Archive number: 1755
Preferred name: Mac, Blue, Fibber
Date interviewed: 29 March, 2004
You are listening to the interview audio
I was hoping Mr McGee you could give a brief summary of your life, from the time you were born until now?
Well I was born on the 27th of March 1925 and I lived at home with my parents in
Felton Park in Sydney. Normal childhood, boy scout, school and all of that stuff. I was called up when I turned eighteen in 1943. I went to Dubbo, 32nd Infantry Training Battalion. I did five or six months there and then we were all transferred to a militia battalion, the 18th,
which was termed a young soldiers' battalion; that is, anyone under nineteen would complete their training or do extra training before they were sent to an operational area. When I turned nineteen, along with all of the rest of us, I went to Canungra and did six weeks training at Canungra which was more or less a rehash of everything I had learned already, but we
added the spice of jungle training. From there we went to the Atherton Tablelands, Ravenshoe, and there I joined the 2/13th battalion. I remained in 2/13th until the end of the war, October 1945. We went overseas to Morotai, we stayed there three or four weeks and then we went to Borneo, Brunei
where we did a couple of amphibious landings. There wasn’t much going on in Borneo in our part, in Balikpapan and further north it was lively, but we only had stragglers. And then I went to Japan and the occupation force and was a member of 66 Battalion. I stayed in Japan, we were doing guard
duties on the Palace, the British Embassy and Australia House and so forth, all around Tokyo. We were cleaning up ammunition and supervising the Japanese soldiers coming home from the Pacific who took no notice of us. We were standing with rifles and fixed bayonets trying to look fierce and they walked past us as if we didn’t exist. And they were just as pleased to get home in one piece as anyone else.
Anyway they had been told to be nice to the “foreign devils” and behave themselves, so they did. At the end of 1946, I came home to Australia on leave for about two months and then went back to Japan again in February 47. From then on it was normal occupation duties, cleaning up ammunition dumps, weapons
and so forth, we used to go on patrols around the place and show the flag. That went on for a couple of years. Then 65 and 66 Battalions were sent home to Australia, and we didn’t need to form three battalions any more, I transferred to 67 Battalion and
remained there because I didn’t particularly want to go back to Australia while there was anything doing in Japan. I remained in 67 Battalion until 1950, by which time I was a corporal. We went to Korea then in September 1950 and served in Korea until July
1951. When I came back I went to 13 National Service at Ingleburn and I was there for a couple of years and then I went to 34th Battalion in Wollongong, CMF unit and I was an instructor with them. Then I came back to Sydney after a few years and was posted to the University of New South Wales Regiment, in Kensington;
same sort of job, instructing. And then I was posted to Perth in 1954 as RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] of the university regiment there. I served about a year in Perth and then I went to Vietnam for a year as a member of the training team. Vietnamese war wasn’t very exciting. I wasn’t hurt at all and I was under fire
once or twice but not very often. Rice farmers aren’t very good shots. Then I came back to Perth. I went to Canungra for a couple of years as instructor on the jungle training centre. From Canungra I was posted further north, 31 RQR [Royal Queensland Regiment] in Townsville as RSM.
I did two and a half years there and I was commissioned as a quarter master lieutenant, and I went further north to Innisfail to the tropical trial establishment. I did about two and a half years there, and I was posted back to Townsville at 31 RQR, again as quarter master. I did a couple of years in that job and then I was posted out to Laverack barracks as quarter master to district support unit.
After a couple of years I was promoted to major and I was posted to Sydney to Victoria Barracks as quarter master advisor, from where I retired in 1980- and I have been living up here in the mountains ever since.
I wanted to ask you about your
family when you were growing up, what was your mum and dad’s background?
Well normal Australians, my father was an accountant in the railways and Mum was well, usually pattern for housewives in those days, she didn’t go out to work or anything like that. There were five children I am the youngest of five.
Mary, Harry, Reg, Lillian and myself and we all went our various ways. Mary is still alive, she is over in Maroubra somewhere, told me the other day proudly that she is eighty-eight. Harry is still alive, he is still living in the old home in Felton Park.
He worked for public service, he was sort of a cash officer in new South Wales education department, he used to work in the equivalent of the college of TAFE [Technical and Further Education], technical colleges he was in the pay office there. Other
brother Reg died of a heart attack several years ago. He made a mess of his heart in New Guinea and it eventually caught up with him and killed him. Lillian died again of heart, four or five years ago. And I am still around, only just.
When you were
growing up do you have memories of how the war affected your family?
Well it didn’t affect us much, we were living in a fairly sedate Sydney suburb and Dad was in a good job in the railways and went off to work every morning and came home grumbling every night over the war. The railways of course bore a terrific burden during the war, and he was always growling about them wanting to do the impossible.
He was an accountant in the stores branch and he had to find everything for everybody. And I remember him saying that all of the trains were going to fall apart because of all of the work they wanted them to do. It didn’t affect the family much, there was food rationing after a while but it wasn’t anything like the food rationing in England for example.
Were there any signs of air raid shelters and so forth in your street?
I dug a trench in our back yard, it probably filled up with water. There were no air raids that I know of, there were a couple of scares there, somebody saw a firefly with their telescope and thought it was a
Japanese aircraft. I don’t even remember much about the midget submarine raid in Sydney until it was all over and done with. There are photographs of course of the midget submarine and it did fire a torpedo, but it didn’t really affect us much.
I joined the auxiliary fire brigade which was sort of a CMF fire brigade for air raid precautions. I used to go to a couple of local fires, but the station I was at, Ashfield was a very sedate non- flammable suburb, they didn’t have many fires, all domestic things. A fridge would catch fire or something like that.
Do you remember much about your
schooling and what your school was like?
I went to two schools, St Paul’s Convent at Dulwich Hill and following that I went to Ashfield South College and school was a bit of an effort for me, I am not educationally minded. History and English were the only two subjects bothering your head about. All of this other nonsense, maths and geometry, science and physics, that was all Chinese, all Greek to me.
But I managed to persevere and get through a reasonable standing.
When you were eighteen you mentioned that you did military training, can you explain how that came about?
When you were eighteen you had to register for military service and eventually I was called up and medically examined and told that I was in the army. Went into the
Showground, I think it was in Sydney, where I was enlisted, and the air force fellow said, “Would you like to join the air force?” and I said, “No thank you.” And he said, “Once you get in the army you’ll never get out.” I said, “That’s fine.” And another fellow asked me, a sergeant said, “Would you like to join the AIF [Australian Imperial Force]?” And I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Well you can’t, you’re not nineteen.” Nineteen was the age at this stage. Following the disaster at
Rabaul, Ambon and Timor, where all of these underage half trained blokes were wiped out, virtually anyway. So they increased the age to join the AIF to nineteen. And then someone pointed out that the navy and the air force could volunteer for overseas service before they were nineteen, so why couldn’t we?
So they lowered the age, but you couldn’t go to an operational unit or service until you were nineteen and had done special training or extra training. So got in the train one night and went to Dubbo which was freezing. It was April,
just on the onset of winter. So we just trained and played soldiers all over the Dubbo area for four or five months and we got one week’s leave, seven days' leave or something half way through, at the completion of recruit stage when we came back we were told we weren’t in recruit
company any more, we were in a company, and we went onto more advanced training, field exercises and weapon drill and handling. Relating the weapon training to the ground; we did that for about two or three months, about five and a half or six months all told, in Dubbo. And then when we left Dubbo we went, as I said, to the 18th Battalion
and we stayed there for another five or seven months. And that was situated at Port Stephens. There was an American division in Port Stephens doing amphibious trainings and landings and we were the enemy and the demonstration was, we would get into barges and drive around Port Stephens and come ashore and show the Americans how it should be done.
And then we were the enemy and they would come ashore and we would fire blanks at them and so forth. Threaten them with fixed bayonets which they took no notice of. That was quite a busy time. In between demonstrations up there we would go on exercises. Not quite the Hunter,
north of Newcastle, we used to go to those places.
How you always had a desire to be in the army?
When I was quite young I wanted to be a soldier. All of my relatives shook their heads “There is no money in the army.” I managed to survive fairly well.
What was it that appealed to you?
The open air life I suppose. I had been brought up on the First World War
and the South Africa War and so forth. I don’t know, I was attracted to the life of a soldier; it wasn’t glamorous uniforms.
In what way did the training fulfil your expectations of what it was going to be like?
Well it, as I said all of my First World War relatives
warned me about this that and the other, don’t argue, do as you’re told and shut up and make the best of everything. If you complain, don’t complain too loudly. If someone asks you, “How are you getting on, Private?” You say, “Pretty good thanks.” Non committal.
Who was it in your family who had been involved in World War I?
It would be my uncle, Dad was in the railways and he wasn’t allowed to go, and my mother’s brother had been in the First World War. One of my grandfathers had been a soldier in the British army in the Boer War, the South African war. That’s about all, we’re not a long standing military family.
What kinds of stories did they tell you about the war?
Well my uncle served in a medical unit in the First World War and he had a lot of bloodthirsty stories to shock us with. That was about it, there wasn’t stories of charges and bayonets and hand grenades and things like that, mainly some poor bloke getting his leg blown off and so on.
Do you remember when war was declared, the Second World War?
Yes I was still at school then of course. A great deal of discussion at school, whether we would be in it or not, whether we would be old enough and all of the brothers at school saying, “Don’t join the army boys. It won’t last long.” Although the feeling wasn’t as fixed as it was in the First World War where everybody
said, “It will be over by Christmas.” People were just waiting to see what would happen.
At that time did you expect to be going to that war?
Yes we didn’t see any way out of it unless we declared ourselves a conscientious objector or broke a leg or something, we were all pretty healthy footballers
and one thing or another we thought we were sure of a stint. One or two from school joined the air force and another one or two joined the navy, but the majority of us went into the army and lived happily ever after. I can’t remember one of my school friends contemporaries, who was killed.
You mentioned that you were invited to join the air force but said no thank you?
I wasn’t interested in aeroplanes or anything of that nature. Lots of kids a that stage were making model aeroplanes all over the place or joining the air cadets. There was no air cadet unit anywhere near where I lived. And anyway the air force life didn’t interest me greatly.
What were your thoughts about the Japanese threat to Australia?
I had no thought at that stage before they struck, there was a vague conception in Australia that the Japanese wanted Australia which was true enough, but I don’t think we put those thoughts into word. No one said, “Well they’re going to attack us,” or do this, they just wanted Australia. We didn’t go into it deeply enough to work out how they were going to get it.
Was there much discussion when you were in training at Dubbo about what was going on in the war?
Oh yes we got a lot of it. That was in 1943. El Alamein had been fought, the Middle East was finished, Italy was going on. Everyone was wondering
when they were going back to France. New Guinea was going on, Buna, Gona and Sanananda, we didn’t hear much about that. Keeping it quiet, close to their chest. Security minded and of course [US General Douglas] MacArthur wouldn’t let any secrets out, so there was a lot of discussion, but no firm knowledge.
Can you explain what your day to day training was like at Dubbo, what you did from the moment you got up?
First thing we did, shoot out on the parade ground and answer your name in case anyone deserted during the night. Then we would do about half an hour PT [physical training], then scurry back into our hut for shower and shave and dress for breakfast.
After breakfast we would go on parade again with rifles and bayonets and respirators. Sometimes we wore steel helmets but most of the time we wore slouch hats. And then get on with the training whatever it might be, rifle drill or foot drill. Weapon handling, Bren guns and Owen guns and so on. Grenade throwing.
Later on, after we finished the actual initial training we would go out on exercises, one or two days or three or four day exercises, camp out overnight., in the freezing western plains at night.
The men that you were training with, what was their background?
Mixed bunch, but pretty well the same as mine.
Mostly city blokes ,there were a couple of country blokes pretty much civilian traditional tradesmen and officer workers and mechanics, one thing or another, I don’t think we had any farmers. Just happened that group came from the part of Sydney that I lived
in, with pretty much the same background as mine.
How did you adjust to life in the army in terms of the discipline?
There was no problem. The sergeants were all old First World War blokes and knew what they were doing and did it. There was no sarcasm or bullying or brutal sergeants. They were
reasonable blokes, they did their job well and there was no problem at all. Following the advice I had been given, do as you were told and shut up there was no problem.
You mentioned earlier you were involved in exercises with the Americans, can you describe what it was like in Brisbane at the time with the American presence?
I wasn’t in Brisbane then, Port Stephens. I don’t know if you have ever been there, tiny little place, not much bigger now than it was then. Little fishing village, mainly fishing. And it was a quiet pleasant little place until the army arrived and upset everybody. The Americans were camped all over the place as we were. We were
camped at a place called Ghan Ghan which is a mountain up there near the shore. And in tents. The ground was a dirty gritty grey sand and nothing was ever really clean, after a while you had to get used to living in sand. We would go down to the beach and some of us would be detailed off to go on barges or off to do something else. There
were all sorts of jobs to be done down there, barge training, barge handling. We had to learn a lot about the barges and the landing ships. We had to be able to say, I don’t know why as private soldiers we had to be able to say, “That’s a landing craft infantry, will hold thirty soldiers”, speed and endurance, how many gallons of fuel the tanks
would hold and so on. We had to learn all of this stuff. But it was quite interesting in a way.
How did the Americans compare to the Australians?
Chalk and cheese, we never really mixed or got on well there with the Yanks, they were camped somewhere else, they were a different people. The ones we would brush up against in the
barges or ashore generally speaking they were all right, they were nice blokes. And there was none of this business, “You blokes can go home now, we have come to win the war for you.” There was none of that sort of stuff. The 1st Cavalry Division, a lot of Mexicans in it and you had to watch them because nearly every one of them carried a knife of some description.
But there was no trouble, there might have been a few arguments but no real battle, nothing like the Battle of Brisbane that occurred later on. We would meet them in the theatre and the cafes and the shops and this sort of stuff. They would think they're film stars, they would come into barber shops and want hair cuts and their nails done and all of this sort of thing. We'd just go in for a hair cut and
out in five minutes; they would be in for an hour and a half, getting the beauty treatment.
How did the locals respond?
By not talking to us. They didn’t approve of the war at all and they certainly didn’t approve of their town being turned into a military madhouse. There was army, navy and air force there. A couple of landing strips nearby and aircraft used to come in to run with the exercises. The navy of course
ran the exercises, all of the barges. The locals, the only contact we had with the locals would be in the shops and cafes and so forth. And there were some local dances in Newcastle.
How long were you based at Port Stephens?
Only about six or eight weeks. Shortly after we arrived there, we were there for three or four weeks and they decided to close the base, and send it up north to Cairns or somewhere and the last three or four weeks was a frenzy of packing . Well the Americans were packing all of their stuff into barges and we had to go down and load them.
And clean up the camp, clean up the area, pull down all of the tents and fold them up, they were returned to some ordinance depot in Newcastle which involved about a two hour trip. Every time we would load a truck we would go into Newcastle, unload the stores, have a cup of tea if you could find one, and come back again. Lengthy visits. I often thought they
could have loaded a landing craft with all of these tents and tent poles and what have you and carted all down in one or two lots. No they drove it in every day.
Where did you go after Port Stephens?
We went to St Ives showground on the (Sydney) North Shore on the Mona Vale Road. Battalion went down there and carried on training,
exercising, soldiering and what have you. Exercised around Terrey Hills. At that time Terrey Hills was just a wilderness nothing like it is today. We used to play soldiers all over those hills there. Did a few ceremonial guards around the place and a few war loan rally parades for the war loans. Average war time, getting ready for peace.
What kinds of conditions were you being trained for?
New Guinea jungle training. They pick out the roughest and thickest part of the country. None of this desert training any more, it was all infantry training in close country.
How difficult was the
training, what kinds of things did you have to do?
It wasn’t terribly difficult but sometimes you get a bit tired of it. I remember on our exercise, we were out a couple of days and the last day we marched over thirty miles which was a bit tiring. It was terribly exhausting, it was tiring. We survived, we were all young and fairly fit.
What was specific about training for jungle?
Well mainly ground sections, ten men, sometimes larger groups, fifteen or twenty. Pretend we were out on a fighting patrol and we were stalking each other, trying to kill each other.
It was all plain infantry work, bit of a rest after the barges, and our nail [studded] boots were always falling over on the iron decks, that was a bit of a disaster. But walking around the bush was in some cases quite pleasant, although we possibly didn’t think so at the time.
After this training where did you go?
