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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.