called it, and all we’ve got is a trench,


probably about that deep, because it was all rocks, and we’re lying in this. And I’ve got a phone, which is not much use, cause it was getting blown up all the time. And then a wireless and a bren gun carrier, with about 200 or 300 yards away down the bottom, behind the hill. And we’re, the Germans are counter attacking, and we can, you can see everything with the naked eye, you didn’t need glasses, of what’s going on down there. And behind us,


oh a couple of hundred yards away, there’s a, oh I suppose about two ton truck. And the chappie is bringing up all the ammunition for the infantry, and he gets a direct hit with a shell. Well if you, if you’d been sitting underneath that, only two hundred yards away, and there’s grenades and bullets and mortar bombs


and everything, all bombing up in this inferno, and there’s stuff flying everywhere. And we were more worried about getting killed from stuff there, than the Germans shelling us, cause they were shelling our position, where we were too. And going past, these two infantry lads from the 2/48th Battalion, and they were going past us, down the hill, right into the middle of the fray, I don’t know what


they were taking, whether they got some rations or got something, to go down there. And you know what they were doing? They were arguing about which horse won the Melbourne Cup in 1936. And one said, “I said it’s so-and so, and I’ll bet you on it.” And the other said, “It wasn’t, I remember quite well.” And the boss man Clem, looked at each other and said, “You wouldn’t believe that, would you.” You wouldn’t believe it, here’s two guys


going right into the forefront of the battle, right down into the blazing battle where the infantry were then hard pressed, followed by the German tanks. We didn’t have any, they were trying to take our position again and they guys are arguing, that’s the interesting thing. You wouldn’t believe it.
Well how did you sustain yourself in, in that environment? How did you sustain yourself, how did you keep your head together?


Well you only had your little job to do, you, if you had your job to do and you can do it, that’s about all you can do. But you, you live a risky life. It wasn’t much fun, put it that way, excitement, yes, but not fun.


And once again, you’re, you’re learning all the time about different things. Of course, you can’t always learn about the eventual bullet that gets you, but you learn about things. For instance, we’re, we’re here on this, just over, over the rise, on just the forward side of the rise. Now, it’s a bit difficult to hit you with a gun,


in there to pin spot it. They’re trying to hit us with a gun there at the observation post, and some other observation posts were on the hill further round too. But it’s difficult to do it. And the shells, 80, depends on, on the millimetre gun. And the Germans were using 88 millimetre, 88 millimetre shells. And the trajectory of those is only slight, now with our 25 pounders, our trajectory was more like that.


But their’s was flat. And so when the shell lands, it will throw most of its shrapnel forward. So if it only lands two yards behind you and you’re lying on the ground, you’ve got a fair chance of not being hurt by, you might get a bit of concussion. But if you’re in a trench and it only lands two yards behind you, you’re fairly safe because it won’t burst down, it always bursts up, out that way. And


so you learn that, you learn that from the infantry, they teach you that. But you, you learn that so you, when that one went over, that’s all right. But you, you won’t hear the one that gets you, because of the speed of sound.
And at the end of, of suffering quite a bit of shelling, how would you unwind or come down from that adrenaline?
Well we would, generally speaking


you’d be there for a while, you might be there for two or three days, sometimes a week. But then you’d go out and then somebody else would take over from you in the, have the relief. You’d go down, we’d always go down to our gun position, but that wasn’t very, that wasn’t very safe, because they were getting shelled, and they were also getting dive bombed. So, you’d find somebody’s slit trench down there that you’d comfortably get into when the necessity


arose. You’re not getting shelled all the time, this is the point, but you don’t know when its going to come. That’s the other difficulty about thing. Where you, and dive bombers weren’t bad in many, in so many ways. Stukas, they had sirens on them, and they always usually came from the sun, they’d go up into the sun, and then they’d come at you


from the sun. But they always put their sirens on, you could hear them. So you’d think, oh, oh, sirens. You hadn’t seen them before hand, you’d suddenly hear them. And you’d look up and you could gradually make them out, and you’d see them come down and you’d watch them drop their bombs. You could see them drop their bombs, cause they’re low flying when they come down. And you’d think, oh well they’re all right, they’re a hundred yards away, they’re not going to land on me,


so you’re all right, so you don’t worry about them. You feel sorry for the somebody else is getting them, but you’re not. The, once again, the infantry boys taught us quite a lot about that, particularly us in the observation post areas, cause they’d look up and they’d see these, and they’d keep walking. And you’d say, “Why did you do that?” “Oh he dropped the bombs over my head, they’re not going to drop on me,


they’re going to drop over there,” cause they, that’s the way it occurred there.
And can you describe your observation posts, what did they, generally what did they look like?
Oh just a slit trench. It often depended where you were, if you were in a purely static position, you could put some sandbags around it, and put a bit of iron on top,


and put some sandbags on top of that, full of sand of course. And so that gave you some form of protection. But generally speaking, most of them, most of them, except for a static position, when we did have a static position at one time, most of them were just an ordinary trench that you carved out of the ground when you got there, you know, with a shovel and a, thing like that. Or else it was somebody else’s hole, and you maybe even


the Germans hole, and you got into that. But that, generally was all we had. But some of the infantry boys would have sandbags and they would put sandbags around as well. Rarely did we do that.
And who did you share it with?
It would only be, usually only an observation, the officer himself and sometimes, not always, but mostly, mostly he’d have his assistant with him, in case


he got knocked or something. And usually only one signaller. I had a, I had a partner, but he was, he was always elsewhere, so I did most of it, I didn’t mind it. I didn’t mind it in the sense that I, he wasn’t reliable.
And was it here that, that you lost your driver?
Yes. That was in the early part of July, the first part,


yes. Yes, he’d driven us up to, so we could walk up to our OP [Observation Post], he didn’t take his car right up there. And of course, he took the vehicle with the wireless set and everything, and took it back to gun position, and one of the guns, somebody on the guns, they got orders to fire some ammunition, and somebody yelled out, “Bob can you give us a hand.” And he jumped out of the truck,


and when he jumped out of the truck, an enemy round landed near the, between him and the gun and killed him. That was very upsetting, because we’d been together for a couple of years, and same age as I was, no, six months older. It was nasty.
And, how did you, how did you say goodbye, or


did you bury him?
I wasn’t there when they buried him, I had to go back to the OP again, the OP again. And I went back to the OP and they did bury him locally. Just wrap him up in a blanket, and dig a hole in the ground and put a mark on it and so on, and then you record it. The officer, the government issue officer would have recorded it, because


in the position, in the gun place. He would have recorded the map reference of it, where it was and so on, and they recover it later on, the body later on. But it’s not nice.
And earlier today when we were talking about religion, you said that war was starting to change your opinion of religion?
Well it does when you’re sitting one side of the fence, and you’re going into the battle,


and a Priest or a Minister or somebody comes along, and, “God be with you in battle, God be with us in battle,” la-de-dah-de-dah-de-dah. And then you go out on a killing mission, and the other side of the fence, you know precisely they are doing exactly the same thing. Sometimes you’ve even seen them with field glasses, you’ve seen them, the others doing virtually the same thing.


You, you start to query whether, about this God, whether he’s, who’s side is he on, or something. You have a, you have a few doubts, but in the long run, I think you believe. Sorry I do, I believe in the Creator and I, the after life,


although I believe in an after life, because I want to. I’ll meet all these people I’ve know, well, I believe that because I want to believe it. And I was taught to believe it one time, I don’t know, I don’t know deep in my heart whether I do, but I’ll, I’ll admit I, that is my feeling, that I will have an after life, somewhere.
Did you pray


when you were in Alamein?
I think I may have said a few words to myself, but I don’t, I don’t think I, I didn’t, I did not attend any of their Church services at any time. Once again, I was a bit of a loner in some of that stuff, I would prefer


to pray on my own, if I did. But I can’t remember consciously doing it, I probably did, I probably would have.
Did you pray for. Sorry, what was the driver’s, your driver’s name?
Bob Gregory.
Did you pray for Bob when he passed on?
I don’t, I don’t think so, I thought a lot about him though. Whether that, in the sense of praying or just thinking about him.


You do think about him, and even, even today I can visualise him, but he can’t be anything like us, he can still be, a young guy with lightish brown curly hair. You see him as that, you don’t see him like us now, old and no hair,


false teeth and all the rest of it, you don’t see anybody like that.
But when you joined the AIF, you wanted to be on the front line and you now were. Did you still want to be there?
Yes, I stayed there for the rest of the war, actually. Not so much, later on in Tarakan it was a little bit different, but I was there all the time, anyhow. I, I just,


I did not want to be a clerk in the backroom, I did not want to be a watchmaker in Perth or Geraldton, fixing up things for aeroplanes. At a later time, when we came back to Australia, I did apply to go into the air force as a wireless air gunner, but my division wouldn’t allow me to go.
I’m just,


I’m just thinking now that Alamein was quite an intense battle, and you were there for a big chunk of it?
Well we were there for several months, we were there from June until November, beginning of November. And there were a couple of very nasty battles in between that. Sort of skirmishes where you lost faith in, in British tanks.


And even Morshead at the end, said, “I will not have any English tank people supporting our infantry, or being involved with anything with our infantry.” But oh they, you probably can’t, in retrospect and in reading since then, a lot of reading, I devour these sort of books.


I devour them, Tarakan and a lot of them back there too. But you can’t, you can’t always blame some of these other people, because one, one of the things, what we had on a place called Ruin Ridge, when we lost a whole battalion of Australian soldiers, we got stuck in the middle of that. I was with officers that time, and we got stuck out in the bren gun carrier, we were going through with the infantry,


and then the infantry shot ahead of us, and we couldn’t get through because there were a couple of tanks in the way. Then we find out they’re British tanks, they’re not supposed to be there, they’re supposed to be up, right up in front of the infantry. And they didn’t want to go there. But they were green, they hadn’t been out from England very long, they’d only been out from England a very short time, they’d only just got their tanks. And they shoved them up there in those sort of conditions, which were


not right, they should never have been there. Later on at Alamein, the big battle at Alamein, it was different, they were experienced by that time, and things were different. But some of these other times, it was straight out murder. Terrible.
And the big battle, what was that like?
Hectic. It was quite interesting. I had been in.


Oh, before the big battle, an, an interesting little interlude before the big battle. At one time, September, late August, September, my captain by that time had changed, and he was adventurous. We stirred up all the trouble on the Western Front, on the front came from us. And,


a couple of incidents. But he decided we’d set up an observation post and this time, it was going to be a thousand odd yards in front of the infantry, right out in no man’s land, nearest to the Germans than it was our own infantry. And so we went out one night, or a couple of nights, and we dug a hole and we did put sandbags around that. And we put a top on it, and sandbagged


and then covered the whole lot with the desert sand around, we left it for a couple of weeks. Ran a telephone line all the way out there, buried it all the way, back to the infantry. And it was called, “Bob’s O Pip.” And we were nearest the enemy than anybody else in the 8th army at that stage. And Bill Ledgerwood his name was, and myself, we went out there, it could only hold two people.