When I turned nineteen there was a whole batch of us, same lot that had been through Dubbo and the 18th battalion, we all turned nineteen around about the same time. And we went up to Canungra and did our six weeks' training up there. And that was pretty much the same as everything else but at a higher tempo and more in the rainforest,
and so forth. Sleeping out amongst the leeches and getting wet every night and all night. It was quite busy but pretty much the same. At the end of Canungra, fifth week I think it was, we went down to the Gold Coast, there is a place called Wash Creek up there. And we did
familiarisation training with tanks, artillery, demonstrations of machine guns and mortars. And we did set piece attacks. We would all line up nicely, keep the lines straight and we would go and attack a defensive hill and then we would go back and do it over again
with live fire from the Vickers machine gun overhead, and live fire from the mortars. And after we got that over with we would do it all again, with live fire from artillery, to be sure how batteries or troops of artillery went into action and operated. Which we thought was very exciting. We had training on the tanks, drive around the country side with us going through all of the bushes.
We would be sitting on the outside of the tank as they were going through all of the bushes trying to brush us off. Another thing we did, we would be taken to an area where there was a lot of slip trenches, and then we would be put two into each slip trench, and there were three or four rows of them, and there were about a dozen each row. And we would crouch in these
with a quarter plug of gelignite and a fuse and the tanks would go over, we would sit down there and after they were gone we would get up and throw the bomb after them. We were all carefully warned, of course, not to throw the bomb on the back of the tank so of course everyone tried to do so. We knocked out about three or four tanks.
What it did it was upset the radiators and a few other things in there, and the tanks would go off to a workshop for two or three days and the crew would have two or three days off, so they didn’t mind. Then we went back to camp and got our kit brought up to date. Could get anything you want except for socks, I don’t know why.
It has always been so, but socks are always scarce. New boots, new uniform, new underwear, anything like that .we had our winter taken from us, and we were sent up to the Atherton Tablelands where we were probably reissued with winter uniforms. There is a lot of funny anomalies like that. You get issued with something, wear it twice and they take it from you. You go somewhere else and they give it back again.
Always struck me as curious that. So we joined the 2/13th , a lot of us of the 9th Division, at Ravenshoe. We went on with normal training up there and I moved from the rifle to the machine gun platoon. Actually I did that in the 18th battalion, I saw all of these guys riding around in Bren gun carriers
and I thought, “Well that’s a lot better than walking,” so I did that. Transferred across and they were happy to have me. And we did a couple of exercises in carriers around North Sydney and Dural and Hornsby. And then it all came out from army headquarters that Bren gun carriers had been tried in New Guinea. They weren’t any good there, so they had been scrubbed [scrapped]. So I was
back to walking . And in this case not walking with a nine pound rifle but walking with a forty pound machine gun. So I lost in the end. I stayed in the machine gunners in the 9th Division and we trained all over the Atherton Tablelands.
Where were you based in the Atherton Tablelands?
Tents. Lived in tents, we were there for about eleven months.
A lot of speculation going on about what they were going to do. When we joined it we marched in and were absorbed into the rifle companies and headquarter companies and the old digger said, “We’ll be off now, being reinforced back up to strength we will be off to New Guinea.” But we didn’t, we stayed on Tablelands until April ’45 when we went to Morotai. Morotai is just a
little old island in the middle of the Pacific somewhere, near the Halmaheras, I am not sure if it is one of the Halmaheras group, or just by itself. Anyway it was a base for the Pacific activities. It was still half occupied by the Japanese who were keeping quiet, a low profile. And one of the patrols, an American patrol captured a group of them,
Japanese women nurses or whatever they had there, and one of them was seven months pregnant and she weighed seventy pounds, so they weren’t living a pleasant life. And I don’t know how they lived in the jungle on what they lived, there is a story about some of them used to come into the edge of the American camps and steal food, which is probably correct.
So we camped at Morotai.
Can we just go back to the journey from the [Atherton] Tablelands to Morotai, how did you?
Well we went down from the Tablelands to Townsville where there was a big transport interchange, I suppose. We came down by trucks to Innisfail. From Innisfail we went to Townsville by train. I think we came down the
Giles Highway although I didn’t know the name then. And it was a long day, we set off early in the morning. We got to a checkpoint on the road which was a narrow winding road, one way. And there was a one way there and another military post further down the road and
they would ring up and say, “The road’s clear now, come on.” Or, “Don’t come now there are ten trucks coming up.” And we would have to wait until they come past and then it would be our turn. Down to Innisfail and then to Townsville by train, a couple of hours trip. In Townsville we camped at a place called Winoona. One of the outer suburbs, in fact it wasn’t a suburb at all it was just
Interviewee: Gregory McGee Archive ID 1755 Tape 02
I just wanted to ask you a bit more about the Americans, what do you remember their presence was like in Sydney?
In Sydney they were all over the place, you couldn’t go anywhere without bumping into them. It was bad enough before I joined the army. I was just another young fellow about the town and they weren’t terribly interested in me.
But when I finished recruit training and came back to St Ives Showground, we would go out to Sydney often enough, the family still lived there. There was two brothers away, one sister was nursing and one sister was married somewhere else, just Mum and Dad at home. So I used to go out there frequently and you would get Yanks on the trams and trains and on the buses,
making a noise and expecting to get everywhere for nothing. They were quite friendly on the average. They could be very nasty if they got drunk but that didn’t happen very often in my experience. I was a non drinker myself so I didn’t go to the pub. Every now and again they would ask you, “When are you going to get into the war?” And we’d say, “We have been in the war since
1939, when did you join?” They didn’t like that, which was bad luck. But on the whole they were quite friendly. Amicable sort of fellows. Sometimes I found them a bit touchy [quick tempered]. We were a bit annoyed with some things, they had these big PXs [Post Exchanges – American canteen unit] that’s a canteen and you could get all sorts of goodies in there which were not available in Australia anywhere else.
I wasn’t into buying nylons those days so that part didn’t worry me. I didn’t smoke and I don’t smoke still, so I wasn’t concerned about cigarettes or anything like that. But there were other things, chocolates and of that nature, which were not available in Australia and they were getting them hand over fist [in large amounts]
from local manufacturers. And at the same time, we weren’t allowed into their canteen but they were allowed into ours. In Newcastle this was a bit of a problem because they had a big Red Cross place in there ,we could get coffee and donuts and other exotic food and we weren’t allowed in there because we weren’t Americans and all of the coffee and donuts had been provided free of charge by the American public;
and of course they couldn’t give it away to foreigners. And this annoyed us so we had to go without. Someone asked them if they brought their own water bottled to make the coffee, and it stirred them up a bit. After a while, when the Americans left Newcastle or Port Stephens and went up north, we were allowed into the donut business, Red Cross,
and we were allowed to have stuff there. A lot of the local girls were employed as waitress’ serving at the tables and it used to annoy them like crazy that they had to wait on us. The American women who ran the place however were quite a different bunch, they were very nice. Usually married women in their thirties, very pleasant, very friendly, they would talk to
you and were quite nice. I generally found American women, particularly married ones, away from home are very amicable friendly. I noticed that in Australia, in Japan and to a certain extent in Vietnam.
You mentioned that some of the Americans would get a bit touchy, what do you think they were touchy about?
Well they would wander around the place and criticise
everything, “Why do you drive on the wrong side of the road?” And we said, “We don’t, you do.” Go into a shop, a café or a hamburger shop, and they would expect to be served immediately, push up to the front of the counter, “I want this, I want that.” And the girl would say, “There are other people here waiting to be served.” And he would say, “Oh hell, they can wait until I am finished.” Very arrogant in some ways.
Did you see many stoushes [fights]?
A few, but I must have lived in a fairly quiet peaceful place because they were just arguments or drunken fights. Nothing serious, nothing like as I said, the Battle of Brisbane.
How did the Australian women respond to the Americans?
Well the Americans were saviours
when they first came here in the first six months and the women, of course as women always do, went crazy over something new and different .and of course the Yanks were buying all sorts of things. Nylons and things which turned their little heads. They would buy them chocolates and send them flowers and all of this sort of thing which the average Australian didn’t think about. And they responded very favourably to the Americans, but after six months
or so the glamour wore off and they weren’t so popular A lot of Australian girls married Americans, there was one lived across the road from us, she married an American, went off. I don’t know what state she lived in but she married him and went with him.
Do you think there were many romances that went sour,
or much cheating?
Sure to be on the average, I don’t know the figures on how many were loved and left, but there was sure to have been. That is average for anywhere, peace or war.
What sort of news were you getting about your brothers while you were in training?
Oh nothing, we used to write to each other occasionally. Two brothers were working at,
Consolidated Glass when the war started and they had a system where you would go there straight off as a labourer and then you would work your way up to the offices and other stages. And my eldest brother was in the second stage of his training; he did his three months labouring or whatever it was and then he was driving a forklift or some kind of truck. My second brother was still starting,
learning how to carry sacks of sabre. And when they were called up, my eldest brother gave his occupation as driver and he went into the ordinance; other brother gave occupation as labourer and he naturally went into the infantry. Eldest brother Harry finished up as a corporal, youngest brother Reg finished up as a captain. There is a moral there somewhere. I can’t quite work it out, but he finished up as a captain.
You mentioned that one of your brothers had heart problems that started in New Guinea, can you talk about that?
Well we think he strained his heart, he was in 35th Battalion and they were on active service in Wewak, New Guinea, and we think with malaria, and he was a big heavy solid sort of a bloke ,we think he strained his
heart. Eventually it killed him.
Okay can you tell me where you actually left from, to travel to Morotai?
Townsville. Went off on a ship called, I think Fredrick Likes, a [US] Liberty ship. We took about eight days to get to Morotai. We stopped at
Langamak Bay I think, near Finschhafen in New Guinea on the way over, and loaded some stores and went across to Morotai. We were unescorted, there were no Japanese ships or submarines of any nature then. At that stage the war had been won, but he had to be finished, still had to be tidied up. So we arrived there without incident in about eight days.
Were you all aware on the ship that it was a cleaning up exercise?
Oh yeah you can’t fool the diggers in the infantry. They knew exactly what was going on. We didn’t know where we were going., someone suggested Morotai. We thought we might go to the Philippines, part of the expedition to recover them. But as it’s known now
MacArthur didn’t want any Australians there, he wanted all of the glory to go to his army and so we did all on the fringes. Wasn’t very beneficial.
What do you mean?
We had all of the dirty jobs, cleaning up in New Guinea, we certainly went to Borneo, we went to Brunei., there were very few
Japanese there ,small garrison. I don’t think I was even fired upon in Borneo. We did another landing down the coast. That is the 2 /13th did, at a place called Tudong which was a small town on the coast and we stormed ashore as it says in the military history which merely meant we got splashed and wet.
We stayed around this little town for four or five days or so, and then we went further along the coast to a larger town called Miri which was a local administration and business centre and we stayed there for the rest of the war. There were a couple of incidents there, we lost a sergeant killed out of our platoon. One bloke was wounded and that was it,
very few casualties there and no fighting at all. What happened ,we were told that the Japanese knew that we were coming and when we did come they would take to the hills and wait for us. Ammunition and supply before coming down and have a go at us, and that’s probably what happened. They took to the hills and stayed there and then war ended and they all came back
from the hills, big fat fellows, healthy, fat. They weren’t starving by any means. And perhaps it was fortunate enough that we weren’t attacked.
Before you arrived on Morotai, what did you know or what were you told about the state of the Japanese?
Well we were warned not to be too hopeful,
we were told that as a result of their experiences in new Guinea, Buna and Gona and all of those places, the Japanese would fight to the very end, they wouldn’t surrender, they would have to be winkled out and dealt with and so on. Well that was our experience with the few people we met in Borneo, there wasn’t the death defying stuff that happened in New Guinea, but stragglers were all over the little
peninsula where we were and they wouldn’t surrender and they had to be shot.
When you were being trained in a landing craft operation, what do they teach you as a soldier, what do they tell you to do?
Well board the landing craft slipping and sliding all over the steel deck and you’re told to sit down and not move
around, hang on to each other or the side, then you’re given specific orders, “Put your equipment on. “For some reason we used to take it off going onto these barges, “Sit down, carry it on”; .then when we come within Cooee of landing, “Put your equipment on.” And then there would be a great panic, putting your equipment on and everyone getting tangled up with each other.
And then they would say, “Stand up.” And when the barge hits the shore we would all fall over and get up again and splash out through the surf or the sand, if you were lucky enough to land in a shallow area. There wasn’t a great deal to it. It is like getting on and off a ferry.
Why did everyone fall over?
Oh the shock, you’re all standing up and the barge would come charging in
and it hits the sand and comes to a full stop. No one is expecting it. The barge people didn’t warn us so we staggered around over the place only for a minute.
And what sort of equipment are you carrying?
Well you have got the normal belt around your waist, two basic pouches which are supposed to be full of ammunition, magazines of some sort.
But you have usually got biscuits, bully beef or chocolate in them. Being a Vickers gunner I didn’t carry magazines, I carried belt boxes. A water bottle, a bayonet. Although again as a Vickers gunner I didn’t have a bayonet, I didn’t have a rifle to put it on. Steel helmet, we had our steel helmets when we did our
landings, we dumped them when we got ashore and put our slouch hats on again. And a pack on your back, small haversack, not very big. And you would have a change of clothing in there, maybe a shirt underwear and socks. No trousers for some reason, they seemed to last longer than the shirts. A bit of food and shaving gear of course.
No matter what the state of the nation, you had to shave every day.
And in theory when you’re landing, is the enemy supposed to have been cleared from the beach?
Well they would either stay there and fight or voluntarily go, that depended on what their army had decided. We will defend the beach or we will not defend the beach. I was lucky twice in that the beach was not defended.
There were still small groups of Japs roaming around the place.
So when you arrived in Morotai, did you arrive in a landing craft or at a jetty?
It was a Liberty ship which is quite large. Carried the best part of the battalion, which is about nine hundred and fifty and we went ashore in barges
and we set up a camp.
And what did Morotai look like when you arrived?
Well it had been occupied by the Americans for some time and it looked rather untidy. Jungle had been cleared to a certain degree, scrub had been chopped down but the rubbish hadn’t been taken away, the Americans put their tents up all over
the place looked very untidy indeed. They had coral roads all over the place, bulldozed and surfaced with coral rock which wears very well. And very busy place. Untidy tents. Part of our HQ [headquarters] was up there at that time and
advanced army headquarters and they had a big wireless communications set-up there which we didn’t know anything about, or were not allowed to go to. We went out through the settled part and we went out to the outpost line I think the Americans called it, which was a big circle. The
Americans didn’t capture the whole island they only wanted the shore. Enough ground to build an air strip. Reach their ships and staging camps for their troops. So they didn’t take the whole island by any means. They had a big line of these defences around it .And we went out through
the defences, into what you might call the virgin jungle and we hacked everything down and put up our tents there in a clearing.
What was the reason for you going and setting up camp beyond the defences?
Probably room, there wasn’t enough room. After all a division is about eighteen thousand troops, they take up an awful lot of space.
Tents lines, kitchen, mess tents and everything else.
So what was the level of difficulty like in clearing the jungle?
Not much. It was all fairly small stuff, not the big old growth forest that they talk about here, they were just small trees, twenty feet or so would be the highest.
What evidence was there on the island of any Japanese presence?
Oh they would come at you and shoot you every now and again. Japanese were there, they had some sort of defences there, but they decided not to defend the beaches or the harbour, backed off into the interior.
So can you describe to me in detail the first encounter you had with a Japanese on Morotai?
I never saw a Jap on Morotai.
We set up this camp there and just lived happily ever after, or anyway for a couple of weeks, and the Japanese never came near us. The American division was forming to go, it was the 90th I think, all Negro Division and they didn’t talk to us either. Neither the Japanese or the Americans had much to do with us.
What were the American facilities like on Morotai?
Pretty much the same as everywhere else. They have got a pretty good system of setting up camps and tents, especially the air force, making themselves very comfortable. They could get things we had never even heard of, washing machines and so forth. Ice cream making machines too. They spend a lot of time and effort going into these things, it is all very nice, but if you have got a
ship loaded with war material and half of the space is taken up with ice cream machines and washing machines the war is going to last a lot longer.
So what were your day to day activities on Morotai?
Well the first week or so we were cleaning up the camp and setting it up. Next we were told, you
know you’re going, you know you’re going soon, although we don’t know where you’re going, we were getting ready to go. We were there for about six weeks, two months. Preparing the guns, loading all of the belts with ammunition and all of that stuff.