We had a fighting patrol infantry people would take us out before light, while it was still dark in the morning. And we’d go there, and we’d get in that hole, once we got in that hole, we couldn’t get out for any reason whatsoever, any reason. And we stayed there until it was pitch black. And then an infantry patrol


would come out and take us back again. Now while we were there, we would observe and report on anything that we saw, and a couple of times we did some shoot-outs, oh we always did shoot-ups. But the thing was, he was observing where their trucks were going, where things were going. We got, we started a, to see where guns were firing, we could see the flash of the guns,


German guns firing, and we’d take a compass bearing on it, record it. And from our position, from the flash of the gun to the sound of the gun going off, if you counted that in seconds, multiplied that by eleven hundred feet, that would tell you how far the gun was away from you. So by doing that, we took all these records, kept on taking these records, and sending them back to our command group of the battery. They in turn, would ask other people to


send in reports of gun flashes and sounds and do the same thing, and from that we would co-ordinate. This was leading up to the information we received, for the battle of Alamein. Now, that was, that was hair-raising stuff going down that observation post. And one, one day, a patrol came out, German patrol was coming out, obviously to get us. They had a fair idea, but they didn’t know where we were, they were coming out to find out, a day patrol,


there was about six of them in it. And the boss says, “Well, I think I’d better shoot them up.” So I had a look out too, you didn’t need your glasses to see them. I was looking out, and he sent down a couple of rounds, and they decided to go to ground, and the. Well the next thing we know, they’re waving a Red Cross flag,


and then they get up, and they start to walk out, and they’re carrying a stretcher between them, with a joker lying on the stretcher. And we thought, “Oh well, we won’t fire on a party like that.” They got within about a hundred yards of their line, the joker jumped off the stretcher, and they all ran for their lives. All ran for their own lives. So bill day say,


used some nice expletives. He said, “I’ll show them,” and so we gave them a good old serve of gunfire, where they’d gone to, we made them suffer, whether we hit them or not, I don’t now, certainly churned them up. But that’s the sort of thing you were expecting. And every night, just before we went, we had matchsticks and we’d put them in strategic positions so that if anybody came there on a night patrol, and got in there,


we’d know it could be booby trapped. You couldn’t leave anything there, we always took a telephone and tried to hide the wires in the sand again, took that out. Your ablutions consisted of a jam tin, you can’t get out for anything, you couldn’t. And then you had to take that away when you got out at night time and bury it, and that type of thing. It just, you had no indication whatsoever, otherwise.


A couple of times I think they, they thought we could be there, and they shelled us quite considerably. But at one time, the Germans had a particular way of shelling, they used to shelling the star formation. They’d put one there, one there, one there, one there and the rest in the middle. On one occasion we got that, and oh, we shook hands, and we said,


“Oh this is it,” we expected it, but we didn’t. Heard the gunfire, heard the guns go off, so we knew we weren’t going to get it, and they went over and landed on the infantry behind us, a thousand yards away. They used that as a, as a sort of ranging point, lift it one thousand. And we were very lucky. There was another. We got, we’d spend three days there,


and then, somebody else would come out and take over, one of our offices came out, a bit green, he’d only joined us in Syria, we weren’t, didn’t like him very much. And he came out and he, he was bonkers, he took, he took his big map out, and on his map it had all our gun positions, all our infantry positions and everything on it. And he took this out, and they got, they ran into


a patrol, and they came racing back and he’d dropped his binoculars and he dropped his ruddy map, you wouldn’t believe it. And of course as soon as he got back, and this was early in the morning, of course he gets back, “Oh I left my map out there, it’s got all this,” so all our guns, we had to send back to our guns and tell them, we had to go racing off into different locations to, to get all the gun positions marked and all the reference. So,


infantry patrol then went out then on, later in the morning, and they sent out a bit of a fighting patrol wandering around, and apart from a couple of shells which didn’t worry them very much, they found his map and his binoculars, and they bought them in. I bet he had a red face in the officers’ mess.
And from the intelligence that you were gathering about the, the German positions, did you, did you, were you able to gather an idea of the size of


the battle you would be encountering?
I don’t think so, you can only get an idea of the number of guns that you were going, that they had, yes, you’d get that. You also knew where the location of those guns were. And consequently on our opening barrage, our opening barrage on the battle, on the final battle of Alamein, was not directed in a sense, to help with our, our artillery, as a forward barrage for our, for our


infantry following. It was to destroy all the guns that were behind, so they couldn’t fire back.
Before we…
All that information was then.
Before we go into the bigger battle, can I ask what the briefing was like for the Battle of Alamein?
For the very first time in our, all our army career, our CO had, had the whole of the regiment, only in certain groups,


only in groups, or battery at a time, or something. And he had a big, big map on the side of the tent of the area, and we were given in detail what was going to go on. And after he just asked any questions of course, and then he said, “Right, from now on, you are not to discuss it at all with


anybody, including the person standing next to you, on either side. It is not be discussed under any circumstances even between yourselves,” for fear of it getting out, information getting out. But we knew precisely what was going on. And when we saw things happening, we knew all about it.
Well, before we go into too much detail, I’m going to stop you there, because we’ve got a tape change. And I


don’t want you to go too far into it, and then run out of…
Interviewee: James Quilliam Archive ID 1741 Tape 08


OK. We were just talking about the big battle of Alamein. What were your duties?
Well that was quite interesting. For some reason out of the blue, I had started on my road to promotion, and I was given one stripe. I was called a lance bombardier, and I was taken off the


observation post truck, I lost my job there, to my intense disgust, and I was told I was to take charge of the, several signallers, about four of them I think, at the gun position, and I wasn’t very amused. And they said, “Well we want you down there, there’s batteries to be charged up for the wireless, you know the wireless, you know the telephone, you know all this, your job there is to look after that


end, to look after the signallers.” So if we want somebody out at a place, you’ve got to send them. So I said, “all right.” So I got my one stripe and I went down there. Well within a, this was leading right up to the Battle of Alamein. A few days beforehand, and that was very interesting when I was charging a battery, charging some batteries one day, and a chappie


came up, and I thought, “Oh God, he’s important, he’s got a couple of aides with him, and one of them was wearing tartan, tartan pants, and a little beret. And I was dressed in a pair of shorts only, and I had the battery charger going, it was in pieces actually, because it wouldn’t work properly. And then he just come up, and said, “Good day,” and I thought, “Oh, bloody Pom,” you know. “Having a bit of trouble,”


and I said, “Oh yeah, yeah, these battery chargers,” la-de-dah-de-dah, I’m telling him my story. And he said, “Oh, do you smoke, do you want a cigarette?” I said, “Oh yes, yes, I’ll have one,” and he hands me a packet and it’s come from India, some horrible Pommie things they were, that they got from India, Wild


Woodbines or something, they called them, they were terrible. And I said, “Hey, hey, hey, put those away, put those way, have one of mine, I’ve got Craven A, these are top line cigarettes, you see.” And he said, “Gosh, you’re lucky, how do you get those?” and I said, “We’ve got a pretty good CO,” I said, “He looks after us.” I said, “One thing about him, he doesn’t smoke and he doesn’t drink, but he makes sure we have our beer ration, and he


makes sure we have plenty of cigarettes, he always gets the best.” We had a bit of a chat about a few other things, how do you like it here, la-de-dah-de-dah, and I’m a bit cagey in case he’s a disguised German, you see. You’re sort of walking around him, you’re not giving too much, you’re giving enough, but not too much, you know. And he said, “Well I suppose, is your officer around?” I said, “Yes,


he’s in the command post over there.” He said, “Oh well, I’d better go and see him,” I said, “All right.” So I just walk ahead and he follows. “Oh Lieutenant Bishop, here’s a chappie to see you” and left it at that, and walked way. Well, as I walked out, old Bish there, he’s six foot two or three or something, I could hear his heels


clicking, I thought he was a bloody Prussian, bloody salutes and God knows what. I said to him after, “Who was that, who was that bod who came in?” He said, “He’s only the, the new corps commander fro the 8th army,” I think there was three corps involved in the 8th, in the 8th army. He’s only our corps commander.” I said, “Who is he?” He said, “A fellow by the name of the Sir Oliver Lease,” who finally, who after the war, went on to


become the, one of the vice regals in, in India or somewhere. Here I was treating him as an ordinary private. And I’m not meaning to be disrespectful, but I, I was, I couldn’t see his rank, I mean it was all up here see. If he had his stripe, if he had all his badges down on his arm, it would have been all right, but he didn’t, he had them up on his collar, and you couldn’t, I couldn’t see anything,


because he was standing a bit above me. I knew his, our drivers wore caps anyway. Nothing was said. So I thought, “He’s probably not a bad guy after all.” But you come up with those funny little things, those strange things. So that’s how I became, I was down in the gun position on the night of the, on the night of the battle, the opening night of the battle,


I was on the wireless set. And talking to the lad who took over from me on his wireless set, and unfortunately the Germans were trying to jam us out, and there was every wireless set in the, in the Middle East was on air at the same time, because there was a battle going on, they were all going into formation. Going into, you know, forming up, tanks all talking, and I’m trying to take,


talk to him. Well I finished up, we were talking Morse code. And, and then oh about three o’clock in the morning, I just had to say to my boss, my gun, gun position officer, I said, “Sorry Mr Bishop, but I’ve, I’m not getting any contact at all, I’ve completely lost contact, I can’t, got no idea what’s going on.”


And he said, “Oh well, have to leave it at that.” And then, just on daybreak, just after daybreak, got a message through that a shell had hit the bren gun carrier, and the officer would have been killed. Chappie who took my place got a piece of the shrapnel that went through his lungs, and he never,


he, he went, he was taken to hospital, he survived, but he never came back to the regiment again, he came home, was sent home, sent out of it. And was a part of it in him, all of his life. So I was a bit lucky, extremely lucky that I wasn’t in it. But then the officer said, “Well,


lance bombardier, would you appoint a signaller, I’ve have been ordered to take the OPO’s [Observation Post Officer’s] place,” he said. “I’ve got a little armoured car coming, it only seats two, I want a reliable signaller to come back, I’ve got to take over up 85th.” And he said, “Why, will you appoint one of your guys.” I said, “Yeah, that’s easy, me.”


I said, “I’ve had this place, the first time I’ve been in the gun position,” I said, “Those blasted guns have been booming all night, four of them just going every few minutes, been booming, booming, booming all night.” I said, “I’m just about bomb happy with all that noise,” I said, “I can’t stand that, I’m getting out.” He said, “Oh you’ll come with me, will you?” I said, “Yes.” I think he, he told me many years later, he said, “God I was glad you were coming with me.” Well I knew,


knew the ropes. And so I went with him. Well I did that for, we went straight up and then we got into the middle of a tank battle, that was. We had this little car, it was only about that high off the ground, it was armour and it had tyres on it, and it had a wireless in it. Every time I had to send a message, I’d have to jump into this and send a message. And then we had a team of about twenty tanks, German tanks, came at us.


And we were right up, right up with the infantry there, and there was some, some of the guys, anti-tank gunners were in front of us. And these tanks come straight for us. Oh, if I was looking for excitement, this is it. And our guns were out in a funny little point like this, and our guns were shooting over the top of us at the tanks, and of course, some of their guns were almost shooting in the same direction, we didn’t know which was which.


And this went on, and then fortunately we had some tanks which were over on our left, and we didn’t really see them because it was a bit of a small ridge, small sand hill, and they were hiding behind that. And then when these other tanks came out, the coolness of the, some of these guys, look, they’re incredible, these guys. They waited until the tanks were almost on them,


before they opened fire and shot at their tracks, they’d go for the tracks. And they shot at their tracks, and then when they shot at their tracks, one of the others would dive to one side, and our bren gun carrier, as they got over the top, tried to get a machine gun. We stopped all except about one tank, and they all left burning, one got away, he was right at the back end, and he, he shot through. But in the end, they were all left burning there. And one of them,


later on we went out and checked it out, he stopped twenty, a hundred yards from where we were, coming straight for us, we wouldn’t have a hope in the world, he would have run over us. It was quite, that was really interesting though. And we stayed out there for a couple of days while all this was going on, this was on, that was the second day and the third day I stayed out there. And then, oh something happened. And I


was taken off that job then, then I had a, then I took over running the line party, running the lines and maintaining the lines between the guns and the observation posts. Because we had two observation officers, one going one way and one going the other. So I had to then, I only had a couple of guys, two guys, two other guys, a driver and myself, and we parked ourselves halfway between where the guns were, and where the observation post was, and we dug a hole, and that was our


listening post. And we listened on the telephone all the time, to make sure things were working. When one, one part of the line got broken down, we’d have to go and fix it, and that’s what we did. And then when they wanted an extra line ran up from the existing post when they advanced, the one further on, we’d go up and take that up. But that was a very interesting


experience too, and I did that to, till the end of Alamein. And that’s what all those guys on the beach and, crowded around that track, the log is, the driver, that was the end of the show, we were.
And what sort of vehicle did you have?
It was a Ford, a little square Ford 4-by-2 I think they used to call it, it had big tyres on it. It was only a Ford car, it was, like a


square box, sort of thing. And you see some of these aluminium ones getting around these days, but this was, wasn’t very high, but we had a, a reel for reeling in or reeling out wire, and other reels of wire on the truck, spare telephone that type of thing. You, you’re out at three o’clock in the morning, you’ve got a line break and you don’t know where the devil is, so you’ve got to


go along, find your wire, and of course by this time there’s a lot of other wires there too, you’ve got to try and identify your wire and plug into it. And the way you plug into it, you have a safety pin with the wire wrapped around it going to the telephone. And you just push that through the covering of the wire that’s on the ground, has a plastic or a fabric


cover, and that will touch the wire inside, and then you can hear what’s going on. Of course you’d have to have a, have an earth pin on your telephone, or you can imagine how you provided, the wetting for the earth pin, I’ll leave that to your imagination. And you, then you, that was your circuit, and you’d listen. “Oh, it’s all right here, I can talk to the guns here, but I can’t talk to the observation post,” so got to go up that way further, you’d go up and find it.


And how often would you get a crossed line, or…?
Oh, it happened all the time. Because there was always shells flying around, or there’d be stupid tanks, and they were always, never looked where they were going, any time. We even, we did go up to the observation post one night, and we’d done the first part, that was a lousy part, we had to go right out


in front of where the observation post officer was. We got out there all right, we took the line out, we ran the line out, just running out the back of the truck, that was all right. Then we dumped the reel at the end, the front end, and we came back. And as we came back, we, somebody decided to have a go at us with his machine gun. Well the only one was driving, was one of my sigs, he was driving,


and we’re hanging on the sides like, like some of these cowboy things, you know, when the, against the Indians, and the cowboy falls over the side of his horse, so he can’t get shot. We were doing that on our little truck. And then the, that was all right, because we, one joker then drives the truck down for us, and while we went, laying it further down into towards the gun. And


we laid the line and, on foot. Just took it off the reel and laid it on foot. Got that down there. We only took it down to where we were first, cause we reckoned we could hook it up with the other one that went back to the guns. And then the damn thing got blown up. We only got finished early in the morning, and the damn thing got blown up later in the morning,


so we went back to fix it. Just to be told by some engineers that were there, “you committing suicide, mate.” “Why?” “That’s the minefield, can’t you see the barbed wire here?” I said, “Yeah, it’s got a gap in it.” “Yes, but it’s still a minefield, we haven’t cleared it yet.” There’s got to be somebody looking


after you. Rather marvellous, that.
What did you do?
Well, we got out of that minefield, and we decided we’d better run another line, so we ran another line. It’s just a, and so I never ever actually, after that, I never went back to the OP [Observation Post]. work. And I’d had, three officers


in the observation post and the last one got killed. Dear oh dear, how we weren’t killed before that, I wouldn’t have a clue.
Well you have described some very hair raising moments during that big battle of Alamein, particularly being out and seeing twenty German tanks approaching. Was there a moment, ever moments during that battle, when you were


really packing death [frightened]?
I, I don’t know, I was young, I was young and when you’re young you haven’t got the fear. I hadn’t, no responsibilities, I, I was fairly, when I left home, I didn’t ever think I was ever going to come back,


I didn’t, I didn’t think I’d be back. Because I’d, I’d known, I’d heard so much about war and one thing and another, and read so much about it, and I didn’t think, particular when there were stories of Gallipoli are told, and I didn’t ever think that I’d ever come back. So I didn’t fear for my life at any time,


I’ve got to admit that. It’s a strange feeling, but I knew, I knew I did have a responsible job, particularly at the observation post. And, see if we go right back to that one I was talking about at Salom, I’d tell them that, I could hear the shells coming back, they’d shoot two off, I could hear them coming, they’d whistle back overhead. I’d immediately shout into the microphone, “One coming, two coming,


three coming,” whatever it is, one time, “A whole bloody lot coming,” which I’ve got, is recorded in my book, which was so. Now, the signaller at the other end, he wouldn’t tell, he wouldn’t tell the officer, as soon as I said it, he’d yell out himself, so all the gunners could hear it, he’d just yell out.
And why would he do that?
Well because the shells are travelling pretty fast, and they were probably getting down there by the time.


If there’s only one coming, they wouldn’t worry too much about getting out, but if they knew there was a lot coming, they’re not all going to come at once. You could hear them coming over you, and so you’d immediately tell them. The signaller down there, he’d immediately yell out to the guns, he wouldn’t tell the officer. The officer would hear it of course, cause he’d yell out. But that’s, that’s what we’d do there. So you, it’s a rather unusual thing, you have a job to do, and so you do your


job, and if you do your part, you expect others to do theirs.
And when you, you got a promotion to lance bombardier, why was that a mixed reaction you had?
I liked the O-pip work, I liked being in the o-pip. I don’t know, it was just. I don’t know, I liked being right out in front, and I don’t think I’m a leader. I just,


I just liked that work. And particularly with the last captain we had, Bill Ledgerwood, we’d be roaming around the desert there, in the soft period or the peace period or the quiet period, and I can remember quite vividly one day that we got in some awful strife later on, and that’s how


I remember it. But he was observing and you, you’d, early in the morning was good for observation, and late in the afternoon it was OK for observation, but middle of the day it had a terrible, very hazy, very hazy. Bill had had his… he’d had a look around, see if he could find anything to shoot up. And then somebody else had had his go, his ack had had his go, and he stepped down. And around about lunchtime,


Bill, the captain, he decides he’s going to have a sleep. And he says, “Oh Quill, you have, you have a look, your turn for observation,” and I said, “All right.” So I’m sitting up there and I see a couple of guys walking around, and I say, “Oh, oh boss, there’s a couple of guys walking around over there.” He said,


“Have a go.” I said, “What? It’s only a couple of guys, I want a decent target if I’m going to have a shoot.” He said, “Where there’s two there’s more, have a go.” So I shot the guns. Now after you’ve been in the job for a good couple of years, there’s a stage, you get to know. You know all the orders, you know what ranges you’re at, you know,


you know, you’ve got it, you’ve got the information, you can do it. And so, I did, that’s why I shot the gun. Well that wasn’t sufficient for Bill. When it got a bit brighter, a mate of his comes up, he’s in the, oh what was his name, yes, yes, he was a cavalry officer, and they had some old honey tanks, and some bren gun carriers. And he came up to Bill, and they were at university


together, they’d both, one was a lawyer, one was a dentist, I think, or they could have been both, Millhouse his name was, could have been doing law as well. And he came up, and he said, “Bill, there’s a, I think there’s a machine gun nest down there, post down there,” he said. “It’s causing our fellows a bit of trouble, I wonder if you’d…,” he said, “Look, I’ll take a carrier down there, and we’ll fire a few shots around,


and see if you can, see if the carrier, if the machine gun opens up, see if you can sight it, will you, and, and take bearing on it, so we can know where it is.” He said, “All right.” So away they go, their little game. The joker goes down, and comes up in front of the German lines, you see. So they’re not taking any notice of me, nobody’s firing, that’s a machine gun, he’s got on a carrier.


Then they got a little bit nasty, and they rolled out a small anti-tank gun, knocked the tracks off this, you see. And unfortunately they killed the driver, and the wireless operator was in there, he was wounded, and they were all in a bit of trouble. So he tries to send out another bren carrier to pick it up, and it gets blown up, you see. So Bill says, “She’s right, she’s right,” and so we,


he talks to our guns, sends a message, quick message to our guns to send down a smoke signal, smoke. So we send down a barrage of smoke, this way, then he can get his honey tanks to go out and pick up the injured driver, and what not. Get whatever and try and rescue what’s there. Well the Germans see these honey tanks coming out, see’s these tanks coming round, he says, “Hello, hello, hello, this is the beginning of an attack,”


and so he starts to fire back. We were out in the middle of nowhere, and I mean nowhere, and there’s all this flack going on, and there’s a full, there’s a battle raging, Bill’s my MC [Military Cross] for that, rescuing, bringing down the fire and rescuing, any of us could have done that. But we got all this, for the rest of the afternoon, what was left of it, all we got was pounded like hell,


there was guns firing everywhere and tanks whizzing around. Fortunately they didn’t go too far, otherwise we would have been in real trouble. And then it all quietened down, just on dusk, just on the last, the last bit before you get dark. And Bill decides, well we’ll go out, we’ll go out now. And we’re going out, and all of a sudden a shot lands, shell lands near us,


and Bill says to the driver, “Hold it,” because we had a, we had a bren gun carrier this time, we didn’t have a truck, we had a different driver, Flan. He said, “Hold it Flan,” he said, “I want to get a bearing on that.” And Flan says, “Like bleeding hell,” he said, “We’re not stopping, we’re going.” He said, “No, stop, I want to get a bearing.” And so Flan,


then by this time, we’ve got another one, another shot coming over, getting awfully close. Then Flan then is doing a zig zag as he goes off, with Bill still screaming out, “Stop, stop, I want to get a bearing.” He didn’t get court martialled though. Oh, I will admit that this guy, who’s father became the Chief Justice of South Australia, Ledgerwood,


and his father stayed back from becoming even a Judge, because he wanted his son to come back and be in the firm, he was a lawyer. But he just didn’t do it, he didn’t come back. His, his philosophy was, he was married, and his philosophy was “Let’s get this war over, let’s get into it, stir


it up, don’t give them any peace, fight the damn thing, that’s what we came here to do, and then get home to our families.” But unfortunately he didn’t get back, I didn’t, I couldn’t see him, I couldn’t really see him getting back. He did crazy things, he’d hop out on his own sometimes and go racing off. We’d say, “Where are you going, what the hell do you think we’re going to do here?”