So who briefed you and what exactly were you told?
Our own officers briefed us and
they brought in a couple of Englishmen who had served in Morotai before the war in the civil service there and they told us in pretty good detail what it was like there. They described the harbour there, the Victoria Harbour I think it is called, on the coast of Borneo, it was a huge one and they offered it to the Royal Navy but the Royal Navy weren’t interested.
And they described the country and the people, “You had better watch out for the cobras. They’re the worst thing you have got to worry about.”
So what other descriptions did they give you of what to expect on Borneo?
Well they described it well, they said the place we were landing was dry and wet and sandy, and oil wells all over the place which
was quite true. Oil wells and trees. Very oil rich area, Borneo. And the oil is a very good quality, straight out of the ground into ships. Very little refining necessary and when we landed, moving onto Morotai there were all of these little derricks on the seaward side of the road,
not producing any oil because the air force had knocked it all out.
Were you told about any oil fires that might be happening?
Well we I don’t think we were told about it but when we were going down between Brunei and Miri or Sarawak, there was a big oil fire at a place called
Suria and we were sleeping on the deck of this landing craft, LST, and we saw the big glow in the sky and thought “Hello, sunrise” and so we all got up. It was only about three o’clock in the morning. And it was this damn oil well on fire, took a week to put it out.
What was the local population on Morotai like?
Well we didn’t see much of them either they were all
hidden away in little huts and bivouacked around the place. With the Japanese, Americans and us they were keeping a low profile. They were mainly involved in fishing, coconut farms and so on, I don’t think there was any agriculture as such. They were
How close were the villages to the American and Australian camps?
Well there weren’t any villages left when I got there the first time, they had all been obliterated, and most of the people were living in temporary shacks rather like the aboriginals out at La Perouse,
little shacks on the beach, close to the beaches in the boats, living in their fishing boast. No ordinary big villages.
So what did you see of the villages that had been obliterated?
Nothing much, just remains of houses. Ruined.
Not very much at all.
So can you explain where you went from Morotai?
We went to Borneo as I said, Brunei, Brune-i as some people pronounce it, and we did a landing there on the Victoria Peninsula and there was no opposition . We just went ashore and
moved out from the thing in various directions and I forget what company my section was attached to, but we followed them up there and took up position on a hill and they just settled in and sent out patrols probing around the place. We went out on a patrol or two because there was very little machine gun
work offering .And we didn’t come across anybody. Came across a few old huts where they had been, but we didn’t meet any great group. Some other companies did.
How many ships were involved in your landing on Borneo?
About twenty or thirty.
We went over on an APD [Army Personnel Deployer], and it was an old World War I destroyer which had been altered to take troops, it was a rather large landing craft. Four barges on it and we got into them and went ashore in those.
Did you have any aerial support?
there were bombers all over the place and strafing. There was lots of aerial support on the second landing we did. A Liberator or some other aircraft dropped a bomb which landed right on the edge of the water and it blew a big crater which was covered by the sea and no one knew it was there and when the barge came in it happened to come right in on this thing. They dropped the
ramp and fellows went rushing out and one fellow went into this hole and got sucked under the barge ramp and was drowned, and no one missed him for a while. He was a stretcher bearer, medical orderly. And he had only joined the platoon the night before and no one knew anything much about him so he wasn’t missed for a half an hour or so by which time of course the poor devil was well and truly dead.
As for other ships, there was the [HMAS] Kanimbla I think which was a landing ship and they carried all sorts of base troops .There were other barges which carried artillery, and I think we had a troops of tanks around the place somewhere. They came on a landing ship tank. All in all it was quite a big fleet.
Can you describe what the noise was like then, given the size of the fleet and the amount of bombing and strafing?
Well the bombing went on more or less before we got there, the bombing was over and done with, they had a few fighter planes strafing the place. They had a few landing barges fitted up with rocket firing apparatus.
And they would fire these damn things and they would go off like the noise of the fall of the Roman Empire, it was terrific all of these rockets whizzing over there. And they landed pop, pop, pop, pop all over the place. The noise actually wasn’t very much at all, it used to come in bursts, they would fire these rockets and rockets would go in and then a couple of aircraft would go in and strafe
and the ships' guns were firing. They weren’t very big, I think six inches would be the biggest guns they had on the cruisers, four or five inches on the destroyers.
What time of day was it that you landed on Borneo?
Morning, early in the morning, six o’clock or something. It gets light early up there,
at certain times of the year it gets light about three or four o’clock up there and by six it is broad daylight - in the tropics.
What was left on the beach once you got out of the landing craft?
Nothing much, we took everything with us. Well medical
people set up their centres. Eventually I think light anti-aircraft guns came ashore and set up on the beach. At night the artillery came ashore. We were sitting on our positions a couple of hundred yards inland and we were told to sit very quiet and not make a noise and next minute all hell broke loose behind us.
More barges came in, trucks drove off engines, drove the guns off and the gunners were shouting to one another and made a hell of a row and they took up position behind us, not knowing that we were there. And in the morning they got a great shock when they saw us in front of them. “How long have you been here?” “We have been here since yesterday.” “We were never told you were there.” “Well there is nothing we can do about that.”
So what were you doing during that time since your arrival and taking up positions, what does that involve?
Well we were digging the hole to put the gun in, we were bringing up ammunition and putting it down, we were arranging things. I think we put out a few boobytraps and so on. At that time I was number two on the gun team, I used to look after
the gun and carry it around. Had a number one in front of me, he used to actually fire the gun and we would take turns in going on picket [guard]. There would always have to be at least one on the gun. And at night there would be pickets, two or three hours at a time. And there was plenty of work to be done there,
I don’t know how to describe it but we never seemed to have a minute to ourselves in the first week or so, after that it cooled down a bit; settled down and after that we used to lay down and have a sleep all of the time or go down and have a swim.
Can you explain to me, was that a Vickers gun?
Can you explain to me what it looked like and what it did?
It is water cooled automatic gun. Big long thing, couple of feet long, round, it has got a water jacket in front of it which cools the barrel when the gun is firing and it can fire overhead of the troops marching. Can fire direct, indirect;
indirect when you can’t see your target, over the hill, you can use your instruments. You can fire at night, if you have time to make preparations in the day time. Useful gun, mainly defensive although it is used as supporting fire in attacks.
What is it like to transport?
The gun itself weighs thirty pound, when it is full of water it weights forty pound. They're mounted on a heavy tripod which weighs about fifty-six pound. Fifty to fifty-six. Depends on when it was made, if it was one of the First World War jobs it weighs fifty-six, but if it was made later, different metals, alloys, lighter, only by way of about four or five pounds.
But even that was good.
Can you explain what some of the booby traps were that you were setting?
Mainly thirty–six hand grenades, the successor to the Mills bomb. We would set them up there and pull a wire out and anyone who tripped the wire would pull the pin out and it would go off. Simple and straight forward.
Were you aware of booby traps that had been set by the Japanese?
No they didn’t go in for that stuff as much as we did. We didn’t find any anyway.
So how would you be alert to the enemy on Borneo?
Well at night particularly you would have to listen to everything. You would have to listen hard because the
Japanese were reputed to be very good at that sort of night work. Sometimes you could see them, see the movement in the trees or the grass or the undergrowth. Sometimes you could hear them. They are very good at some things, but careless in others. They would creep up to you and not make a noise and you wouldn’t know anyone was
there and then they strike a match and light a cigarette. Give themselves away like that. Not often but sometimes. Or an NCO would give an order, “Do this.” And the soldier would say, “Hai!”
What was your camp like on Borneo, where were you sleeping?
On the ground, no camp, just bivouacking.
It was quite warm, it was in the early winter and it was very pleasant early winter, it was not the hot tropical summer. And we would make ourselves little stretchers or something like that to get ourselves off the ground, to get out of the fleas, spiders and so forth. We were encouraged to do that not for our
comfort but to make sure we wouldn’t get bitten by anything which would put us in hospital.
Can you explain to me what you would do on a patrol in detail?
Walk quietly along and follow the bloke in front, unless you happened to be forward scout. You would be observing all around and up in the trees, listening at the same time. Wouldn’t be talking or smoking .Wouldn’t be listening to the pocket wireless’ like the Americans used to.
You would be walking as silent and keeping as quiet as you could. There would be about ten feet or so between you and the next fellow, the bloke in front and similarly the bloke behind. It was just a quiet walk through the bush, interspersed with periods of frantic activity.
What was the frantic activity?
Well if you ran into a Jap or he ran into you or ambushed you, or you ambushed him, all sorts of things.
So what did you see of what was left of the Japanese on Borneo?
Again not very much; they played a very low profile later on, after we had been there a couple of months they got a bit game. They would try to come in and pinch food or anything, throw a grenade at us.
But generally speaking they were vert quiet. There was only one or two episodes where they tried to take any action against us. Mainly when they were after food.
Can you tell me about when they came in to try and take food?
Well they come in at night, they would
make a reconnaissance of the camp, they would observe it, watch what went on in the camp when we were just living through the day, we would have a kitchen set up where we prepared our meals and they would observe it and mark it out and pick the spot out, which they were very good at.
And at night when they would come in, they would head for the stuff, and get any food they could.
Interviewee: Gregory McGee Archive ID 1755 Tape 03
Was there much evidence of Japanese POWs [Prisoners of War] on Brunei?
Yes there was a couple of small enclosures there, compounds and there was a lot of burnt uniforms, badges, rising sun badges and British army badges and so on where the prisoners were being kept and
there were a couple of graves too where they had been shot and the prisoners were buried. Not a lot but there was evidence there, you had to go and look for it because they were very clever in concealing it.
Were more POWs captured while you were there?
No we got a lot of returned people, a lot of Indian soldiers had been taken there
for work parties and they managed to escape and they were living in the jungle and when we came in they came forth happily to see us. I just forget what sort they were, Punjabis I think. And they got a lot of weapons, Japanese rifles or Australian rifles, British or Dutch rifles and they were quite happily living in the jungle.
How long had they been doing that for?
A couple of months early in 1945, I couldn’t tell you an exact date. We were told they had been living there for a couple of months.
What kind of condition were they like when they came out?
They were fairly healthy because they were out of the Japanese supply
system and they were feeding themselves. They ate better. But they were still fairly thin and undernourished but they were quite pleased with themselves for being out of gaol, so to speak.
Had they been captured buy the Japanese and escaped, what was their story?
They were captured probably in Singapore when that
went out. And taken to Borneo with the work parties on the oil fields and everything else. And they managed to escape from their prison camp, wherever it was.
Did you hear many stories of these kinds of escapes from the Japanese?
That’s the only one I can personally vouch for, I have heard a lot of stories and I have read a lot of books of them but that’s the only one I have first hand knowledge of.
Where were you when you heard the news about the dropping of the atomic bomb?
We were still in Borneo, in Sarawak and nobody knew exactly what was going on. They said, “They dropped a big new bomb in Japan and it wiped out a whole city.” And everyone said, “Rubbish they couldn’t do that, not a whole city.” “Yeah they did.” Well they didn’t actually.
Shortly afterwards we got Nagasaki, first Hiroshima and then Nagasaki, and everyone started putting their heads together to say, “Well what’s going on? What will this lead to?” There was much speculation as to what would happen. Everyone though we would go to Japan and occupy it straight away.
What did you know about the atomic bomb at that stage?
Nothing at all, we had no idea what it involved. And after the photographs came out of the devastation of Nagasaki and Hiroshima we knew even less. They told us the usual things, “You can’t grow anything there for a hundred thousand years. If you sit down on the ground you will get atomic poisoning.” I think that was the expression
that was used. “You can’t eat or drink anything form the devastated area.” And there were all sorts of rumours and stories going around, most of which were untrue. When we got to Japan the first thing we did almost was to go to Hiroshima and have a look at the place.
So how much longer were you on Borneo before you went to Japan?
Well the atom bomb went off, well peace was declared.
August sometime, then after that everybody started thinking about going home and we had a lot of fellows went home, “five by two”, as they called them. Five by twos, that is they had been in the army five years and they had two years overseas service and they released them first and we lost half of our platoon. And it didn’t matter much, because machine guns were disbanded shortly afterwards
and we all went to rifle companies and so forth. Went to Japan in October I think. Went to Labuan, all of the volunteers for 66 battalion went to Labuan of the coast of Borneo and we formed the 66 battalion there and then after a month or three
weeks we went back to Morotai and the whole brigade formed there. We got some more reinforcements. And 65 and 66 battalion joined us and then other units started to come in. Engineers, ambulance, transport, they all started to show up so the 34th brigade started to take shape.
Had you been able to celebrate the end of the war in any way?
We all patted each other on the back and made another cup of tea, there was no great wild orgy of singing and dancing in the street. We just went along, we managed to survive and we were all pleased that we had been there and even more pleased that we had survived it.
Especially the old Middle East and New Guinea blokes, they were thrilled to bits.
In Labuan, how long did you stay there before you went to Japan?
Well we went to Japan February 1946, there was a lot of loose talk going around and some of it not so loose that MacArthur didn’t want any
Australians or British there, and there was serious doubt as to whether we would go there. There was also confusion the Australian government didn’t say off hand, “You will be there a year or two years.” Or rates of pay. there was no discussion of length of service. So a lot of people pulled out and went home. Or pulled out of going to Japan, they
were sent somewhere else, Rabaul or Bougainville or New Guinea, clean up there and do their two years there.
What did you personally want to do at this point?
I personally wanted to go to Japan because I had heard a lot about it. And I wasn’t particularity interested in going to Rabaul or New Guinea or anywhere like that. Japan seemed to me a much more interesting place.
Could you tell me about the journey to Japan?
On a troop ship, another troop ship, another dull and boring voyage. An American ship. The food wasn’t as good as most people think it was on an American ship. It was adequate, we survived, it was a bit better, there were lights on all over the place, there was no need to put the
lights out, darken ship for fear of submarines. It was quite interesting, films on deck every night, unfortunately they showed us the same one every night.
Can you remember what that film was?
Something about Bob Hope, one of the Bob Hope wartime films I think. I think there were a couple of variations, either Bob Hope, and
cowboy and Indian blokes. I forget his name, typical American films.
Was it all Australians on that ship going over?
At that time yes.
What were your first impressions of Japan?
Well we landed at Kure and the place had been severely
bombed and was a mess. The people were very friendly, well they were friendly. They had been told by the Emperor and his mob to behave themselves, not to be nasty to the foreign devils, no incidents, no fights or murders or anything, although they would steal anything that wasn’t nailed down.
Steal any food that was, they wouldn’t pinch anything else. We went through Kure which had been also bombed a bit and was a bit of a mess, my impression was that the country was a very pleasant place to live when there wasn’t a war on. Scenery was very nice down the Inland Sea, villages and so forth were a photographer’s dream as they say. It was interesting.
Where was your first base in Japan?
A town or a suburb called Kaitaishi. Just a few miles north of Hiroshima, it had been a Japanese naval stores depot and was full of old wartime stores of every description. We were accommodated in the big warehouses a hundred or more soldiers.
You mentioned that one of the first things you did was go to Hiroshima, could you explain what you saw when you went there?
Hiroshima was devastated, rather like a big bush fire, you have seen photos, I don’t think I have actually seen the result of a bush fire but it was like that, but there weren’t so many trees. Housing in Japan,
in those days it was mainly wood and paper. Sliding wooden doors and paper, sometimes mud walks, nothing so much as a brick house. Some of the older or well to do houses were stone or cement, they were all fairly flimsy and
that was because of the frequency and the severity of earthquakes, houses came tumbling down around your ears, you didn’t want to get hit by a roof beam. The houses themselves, the villages were very picturesque, I was in a small village one night doing something or probably doing nothing. And there was
an old man and an old lady, and they were carrying a big paper Japanese lantern, about the size of a bird cage or something like that. And it was the first I had ever seen, I didn’t have a camera with me and I couldn’t take a snap of them, but it was very typical of what you read and photos you seen before the war
of Japanese life, interesting. The villages themselves were small and cramped. The space between houses was about the width of a footpath which is probably why the Japanese have small cars, there was nothing like [Holden] Commodores or Fords of that nature,
all little ones. The houses are crammed right up cheek by jowl against each other. There was no such thing as a back yard, or a front yard for that matter, they were just all jammed up. Only front you had was the width of the pathway between houses. In some of the bigger and better class suburbs,
suburbs not farm area, suburbs, the houses were more substantial and on bigger blocks of land; but you needed lots and lots of money to have anything like that in the days before the war in Japan.