But you could talk to him like that, amazing.
Do you think that war produces extreme kind of madness in a way, being in those situations?
Well people do some funny things at time, they don’t and they don’t, I guess.


He had, he has, Bill Ledgerwood had this drive to do this and finish it off.
Well you mentioned, you mentioned yourself that you were a bit, after the, the night of the big barrage, you yourself were feeling a bit ‘bomb happy’. What was that like?
Oh, it was the noise. If you got, see I was in the dugout, it was fairly


substantial dugout, because it was the command post in there. And these four guns out there and they’re blasting, one’s blasting there, one’s blasting, and we’re in the middle of this, we’re not. At one end you’re probably only getting one gun, but when you’re in the middle of this and all this blasting’s coming back. And not being used to it down there, I was used to it up at the O-Pip, but they were, they were shells coming over, they weren’t the same as the blast of a gun. And it was just,


oh you just go nuts, and I couldn’t imagine myself sitting there for another day and hearing all this sort of stuff going on, which did happen. I said, “Lets go out, where there’s a bit of open air, and peace,” well not banging all the time like that. I don’t know, that was different, I was used to that, not used to this confined area. I still don’t like confined


areas, and all this banging and booming was going on, terrible.
I guess what I’m trying to explore is that, that fine line you walk between staying sane and going round the twist because of the environment and the conditions that you’re under?
You can do it, and one of my friends, one of those I was in the tent with, a strong man, a terrific guy,


his character was beyond reproach, he was one of the best of men you could ever come across. I was at the gun position at the time this Bob was killed, and I was in a trench, gun, we were getting rounds fired back at us, and I was in this trench with one of them. And he was hopeless, the gun,


just the shelling coming back, even though he was on a gun, the shelling was so bad, that he was hopeless, he was, a mental and physical wreck. And it’s heartbreaking to see a strong decent man crying, because he can’t get out of the trench. When they got all orders to start shooting themselves come out,


he, he could not get out of the trench. And I said, “I’ll go for you,” and I did, I went out in his place. And then I did a silly thing, I didn’t take my hat with me, I didn’t have a tin hat, I didn’t have a hat with me, I got on the gun and they pulled the blasted trigger before I was ready. And they were pulling the trigger without any plugs in there, or they didn’t wear


plugs anyway, they used to wear the, the gunners used to always wear their felt hats. And they, when the gun fired, they put their head down, and the blast would take on the felt rim. And so they didn’t, not all of them, but quite a number of them, that was how they used to take the blast on the rim, but I didn’t. And after firing off the number of rounds we had, I was totally deaf.


And so I was kept out of the way for a couple of days, I went totally deaf and just blasted an ear, blasted that ear drum. You, it was just one of those things that you live with, but you, but that was my priority, my priority was, I liked to be up there, I suppose up the front where the action is.


I’m a bit, built into my nature, I, I just finished a term as the President of the Probus club. And I took over from two very, very nice people in the last two years, but one had been a lay, one is a lay preacher, and he’s a terrific guy. And the other one was


also a very, very committed Church lady and they were both wonderful people. But at Probus, it’s retired and it’s all old, older people, we’re supposed to be retired business or professional people. And they were more, the, they were terrific at administrating the club in every way. At our meetings, when we’d have them,


I’d like to think that we go along to the meeting to hear an interesting speaker, and to have a bit of pleasure, have a few jokes and talk to others and have chatter and have a friendly sort of meeting, a friendly sort of meeting. And I determined when I became President that I wouldn’t be telling any stories about, about, sometimes they’d read little poems about how you got into bed last night, and I put my teeth in the jar,


and I took my eye out and put it in the cupboard drawer, and it’s black humour in a sense, but it’s a bit funny the first time you hear it, but you don’t like hearing it consistently. And there’s too many things were spoken by the President of the time which were of too serious a nature, it might have a poem, but its one of those, it might be, not morbid, but getting


around that, and I thought, no, I’m not going to do that. And every time I came on, this is the way I looked at things, somehow or other a funny story would come into it.
I’m going to stop you there, because our time is very limited today, so I’d like to go back to Alamein. And ask you, Alamein had a very, very high number of casualties, what did you see of casualties


around you?
Well unfortunately, because of the position we were in, and I was on the line party, I was away from the infantry again, and I didn’t see the casualties they were having. I do know of them, and its some of the things which I, I push also with some, some of the people of today.


We all talk about Gallipoli, and about the casualties we had at Gallipoli and in so-and-so, and so-and-so. But the 2/48th Battalion on about the 28th, 29th of October, something like that, about halfway through the battle, they had to pull them out, because they had, you know what, 41 people standing. They had 41 people that were able to stand. Now when you’ve got a


battalion, I don’t know how many they went in, that battalion is normally about 800 strong, but even if they went in with about 600, the casualty rate is so damn high, there’s only 41 capable of standing at the roll call next morning. But we don’t hear about that, we hear about the First World War, about some of these things, but we don’t hear it about, about. And that’s been a little bit of my baby for a while.
Well at the end of the Alamein battle,


it was a, the turning point, or many say that it was the turning point, and it was a victory for the Allied forces and the 8th army. When did you and, and your regiment get a sense of that victory?
I, I think pretty much at the end when the Germans started to run, and we got all these prisoners coming back. I think we were


convinced in our own minds that this was the end of it, as far as Africa was concerned, we did know that they’d landed up in Tunisia. And I think from then on, we knew, we weren’t, we wouldn’t be wanted again, we would be coming home from there. I think we sort of instantly knew that we’d had a, quite a victory, and it had cost a lot. And


it’s a little thing that annoys me when I’m watching this Rommel business the other night, it’s Rommel and the British, and the British getting, and it’s all British, British, British, and the blasted breakthrough came in our sector, the original, the original thrust was in our sector, the 9th Division sector. The breakthrough came through in our sector, and we never get a mention, I get annoyed. I get a little bit annoyed at a couple of things. I also get a little bit


annoyed about Darwin and Pearl Harbour. Darwin had more raids on it than Pearl Harbour, there were more bombs dropped on Darwin, than there was on Pearl Harbour. Darwin was raided for about 63 days, Pearl Harbour was raided on one. And there were more planes involved in Darwin. And what do we Australians do about it, go and see another Pearl Harbour for, film.


Don’t worry, there are many who share your, your feelings. I will just stop now, because our tape is just about to run out.
Interviewee: James Quilliam Archive ID 1741 Tape 09


Well at the end of, of Alamein, you finally got your opportunity to come home and fight Japanese. How did you feel about leaving Alamein?
I, I think generally that we knew the battle was over and the next thing we wanted to do, wanted to go home, and that was that. We didn’t want to get tangled up any more, we wanted to get home to get stuck into the Japanese,


I think was the general feeling all around. There was a little bit of, initially we, we all had a little bit of, almost pique if you like, that all right we do the dirty work for you, now we can’t have the fun, if such a thing is fun, chasing the opposition. But we did have that, that feeling, but


it went fairly quickly. We were, we really did want to come home.
And then, what was that feeling like when you first saw Australia again?
Well, I told you about the Maoris, and whether you believe it or not, when we sailed, came back and sailed into Fremantle Harbour, we didn’t have any Maoris, but off the coast,


we had the smell of wattle, gum leaf. It was fabulous. And that bought lumps into the, knowing that we were getting home safely, anyway, cause I know the Japs were after us. But no, we were very happy about it, and we did notice it. There was a couple of those, that Maori’s farewell, as I say, the gum leaves you could smell when you


came home, and when we had discharge, I was coming through Sydney Heads later, that was after the war had finished of course, coming through the Sydney Heads at first light, that was something to behold too.
Well we’d like to talk about that when we actually get through, get through the rest of the war. After a short stint leave, you then went up to the Tablelands.
For some training. What was the, what was the preparation for,


for the landing at Tarakan?
Well, when we got to, got up the Tablelands, of course we were with the division, the whole division was there. And we were doing, learning lots of things about jungle, walking in the jungle, yes, well group marches in the jungle every day, almost, even as artillery people were walking there.


We had quite a lot to learn, because the jungle, desert was open warfare and you could see everything, and jungle you can’t see anything, and it’s a total, totally different type. We were very fortunate in a sense, that by this time, some of the others, other divisions had been in the jungle, and therefore we had their experience. And we learnt by their mistakes, too. And so we, then it became quite a different arrangement,


disposition of troops was different and there was more people involved, because you couldn’t take transports in there, everything was done on foot. So part of your training, you came a bit like an infantry, it meant you had to carry your pack and you had to carry a rifle, or an owen gun or tommy gun or whatever you call it, owen gun now, then.


You had to carry your own food, look after yourself. Now once again, I didn’t do any, I wasn’t a O-Pip signaller, observation post signaller in those days, somebody else was. But I was a sergeant in charge of the signallers by this time, and my whole, my job was to keep the communication going between the observation post and the gun position.


But we usually had two or three observation post, and they would be advancing with the, the section or the leading section, or just behind the leading section of the infantry, which was going along a track, only a quarter as wide as this room, some of them. So the officer would always try to be up with them, so that


if they had any trouble, they could call the guns, and we had to keep laying the telephone line. But when you’ve, as I had, about three observation post officers all going in different directions, I had to organise signallers to carry the wires, lay the wire off the track, keep maintaining that, which was dangerous to do, very dangerous. But when you finished,


in the jungle, when you finished at night, when you finished in daylight, when daylight stopped, you stopped. If you were chasing the Japs, then you stopped, so you stopped. But when you stopped, you then had to form a bit of a ring across, you’re only own. Your land was only the land you stood on, that’s all. Anything behind you that you cleared, that was, that was enemy territory, you had to regard it


as that. So at night time, my signallers became infantrymen, so did I, if I was up there with them at the time, and several times I was. And so I’d take them up, we’d run the wire up, everything was all right, and then I’d contact the sergeant of the, the section sergeant, and say, “Where do you want my guys, cause my guys aren’t infantry, but they’ll be, they’ll do whatever your infantry will.”


So one of our guys and one of their guys, and so on. Sometimes I’d have oh, eight or nine signallers all told up there, in a, in a post at night time. And you just stay there, and they just be there, and you act as infantrymen. And that was the point, then we had to take our rifles, and we had to live like infantrymen and we weren’t trained as infantrymen, but you had to live like it. And it was a very, very strange thing,


quite an interesting thing, I always used to go to the sergeant early, in the first few days, we were the 24th Battalion, a Victorian battalion, I would go up to the Sergeant, and say, “Where do you want us, mate?” first up. And I came home, and went around to see this lady that I’d been friendly with, I used to write to her, but it nothing, no love letters, nothing spicy in it, or anything, it was just. So I went round to see this lady, and oh, she seemed pleased to see me.


So we kept on, but, on one night I went round to see her, and her father was at the gate with a chappie, and he, he said, “Oh Jim, I want you to meet my wife’s cousin from Melbourne,” I said, “Oh,” I looked at him and I think he looked at me, it was the sergeant, the infantry sergeant on Tarakan, he lived in Melbourne and he happened to be my future mother-in-law’s cousin.


It’s incredible some of these things that happen in life.
Well just going back to the Tablelands, you were there for two years, and you just, prior to that you’d been in quite intense battle in Alamein. How did, how did two years of training and limbo, affect the morale of the men?
It was rock bottom. Many people, particular the older soldiers


tried to get out, some of them had genuine reasons to get out. Some of them went back to industry, because they were in protected jobs, jobs that became protected and they were needing people, some of them were farm people, they needed them back on the farms. I applied to get into the air force, the air force were desperate for, for people, but they wanted people who had overseas experiences, and also some sort of qualification. Well as a


wireless operator I had plenty of qualification for that, and I had, I’d had a sub-machine gun myself, so I knew how to use a machine gun, but they wanted wireless air gunners, so I applied for that. But the division said no, so I got a letter to say the division would not release me, so, to become an air gunner, so that was the end of that. Then


there was another group going called, oh they were going out off war ships. You’d, they’d, you’d land off the war ship off some of these places like Tarakan and, and you’d fire, you’d wireless back to the war ship and you’d fire the, their big guns, shoot their guns. So the, I tried to get into that group, but I didn’t have any success there either,


they didn’t want me a little bit, and I think they made me a sergeant to shut me up. Anyway, the, we were continuously training with the division, and then the division goes away and they’d leave us behind, because they don’t want, they only wanted one artillery unit, and the other went with them to Tobruk, so that one got preference. And that smarted again. So, as I said, we


people were leaving on any excuse at all, they were getting out. Some went to other units, like infantry units, one of them I know went to an infantry unit and then got killed on Tarakan, he was infantry. We did all sorts of various things to, when the guys first went back, over to New Guinea, we were left. And then we came under control of some Australian based


mob, brigadier, and we had to, we were supposed to form some defence line, in case of invasion. And we were always doing exercises, and some of the exercises we were doing, were dreamt up by two year old kids, and they were stupid. If you’re trying to do an exercise towing guns across a swamp, how bloody silly is that, and it was. And we were doing it because


this brigadier wanted it and he was a big guy and he told us we had to do it. He was a nut, he got bowler hatted, and we got someone else then. We were doing stupid things that we knew were completely irrelevant, but we weren’t doing anything, we weren’t fighting. And we were trying, we were ready to have a go at the Japs. So it was, morale was


rock bottom and my friend Moggy, one of my other signallers, decided they’d had enough, they’d, they’d go cane cutting, because they were screaming out for cane cutters in Queensland, so they went cane cutting. And some irresponsible officer listed them as being deserters. Well they got caught up with,


and got court martialled. Moggy led his own defence, he didn’t want to, an officer to defend him, he led his own defence. And he said, “I’d like to point out to you people,” he said, “You reckon we’re deserters. We’ve been there for nearly two years at this stage, we’re trained fighters,” he said, “I’ve been in all the battles, Alamein and the rest of it over there,” and he said, “We haven’t done a damn thing since, and we’ve been stuck in a camp doing routine camp duties,


for all that.” He said, “They were short of workers and I just volunteered myself to go and work.” And he said, “And I want to point out I did not desert your unit, I did not desert the army, because I was working a damn sight closer to the enemy than my unit was.” And the Judge advocate said, “I think you have a pretty good point there, and I would agree,” but he’d, he’d been a joker,


he’d been in the front line, and he said, “I think you have a pretty good point.” He said, “I’d better give you 14 days CB [Confined to Barracks] back, back at your unit.” So they came back to the unit and 14 days stay in camp, well that wasn’t very hard.
Well Tarakan was an amphibious landing, how, where did you practice the, the landing?
On all your prized beaches in North Queensland, Trinity Beach, been to Trinity?


Haven’t you been to Cairns? Haven’t you, oh you should go up there, you see everything. Trinity Beach mainly, and some of the beaches around, up around Cairns, we did a lot of training there, to some dire effects too. We were lucky, but one guy opened the front of the landing craft too soon, and the guy jumped out in about twenty foot of water, and most of them drowned. There wasn’t a lot on it,


that was a small landing craft. But we did all our training and the landing, I think we did the landing in, no we got on a big boat and we went off and climbed off the side on rope ladders and then into small boats and landed on the beach and that sort of thing.
And what was the briefing for Tarakan?
Well a bit hazy, we didn’t know what we were going into,


nobody knew what they were going into. The, we had a lot of information from the Dutch, who said the airport was undefended, there was no defences. There was no, the airport could be reused within a week, it would need some slight repairs, it had been bombed.


And that was about all, and we didn’t know very much about it, except that we were in certain waves we were going in, and what we were going to do. And we went in, I had my signal group with me, because we had to make sure we had our wireless sets and things ready, but we did have a couple of, one Jeep,


but anyway, couple Jeeps, we had them ready. And apart form them, it was, it was a shambles. It was a shambles. It was, the planning, the planning of it was, was terrible, because a lot of the vehicles, heavy vehicles got off, and they got on the road and they got bogged down on what roads there were. And they got bogged down and 90 percent


of them were air force vehicles, and they were going to fix up the airport. But before you fix up an airport, you’ve got to capture it. And these air force vehicles hindered our, our attacking, because they clogged the roads, and you couldn’t get any essential infantry supplies, ammunition and that type of thing up. And also as far as our guns were concerned, we couldn’t


get our guns into any position, because there was all, the roads were clogged just off the landing place by all this air force stuff. And so that, I mean, that’s crazy planning, people who’ve never been involved in it or never thought about it, made those big blues. So for a start, it was a complete shambles. My observation officers got off


all right, and so did the, but the gunner didn’t. I didn’t know where the hell he was, and if I’m trying to run a line to him and I don’t know where the hell he is, I didn’t know where the guns were either, and I couldn’t find them, because they went in a separate barge, a separate landing barge. I think the only ones who were, who knew what they were doing or having any success in a


sense, were the infantry lads, cause at least they were all together, and they knew what they were doing. But once again, they didn’t have the backup they should have. It was all so, you’ve got to be in one of those things to see it. We were totally disgusted with the Yanks, when they were, they were leading the charge, and they were shelling with their, most of them


were American destroyers and things, and a couple of ours. But they were dropping, shooting up the beach and we were complaining bitterly. We said, “You idiots, there’s no Japanese down on the beach with machine guns, he’s beyond the beach, he’s behind the beach, you should be shelling over there.” They’d say, “Oh look at, look at the fire power going there, look at all those shells going, it’s


fabulous.” This is the Yanks, and we’re on their boats, and we said, “Well we don’t like it, put your, shoot up behind it, that’s where the enemy is, not on the beach.” But when we landed on the beach, what is it, full of holes, bomb craters, shell craters. It’s a shambles. How we ever landed there, I don’t know.
So how long did it take you to, to make your way, way in?


Well the best part of two or three days before, with me, with my signal group until we found our way around and found out where we were and where our own people were. I’d, I’d say a couple of days, and then we got cracking immediately then.
And the, the Japanese put up quite a strong resistance?
Well they did put up a certain resistance, yes. And then they


they went straight into the jungle, and so we started chasing through jungles.
Which you’ve pointed out before is quite different to desert warfare? How was the, how was the equipment coping in this change of conditions?
Well we finally got rid of all the, all the, finally got rid of most of the air force trucks by, one guy acting as a provost [Provosts – Military Police], and sending them off, off the road,


and when they got them off the road they were bogged so, we got them out the way they, so we were right then. We, we quickly adjusted, we had done so much of this infantry type work in training, that we were quite right, quite easy then, we slipped into fairly quickly. But once again, all our information


we had about no defences around the, the airport was all wrong, they did have, they had concrete defences, and the Dutch knew it, they’d put them there before they evacuated the joint. All they, they were, they were not very nice people, the Dutch administrators we came across. So we had, we ran into fortifications, heavy fortifications,


concrete pillboxes with machine gun nests in them and that sort of thing. And on one occasion, had to use flame throwers on them, our infantry boys did, which are not nice. Terrible weapon. And we eventually captured the airfield and then it was never properly used, it was supposed to be used as an air base


for the bombing of Labuain and the bombing of Balikpapan and some of those places. It was never able to be used as that, because the Japs, or somebody had, somewhere or other messed up all the drainage and the darn thing to float on the tide, it was on the edge of the water, and it used to float on the tides, sort of thing. And finally in the pouring, pouring dirt into it,


or soil into it to build it up, and as they poured it in, it would just be sucked away by the tide. Finally they had to put mesh, steel mesh plates right throughout the airport, but it only took relatively light planes from there on. And that was quite un, we won it, but it was a very, very hard slog.
Well not only had the conditions of battle had changed, but so had


the enemy, what were the Japanese like to fight?
Well I suppose, as a fighter, he’s pretty touch, he’d never give in, but the thing that annoyed us very, very much, the dirty tricks they’d play, the nasty things, they don’t believe in any war conventions, or anything like that.


And some of those things were very, very, made you very, very angry. For instance, one of our, not one of my sigs, one of our infantry guys, went to give a Jap some water, he’d been wounded and he was lying down, in a trench, slight, very low trench, he was going to give his some water, he was crying out for help. He lent over him, he went in and he pulled a pin


out of a grenade, he blew himself and the Australian guy up. Well frankly if you do that, you don’t give mercy to anybody. And I now we shot cold bloodedly, I know that and I think its justified because you couldn’t, you could not trust them. Because if you thought you were helping a wounded man, you’d, you could be blown up yourself,


so you didn’t, you just shot him, just like that. It happened, all the time.
It’s quite a contrast to the way you were confronted by the Germans.
That’s right, it was.
And how were you, how were you prepared for this, what were you told about the Japanese as an enemy?
Well we, we knew he was pretty hard fighter, we were told that there was only a certain amount of troops on the island, and they were


all sort of garrison troops. When we got on there, we found out they weren’t garrison troops, some of them were, some of them were Koreans were in their army, and they were marines. And there was double the number that they reckoned, the information we had, there was double the number, we found out afterwards, only afterwards. And along with all marines, which are experienced tough fighters.