So when you arrived at Hiroshima what kind of evidence did you see of the bomb?
Well as I said the ground was like a big bush fire,
everything was burnt, if it wasn’t burnt it was just about to fall down. There were even bodies still being unearthed from the ruins at that stage. We weren’t involved in that. The wharves were a bit of a mess, there were ships sunk all over the place in shallow water
resting on the bottom, half out of the water. At one particular place there was a big four stack [funnel] battleship, it was known as the Russian Cruiser and someone said it was a Russian ship which had been captured in the Russian Japan war going back to 1900, it was sunk in the Inland Sea then.
What were the locals doing at this point?
Well they were mainly cleaning up, rebuilding, cleaning up the bomb site, picking out the dead bodies. Mostly the women were doing that, the men were either still in the army or at work. And the children were presumably at school .and they were just trying to get along with their life as well as they could.
What was their reaction to the foreigners?
Indifference. They had been told to behave themselves and not create any incidents or fights or arguments. Not that we could argue we could barely understand each other. But they were polite and friendly, walk past them and say, “Hello” and they would smile and say, “Hello” to you.
And the only really friendly one would be the prostitutes, they would be all over you smiling and wriggling. But apart from that the men didn’t pay us much attention at all, they would just look at us every now and then, look at our rifle and equipment and, we employed a lot of
men in the camp. Worked cleaning up and helping us unload stores and what have you, drivers, a lot of them were employed as drivers. And a lot of them in the kitchen. Employed in hygiene duties and that’s about it. They accepted that they had lost the war,
we have got an occupation force, there is nothing we can do about it, so we may as well make the best of it we can. Meanwhile don’t talk to them. We were practically ignored.
What was your first task when you first got to Japan what was the role that you were assigned?
Well in the army I was a machine gunner in a machine gun platoon and we went on with our normal
training and refresher training. In other words we used to go on patrols around the place to these little fishing villages to let them know that they had lost the war and we were in charge now, they practically ignored us. The only ones who showed any real interest was the children they sued to come charging all over the place, they were curious people. Their mothers weren’t too pleased about that. And we
would give the kids a piece of chocolate or something like that and they would give it back to their mother and their mother was quite pleased about that. We would go to these fishing villages, there was a lot of smuggling going on between Japan and China which wasn’t far away. A lot of Koreans were coming over to Japan, goodness knows why. To live there and work there.
Korea must have been a pretty grim place in those days if they went to Japan to get a bit of life.
What kind of smuggling was going on between China and Japan?
Oh rice, gold for some reason, I don’t know where that came from, and all sorts of other
commodities but it was mainly food.
Ddi you have a role in policing smuggling?
Not me specifically but the battalion in general, we used to go to these villages on a surprise raid and swoop down and examine the fishing boats, which stank horribly .And if we found any contraband
there we would confiscate it or throw it overboard. Generally speaking it was a fairly innocuous job, we didn’t have any trouble. They would get a bit cranky with us but they didn’t really start to fight or anything, they didn’t protest or argue.
A lot of talking amongst themselves but it never got to us.
How did you communicate with the Japanese?
Sign language, a lot of the Japs can speak a reasonable amount of English, it is quite surprising really .and as time went on we picked up, we had little handbooks to look at common phrases, the food and all
sorts of other things. Railway trains, buses and trams and so on. All of the sort of the things you need around a city, if you go into a shop and say, “How much is that?” And they would answer you in their language and you would get an amount in the end which you then laboriously translated and changed into pounds and pence.
Apart from the bombing of the infrastructure, what kind of evidence was there of how the Japanese people had been affected by the war?
Well they were all very poor, children were undernourished, so were the women. The clothing was pretty scabby. The women were not in kimonos they were wearing some ugly baggy sacks called mompos. I don’t know what that means. They were all rugged up against the cold.
When we went there it was just on winter well, just the end of winter, and it was still damned cold and they were wrapped up in rugs and rags and just about everything. The housing as I said was very makeshift, the food was even more so. Agriculture had been stopped because so many farmers were in the army or dead.
Housing was fallen down or had fallen down. Public transport, trams and trains was very much Heath Robinson [fanciful] stuff. The trains were more or less cattle trucks, the trams were
trams but very dishevelled, on their last legs.
You mentioned the prostitutes earlier, how visible was their presence in Japan and the interaction?
At night their presence was very visible indeed. You couldn’t walk ten feet around the street without being bailed up.
They had big establishments, big houses with all of the girls, there might be a hundred girls or so in this place. One particular place in Kure I think was called the Flower Garden which was a very popular place with some of the people.
How were those places signposted, or how did you know that?
Usually had a big sign up saying ‘Out of Bounds’ that was a pretty sure indication of what it was. And by word of mouth people would tell you what it was and how to get there without getting caught.
When you say the prostitutes at night were very visible, what were they wearing?
Well they were wearing kimonos and all sorts of Japanese,
I refer to Japanese local dress, as kimonos and great big hats, and very flashy make up. They weren’t into short skirts then, but they were very distinguishable from the ordinary housewife or the office girl.
What kinds of things would they be saying trying to draw people in?
Well they would come up and talk to you, “Hello digger.” Some of them used the word “digger” although they didn’t know what it meant. And others who weren’t up on public relations come up and said, “Yank you come my house.” Talk to you in sort of pidgin English.
What were the establishments like, where the prostitutes were?
From the outside, I didn’t go into them, from the outside they were just normal big Japanese buildings with small rooms. Rather like a hotel or motel with a lot of small rooms. How they were furnished I couldn’t tell you.
What kind of discussion was there in the army about the prostitutes, were there warnings?
Oh yeah, all warnings all over the place give you infection figures and the VD rate was very high, and if you contract VD you will loose your pay. They were threatening to send you back to Australia, or they would keep you for an extra six months in Japan.
Seemed to defeat the exercise. But there were lectures against it by the doctors particularly, and also by all of the chaplains.
How common was it for people to have their pay confiscated?
Oh fairly regular. Although the VD rate in Japan amongst soldiers is not as high I am told as it is here, back in Australia, in groups of similar people, like the coal fields.
where it is supposed to be very high. But it was common; anyone who entered hospital immediately had his pay stopped.
Was there any other further discipline?
No I don’t think so. It was basic, it was an illness you needed treatment, so you went into hospital to be treated
and considering the nature of the illness you were punished for being sick, so to speak, by losing your pay. When you came out you weren’t supposed to drink for about a fortnight I think. The only other action of course was the extension of time. If you had about three weeks to go to go back to Australia
and you got s load of VD you would have another six months before you could go. And you would have to explain that away to your parents or to your wife, if you had one.
What about the black market in Japan?
Black market was rife. You could buy and sell almost anything. Food,
anything like saccharine, anything sweet would go down well. Tobacco and cigarettes was all very good. Some of the things, if you could get hold of any blankets or anything like that, you could sell those fairly well. Petrol and
that sort of stuff was kept under tight lock and key and was a little harder to get rid of.
How would people go about selling something on the black market?
It was no trouble at all, if you had say a couple of packets of cigarettes you could just go into the nearest shop asking what you wanted. You could barter it and get a roll of film for it or something else.
It wasn’t difficult at all. Soap was another good one. Cigarettes, tobacco, whiskey or beer, they would go for that in a big way.
Were all of the soldiers using the black market in this way?
Everybody more or less yeah.
You could sell tins of cigarettes or a couple of tins or half a tin. We used to get a tin of cigarettes every pay day, tin of fifty “Players” cigarettes. That was issued for us because
Lord Nuffield [British magnate] I think gave every soldier serving overseas a tin of cigarettes every pay, they all got a free cigarettes. And if you didn’t smoke you sold it on the black market.
Ddi you buy much in Japan while you were there?
Yes I did, mainly a camera, I bought a Zikon camera. 620 or 120 I forget which. And I spent most of my black market money such as it was on cameras and films.
I didn’t buy much in the way of souvenirs, you could o into a shop and buy all sorts of things, wooden carvings, wooden drays, statues of Buddha and all of that sort of stuff, statues of temples, but it was too hard to get home, it broke. It you put it in a little zip bag and everyone was not sure as to what the reception would be through customs and they were only little bits of rubbish and things.
There was nothing like the figurines up there, although you could buy sets of crockery, half a dozen plates and cups and saucers and things. Not a very good quality. Narataki wasn’t too bad. Tsutsuma wasn’t too bad. Again they’re big and bulky
and the problem was getting them home unbroken.
You mentioned your camera gear, did you spend a lot of time taking photographs?
Oh yes. A lot of time. Photography has always been one of my bad habits as my wife says. I learnt to process films and I bought an enlarger which is still out in the garage,
unused. You get the photos printed and developed and stick them in albums and so forth and again the albums are very hard to transport home.
As well as doing the patrols of the fishing villages, what other work did you do in Japan?
Well normal garrison occupation. We had to clean up
our camp , the mess the Japanese had left in it. That was the main thing to show by our presence that the Japanese had lost the war and that we were in charge. We used to go down to the wharves now and again and supervise the arrival of the Japanese back from the islands or wherever they had been. And they used to get off the ship and we used to stand around the place with rifles and fixed bayonets looking
fierce and they used to come off the ship and practically ignore us. Didn’t pay any attention at all. Very disappointing.
What condition were they in when they came off the ship?
Pretty healthy. They had not been fighting lately, the last five or six months and they had been eating and regaining their health.
They were pretty good and they had used up all of the clothing stores they had there and issued everyone with a couple of sets so they looked all reasonably presentable.
Was there much discussion about what was going on in terms of war crimes at that time?
Yeah that was one of the reasons for the occupation.
There were a lot of 8th Division ex-POWs came over and they were giving evidence at these war crime trials. And there was a lot of discussion, and a lot of it was quite heated .Some of them said, “They should be all shot.” And another one said, “Well he was only doing obeying orders, doing what he was told. You shouldn’t shoot the soldier you should shoot the general who gave
the order.” Which in fact happened quite a lot. The generals, a lot of the generals were executed a lot of the soldiers got terms of imprisonment, ten, fifteen years.
Did you have any personal discussions with any of the Australian POWs?
One of our sergeants had been captured from 8th Division. In fact two of them, two of them had been 8th Division blokes.
And they didn’t talk about it much, they just said a chance remark every now and again. There was no organised decision to sit down and give a detailed description of their daily life, whether they were on the Burma railway or back in Changi.
Did those men have a view on what should happen to the
Some of them were fairly outspoken. “If I get my hands on so and so I will strangle him.” and I think they meant it, they would have done it. The other people, they just shrugged their shoulders and said, “It has happened; it is over and done with lets get back to life again.” There were a couple of attitudes about it.
Where about were the trials being held?
Somewhere in Tokyo, I don’t know exactly where. One of the big buildings there had been taken over. We had an Australian judge and he used to go up there to preside over the trials. I forget his name. He was a well known Australian judge here at that time.
Could you notice or understand any of the local Japanese reaction to the war crimes trials?
No the executions weren’t publicised. I don’t think the trials were open to the Japanese public, but a lot of the public servants or the
ex-public servants or soldiers, or ex-soldiers were admitted into them. But they weren’t publicised or open to public admission, they were just trials and that was it. Rather like an army court martial.
You mentioned you did some guard work at various locations, could you describe what that was?
We had guards at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, we had guards at the British Embassy, Australia House, Canadian Legation and one or two other places. British Commonwealth Base sub-area in Tokyo which was an administrative building up there.
There was another place called the Union Jack Club which was a café library and so forth run in Tokyo but that was only a picket, you were only there to stop the fights. If there was a beer hall down below, you were only there to stop the fights, that’s about all.. And going on guard at the palace was quite a big operation.
Have to polish and scrub and everything, looking spic and span or trying to. And it was mounted in the middle of Tokyo, somewhere like Hyde Park in Sydney. You would go down to this huge park in front of the palace, there was a huge parade ground in front of it. About two or three miles long, about half a mile wide, I think it was called the Plaza
and then we used to have a ceremonial guard change up there. We’d relieve ourselves, Australians, Australians, or relieve the English, Indian or New Zealanders and when one of that happened it was a big social event in military life Tokyo, lots of people would be there, spectators.
Interviewee: Gregory McGee Archive ID 1755 Tape 04
What did the palace look like?
Well it is a great big old stone building, I said there is no stone in Japan, well there is for the palace and the castles. A big old stone, typical Japanese. When I say typical Japanese with little towers and turrets all over the place.
Little bridges, going over moats, moats and everything.
What sort of activity was going on at the palace?
The emperor and all of his family were there and the court and the courtiers, they lived their normal life there, wasn’t affected much by the surrender.
So what was the reason for the guard duty?
To show the flag I suppose and let the Japanese know we had won. We were in charge, there was usually a British Commonwealth on guard and an American on guard.
So what flag was actually being flown outside the palace?
Whoever country was providing the guard,
the Union Jack or the Australian ensign or the New Zealand ensign.
How did the different nationalities that made up the occupation force, how did they all get on?
Oh all right. They got on fairly well with each other. Might have been a few knife fights in the beer hall, but that’s about all. Generally speaking we were friendly with each other. You would be wandering around
Japan somewhere or Tokyo and come across a New Zealander or an English soldier, the language limited us a bit in that it was all sign language and gesturing. But we got along all right. There were no serious fights anyway.
Can you tell me about the beer halls, what they looked like?
Well they were just big rooms with small tables and a bar in there. And you would go in and sit down and drink. They are not like the pubs we have out here where you stand at the bar. You sit down and drink, it is all very civilised. Nothing like the country pubs here.
Who ran the beer halls?
Well depends if it was a Japanese one or if it was a canteen one.
Can you tell me about your experiences with malaria?
Well I got the first bout in Japan about June July of '45.We left Morotai sometime in February and we continued to take malaria precautions, that is to say Atebrin which was given in those days, yellow pills. Turned you yellow.
And for about six weeks or so after we left the malaria area. Now that wasn’t a cure it was a suppressant, used to keep the disease down while you were in the islands, but after you left the islands and stopped taking the pills after six weeks to two months you could get an attack of malaria, and it was fairly painful. You would be wandering around the place and your whole body would be aching joints, knee, ankle, hip, shoulder.
Aching and throbbing away, permanent headache and after a while in very severe cases they start collapsing. I visited the RAP [Regimental Aid Post] who said, “You have got the bug,” as it was called, or the ‘wog’ [illness] depending on whether they were Middle East fellows. And I went to the hospital,
20 Field Ambulance who dealt with me first, looked me over checked my temperature and my pulse and then took me over to 92nd Indian General Hospital in Kure and they did a battery of tests on me and then passed me onto the 130th Australian General Hospital.
I think it was in Kure or perhaps it might have been on Etajima Island, a small island in the Inland Sea. About a half an hours boat ride from Kure and I stayed there for ten or twelve days. First of all you get the shivers and shaking,
seriously shaking. And then at the same time you’re perspiring furiously, so you have got the case where perspiring and shivering and shaking and your teeth are chattering. And you can’t see straight and you can’t think straight and you can’t talk straight and this goes on for three or four days, depending on the severity of the case, and it all works its way out of your system. In the meantime you’re taking your Atebrin again.
And that’s it, you’re in hospital town for twelve days and that’s it. The attack wears off and you get back to more or less normal. But you’re very tired afterwards.
When did you come home to Australia?
I came home late in '46 on leave. They decided anyone
who had been away in the war and so forth, I had been away about April '45 to about eighteen months so we all came back to Australia and had about thirty days leave, and while I was back in Australia I got another attack of malaria, and this time I went to the 113th in Concord,
and went through the same thing again, vomiting, shivering and perspiring. Poor Mum was wondering what had gotten into me. One of my sisters was doing nursing and she came down and looked at me and said, “Oh she has only got malaria.” All rather commonplace. I suppose she had seen plenty of it.
What happened to you once you had recovered from your malaria?
Just back to normal duties, there was no convalescence, we didn’t go off to a convalescence camp for three weeks or something, skiing or swimming or anything. You just went back to duties.
What do you remember about when you first heard about the conflict in Korea?
We were in Japan getting ready to come home to Australia and the war started there
and everyone began to wonder, what’s going to happen to us? And after a while the government announced that they would send a force, no details but everyone know what a force was, army, navy and air force. At first it was only navy and air force and army wasn’t mentioned, but you can’t have
a war without soldiers; so eventually we were told we were going to Korea. Battalion was a fairly small affair then. There were three under strength rifle companies. Headquarters company had been practically disbanded. No machine guns, mortars or anti-tanks guns. The battalion was just over five hundred strong,
so we needed a whole slice of reinforcements. So what they did then was to reorganise the whole thing, to bring headquarters company back to life. A company was practically disbanded and all of the soldiers sent into machine gunners, mortars, anti-tanks, pioneers, signallers, all of those platoons were built up. And we got reinforcements from Australia from the other two battalions, 1 and 2 battalions and
met a lot of friends I had known in 66 battalion, they came up. We were all still corporals then. And a lot of K force blokes came up too. They didn’t arrive in any great numbers at that time but they came in about a month or two later.
So you were still part of the occupation force in Japan when the conflict in Korea started?
That’s right yes.
What did you know about communism in Asia at the time?
Well we would get lectures on it from time to time from various people. We were told it was a very bad thing, you know they were brutal. Allowed no freedom of religion or thought or anything else. Just do as you were told and go
where you were sent. This wasn’t quite so, but it was nearly true. People were regimented in a way that wouldn’t go on here in Australia. We didn’t know a great deal about the ins and outs of communism except that we didn’t think much of it as a political system.
Had you had any contact with it in Australia?
No. Except at one stage in Sydney
when I was in battalion at St Ives Showground, a lot of us were sent down to work on the wharves. We were there to assist the army trucks coming down, loading and unloading them and stopping the wharfies [waterside workers] pinching everything so we could pinch it ourselves, chocolates and cigarettes and what have you, especially beer. Beer would go off.
A lot of the wharf labourers were communists and they were all giving us political lectures on one thing or another and they had a system where if one bloke wasn’t feeling well and had to sit down and rest, everybody else sat down and rested whether he was sick or not, and they used to go crook [get angry] on us because we would carry on working. Not a great deal of exposure, no.
So when you were told that you would be going to Korea and you were in Japan, what sort of training and preparation did you undergo?
Well mainly refresher training. We brushed up on our weapon handling skills, all of the new blokes in the platoon had to be broken in to be machine gunners. And stripping and assembling and cleaning the guns, filling the belts and so forth, normal infantry training.
Were there many men who had no wartime experience?
Yes, quite a lot. A lot of reinforcements came over early in Japan who had been called up during the war, but not early enough. They hadn’t gone anywhere, the war had finished before they had done their training. So they were all still in Australia, and their only overseas experience was in Japan.
What was the role of K force in your battalion?
Well they were to reinforce the battalion, to bring it up to strength, K Force… k for Korea… obviously were troops who had served in the
infantry during the war and enlisted voluntarily for two years I think, for a year in Korea, some training in Australia before they left, and I don’t know what they did afterwards. Posted to various jobs in the battalion and they were all ex-servicemen, some with decorations and some without. They filled up the battalion to its full strength.
What were you told about what sort of conflict to expect in Korea and what the enemy were like?
Very little. We had descriptions of what happened to the Americans .The Americans were even less prepared than we were, they were all occupation force only, and the Americans then had a system whereby if you joined up and served in the army for two years
you get the equivalent of four years college education or university education for nothing, so a lot of them had just joined up. And they had no idea at all what they could come across on active service. So we were better prepared than they were, but they performed fairly well.
So where did you travel to? Can you explain the journey from Japan to Korea?
Well we sailed from Kure one night and arrived in Pusan next morning, only a very short boat trip across to Korea. Down the Inland Sea around the end of Honshu and then across to Pusan. On an American Victory ship I think it was.
And what was Pusan like?
Terrible. It was a typically Asian sea port, dirty, smelly, untidy. We didn’t sty there very long, we just unloaded everything and got on trains and away we went up country.
What sort of reception did you get form the Koreans when you arrived?
Well we got an official reception on the wharf when we arrived, Korean officers, American officers, Korean women,
Korean school children trying to sing “Advance Australia Fair” and an American Negro band. American soldiers and sailors of all ranks and shapes and sizes. Koreans of all shapes and sizes everyone, there was a welcome there.
At that stage what did you know about the conflict, how did you think the war would play out?
Well we thought it wouldn’t take long at all because at that time the UN [United Nations] was winning, the North Koreans had come down almost to the coast and they had been held there and chased back up the peninsula. The Americans had
landed at Unjong and sent them back up to the 38th parallel and we were winning and everyone thought it wouldn’t be long before we won. And MacArthur announced all out attack, push, home for Christmas. And of course that didn’t happen. Lucky he didn’t say which Christmas.
We thought we would have a bit of a bash [fight] up here, it won’t be much and we will be home again shortly.
So his home for Christmas push, what did that mean for you guys and what your role would be?
We were attached to one of the American divisions, the
Cavalry Division I think, and we started moving up the country, cleaning up pockets of resistance and doing a few small attacks. There was the Battle of the Apple Orchard, which took place in an apple orchard. Very nice apples they were too. And we had to go up and relieve or release and American airborne unit,
paratrooper brigade which had landed up there and were surrounded. We had to go up and get them out of the net which we did, and the apple orchard was the first serious engagement we had, in which I took my one and only prisoner.
Can you explain to me the circumstances of that?
Well we were all advancing clearing up this place, and there were big piles of apples
quite large, tall as you are and just as juicy. And we would go along to these apples and there were little slit trenches and pits dug all over the place and I looked into one of them and there is a fellow cringing down in the corner and I shouted at him to come on out and he shook his head and wouldn’t come out .A couple of other fellows came over and
one of the company commanders came up, big fellow named Hall, we used to call 'Ben' Hall after the bushranger. He was a big solid guy with a loud voice and he shouted at this bloke and he wouldn’t come out, so he went away and got a big stick and ordered him out and he eventually came out. He was surprised I think that he wasn’t shot on the spot. We took him away for a prisoner, and that was it there was nothing dramatic about it.
Given you had spent time in Borneo and Morotai, how did the Korean enemy seem to you give what you had encountered with the Japanese?
Well he wasn’t as dedicated as the Japanese. He wouldn’t fight to the finish, if he was surrounded and captured, that was it, he was surrounded and captured. He wasn’t like the Japanese who wouldn’t surrender and had to be killed.
I took two more prisoners later on, or rather two deserters came in and surrendered to us.
What did the countryside look like, where this apple orchard was?
Attractive, nice rolling hills and vegetation. Rice paddocks and so forth. I don’t know how they started growing apples in the middle of rice
country but anyway there you are. Great big juicy red apples, quite a large apple orchard. Covered a large area of ground, we didn’t use the guns in that, we were purely as infantry.
Were there locals or farmers in the area?
They were keeping a low profile, they didn’t mix in with the battle at all. They went home and stayed home or ran away.
Probably a lot of the farms were deserted, the North Koreans came in, they probably got a lot of the locals to be carriers and carry the wounded and dig holes or one thing or another, labourers.
So when you were working with that American cavalry unit were you under
The Brigade as a whole was under American control, but individually we stayed with our battalion and our own officers.
And what were your impressions with the Americans and how they were conducting the Korean War?
We thought their staff work was very sloppy. We had been accustomed to the Australian staff work,
we had learnt all of that from the British army and we thought the Americans were very sloppy,
Can you explain how their staff work was sloppy what that meant?
Well if you were told to go to a place the battalion was told, “We want you to go to this place and search the area and so forth, and there will be twenty trucks come by to pick you up at eight o’clock in the morning”, and at half past nine tomorrow morning, maybe,
half a dozen trucks turned up and they were all heading to the wrong place. They had the wrong destination given to them, that was common, it got better later on though they improved with experience.
How did that impact the level of American casualties that you saw? Their sloppiness did that create more casualties for them?
For them yes, not so much for us but for them.
If I can just take you back to when you arrived at Pusan where did you go from there?
We caught the train to a place called Chongju which was a hundred and fifty kilometres or so north, we joined with the 27th British Brigade which then became the 27th British Commonwealth Brigade.
The other two battalions, were the 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment and the other battalion was 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland regiment. And we stayed with them until the brigade was relieved and went back to Hong Kong. Then we became the 29th Brigade. We stayed there and two other British battalions came in.
And what was your base camp like?
We didn’t have a base camp.
Where did you sleep?
On the ground wherever we happened to be at night. We would be told we had to take a certain village or advance to a certain area which we did. And when we got there we prepared our defences, dug in if you had to, and put up your little tents and slept on the ground near your hole and your guns. There was no base camp at all. We didn’t go back to Ingleburn every night and things like that.
Can you describe what the climate and the weather was like?
At the time we arrived it was late spring and the weather was very nice indeed, nice and warm not too hot with just a nip in the air but not too much. But as the months passed it became colder and colder and one morning we woke up and the whole countryside was white they had a good snowfall the night before. So we got damn good and cold then.
So how did you keep warm sleeping in the open air?
Eventually we were issued with winter gear, the British sent out a lot of sleeping bags which were left over from he Second World War, the Americans came good with some sleeping bags made out of blankets, not down or feathers. They were very good, blanket material in a
shape so that you could be more comfortable than a sleeping bag which was just a straight envelope, but these were shaped for your shoulders hips and feet. So you could put your feet up and they went up like that instead of straight across. They were very comfortable. Very warm. And they had an outer waterproof cover on them which made life easier.
And how did the countryside compare to Japan what did it look like?
Very similar but more mountainous. In the south, Korea was mainly agriculture, North Korea was mainly industry and coal mining. And you had these drab little villages which resemble coal mining villages all over the world. Little houses
and drab streets. Not very picturesque.
What evidence was there in the countryside of the North Korean invasion?
Well a lot of villages had been burnt down, whether this was due to aircraft or artillery I can’t be sure, but a lot of places were burnt down. There were pictures of Kim Il Sung [North Korean leader] all over the place.
That’s about it, destruction of homes and buildings and photographs of old Kim on every tree, on every post.
Given that, how did the Koreans respond to the Australia troops?
They were pleased to see us because when
we came up there, the North Koreans left and they were free from all of the restrictions. They got properly fed, food and medicine was brought in and they got looked after much better.
You mentioned that the prostitutes in Japan were active, was there anything like that in Korea?
I don’t think so, if so they were active somewhere else they might have
been in Pusan or Saigon, they weren’t out in the countryside in the fields. Unless you had some farmers wife who was freelancing, but that was about all .We had other things on our minds, we weren’t worried about sex.
Can you describe to me in detail what your first operation was in Korea?
Well shortly after we got there we were
given a fortnight or so of acclimatisation to get used to the country and operating with the American system. We went on a search and clear operation in a place with the improbable name of Plum Pudding Hills. And that was a group of low hills not far from Pusan and we had to search these hills and clear them of any stragglers
and any dumps of ammunition and other supplies and so on. Which we did. And we drove up there. We had Bren carriers, three carriers to a section and the company commander decided not to take the machine gun with him through the hills he would just take the machine gun sergeant. The section sergeant
who wasn’t too pleased about that, only had a wireless, and we had wireless, and if we were wanted we would be called up. Well we weren’t called up. We spent the day sitting on the side of the road hoping we wouldn’t be called up. And after a while one of the company officers came down, a Captain Hummerston I think. He was the company 2IC [Second in Command] and he was going down to reccie [reconnoitre] a bivouac
area for the night. So off he went in a jeep. And shortly afterwards, an hour or so he came back on foot or he might have had a lift from a Yank. And he said his jeep had bogged in the loose sand down near the river so he needed a [Bren gun] carrier to take it out. So we lent him the section commander’s carrier and away they went. The driver and the second range taker went with him.
And an hour or so later the range taker came back by himself. He said, “The carrier had struck a mine down by the river; the driver and Captain Hummison have both been killed.” Well that was a bit of a big shock to us all, especially the blokes that hadn’t been away before, so early in the piece. The driver was a nice young bloke named Kevin Sketchley, from Western Australia. Quiet shy young fellow,
post-war enlistment in the regular army. We all just getting to know each other and he was killed. It was a big shock to us all. And that was it. Packed up the next day and drove further north up the peninsula.
Did the men talk much about him that night?
Oh yes he was there for quite a while,
everyone was saying, “Poor old Sketch” you know. Just general conversation. Good memories. I suppose that you could say there was grieving over him.
S o where did you go from there?
Just again further north, all little towns up the road, I can’t remember them all. Some of them were large, some small.
We pulled up one night and went into a defensive position, set up our guns and so forth, bedded down for the night and in the morning we awoke and found a group of North Koreans across the road, about eighteen hundred or so. And they were stragglers from all of their regiments and we were still wearing the service dress uniforms we had worn in Japan and we had these red flashes across our
side, Royal Australian Regiment, .and some people say that the North Koreans thought we were Russians. There was a case I have been told where fellows were waving at us saying, “Ruskie, Ruskie.” Whether it is true or not I don’t know but I have heard it and read it in some places. Anyway we got these eighteen hundred prisoners and they took off down south somewhere, they
were taken away. And then we kept going to various towns, I can’t remember all of their names, kept going further north to a place called Kapyong At one stage we drove along a road which was adjacent to an American air force base. Fighter strip
or bomber strip I am not sure. And on the side of the road leading into a camp was a body of a dead Korean, North Korean or South Korean I don’t know. And he was just lying there minding his own business, poor bugger on the side of the road, and it happened that about three weeks later that we came back along that road, when the Chinese
came into the war and upset our home for Christmas plans. Might have been six or weight weeks. We came back and here is this poor beggar still lying on the side of the road. Makes you think, people wouldn’t bury a body, leave a body sitting around to rot, so to speak. The Americans have got funny ideas; they won’t bury enemy soldiers.
They were all air force anyway, so they didn’t much care about that sort of thing. We used to bury anybody that was close to us, but the Americans didn’t, they just left them there.
Going back to that village where you came across the eighteen hundred Koreans, what were they doing in the village?
Well it wasn’t actually a village it was between villages, an open rice field. They just camped themselves there at night where they happened to be when it got dark and they were sleeping there in the paddy field and when they woke up in the morning there we were, across the road.
Had they become isolated?
Yeah they were all stragglers who had been collected by the North Korean officers and directed along this path. They were heading for North Korea as fast as they could.
What were your impressions of the enemy and how organised and well equipped they were?
They weren’t terribly well organised when we had contact with them .They were fairly well equipped with sub machine guns and rifles.
At that stage we didn’t experience much of the artillery or mortars or their tanks for that matter. We came across a lot of the tanks which were abandoned by the side of the road. Dismantled, they took the guns and the breech block out of the gun and that’s about all. Left it there and these were blown up by the engineers.
Wasn’t terribly impressed about their organization, they had none. They had no food supplies, no means of carrying it. They just got by on what they could scrounge. I think they were quite pleased to be taken prisoner, they get three meals a day.
What would you do with them once you took them prisoner?
Well we handed
them over to the South Korean army people, mainly military police, who took them down south where they were put in prisoner of war cages, we had no further connection with them. Once the South Koreans took over.
Was there an suspicion that any of the locals or villagers had been providing support to the North Koreans ?
There was. When the Turks arrived over there they were put on a
train and sent from Pusan up the country and as they were going through a village they were sniped at and several people were killed. The rest of the story was, the Turks got to their destination, they dismantled their rifle company and went back through the village and killed every able bodied man. Again that was a yarn and I can’t say whether it was true or not. It was current at the time.
How did the South Korean, military police conduct themselves?
With the usual Asiatic brutality. If they wanted a question and they didn’t like the answer, they would punch the fellow until he told them what they wanted to hear, mistreat him and beat him. They were after military information and by hook or by crook they got it.
They were rather brutal.
How did their brutality compare to the Japanese that you had encountered?
The Japanese police, known as the Kempi tai were quite cruel and known to use torture. And it was pretty much the same. The 8th Division fellows
would say that the Korean guards during the war were worse. Worse than the Japanese. The Japanese would just knock you down, the Koreans knocked you down and enjoyed it.
Interviewee: Gregory McGee Archive ID 1755 Tape 05
I understand there was an episode where a mass grave was discovered in Korea?