So you’re going, sort of, all the information we got was, was wrong. But it was a, I don’t know, I think it was a bit of a George Bush war to be honest, I don’t know. We’ve got people have got mixed feelings on that. We didn’t go into, to break the Japanese, we went in because they had the oil. And there was so many queer


things. The oil fields were untouched, we did not fire any shots at the oil fields, we did not fire any artillery shells into the oil fields, we did blow up the tanks on the beach. We did that, or the ships did. But the oil fields were untouched. And we were some of the first things we got, well were working. You weren’t allowed to go into the Tarakan town, we had to fight the Japs and clear them


out of the jungle. It’s a dirty war, didn’t, didn’t like it at all. Not when I ran into a marine one day. We got around to this airport, and, to the airfield, we were on the side we hadn’t attacked it, well we tried to attack it and we got beaten back. And as we were the artillery


mob, the chap up there, our artillery officer had gone out with the infantry man to try and see if they could do something about getting across this airfield. And the telephone went dead. So I said to three of the guys, “Come on, we’d better find out where this fault is,” cause by then, this is about, oh probably, the sixth or seventh day or something. And I said, “We know where we’ve been,


we’ll just follow this line back.” Well we’re following the line back, and I was leading the, I was leading them, I said, “now you stay around a certain distance behind me, I’ll go first,” not expecting any trouble, but one of them had to check the line, as we were going. We’d gone, oh I suppose, some distance, some considerable distance, and I thought well, I’ve got my,


I was carrying an owen gun. And I thought, “I’ve got this ready to fire, and it could be a bit dangerous if I stumble.” And I took it off the safety catch off, or put the safety catch on so it wouldn’t fire. And going along, and all of a sudden, going up a bit of a rise, cause your tracks are pretty narrow, they’re only about twice the size, the width of that table, this particular track.


And they were tracks leading off it too. And I’m going along this, and I’m going up a rise and I see a Jap walking out of the jungle. And I immediately drop to my knees and the damn thing went ‘Click’. And with the little Owen gun, it was about the only time, if you had your safety catch on when you shot it, you had to pull a couple things to pieces, only takes a minute. But I’m looking down the sight of a rifle.


I immediately threw myself to the ground and rolled into the scrub the other side, and on the same side he is. And then by this time, the guys up to me, and he says, “What’s wrong?” and I say, “Hey, hey, hold it, hold it, go back a bit.” And he says, “What’s going on?” I said, “I’ve dropped my hat.” You’ve got to be mad, I only had a slouch hat, you needed it, you didn’t wear a tin hat


in the jungle, “I’ve lost my hat,” and I said, “I’m going back to get my hat.” And he said, “Don’t be so bloody stupid,” and I said, “No, I don’t want to be up here for another week or so without a hat.” So I said, “You, you cover me,” so I got these guys to stand on this side there. And then I walked up and I walked up and I got my hat, and there was, then I sho through. But


what I didn’t know, is that our troops had come up the main road to this airport, we’d come on the track round behind like that, and the Japs had been pushed back, and they’d pushed back into this jungle. And they were making their way to this track, from that went another track to there, to their headquarters where they were coming from, and they were coming back from that. And they’d been pushed back, well they, couldn’t get off the road anywhere, so they


were coming back, and that’s where I met one of them, fortunately he didn’t have any stuff in his rifle.
But that, that’s interesting, because the conditions had changed and the enemy had changed, and so had the Allied forces, you were now fighting alongside Americans. What were they like to, to go into battle with?
Well they didn’t come on land with us, they, they did most of the boating, they provided that transport, that


stuff. There was some air force, some American air force people around, but we didn’t have any American soldiers around. I’ve got American cousins, you wouldn’t believe this, my Grandma’s American, I’ve got American cousins, and I’m not overly enthusiastic about American soldiers or. They’re, as people


they’re all right, as people they’re all right, and I’ve met them in America, as people they’re all right. But they’re, everything’s got to be big and done, do it in a sophisticated, they believe, they believe their own bulldust. That’s our impression of them, I think everybody I know who’s had contact with them, will say the same thing. They, they think that the


heroes they see on, in their films, that’s the real way to be, but it’s not. And you, you’re wary of them, we were wary of them, on the boat we were, anyway.
Well you made a point earlier as well, about really going in to defend the oil, more so than anything in Tarakan. In your opinion, how significant do you think Tarakan was, to victory in the Pacific?


I don’t think it was significant at all, originally the idea was, originally, I believe, we were led to believe, that it was a stepping stone to Singapore, because we wanted to get to Singapore to get out by Singapore. But we also heard, we also heard locally, a couple of Dyaks came in, and they gave us information about


Sandakan, about the people at Sandakan. Now we had a boat ready, we had some paratroopers, we had a boat ready at Sandakan, at Tarakan loaded with supplies and one thing or other, to go up to Sandakan to attack them, and attack the, get, save these guys, and General Macarthur refused to give us any support. Gave us no boats to go, we had one, he wouldn’t give us any more, he said, “No, we’ve got,


we’ve got the Philippines to do, we need everything for the Philippines.” Now we could have rescued a lot of those people in Sandakan and there was two and a half thousand there, probably less than that by that time, and we were prepared to go up there, and we wanted to. We got knocked back. So Tarakan is not a, not a place that you want to think that you did much good in. It was proved later it was,


the Americans had already decided they weren’t going to do that, they were going to go straight into Japan.
Well see that, that’s interesting, that the, you finally have come to the Pacific, you are really defending Australia from further, you know, invasions from the Japanese, yet you are taking orders from the US. How did that make you feel?


I wrote an article in my magazine not very long ago about General Macarthur, but I had to play it two ways. Because one of our chappies had a tannery factory here, and a General came out here for the Coral Sea battle or something or other, talking about


the Coral Sea affair. And he came down to Joe’s factory and he, he bought a rug and Joe just said to him, “Did you know General Macarthur, we fought under him in the Pacific,” Joe’s a little bit of a hero worshipper. And the chappie said, “Oh yes, I know him very well.” And Joe said, “Oh would you like to take him back one of these special kangaroo rugs, that you’ve bought.” He said, “Would you like to


take that one back to him as a gift from one of his former soldiers.” And the chappie said, “I would,” and he did, and he gave it to, he did see General Macarthur, he gave it to him, and General Macarthur wrote a note to Joe and said thank you very much, I appreciate lah-de-dah-de-dah-da. So Joe is a General Macarthur fan, you can’t say a word against him. On the other hand we know at Tarakan, he was there


four days after the landing. And we also know from our own, some of our own people that were down at the time, that he came down in another boat, found out it wasn’t, the photographers were not in position, waited for them to get into position and then waded ashore. Four days after the thing was on. And the Japs by this time were way up in the hills.


And the caption, “General Macarthur leading his troops into action on Tarakan.” You don’t dig that very much, do you. You dislike it, and the more and more I read, and as I say I’ve got a books over there that I read about the war, and the more and more I read, the more I dislike the American method of doing things and the way they go.


But, some of our people feel tied to them, and I always ask one question of everybody, they say General Macarthur came to Australia to save it, that’s what we said in the old days. I ask one question, “Where else in the world did the American Forces and General Macarthur have to go after he lost the Philippines, where?”


He wasn’t. He couldn’t, couldn’t go to the East, China, anywhere there, all he could do was go to Argentina, and that was German.
And you were in Tarakan when the Japanese surrendered. How did you get the news of the Japanese surrendering?
Well I was on, we had a wireless set, field wireless sets, and Reuters used to


bounce out the news in morse code, and for practice, many of us used to just sit down there and take, take this and you’d probably start off at about 15 words a minute, and then build up to 16, then 18, then 20, then 25 and then you’d get lost. So we used to take this in code, and I picked it up on the wireless set, that the, about the Japanese surrender, coming surrender. And told everybody else about it,


and then I suppose within hours it became common knowledge. And I said to the gun sergeant who lived in my street, he had a gun, I said, “Harry, lets go and fire the last rounds in anger against the enemy,” so we did, two sergeants, we started to fire away with the guns. Although I suppose by the end of June or July, the, the Japanese had ceased to,


there really was no more war after July, July, as far as we were concerned, it was only a mopping up operation. The Japanese were beaten by then. So Harry and I, we pointed the gun in the direction where we knew Japanese were going to be, but then some mad officer, major, battery major sent a message over, “You’ve got to


stop firing that gun,” and I thought, “Yeah.” I crossed, I crossed the Major on Tarakan, it was only a silly little thing, he, he wasn’t our, he wasn’t on our regiment, he was one of those that had come into us from in Queensland, because he was a major with a militia unit and so and so, he became our major. And


had no previous experience whatsoever, no fighting experience, and a lot of them came in and were pushing us around and we reacted rather, rather strongly to this. And one particular day, I’ve been up the line all time with another one of my, the officer, our OPO’s assistant, he’s a very great friend of mine, too. And we’d been up and down the line all the time, and there’s a particular attack going


in, and we wanted to see it, we knew we couldn’t be in it, it was Laurie’s day off, and I was back. He said, “They’re going to attack it, how about we go up and stay behind them, because there’s a hut down there, it must have a lot of souvenirs in it, a Japanese hut,” and I said, “Yeah, all right.” Well Laurie and I were going up there


to do this, and then the lower one of my fellows from down Millicent way, my farmer friend Bunny, he, “Oh I’ll come with you, I’ll come with you.” He was rather strange, wherever Brand and Quiggy, Quilliam would go, he’d go. It didn’t matter where, what it was, wherever we’d go, he’d go. Then the driver, the new driver I had at that stage,


he said, “Well I’m coming too.”


- tape ends.
Interviewee: James Quilliam Archive ID 1741 Tape 10


Jim, you were just telling us a story of crossing the major. Was there any recriminations or fall out for you from that incident?
Oh no, no I, I think, I think he was just big dealing himself, he didn’t care much. It was getting towards the end of the campaign anyway, I think he probably thought, well he’s got,


he’s saved some signallers down there doing that. Anyway, he gave me an acting promotion there for a while, must have been all right.
Well in Tarakan you were lance sergeant, in charge of eighteen signallers.
What were the personal challenges for you, in that position?
Well the, the main challenge was actually, making sure that the guys themselves


were mentally OK for the thing. I, I knew some of them pretty well and in the desert they were, they got pretty jumpy at the end. But strange to say that in the jungle they were super, they were super. But some of the guys that were so good in the, in the desert,


were, tended to be jumpy in the jungle. And I also had quite a number of kids, here am I, I’m the great age of what, 23, 24 or something, I’m the great age of 24, and I’ve got some of these 20 year old kids. And I had to keep remembering I was only 19 when I first went overseas, and this was their first action.