Yes at a place called Andong that was on our first trip, the first couple of days we were going up this peninsula. We were running short of petrol so we pulled in at a big American supply dump. They
said, “Sorry we haven’t got any petrol” the train bringing it up hadn’t arrived, so we had to wait a couple of hours. They said, “While you’re sitting here go and look at the top of the hill up there.” We said, “What’s up there?” And they said, “Go and see.” So we went up there. It wasn’t very high. And we came across a large grave that had been bulldozed. It was full
of Koreans, dead, who had all been shot mainly by, we believe, the North Koreans when they left the area. There was between fifty and a hundred of them. Around the grave there were smaller groups that had been murdered, this time mainly by axes picks, hoes what have you.
There must have been a couple of hundred there, all told.
Was there anyway of knowing why these people had been murdered?
Well the American civil affairs fellow was there and he used to liase with the Koreans and he said that the people dead were mostly school teachers, doctors and lawyers. People of some prominence
or some importance in the town. And they made a clean sweep, they wiped them all out. No nonsense about a council election.
What kind of evidence was there of atrocities against civilians?
Well there was this whole full of dead people, that’s one of them. Another, you would often find bodies in odd places. Obviously not soldiers.
A lot of women who were just shot or raped or both. We found bodies of men to have their hands tied behind their backs and they had been shot or bayoneted. There was quite a number of cases of that sort of stuff. They would take these people away from their farms and villages for a while as carriers for their equipment
and food or ammunition, and when they didn’t need them any more they shot them or killed them.
Was the role of the forces in Korea, did that include collecting evidence of these kinds?
No we didn’t do anything like that. If there was a big batch of bodies around the place they would be reported to the Americans., to the Koreans, they would come up
and deal with the matter. We didn’t play any part in the investigation.
Where did you go from there?
Further north, Saruwan. I cant remember all of the names, anyway we just kept going up the hill and we eventually arrived at a place called Kapyong where there was a big bridge over a river. Had been a bridge,
it had been blown. It was known as the broken bridge. We had quite a battle there. Went across the river that night, a couple of companies did anyway, we went across the next morning. And the lead section had been fighting through the night, had their sergeant killed, he was an 8th Division bloke too, but bad luck.
Well they had a battle there for that night and the Koreans attacked with tanks and soldiers. It was a foregone conclusion, we had the air force and the artillery, all they had was people on feet and one or two tanks which were quickly knocked down.
Could you explain what you had to do in a battle situation like that?
Well we were taken to a gun position and we would prepare to fire in a particular area, we would have an arc of fire and we would have to look after that ground. Anybody who was there we would shoot at them, whether we hit them or not was another matter, defensive fire mainly.
How far away were the enemy from you when you were firing?
The range depended, we would let them come as close as we could so we could make sure we would get them. A couple of hundred yards for a Vickers.
And if you can just explain what was going on
around you at this time while you were manning the gun?
Well there were rifle companies who were shooting or being shot at. Sniping, they were attacking and the mortar platoon would be firing their bombs., the artillery were back across the river and they would be firing over our heads. And we would all be in operation
according to our jobs. In repelling whatever attacks there were, or following up.
What kind of warning did you have of this attack?
Very little. They sneak up on you and give you as little warning as they can possibly do. I would say five or ten minutes if that.
What would be the first sign of any attack?
Oh they would be shooting at you, yelling and screaming. And of course a tank wasn’t exactly quiet as it came tumbling along shooting at you with their big seventy-six millimetre guns. You would hear the tank engine and as soon as you heard the engine you know you were in for trouble.
What kind of terrain were you fighting in?
It was rather hilly at that particular place, and rather wild. Very few villages. What there was, they were across the river on the flat ground near the water. Not much rice paddies up there, I think there is a lot of timber but
not much rice. It was pleasant country.
What kind of challenges would that country present to you?
Nothing specific, ii was just another country, just another piece of ground to be fought over, hill to be climbed, holes to be dug.
No great problems. Well the biggest problems for us and our Bren gun carrier were broken tracks, you know the caterpillar tracks that run around the side. Well it is a bit more complicated than mending a tyre. You have got to get the broken track, they’re joined by a steel rod which we hammered into place and then a
leaden sort of a cork was put in, and then hammered into place and then you have got to adjust the track so it is running at its correct tension, and it is a complicated piece of work, half an hour or more at least. And while you’re doing this to carry it out of action, the gun can’t be fired. You have got to have some sort of protection around you in case some fellow sneaks up on you. That was our biggest problem,
and the ground was very suited for breaking tracks. Loose sandy stony ground that would break a track as soon as look at you. If you tried to turn quickly it would twist the track and it would break sure as eggs.
Did the tracks ever break when you were in the middle of a battle?
Not in the middle of a battle no.
We didn’t actually take the carriers into battle, we didn’t fire out of the carriers, we dismounted and went forward on foot carrying the guns and ammunition and the carrier would be left behind in a fairly safe place.
Can you remember some occasions where a track broke when it was difficult to mend it quickly?
Well there was one occasion we were advancing somewhere
after Kapyong and we were moving up this fairly narrow road through a bushy area and we called up on the wireless and told to get back, the Chinese had come into the war. So we turned around on a wide area of the road and of course broke the track.
I think that was the fastest track repair on record with the Chinese army breathing down our necks, or so we thought. And so we fixed that up and back we went. Didn’t see a Chinamen for a couple of weeks after that.
How did things change for you once the Chinese had come in?
Not so much for me personally. It got a bit more
active, we were moving a lot quicker, the Chinese were more organised than the Koreans and more aggressive too. It became a bit livelier at times. We were fighting more frequently. We were surrounded once, well part
of the battalion. Surrounded for a day or two, they got in front of us and cut the road. But nothing too dramatic happened, some American task force came in and cleared them out.
How long were you surrounded?
A day, day and a half.
IF you were surrounded like that how would you deal with it as a group?
Well we would just go on as normal, dig our holes and put out our sentries, carry on and wait for something to happen.
After the battle of Kapyong what did you do after that?
Well we advanced a short distance for a short time, and then the Chinese came in and pushed us back. And we
were down there on the side of the road, Tanjong River I believe it is called, and the Middlesexs had attacked the hill, or the Argylls, I forget which, and they were cut off. We had to put in a company attack to get them out which we did. We got them out and attacked this low range of hills.
And we were mortared from there, I got a bit of mortar bomb in my elbow. Not much. went out to hospital.
When you say the company was involved in attacking the hill, could you explain what happened that day?
Well the company or the platoon
whichever it was, were lined up and they advanced across the paddy field and up the slope into the hill fighting, killing, grenading all of the people as they went, until the enemy decided he had had enough and he ran away and then he dug in on the hill. At the time we were on the side of the road firing over their heads to give them supporting fire.
Do you remember where this was?
Near Kapyong which was quite further north, well into North Korea, it wasn’t far from the Manchurian border, we thought we were going to finish up on the Manchuria border, well we never quite made it.
Were these the Chinese or the Koreans at this point?
You mentioned that the Chinese were more organised than the Korean. Can you describe their different fighting tactics?
Well tactics were pretty much the same although they would swamp you. You may have heard the expression human sea, waves and waves of soldiers coming at you, all shouting and firing at once. They had no
idea of taking cover or anything tactical. They would just come at you in a group, a large number of men. Swamp you by their numbers.
What kind of numbers were you facing?
Well there might be a couple of hundred to attack ten or twenty.
And how were they armed?
Mainly they had submachine guns. Russian type sub, machine guns .They had Russian rifles as well. They didn’t appear to have any light machine guns similar to the Bren but I may be mistaken there, submachine gun was quite bad enough,
they were called Burp guns. And they fired fairly low velocity, small round but lots of it.
You mentioned that you had some mortar fire and you were injured, can you explain what happened that day?
Well I got hit by a piece of splinter off a mortar bomb in the elbow here
and I was sent out to go to the RAP, wasn’t a very big wound at all, and they couldn’t find the RAP. It had been moved, and the American infantry private didn’t want to hang around so we went further back, and we went to an American unit probably similar to the MASH [Mobile Army Surgical Hospital – American Television series] if you have seen on television, although much better organised.
And they were packing up and moving too. So we went further back to an airstrip, we were put on a DC3, and sent back to Seoul, the capital, where we were sent to an American hospital. I was there for three or four days and there was no problem about my wound.
All it really needed was a Bandaid. And then I went to an American camp, a replacement depot, a staging camp to be sent back to unit. So we went there near Unjong and then we went to a supply depot or we went north by LST to Unjong
to the American Division. North Korean port of, I can’t recall the name, big port. And we well from there we went to the supply depot where our trucks used to come down to pick up the rations, when they did we got on the trucks and went back and rejoined the battalion.
To get an idea how troops movements rations all of these kind of logistical thing worked in Korea, how were people moving around?
Mainly by vehicles, three tonne trucks and similar. Jeeps and carriers if you had them. the Americans had a three quarter tonne truck called a weapon carrier which was the
equivalent to our Bren gun carrier except it was four wheeled instead of tracks and much more reliable. And people went on those vehicles, they used to overcrowd them. Jeeps, and trailers again overcrowded, and three tonne trucks. There was no railways at that stage, they weren’t operating. Large numbers of troops over longer distances, they went by aircraft.
And how were you getting supplies in?
Well simple system is you report your numbers of troops,” I have got a battalion of seven hundred men here”, and report that to the Supply people who would send you up sufficient food to feed those people,
and if you had been told you were getting a reinforcement of a hundred troops on Tuesday say, they would send that up, they would send up extra food on that particular day. Usually worked on a system where you had a day’s supply in the battalions stores itself, a day’s supply coming up the next day, it was usual to operate three days ahead.
What kind of food were you eating?
Well we were on the American system of supply and it was called ration packs, and there was two types, ten man pack or a one man pack. The one man pack was about the size of a shoe box, you know the cardboard boxes you buy shoes in and it fed you three meals for one day. They were little,
about twelve ounce tins of processed food. Very monotonous and not very tasty. The ten man pack was bigger and it was designed for ten men for one meal a day, or variations of that figure, five men for two days and so on. And they had larger tins.
And they had vegetables there, potatoes, carrots and a few other things I can’t recall, American vegetables. Plus tins of meat, coffee, tea, cigarettes, chewing gum. It was quite a complicated arrangement. And it too became monotonous, after a while you wouldn’t eat it.
Before I left Korea I used to have about two or three meals a week on this stuff. I would have the rest on tea and biscuits.
How was the co-ordination between the US forces and the other forces involved?
Well on the whole it was pretty good and it got better as we went along.
Every country had their own system of operating. The Americans work on the Prussian system where they give the orders and that’s it, you’re not allowed to argue. Whereas the British system is more or less by committee, the general comes down and says, “I want to capture that hill
Charlie you take your brigade and capture that hill.” And that’s it, and Charlie gets his battalion commanders together and says, “We have got to take that hill, any ideas how we’re going to do it?” And they all put their heads together, “Yes we will do this that and the other.” The brigadier and his commanding officers. Whereas American officers, if they have a similar job to do, the brigadier just tells
the other blokes what to do. There is no argument or “I beg your pardon.” And if you don’t think it is a good idea or you can think of a better way to do it that doesn’t make any difference. The brigade commander says, “That’s what you’re going to do and this is how you’re going to do it.” Not given any latitude at all. So there was a little friction at first before both guys got used to the others method.
What kind of
contact were you in with the US guys?
What do you mean contact?
Well how often would you be seeing them?
Not very often at all. The senior officers did that, the majors and brigadiers and so on, they handled that stuff, people in the ranks didn’t bother their heads about them.
Did you have leave at any stage during this time?
They had a system there after we had been there for a while of R & R [Rest and Recreation] leave for Tokyo, rest and recuperation and you could go to Tokyo or back to Japan for seven days or so. Well I didn’t get any of that, they told me I had had a holiday in
hospital so I didn’t need and R and R.
So when you went back from hospital where did you head to then?
I went back to the battalion, back to the machine guns.
So whereabouts were they at this stage?
Oh goodness knows. Somewhere in North Korea, I couldn’t pinpoint the place.
And could you explain some of the thing that happened at this time?
Well the Chinese were attacking and pushing us back. And we would just move back and take up a position
in a village or over a river. Watching a bridge one particular time we were protecting a group of American army engineers who were building a bridge. And we were there for a couple of days, there was no fighting going on because they didn’t come near us. But the American air force came and strafed us a few times, dropped a few bombs, fired a few machine guns at us. And the
engineers said, “Well that’s normal they do that all of the time, if they haven’t got an enemy they shoot their friends.” Quite a common occurrence to be bombed or strafed by the American air force. In the battle of Kapyong they dropped a napalm bomb on us, killed about eleven people and three or four died of wounds.
What kind of system of communication that the air force had?
Well we had air panels, that big fluorescent mats sort of thing, put out on the ground various colours and we would lay them on the ground and you’re supposed to be able to see them from about three thousand feet, and they were supposed to identify us as friends. Of course it was all wireless,
there was a wireless team. When their fighters would come above us we were supposed to have the wireless on a certain frequency, same frequency as the aircraft so we could talk with them.
What kind of evidence was there of the use of napalm?
What do you mean evidence?
Well what could you see where it had been used?
Big burnt patches in the rice field or
in the forests, villages on fire. When they dropped it on us it was a blinding flash and a wave of immense heat Fortunately, we were on a ridge and I was on the other side of the ridge and they dropped it over there. So I didn’t suffer any direct consequences
of it, but they killed about eleven or twelve blokes.
What were the injuries like after that episode?
Burns. Pretty grim. Grim indeed. Napalm is an adhesive thing and it sticks to your skin and it sticks to your body and you just can’t brush it off. If you do you will ruin your fingers for a start. They were quite horrifying.
They sort of melt your body. I saw a bloke who was injured by this thing and he was walking around and somehow or another he had his boots off, and wherever he walked twigs and stones and things would come through his feet.. His feet were rather like jelly, apart from the normal flash burns. They were quite horrifying.
On that day when that accidental attack happened, what king of repercussions where there in terms of the US’ reaction?
Well I don’t know. I have been told who dropped it on us, I have been told he was a marine air force pilot and he got a bit tangled up with us and the enemy and it never happened again to us. I know that. I imagine the air was boiling with complaints.
What was the first warning that you had of that aircraft coming in?
Very little.He just arrived more or less out of nowhere and came down on us. He obviously didn’t see the identification panels and he let go his bombs. They were about three or four thousand feet away. We wouldn’t be paying particular attention to an aircraft that far off.
If we thought anything, we would have thought he was coming down to strafe the enemy who weren’t that far off. Two minutes warning, if that. And you never know where the bomb is going to land. When you see it coming down you never know it is going to land on you, it could be anywhere.
What is the noise like at this point?
What noise? The noise of the bomb or the aircraft?
No particular noise, it didn’t scream. I don’t remember much about it until it actually hit. I don’t think it made a screaming noise as you usually associate with bombs.
What was the reaction amongst the men?
Well there was immediate reaction to rescue the wounded and the other reaction was to dig a hole a bit deeper. We fully expected to be machine gunned after that but he didn’t; he must have spotted the panel and decided to lay off.
We never heard if anything happened to him when he got back and said, “I have just bombed the Australians.” We never heard if he was court martialled or anything.
How would casualties be taken out of a situation like that?
Firstly they would be dealt with by the battalion stretcher bearers, which was a special group of soldiers trained in medical and first aid procedures
and they would be carried back to a collection point or where they could be picked up by vehicles or carried back to a field ambulance. In the case of Kapyong they were collected in a certain area and if Chinese prisoners came available they would carry them back. If not the rifle companies would carry their own
stretchers, they would be carried back again to a field ambulance or an ambulance point and they would be driven back to a field ambulance or a field hospital.
How far normally would they be carried on stretchers?
Well they tried to get it as short as possible. Two or three hundred yards, but in many cases the distance would be two or
three miles. As short a carry as possible.
How substantial was the medical attention that they could receive on the field?
Well quite good, once they got back into the medical system, casualties were very unusual, very unlikely
to die unless it was a very serious wound. The treatment of injured was very good indeed, especially when choppers came in. They started to use choppers to transport the wounded. It was good.
Apart from issues from the war, from enemy fire what kind of health issues did the soldiers face?
Well there were all sorts of injuries can happen in a war. I injured my right knee here, we were going down a very gentle slope which was muddy. It was just on spring and the snow was melting, and I slipped towards the end of it
and I slid down and my foot, the heel of my boot hit a root or a stone and it doubled my knee up under me and I was sitting on my knee. It took me five minutes to straighten it out and get up again. I have still got a bad knee from that. Other injuries, broken bones. There was a thing later on in the war called
Haemorrhagic Fever which took people off very quickly, you got a good dose of it and it would kill you. When I left there they weren’t quite sure what it was or what caused it. It killed a lot of people.
What was the symptoms of that fever?
Well it was rather like malaria to one extent and but apparently
you would have a fever, temperature and you go to hospital and seven cases out of ten you die. Symptom was death.
Did they know what to do to treat it?
No they weren’t quite sure when it first started out; they got better later on. But it didn’t really affect me or our blokes so I can’t say much about it.
Affected the blood stream somehow or another, probably insect borne.
Did you have much contact with the South Korean forces?
No very little. About the only thing we would have with the Koreans were the carriers carrying up the ammunition or the
the food or anything like that. They would come in and dump the stuff at our position, we would say hello, give them a cup of tea or something, a cigarette or two and that was it. We had no social contact with them.
Were there many issues with spies and the infiltration of the units in this way?
Not so much on a battalion level,
maybe there were spies in the divisions, trying to find out where they were going and what they were going to do. But it didn’t bother us too much, if we found Koreans nosing around the place looking for food and we were going tomorrow so we would shoot them off out of the way, not literally shoot them,
shove them out of the way. Shoo them.
How close were the civilian populations to where the fighting was going on?
Well all around it. All around the battalions Koreans we were fighting in the midst of a village or a town anything like that and they would be anywhere and everywhere.
What difficulties would that pose?
Well you would have to be sure of what you were doing, whether you were shooting an old woman or a lady, child, whatever, you would have to be very careful before you opened fire. And the Korean soldiers
themselves they were dressed in a motley collection of uniforms. Ours, South Koreans, Chinese, North Koreans, you would have to be very careful indeed.
Could you explain what kind of things they would wear that would make it confusing?
Well the uniform over there was a baggy khaki trousers and jacket, the jacket
was often padded with lumps of cotton which was for both warmth and protection because some of the small arms weapons such as a pistol or Owen gun wouldn’t direct enough strength to go through the cotton padding.
Rather surprising if you’re in action and fire half a burst of magazine and he would keep coming, disconcerting. But eventually it would get through. The Chinese had a flat cotton cap, not these baseball cap that they wear now, just a cap over there with a big red star on the front of it
told you exactly who they were.
What were the civilians mainly wearing?
Well the Koreans clothing was, baggy trousers, mainly white.
Women never used to wear collared clothing, black or white and that was it. It was mainly white. And they were loose. They weren’t fitted or anything. They wore some sort of curious cap on their head. Loose flowing jacket. And of course their
Interviewee: Gregory McGee Archive ID 1755 Tape 06
What stage was the Korean conflict at when you returned to Australia?
I returned in July 52 and it was just leading up to the truce, the ceasefire and the Panmanjon talks. It was about one half over.
It was before the Commonwealth Division was formed and all of the big fighting went on.. It was about one third finished, hard to say remember back now. There were several big battles later on.
But they didn’t affect the war, the Chinese had lost, or the communists had lost, they couldn’t push us out .We were having difficulty persuading the UN to carry on, who were always afraid of setbacks. They were afraid of publicity if the Chinese gained a big victory. It had been won but it hadn’t been finished.
So when the peace treaty was signed what were your thoughts?
I don’t think a peace treaty has ever been signed.
Well the ceasefire agreed to, what were your thoughts on the conflict generally?
Well my thought on the ceasefire was, once you sit down to negotiate you have lost, because the Orientals are very good at talking and manipulation
conversations. I thought it was a good thing that communism had been stopped. But I was expecting another one which did eventually come. I thought we were going to have a Third World War, but I was wrong there fortunately.
How did your experiences in Korea
influence the thoughts you had when you got back to Australia, about the advance of communism in Asia?
There was a lot of communist activity in Australia, they were always having rallies and marches or whatever. .They didn’t seem to be as enthusiastic or confident as they did before the Korean War. People would come up to me in uniform and say, “Have you been to Korea?” And I said, “Yes.”
“Oh it must have been terrible?” I said, “No just another war a bit colder than New Guinea but that’s all.” “But we lost that one.” And I said, “No we didn’t, the Chinese didn’t win either. They’re back where they started from so both sides are back to square one.” “Oh no” there was a lot of argument over that. At one stage I went to the University of New South Wales Regiment as an instructor and the commo students were
always at us. “You wasted your time going to Korea.” “No I didn’t, I shot lots of you communists.” That would bring them on. Especially the girls. My thought on communism, it doesn’t suit itself to our personality or our national way of doing things. Things are bad enough when you have got these stand over trade union bosses, but when the politicians take over it is worse.
And what sort of reception did Korean veterans receive and what were your thoughts on that after the war?
We didn’t receive any great reception at all. There was a welcome home march or some sort of march through Sydney where all of the a couple of battalions went through and a group of returned from Korean blokes went through too and we were all
cheered and clapped and people throwing beer cans at us. But that’s fairly normal in any war. We didn’t get as much opprobrium as we did after Vietnam. We got a welcome home march fifteen years after the war ended in Vietnam.
Vietnam, people would come up and accuse you of all of the atrocities that you blokes committed over there .And you try to argue with them, “What exactly did we do wrong and where and when?” And they say, “Oh well no good trying to wriggle out of it mate, we know what you have done.” Very vague insinuations.
So can you explain to me some of those instances you were accused of?
Oh just normal talk. You would be talking with a group of fellows and someone would say, “What do you do for a crust [job] mate?” I would say, “I am soldier.” “Were you in Korea?” “Yes.” “Were you in Vietnam?” “Yes.” “Gee well we know what sort of a soldier you are.” And I would say, “And what’s that?” “All of the atrocities you people committed, killing women and children.”
And you try to pin them down, “Where? And when? And how many innocent people did we kill?” And they would be evasive and launch into communist dialogue and dialectric materialism and all that sort of language, never anything specific. Well there wasn’t anything to complain about. One time I was in Brisbane, I was doing a course of instruction at Canungra
and the course finished on the day there was a protest march on Vietnam through Brisbane in support of the moratorium. And we were all advised not to go into Brisbane in uniform. Which we didn’t, but we all went into Brisbane and stood on the side of the road as the protestors marched past.
And they were quite orderly and chanting away, “What do we want?” “Justice.” “When do we want it?” “Now.” and so forth. And you would think Brisbane itself was under attack they way they carried on. And they were quite a cosmopolitan group, there were retired people like myself and Mary I suppose, school teachers and union people and children of all sizes and ages. Lots of pretty young girls
again like you two. And there was a corporal in the engineers standing alongside the road and he was the only one in uniform I could see. And all of the girls saw him and they made a bee line for him putting flowers around his neck and giving him a hug and a kiss and so forth and I thought, “I should go home and get my uniform on”. There was no trouble, no arguments and fights and so on. And one of the girls might say, “Have you been to Vietnam?” “Yes.”
“What was it like?” “Oh, lovely.” And that shuts them up. You’re not supposed to enjoy a war. I was in the war Memorial in Canberra once, cold wet windy day, and I was perhaps not looking my fashionable best. I had a pair of old corduroy trousers on and a wind jacket which I got in Korea and I was walking around looking at all of these exhibits,
wandering around. And the place was knee deep in school children, all with clip boards and pencils and so forth doing projects. And I happened to be in one spot once and there was a bit of a discussion about this that and the other, what was this and when was it used? And a couple of the kids said, “Do you know anything about this?” And I said, “Oh yes that’s a so and so.” I forget exactly what it was. And we were walking along there and chatting away and they were asking me questions and
and I was answering as best I could. And there were a couple of school teachers there and they were looking on smiling approvingly at all this. And one of the boys said to me with a look of intense sympathy on his face, “You was in the army was you mister?” I would like to have a worked with his English teacher. And I said, “Yes I was.” And he said, “What was it like, was it real bad?” And I said, “No it wasn’t bad at all most of the time it was good fun.” And then the school teacher, “Come on children stop worrying the gentleman.”
In place of a smile there were disproving looks. You weren’t supposed to enjoy the wars. But generally speaking the public reaction was not bad at all. Nothing personal, they might have disapproved of the war but they didn’t go on to disprove of the actual soldiers.
Do you sense that Australian’s
attitudes to the Vietnam War have modified in recent years?
To a certain extent yes. People are not so critical of it now. Every now and then someone tries to dig up an atrocity, like this My Lai where this Lieutenant, whatever his name is, killed about half of the village, but none of our forces were in any way involved in any of those incidents.
So they have really got nothing to pin on us.
Was there any awareness or any rumour or innuendo at the time when you were in Vietnam about what some of the US forces might have engaged in?
Well we knew the Yanks were pretty tough and they would do all sorts of things. In Korea we often saw an American taking a prisoner or two in the rear and five minutes later he would come back and say, “He tried to escape
captain so I had to shoot him.” Well he probably shot an unarmed prisoner of war. There were incidents of that, not isolated, but reasonably common. And I don’t suppose the Americans in Vietnam were any different from the Americans in Korea.
So if we can just go back to your role in Vietnam, can you explain how
you came to be involved in the AATTV [Australian Army Training Team Vietnam]?
Well all of the regulars were asked if they wanted to volunteer to go to Vietnam. And I said, “I volunteered to go anywhere in the world when I enlisted in the regular army. And as far as I am concerned that volunteering still stands. And Vietnam is no different to anywhere else. So if you want to send me to Vietnam, I will go to Vietnam without arguing.”
They said, “Right oh.” And a year later I was on the plane.
What had you been doing between Korea and Vietnam?
Well I came back and I went to 1st battalion, Royal Australian Regiment for six or eight weeks and then those destined to go to Korea the first time and they said, “Do you want to go back?” and I said, “Not so soon, maybe next year. I would like to stay here in Australia and go swimming and
get a bit sunburnt. “They said, “All right.” So I went across the road the 13 National Service and I stayed there for a couple of years. Then I went down to Wollongong, 34th Battalion which was a CMF [Citizens’ Military Force] training battalion and I was down there as an instructor for three or four years. Then I went back to Sydney to the University of New South Wales Regiment again as an instructor
and I had three or four years there. And next I went across to Perth, RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] of the University Regiment over there. Two university regiments in a row, they must have thought I was an intellectual. I had a year in Perth and then I went to Vietnam. Normal peace time garrison training. There is nothing unusual about that, you go from one unit to another.
And what was your
experience with people who were performing their national service?
Experience what sort of experience?
Well what did you do with them?
They got the same sort of treatment as the volunteers, training, foot drill, weapons handling, tactical work. All sorts of normal army training .There was no special or different groups who were volunteers or
conscripts as they were called. Everyone was in together and there was no arguments between them, not much, they might have argued about it in the university, but not in the army. We stopped that.
How was the university different?
Well they were quicker witted. You get a normal CMF battalion you have got shop keepers and
truck drivers and taxi drivers and what have you and they join up because they’re interested in the life and a lot of them go onto regular army .And the university students go to university and quite a lot of them join for the same reason as these fellows join the other units, interested in the army life and they want to get on a bit. Quite a lot of them join because of the army pay, it helps to pay their fees into university.
There is not a great deal different, university regiment might have a slightly different attitude. They approach it with a more critical analytical frame of mind. Where the cow farmer or truck driver is more pragmatic.
So how as an RSM, how does your
approach vary between a university regiment and a regiment of national servicemen or volunteers?
No different approach necessary, they’re all in the army and they all get treated the same way. There are some slight differences in the administration, but the national servicemen when they’re getting a bit toey [impatient] when their two years are up and they want to get out, some of them. Some of them stay in, as I say
some join the regular army, although not many. They have trained as an engineer or a chemist or something so there is not much point going to be a rifleman in Australian Infantry Battalion. They would get much more money outside.
When you were asked to volunteer and join the AATTV, what were you told about that training group and what their role would be in Vietnam?
Well we did a six weeks course in the jungle training centre in Canungra and we got all sorts of lectures on the tactics involved and the political set up. At the end of that six weeks we went to the intelligence centre at North Head in Sydney and we got a thorough briefing on it then, tactics, the ambushes and the methods they use. We got well briefed, much more so that with Korea.
You had been involved in jungle training in Canungra before you went to Morotai, how had that jungle training changed in that time?
No very much. Some of the methods were different, the ambush and the harbouring drill. The way you operated had changed by the rainforest was still the rainforest you still get wet, bitten,
everything that crawls or flies bites you or stings you, even the trees sting you. But it was pretty much the same. Some of the tactics, the ambush.
How was the ambush different?
Well they are more frequent now days then they were in New Guinea. There were bigger forces involved where as in Vietnam, a
dozen blokes could go out an ambush a track junction or a river, stretch of a river where it was thought that the Viet Cong or the enemy used. To an extent the ambush depended on the thoughts of the officer who was in charge of the training. One bloke would have the ambush out all night, from seven o’clock
in the evening and then they would ambush a patrol at half past five in the morning. Now that’s ten or twelve hours lying in cold wet country not moving. Where as some of the other blokes said “You don’t have to do that, we’re not training them to be sleep walkers.” There is a procedure of ambushing and they put an ambush out at seven in the morning and they would trip
the thing by sending a patrol in at ten o’clock, three hours later. They reckon that was quite enough. So it would depend a lot on the officer in charge.
What was the background and level of experience of the other men who were involved in that initial training?
What in Vietnam?
In the AATTV?
Well pretty much like myself, all regulars.
Some of them had served in the Second World War. Most of them had served in Korea. There were some what we called greenskins, they hadn’t been away before and they desperately wanted to get a couple of medals, they had no operational experience. But the difference between the blokes who had served in New Guinea and other places and the experience of the
blokes that hadn’t, lasted about five minutes. Once you are in action and are being fired on you are a veteran and you understand all of thing that are going on. And fellows who hadn’t done anything at all in Korea turned out to be good company commanders in Vietnam.
And when you were at the intelligence training what were you told about the
Viet Cong and their methods in detail?
Well they described their methods of recruiting. Their methods of operation which were mainly very good, they infiltrate into a village, get to know everybody. Every now and then they would take a town councillor out or village elder out and murder him.
Eventually they gained the confidence of the younger folk. They didn’t worry much about the older people; get the younger people in and they have got a better chance. The older people won’t change their ways much like me I suppose, all they can do with them is kill them, which they did fairly frequently.
So while you were at this intelligence school what were you told about how your methods
of training could incorporate these methods of the Viet Cong, what were you told you should be doing once you got there?
We never copied their methods. We kept to our own system, we learnt their methods and learnt how to circumvent them.
How would you circumvent them?
Well if we were patrolling along a road and we were ambushed ourselves, instead of running for cover we would immediately turn into the ambush and start firing into them. Counter attack immediately. And that upset them a great deal, they weren’t accustomed to that sort of thing. That was a British
method that was put out in Malaya I think. Originated in Malaya and in Borneo when they had the Indonesia confrontation.
What weren’t the Viet Cong used to counter attack?
Well nobody had ever done it to them before. They probably regarded it as unfair, they didn’t do it to anybody so anybody wouldn’t do it to
them or so they thought. And it is a surprise attack and the rise reaction. And it worked very well.
What were you told in training about the war and how long the conflict might go on for?
I don’t think we were given any specific time for the war to last, we were there for a year and we had to do our twelve months and then come home. We weren’t given any specific dates at all.
So can you explain to me what happened when you left Australia, where you went to and what you did?
Well we left by plane. I was serving in Perth at the moment so I left from Pearce airbase. We went to Singapore and we were equipped by the British to the British standard of jungle warfare. Got British uniform and we were there for
five days or so picking up all of this stuff. Then we went to Saigon.
What were your first impressions of Saigon?
Again like most Oriental places it is a big dirty untidy smelly place. They eat a lot of garlic, everybody eats a lot of garlic over there and as well as other French stuff. Have you ever been to New Hebrides over here?
Well it is very much like that French influence for architecture and flowers and trees. Very similar to tropical, it is quite a nice place when there is not a war on. Again it can be very dirty and untidy. The Vietnamese people themselves were quite friendly,
except the North Vietnamese, the children as usual they were all curious and interested to make friends. The men and women, the adults are pretty much the same as the Japanese and the Koreans, Oriental.
They were curious and friendly.
So what happened when you got to Saigon?
Well we were billeted in a big hotel there, BOQ [Bachelor’s Officers’ Quarters]. Being warrant officers we were considered to have commissioned officer status in the American army. And we were
briefed again. Re equipped with more stuff.
Who were you briefed and equipped by in Saigon?