And you had to be careful with them, that, in a sense, you had to keep, try to get them to keep on their guard and all times, and try to make sure that they knew that, only where they were standing, was the ground that they owned, and that there were enemy all around you at any time. You’ve got to watch that, and to do your particular job. But not to get carried away,


and keep yourself under control. And the young ones would get a big excited, “Oh look here, oh look.” And you’d, “Hey, that could be a trap, that could be a booby trap, or could be something.” You had to make sure, and you always, always tried wherever possible, to see there was someone who was experienced or older who’d been with us in the desert,


close to them, so that they couldn’t, just to keep them on the mark.
Stop for a minute. So, what sort of booby traps did the Japanese lay?
Oh some, some of them were very, very bad, they were heavy landmines. Actually for motor vehicles, really made for motor vehicles, but they, they plonked these down just every, everywhere,


everywhere they could think of, I think. Not so much on the tracks, not so much on the tracks. But you could grab hold of a, a vine to pull yourself up, and you might find a grenade on it and thing. But we were very, we were very lucky, we didn’t really come much of that at all, any of that at all. The infantry boys usually were ahead of us and cleaned that up.
Well earlier when we were snapping some of your photographs, we had a look at some


of those places that you were living in Tarakan. Can you describe one of those dugouts or whatever you called them?
Well most of those dug out things, they were already there. And they had been the, oh the surrounds of the airport. And


they were not intended to be permanent areas, they were really fighting positions really, so that you had a bit of concrete round trenches, and that sort of thing. And we didn’t stay very long in those, only, only when you had to, when you were with the infantry, we stayed there a couple of nights I think. The interesting thing again, when I told you I met this Japanese, that during the night,


you could hear the Japanese moving through the bushes and coming on, across to these tracks, you could hear them. And I was with an infantry lad, and he got a bit trigger happy, and pulled the pin out of a grenade, pulled it out and threw it behind him, take that you bastard, you know. I said, “Hey, hey, hey, hey.” I said, “He knows we’re here.” He was pretty jittery that man. But I thought,


I might find a Jap jumping in on me. But no, they were quite close to you. But most of those position were only temporary, just temporary things for a day or something like that. Couldn’t advance any further, so you’d just say in a relatively safe position. Cause sometimes, we were in, in, particular with our line parties,


in a sense, some of our ancillary troops were not front line troop. And although we had to be prepared to be frontline, we were not technically equipped to be that way, and therefore we had to take a side seat sometimes. And its just that the, at times, you, at times, at night times, when you stopped, if you were going forward with anybody, well then you, you became part of them, and you just had to be abide by the, go by their rules.


Some of those other places you did see, were only, were actually built into, prepared fortress area and around the airport, and we just used it for a temporary stop, stop over port, that was all.
And what was the role or the function of the 2/7th Field Regiment in Tarakan?
Support the infantry, support the infantry. We,


our observation officer would go along, and then somebody would say, they’d come back, infantry people would come back and they’d say, “There’s a machine gun nest up in so-and-so, at such and such a place,” and we’d have a look on a map, and so the, our guys would say, “Well, I’ll see if I can clean them out.” And so we’d, we’d send message back to the gun to try and shell it, it was very difficult terrain, all up hill, all up like this.


But we’d use a weak charge which would fire up to come down more vertical than normal trajectory like that. And by doing that, and training, we did a lot of training and that, in Queensland, by doing that you could get reasonably accurate, but you couldn’t get as accurate as you could in the desert. You could get reasonably accurate. And if you could


do that and you could land a shell somewhere near the machine gunner, opposition machine gunner, well they would damage him, he wouldn’t be too happy about it. It was, sometimes we even used smoke to help somebody out, if they got into a position, we either wanted to get a wounded chappie out, we’d drop down a smoke fuel and that type of thing, and help them out.


It was difficult, difficult shooting there, but at one particular place, you’d see one of the, pictures you had where you had a lot of guns at the base of the hill, and we just used guns to blast away the foliage. And then we could advance. We’d go up there, you can’t take your gun up the top of the hill though, unfortunately, but that was one occasion


we were able to do something, and clean that out, because it was a very difficult place, we couldn’t get in, couldn’t get in anywhere. But using that system, we did. But you did use a gun from time to time. And sometimes when the, the gullies were very steep too, and you, you could, you’re on this ridge and the Japanese can be on that ridge. Now you can’t go down a gully and come up, you have to go around some other way. But what you could do,


you could shell the Japanese, because you could see the ridge and of course there’s a big valley, well a valley in between. So you could see the position, so you can actually shell it, you’ve got visual contact then. We also used an aircraft, one of our chappies was up in an aircraft, little Vosser aircraft, he’d by flying around. And he would give directions to the guns, to shoot


on certain positions. Because he could see from the air, we couldn’t see on the ground. Oh, there was quite a lot of funny things went on there.
And were there any modifications to the guns that you were using?
Look, I’m not quite sure about that, but they were, I think they were, I think we used short, what we called short 25 pounders, which was a shorter version, which was more of a Howitzer type, type


gun. We didn’t have the, we didn’t need the depth, we didn’t need the length or distance to go for a shell, I’m pretty sure we used the 25 pounder short, they called it, for that, most of them. I didn’t, I didn’t, the only thing I hung round the guns was to get a feed. And, and sleep when I wasn’t, when I wasn’t up the top there. I had a comfortable bed down there,


and they were relatively safe.
I did, I did have one, one great thing on Tarakan which has got nothing to do with the shooting. My brother was in the air force, I hadn’t seen him for some time, and he was flying from Labuan which was on Borneo, to the Philippines. And they were coming back from the Philippines, and his pilot said, “I think I’ll land on Tarakan,


I don’t like the idea of flying in the dark over Borneo.” And right, so they landed, and their, round about, just before dusk. My brother got out of the plane, and he said, “My brother’s on Tarakan.” And he said to a guy, an army guy, “Hey, do you know where the 13th Battery, the 2/7th Field Regiment?” He said, “Yeah, I ought


to, I’m in the 2/7th Field Regiment.” And he said, “Who are you looking for?” And my brother said, “Oh, I’m looking for Jim Quilliam, he’s a Sig Sergeant or something, with the 3rd Battery.” He said, “Oh I know him, I know where he is.” He said, “Where is he?” He said, “Down that road about five or six miles.” And he said, “I’ll take you down there.” So Alec hopped in the, in the Jeep and he came down here, came down to where I was, and I was at the gun position that night,


that particular time, and he came down and he walked in, and I got the shock of my life to see my brother in the air force uniform walk in. And guess what, it was his 21st birthday. So I immediately went up to one of the officers, I said, “Have you got a spare bottle of whisky there?” And so we had a drink of whisky, and he also knew a couple of guys in our unit because a couple of them had stayed at our place


at different times. And another one lived up the street, so he knew him. So we got, we got together with a couple of the guys he knew, some of the chaps he knew, and a couple of, only a few whisky’s all round, gave the, half a bottle back again to the boss. And then he was leaving next morning, and I had to take him back. Well at that time, I had control of the, of the Jeeps in our group.


And I said, “Right-o, let’s go,” and away we went. If you’re going up one road, with heavy jungle up each side, you don’t know. There’s nobody else on the road between there and the airport, there’s nobody else. And that Jeep went flat out all the way, that wasn’t so bad. I got him back, but I had to go back again. And I don’t think, yeah the Jeep


did touch the ground somewhere. I will admit that I was uneasy, and quite interestingly enough, that night there was a, some Japs decided they were looking for food, and they’d got onto a couple of rafts, and they’d gone down past, behind our gun position, we were on the coast. And they landed on the coast, but of course, they’d met up with some infantry boys,


and they’d despatched of them pretty quickly. But while my brother Alec was there, I heard this shooting and I thought, “Oh, something’s going on.” And Harry and I, we dashed to the end of gun group, because there was a shed there that had been, had been rice, rice in it, and we had caught a couple of Japs down there one night, trying to get the rice. So we thought we’d better go down, because something might be down.


Well, that was all there was, and Alec goes home, and eventually we go home, both of us go home. And Alec was telling my Dad all about this one night. And my Dad was a great storyteller, far, far better than me, he was a great storyteller and he was telling the lady next door because I heard him. I was still in the sleep out in bed and he was telling the lady next door, about how Jim rescued Alec from


the Japs when they invaded and so on. And why he was embellishing it, was because he had one son, and he wouldn’t join the army, so he was conscripted and sent up to Alice Springs as a pay sergeant. And she was worried about, oh the Japs might be landing in, in Australia and capturing him. So my father laid it on, boy did he lay it on.
And when you took Alec back to the airstrip, did, did you have a


rifle or anything with you?
No, it wasn’t much good, I couldn’t drive the Jeep. I didn’t take, no, wait a minute, no I didn’t, no, cause I’d given my revolver away by then, I had a, I had a, no I didn’t take it with me. No, there was nothing much you could do, the Japs were going to catch you there, you’re gone. But fortunately they weren’t interested. But I, he also landed, landed again another time,


and I took him back, I was equally as scared then, and I’d still do the same thing. But this time he said, “Why don’t you come with me?” Cause the war had virtually finished, although it hadn’t been officially finished. He said, “Why don’t you come with me, have a flight down the Philippines?” He said, “We’ll spend the day there, we’ll drop you back again.” Gee, I was tempted, last, I was going, and at the last minute I said, “No I won’t.” Because


a rule had been brought in that if you’d had five years military service with at least two years overseas service, you were going to get an early discharge, this was before the war was officially over. And I was in that category, and I was on the list. And I thought, if I get caught, or if somebody nasty says something about me not being around and I’m wanted, I won’t get that early discharge, so I knocked it back.


I should have gone, but I didn’t.
Well you were telling us earlier on about how you received the news of the Japanese surrender, how did things change?
Well we all relaxed of course. We still had to try and convince the Japs on the island about it, that was done with leaflets and goodness knows what.


But people going out, and patrols going out and so on, and it did finish up fairly, fairly peacefully, no major trouble about it. All we wanted to do was to go home, but of course, we couldn’t go home, we knew that, you can’t get all the boats to take all your troops home, in any one like that, in a hurry. We knew we had to take our turn, but there was a system that was brought out where you had these, married men got first preference.


Married men with two children got first, first preference and so on, and single men got nothing, we were at the tail end. Except for length of service and service overseas, we, we just had to wait until we did that. But we did enjoy more in sport then. They started a school, almost a college going, for some people who were doing, wanted to do university studies, or enter universities, two of my lads went on


to do that. But it was mainly, oh look after yourselves, get, travel around a bit as much as you can, go for walks in the bush, then you could go for walks after the Japs had been cleaned up, walk on some of these places. You weren’t allowed to fraternise with the locals, because the bloody Dutch administration was in there.


They, they were nasty, we were glad, glad to get out of there, to be honest. And we just played cards and wrote letters and things like that.
And what about jungle juice?
I made it, well, as a sergeant in charge of signallers, I had a still to make water, distilled water for our batteries.


So of course the boys decided that we didn’t have to worry about batteries any more, well not too much, we did have wireless sets, we used them for music and what not. I turned a blind eye while they made the jungle juice. It was bloody awful stuff though, horrible. But the boys did make some jungle juice, and everybody drank it, whatever was going. Not only signallers,


but anybody else who wanted a bit. So, oh yes, we had the jungle juice. Good stuff.
And when did you come home?
I came home late, late October on an old tub, the Murrumbidgee, an old tub, and that took us to Morotai, and then we got onto a very nice ship called


the Duntroon. As I was a sergeant, I shared a cabin. Oh I also got a Japanese sword by then, too. Where did I get that? I don’t know where I got that, I got a Japanese sword.
Why were you keen to bring a souvenir of the Japanese home, do you think?
Oh, in case I met one in the street, I could kill him. I don’t know, it was there, well my mate, he also got one, he raffled his,


and got a good sum of money. People offered to buy mine, but I said, “No, I think I’ll bring it home.” Oh, you know, to show off when you get home, you know, you, you don’t show your Mum. Oh they’re terrible things, you know. I showed the boys and my young brothers and so on, and I’ve still got it in the wardrobe there.