Briefed by our own officers by our own system, equipped by the American army. Picked up a weapon, a sleeping bag - an air mattress - for God’s sake.
A hammock, get you out of the mud. Various badges to put on the side and so forth. Boots and quite a lot of stuff.
When you first arrived what sort of co-operation or communication were you having with the Americans?
Very good actually.
Very good as a matter of fact; they were happy to see us there and we got on well with them.
What was the joint role of the Australians and the Americans?
Well at first I was attached to an infantry battalion, the 1st Battalion 6th Regiment and we used to accompany them in the field on operations.
And try to advise the officers and NCOs in particular on jungle warfare tactics. Didn’t have much impact on them because they had been fighting the war for ten or twenty years. And they didn’t need us “Johnny come lately’s” to tell them how to win the war. Pretty much the same as ourselves, when the Americans came over here. “You blokes can
go home now, we’re going to win the war for you.” We used to feel the same as the Vietnamese did.
So were you under American command?
Yeah there was a captain and a lieutenant myself and two marine sergeants.
They didn’t know how to treat me because I was a foreign body to them; they didn’t know anything about the Australian army or anything. They didn’t even knew we spoke English. One bloke told me I spoke English very well for an Australian.
Did you find that as an Australian your training and your approach was similar or different to the Americans?
It is inevitable that two armies don’t agree on everything and we did things differently, slightly differently. It’s fairly normal, even the British Army which we follow very closely do things differently than we do.
How did the approaches of the US servicemen differ to the Australians in detail, what were some differences?
Well in the battalions they seemed to us to be very careless about security, about noise. They would go out on patrol and have a little pocket radio playing jazz.
There was a lot of noise at night, talking and shouting. They were careless with their firearms. Every now and then someone would fire a round .There was a lot of drinking and drug taking going on.
Can you elaborate on the drinking and the drug taking that you saw?
Well they would take stuff into the field with them, not just a can of beer, a bottle of scotch or bourbon or something like that. They would be smoking marijuana and taking harder stuff. And it was rampant, not just the odd man here or there. Most of the units were. A book over there says,
a field artillery unit put in support of an infantry battalion and every Friday night they would have a happy hour, they would get drunk and take drugs and one thing or another. They were. It is pretty worrying if you have got people like that, half away with drugs firing artillery in your support, just as likely to fire at you.
When you first arrived in Vietnam was your role confined to training?
Yes on operations. We would go out to operations with this battalion and they weren’t very serious operations, they were more like training exercises we had in Australia, except that they used live ammunition and they set fire to houses.
Who were you training?
The Vietnamese soldiers, 1st Battalion 6th Regiment.
And what were you training them in?
Mainly weapons handling, firing and throwing grenades, that sort of stuff basic level.
So can you explain say how on a day to day level what the operation would be, where you would go what you would do, and how many
men you would be training?
Well depending on what sort of operation you were on, search and destroy or just a patrol through the countryside to see what you could pick up. There was always something basic to practice, you have got to keep quiet, you have got to move quietly. And not make, when you go into camp and when you bivouac for a night, you
set up your positions, you put up your machine gun, you dig your holes and so forth, fix your camouflage and settle in, so that you can react as quickly as possible if you happen to be attacked through the night., and you don’t shoot your own fellows.
That was rampant too, the Americans were always shooting each other or shooting the Vietnamese. I wish you wouldn’t look at me so seriously.
What were the general skills like for the Vietnamese you were training?
They were pretty poor really
because they had a mass production system for training. There was no individual training at all or very little. If I got to a training unit and I find that some soldier is weak in rifle handling of LMG [Light Machine Gun] work he will be given special training to bring up to the standard. Where as in the Oriental and American system everybody
goes through the same lesson once. And they reckon when he is finished that lesson he is an expert. Whether happens to be rifles, hand grenades or whatever, he doesn’t have to be checked., our system is that you’re continually checked and continually monitored. If people get into bad habits,
they become careless then their performance slips.
So were you able to successfully improve the skills of the Vietnamese?
Perhaps we were, I really don’t know, because I was with the battalion only about three months and I didn’t notice any great improvement in their performance,
then again I am telling you one thing according to our system and the Americans will tell you something else according the their system. It is no wonder that they were confused. Because you had the two American marine sergeants who did it according to their standard, and the two American army officers who did it according to their standard. And the marines and the infantry are vastly different.
So what were you looking for on these search and destroy operations?
Dumps of food rice and ammunition and other supplies. Defended localities; you might come across places which had dug outs and huts and so forth.
Concealed camps where they used to retire at times and rest and recuperate. We were looking for those places at times which we would destroy. Take any supplies we would find back and if there was ammunition and we didn’t want it, we would arrange for that to be destroyed too. Also the Vietnamese were looking for defectors,
people who were secret VC [Viet Cong] supporters and people who were trying to get to the Viet Cong to defect to them.
You mentioned that in your training back in Australia you had been taught about Viet Cong who were able to infiltrate a village,
how in Vietnam were you able to detect if a Viet Cong was present?
Well we couldn’t do much about it without having a good knowledge of the language. North Vietnamese spoke a different type of language from the South Vietnamese, different slang, different expressions and perhaps a different accent.
So without knowledge of that we couldn’t do much about it. They would have to be very careless before we could pick up. Each group had an interpreter, an English speaking Vietnamese soldier. And he used to do most of the checking and picking up.
But quite often he was not a soldier, he was just someone who happened to speak English. He might have been a clerk in a big office or something and he picked up English there, not very well but he could speak a few words and he would be sent to a course for three months or so to learn a few more words, and then was enlisted or supplied as an interpreter.
Were you operating in a particular province?
Yes the first time I went up there I was operating in a place called Tan Ki province. I was there for six months or so and then I went further south to Vung Tau and I was there for
about six weeks or so. And then I went up to a place called Da Lat which is in the mountains, a delightful place. And I was operating in the police field force training centre there which was purely recruit training place. And the idea of the police field force was that when the army had moved through an
area and had supposedly cleared the area of Viet Cong, there would always be a slight residue left behind and it was a bit too much for the average civilian police, so they had a police force which was trained as soldiers in infantry tactics and they used to take over in the area and police it,
paramilitary police. It was quite successful when it was applied properly but people used to take it for granted, they would put a police field force company out there and say, “Well that’s all right.” And they wouldn’t follow it up.
Interviewee: Gregory McGee Archive ID 1755 Tape 07
I just wanted to ask you Mr McGee, how the People Action Groups were formed?
That was another political home guard sort of thing. People Action, PAT teams, were groups more or less along the lines of home guard, having been formed from the village and they would be in charge specifically designated to defend the village
in case of attack. They never left the village environment, except on patrols around the local area. And their specific job as I said was to defend the village in case of attack, but they would also police the village if they found any defectors or a sleeping ground of Viet Cong.
How were the groups organised?
Well that was the village chief and the local village province chief. Each province had a chief, usually an army officer in charge of it. And he would have various deputies around the place in the larger villages, he would be in the bigger town and his deputies would operate in smaller villages, and it would all be divided
up into groups and they would all look after their own area.
And what kind of skills were you hoping to provide them?
Well again it was weapon training, weapon handling, they didn’t mind firing their weapons, but they didn’t like much having to clean them which was most annoying.
To fire, to take aim properly, usually they would point the rifle in the general direction and let blast. And teach them fire discipline, if one or two rounds will do don’t fire the whole magazine. Again throwing hand grenades, they thought they were fire crackers.
Who was providing the groups with the weaponry?
The American army.
The PATs were more or less under the control of the CIA [US Central Intelligence Agency] From the American side of view, so are the villages, well there was all sorts, there was Peoples Action Teams, there were carriers, they had a group
of people who were designated as carriers, and they would carry loads of food or ammunition out. The American embassy had a lot to do with those village forces, they had liaison officers out and they would come around and inspect the camps and tell us what we were doing wrong, wouldn’t pat
us on the back for what we were doing right. American embassy had a lot to do with the CIA too.
What evidence did you personally see of the activity of the CIA?
Well I suppose in a way I was working for the CIA in the training camp. The PAT training camp, they were funding that.
Again in Vung Tau where PAT troops were going they used to have a lot of civilian instructors. Ex-NCO’s, senior NCO’s from the American army or marines and they would be down there as civilians, operating as civilians not as soldiers.
And under the general direction of the CIA. Again in the CIA you would find an ex-servicemen soldier who would take over the command of the training, the instruction. And there was some lovely arguments between them and the regular army officers about who was right and who was wrong. It is a great deal to do with
the eventual failure of the Americans in Vietnam, various groups were fighting against each other.
What were your thoughts about the American methodology?
I thought if they got one bad tempered English general in the place they would do a lot better like, Montgomery or some of those blokes. Sack all of the no-hopers [incompetents] and, I thought they were too slack in their appreciation of it.
And how would that slackness manifest itself?
Again in sloppy staff work, lack of security, lack of training, acceptance of low standards of training and operations .They would go out to do a job and they would fail because of lack of normal precautions and everyone would just shrug their
shoulders and say, “Oh well can’t be helped” and go on making the same mistakes.
Could you give me some example of those mistakes?
Well security was one of them. I have read a book on the Vietnam War, an American soldier went into a tailor and he
wanted a suit made or he was having a suit made and the tailor said, “Come back Friday and we will have a fitting.” And he said, “No I can’t come Friday, we are going somewhere else on operation and will be away about three weeks.” And the tailor who was probably a VC agent, all of the nice friendly efficient ones. And he would immediately report that and there would
be a hot reception waiting for them when they got over to Ba Kat or wherever they were going. No security as well .and they didn’t work on their training either. The American army, they think once they had been through their recruiting system they were right.
What were you doing on a daily basis when you were doing these training camps?
Supervising training whether it was firing, throwing grenades. We didn’t do any of the drill or that sort of stuff, they did all of that. One of my jobs was involved with the building of facilities, building the thirty yard ranges and so forth.
The confidence course, the courses where you wind your way through the jungle and targets pop up at you. Sneaking courses we call them, and you fire at the target as they come up. Building all those sorts of things.
What was your view of Colonel Serong?
Very good, very efficient soldier. The Police Field Force was his idea and I thought it was very good.
Could you describe what he was like to work with?
Yes he was very easy to work with; he told you what he wanted you to do and he expected you to do it. If you didn’t you would go out
on your ear, you knew exactly where you stood with him. He used to come up to Da Lat every two or three weeks and walk around the camp and if he found it all right he said so; and if he found something wrong he said so too. And you had to fix it before he came back the next time.
What knowledge did you have at this time about how the war was going?
Well you knew pretty well what was going on .The American information section was quite good, they would tell you everything ,exactly everything .So we had a pretty good idea of what was going on and how it affected the country as a whole.
How long were you in Vietnam for?
About fifty-one weeks.,
And when was it that you came home?
Middle of 1965, May '65, something like that.
Did you witness protests when you were back home?
One or two, they were low key protests, people marching up and down the street, waving banners and flags and chanting. “What we want now.?” And so forth, but they were never really serious about it. It just seemed to me, that they were going through the motions.
What were your thoughts about the people who were against the war?
Well it is a free world and they are entitled to have their opinion and express it. I thought they were wrong, in their approach but they are entitled to say so.
What are you thoughts now in hindsight of Australians' involvement in the war?
I think we were right to go. I think we could have got more people over there through a different approach, for example rather than calling in national service we had called up the volunteer
CMF units and said, “Right, later this year 1st battalion New South Regiment is going to Vietnam” or New South Wales will send CMF to Vietnam, whatever battalion it is. “Any other CMF soldier in New South Wales who wants to transfer to that battalion can do so. “
I think we could have got more volunteers through CMF although the CMF is for Australia, not overseas.
What were your views on conscription at the time?
Well compared with sending them overseas to Vietnam, I didn’t think of it at all.
Everybody was trying to avoid conscription by getting married in a hurry and a lot of the conscripts would have joined the army in the normal course of events, they miss out, the regular army miss out on them and a lot of them were allowed to transfer to the regular army and serve on.
I think it made a bit of a difference to the regular army, instructors had to be provided for training battalions. People were promoted before their time, before they were due. In the training team a lot of corporals and sergeants were promoted to warrant officer long before they had the experience for those ranks. Caused a lot of great deal and confusion in the
regular army .There were different standards of camps, different standards of the treatment of the trainee.
Why do you think Australia was right to go to Vietnam?
Well for the same reason we went to Korea. Communism had to
be stopped whether it was ourselves or someone else. We had to go and support people who needed support. Assist them from communists.
What were your thoughts when the troops were called back?
Well I thought it was inevitable. It is like this bloke [Mark] Latham [Labor opposition leader] he is going to call back about seven or eight hundred troops [from Iraq], so a whole division.
Walking out and leaving the job unfinished is not a good idea.
I just wanted to ask you seeing the troops coming home and having served in Vietnam what were your thoughts about what in the end happened in that country?
I think I always expected the inevitable to happen, that the United States would be defeated. The way they were going about it was not a very acceptable way by my way of thinking. And they couldn’t train the Vietnamese army, the South Vietnamese to be sufficiently aggressive.
The Vietnamese army was not strong enough, not motivated enough. People used to say, “It might be a war for you but it is a living for us.” Everyone was living off the war. South Vietnamese were anyway, they were contracted, too much corruption,
everything in supplies, too much corruption in the conscription. Somebody would get called up to the army and somebody else wouldn’t. They would buy their way out of it, or by using influence. I think it was inevitable.
America is really not a militaristic group. Rather happy go lucky. They are not the people they were in the Second World War.
How did the public’s attitude towards the Vietnam War impact on you?
No impact on me personally. I
came back to Australia and went to an army unit and served there. I have heard other people came back and got out of the army, got a job in civilian firms and put up with a lot of harassment from their worker mates who disagreed with the war. I know personally one guy who was more or less driven nuts by this sort of thing.
Have you suffered any consequences of your wartime experiences in terms of health?
Well yes I have got a very bad knee. Arthritis, I made a mess of it in Korea. And I am deaf or very hard of hearing due to machine guns and other small arms fire.
Malaria knocked me about a bit. That’s about all. Wound in my arm was nothing to worry about. Metal is still there but it doesn’t bother me.
Do you know people who have suffered from post traumatic stress?
Oh yes. In the team and 3 battalion. Oh various people who have suffered in some form or another.
Have you ever suffered from anything along those lines?
No psychological effects, I am not bright enough for that. Mainly health-wise my leg, climbing up and down hills with a fifty pound tripod on your leg, it might be all right when you’re doing it, but when you stop doing it you suffer the consequences of having done it for too long.
Have you ever been back to any of the places you served?
No unfortunately I haven’t. I have always wanted to go to Japan or Korea or Vietnam even. But I have never been able to manage it.
You mentioned earlier that people weren’t meant to enjoy war, that that was one of the attitudes that you faced, what was it about your war
time experience that you have the fondest memories of?
I suppose it would be Borneo, there was no fighting going on where I was, it wasn’t like at Tarakan or Balikpapan. There was scattered skirmishes going on, but I don’t think I was fired on, or if so they missed me. And the climate was good, the country side was pleasant.
The company was excellent, good soldiers and good mates. I still go to the reunion and they still call me “Young Bluey” which does wonders for me. I think it was Borneo. It was a very good battalion to be in the 2 /13th.
What do you think you have gained from the experience of being at war?
I think I have learnt to be more tolerant of other people. I have got a lot of experience in a lot of curious situations,
it is hard to say really. I value the experience I have had, but other people discount it. Other people think I should have got out of the army after the Second World War and got a good job and made money, that seems to be the prevailing attitude. Get a proper job.
Why didn’t you want to do that?
I don’t know really, I always wanted to be a soldier. As I said earlier, the life suited me and I kept on being promoted and I must have been reasonably good at it. And I enjoyed the training, the camps the comradeship. Tramping all over the countryside, that was quite pleasant.
Get a bit tired now and then and wet, and muddy, but you get over that. I remember we were talking in Dubbo once during a break in the training, every so on in training there would be a ten minute break for ‘smoko’ [rest] and we were talking about the war and what we were going to do and how we would be used and the sergeant instructor was sitting there smoking
away not saying anything. And before we finished he said, “You blokes have got the wrong idea.” He was a First World War man, he said, “What your training is working parties, patrols, pickets, duties and so forth. Every now and then there is an occasional day’s fighting.” He said, “It is not all blood and thunder at all. “ And I found that to be quite true.
Mr McGee thank you very much for being involved in the archive project.