I know you’re supposed to give them in, but I’m not giving it in, I’m hanging onto it. It’s the only souvenir that I did bring back.
And how did you adjust after you were discharged in November ’45?
I was very, very, I was very fortunate, as I said, I had brothers, and I had a pretty good family, Mum and Dad, my family.


I had met this girl, oh in the, in 1944, and I did get around with the guys for a couple of days, then we all drifted home, and they went off to the country and so on. Even in the suburbs, they lived in different suburbs and it was just, end of an era. And I’d been discharged and I’d had it,


and it was going back to work. Well I wasn’t too happy about going back to watchmaking, I didn’t want to. I also, always, also written in Queensland to the PMG [Postmaster General’s] Department, and told them my qualifications and did they have a job for me, at the end of the war, and they said, “Yes, come and see me.” But I went in to see my old boss, Brigadier Wendt, when I came home, one of the first things I did, he wanted to know everything that was going on, where we’d been, what we’d done and so on and so on.


And his next question, “When are you coming back to work, Jim?” And I said, “I’d like a bit of time to settle down, if you don’t mind,” he said, “No, whenever you’re ready.” And by this time, you go through reconstruction people, and goodness knows what you didn’t go through. And with all these they, everyone of them said, “You’re a watchmaker apprentice, go back and finish that, go back you’ve got a job, you’ve got a job.” And I said, “Yes, but I don’t want to, I want to do.


And I’ll be honest, my mother still wanted me to go back, other people didn’t, I even spoke to June about it, we weren’t engaged at that stage, not yet, and she said, “If you want to do something else, why don’t you do that.” And I, I felt morally obliged to go back to Wendt’s,


he’d been so decent to me, and it was uncharacteristic of him, because he was a stern man, and everybody at Wendt’s, if he walked past, they’d shake with fright, you know, shake in their boots. But he’d been so good to me, that I felt morally obliged to go back and work for him, and I did. And I, my conscience, my conscience was, was fixed, placated, but I still had the


hankering for communications. And I finished my apprenticeship on a Friday, and on the Monday, I started at the PMG on a technical course with the PMG, they had accepted me before that, prior to me passing this exam. So that’s where I, that was that. But the most interesting thing, that I was extremely fortunate, that I didn’t have any


repercussions in later life. June and I in January, in the January, we went down to the beach for a swim, it was a very hot and humid day. And I went into, I went to bed that night and I was in the sleep out, and I couldn’t sleep in the sleep out cause it was terribly humid. And we had a deck chair on our front veranda, and I sat in that, and I couldn’t sleep in that.


And so I grabbed a groundsheet and I went around the back of our house, and we had a trellis, right angled trellis and some trees here, and some lawn in the middle of it, and some rose bushes over there. And I spread my mattress, palliasses, rubber mackintosh thing, I spread it on there, and I had my pillow and I just lay on there.


And when I lay down there, I could see Japs in the, in the jungle all round me, all these Jap faces. And I was fortunate, I was looking at them and I started to sweat like mad and I, I know, I was becoming panicky. And I kept repeating to myself, “You’re an idiot, you’re an idiot, you’re home, you’re safe home, you’re an idiot,


you’re safe home, everything’s all right, they’re not going to,” I can remember doing it. And that’s all I remember and then I passed out, obviously exhausted or something, I was exhausted. My father, being a baker, was up at three o’clock in the morning, and because he always checked on his little children, to see if they were all right, and he looks around, and there’s no Jim. He, evidence I’d been on the front veranda


on the deck chair, but no Jim. So he goes looking. And he finds me on the back lawn. He tried to wake me and he couldn’t wake me, so he put a great coat over me, and another ground sheet, and went and told my mother I was out there, I was all right, I was asleep on the back lawn, and he went to work. Thank God for all these


little things. I woke up that morning, and I’ve never had any problem. I was lucky, gee I was lucky. And I’ve always been grateful that to whoever was looking after me, they did. Cause I, I was lucky. But gee, I, it was quite vivid this. Looking around and seeing all these Japs in those vines, gee,


but then I, I must have just passed out through exhaustion I guess, because it was a terrible, terrible night, it was very humid all night. But I know I was perspiring like mad, talking to myself and telling myself that I, it was all over. And I have been all right ever since.
That’s a very interesting story of how you battled


your own demons from your own war experience. Looking back, how long do you think it took you to really settle down into civvy [civilian] life?
Well I suppose, I didn’t go to work till a month after I come back. I didn’t like watchmaking, it was, I didn’t like it at all, but it was a means of earning money,


and I still felt obliged to Brigadier Wendt. And, but I knew that I was going to, I knew I was going to get out. But I had to, I felt I had this moral obligation, that’s all it was, and so I stuck with that, and then as soon as I finished that, I felt I was obliged, filled my part anyway of the bargain, and gone back


to him and helped him out during the bad, three years after the war, when he was desperately looking for tradesmen, there was so much to be done and he couldn’t get anybody. And so I was, I thought I’d done my part and I know he felt he. Because many years later, he took a crowd of people to Gallipoli for the RSL [Returned and Services League], and he was going to be the guest speaker at our Battle of El Alamein reunion, we had down on the parade ground.


And we had, we had this service at the War Memorial first, and then we lined up to walk down to the, march down to the, down to the parade ground. And he comes up to me, and he says, “Thank goodness there’s someone I know here, do you mind if I walk with you, Jim?” And so I walk with the guest speaker for the day, the Brigadier, in the front row. So I, I used to see him occasionally


after that.
Well when you look back on your war experience, you’ve told us many stories today. But when you look back, what do you think you missed from army life?
I don’t know really if I missed anything. As I said right from the start, that I didn’t think I’d ever come out of it,


I didn’t think I’d ever come out of it. And during those lousy days on the Tablelands when we trained for nothing, we trained for nothing, I, I was wanting to get into action and wanting to get into something, another area, naval bombardment group. It never eventuated and I suppose in some ways,


I was feeling a mixture because I can be completely passive and take whatever you offer, and other times I want to drive on and do things.
Well how do you think your war experience changed you?
I think it, one, one thing it did, it taught me a lot about people. People


are different but they’ve got their own stories, and they’ve got their own things which make them different in different ways to what I am. I think that’s one of the things I learnt. Practical psychology. I did industrial psychology as an adult, many, many years later. And there was, what they taught me was industrial psychology and all this sort of thing, was that, poppycock stuff, because I’d seen the real thing and I’d seen the real thing, and you do learn that,


under stressful conditions. And next thing was this wide variety of people, you learn so much about yourself, apart from them. I don’t know, that’s the, the thing I got so much out of, but I did query, I query more, I’m not a,


I’m not a pacifist, with the twisting of some arms, I possibly could be. I’m a reader, I’m a big reader of a hell of a lot of stuff, and I’ve studied a lot of that stuff, about war and about Germany, and the rise and fall of Germany, you name it, I could just about recite every book they’ve published on the thing. At the back of me,


you’ll find all the official war history put out by, I’ve read a whole lot of those things. I’ve read a history of the First World War written by Bean, the war historian. I’ve also read Eric Maria Remarques’ book “All Quiet On The Western Front,” where he puts, looking from a German point of view. He puts as an end remark, he sums it up by saying that as far as war is concerned,


the politicians and the people who are making these decisions to go to war, should all be put out on a football field, a big football field in their underpants, and let them fight it out there. And that’s what I believe in now.
Well we are drawing to the close of our session today, I’m just wondering when you look back, why do you think you are proud to be, or have taken part in the


2/7th Field Regiment’s role in World War II?
Well generally the regiment itself, the people that I knew and associated with, and mixed with in the regiment, were very nice, the majority were very, very nice people, very, very nice people. We were all volunteers, not conscripts,


we volunteered for it. Our leaders generally were very good. Our other officers, sergeants, sergeant majors were all very nice people, only, only a few people in the commanding, lower or upper commanding class were not acceptable to us.


It was a good regiment to be in, and it was a nice group of people to be with, and a good regiment to be in, and we did our best. And I think we were fairly honest with whatever we tried to do, the only disappointment we had was not, was being in Queensland for those two years and not having more action. But it was a unit which I wanted to be in, I never regretted being in it.


And after the war, I suppose, I didn’t take much active part in, I used to be there on Anzac Day and I used to go to their annual dinners, but I didn’t take any active part on it, I think primarily because I got married, then you had children and I thought I’d like to spend more time with them really.


I was with my friends, army friends from time to time on Anzac Day and those sort of things, and I kept friendly with, with some of them, very much so, during these years, some of them. And I just stayed away until I realised also, that I was among the younger ones, particularly from South Australia, the originals, I was among the younger ones. And I thought one day,


see these fellows like the bank manager, that age, I mean, when you’re talking about 17, 15 years older than you, I mean, that’s a fair age, they can’t march. And I just thought one day I will, I will be wanted to do something, and that’s what I took on 37 years ago.
Well as I said we are drawing to a close, there’s not much time left, I’m just wondering, this record is going down for future generations to


learn and read. What sort of final messages would you like to put down on record?
I think you can achieve anything you want to, as long as you really want to do it. And I don’t care whether it’s in sport, work,


or what it is. If you really want to do it, you can do it. If you really want to do it, if you really want to do it, you’ll find a way.
Well it’s been a pleasure talking to you today, are there any final words that you have in closing?
Thank you. My, my wife would go barmy listening to me talk like this all the time, she reckons I can talk like a book, but.


But, I’m, for some years now I’m glad I took on writing the magazine which I put out every quarter. It’s given me, in peacetime, I’ve got friendships and contacts which I’ve never, ever had before. See two thirds of our regiment came from South Australia


originally and one third from Western Australia. Now I didn’t serve with the West Australians, they were a separate battery and this actual group, only some of them. As a matter of fact, on the 5th of May I’m going over there for a week, and it’s only because we’re going in, end of July we’re going up to Queensland, and we’re going up to our favourite walking spot called Binna Burra, I don’t know if you know it, straight inland from Surfers Paradise.


And then I’m going to spend a week in Sydney with the gang, a lot of our new recruits, young recruits, they were only 20 when they landed at Tarakan, they came from New South Wales. And some of them were in my group, I want to meet up with them again, I have done, well last year, the year before. But we’re going to be away, I said, I’d like to spend another week in Sydney, because I’d like to see Sydney itself, as well as spend at least one day


with some of these guys, because we’re all dying. And I said that to June, and she right, organised. I said, “Now, I wish I could go to the west again, see all that mob.” That was on a Thursday, on the Friday she went to her German lesson, then she went in town, and then she went to a travel agent and said, “How did this sound?” came back to go on the 5th of May for a week


to Perth.
Well it’s been a real pleasure speaking with you today. Unfortunately we do have to close the day, so thank you very much for speaking with us.
Thank you.
It’s a pleasure.
Thank you for asking me.


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