Archive number: 1788
Date interviewed: 23 April, 2004
2/5th Battalion New Guinea
3 RAR Korea
You are listening to the interview audio
Can you tell us about where you were born and your early childhood years?
Well, I was born in Adelaide in 1923 and I lived in a suburb called St Peters, which is a fairly close inner suburb.
My father was a sheep farmer; he had quite a considerable holding in the mid-north of South Australia. He retired to Adelaide in about 1911. He was 53 when I was born. He had 10 other children before me by his first wife, who unfortunately died, and then he married my mother a couple of
years later, who became a step mother to all of this litter. I was therefore the young pup of the family and they were always watching me to see that I was not given any favourable treatment. So, time went on and I went to school, a local state school in East Adelaide they called East Adelaide Public School.
I was there for four years, and then my parents sent me to St Peter’s College, where all my other half siblings had gone – the boys – except for one that went to Scotch [College], because my father had a disagreement with the headmaster. However, I went to St Peter’s and I was there for nine years. I left school in 1941,
the end of 1941. So, I matriculated for university when I was 16, in 1939, but because I couldn’t go to the university until I was 18, we had to stay in a holding pen, to use a sheep phrase. For two years, doing first year university subjects. Then at the end of that time we could go to university. Now, it so happened
of course, that World War II had broken out, and a lot of my older school friends and colleagues had gone to the war, some of whom had gone to the Middle East. I was getting rather concerned about all this, so I thought, “Damn it, I can’t go and do medicine.” which I was planning to do, “I’ll join the army instead.” I already had some military training, when I became an officer in the school cadets.
Went to numerous courses in the school holidays to learn more about the army, and I got a little bit intrigued by it all. So I joined the army, and there I started out as a sapper in engineers, a private soldier, and then after several months I was asked to take an exam for corporal, and I did that and passed. Two months later I was asked to take an exam for sergeant, so I got on
You did get on very fast. What can you attribute that to? Can you tell me a bit more about your education perhaps?
Well, my education was broad. I had very good teachers and of course I was involved in a lot of extramural activities at school, which concerned my parents sometimes. I was never a really brilliant student at all, I was mediocre. I managed to pass, but I didn’t pass with any
great ability. So, I was involved in sport, I was involved in school cadets, in the dramatic society, the debating society. I used to have debates with some of my school friends, including Don Dunstan [one time Premier of South Australia] and Alex Forbes, who was once a Minister for the Army.
So we had quite a lot of ding dong battles on the debating side of things. I was also a prefect, and I had lots of activities, which as I say, concerned my parents a lot. So I had a very broad background without being brilliant, shall we say.
So your father had 11 children, is that correct, once you came along?
Yes. He wanted them for labour on the property,
How did he support this big family? How did he put all these kids through public school?
Well, he had this very important holding of land in the middle of South Australia, the mid-north. It was about 12,000 acres and he just specialised in breeding merino sheep.
He derived his income from that. He had no other interests, really. Education in those days wasn’t as expensive as it is now.
So, how many acres was the farm?
12,000 acres and he had about 12,000 sheep. On school holidays, when I wasn’t going to hunting camps, I used to be sent up to the farm to
work. My father enjoyed having cheap labour, didn’t cost him anything. I used to get up in the morning at five o’clock and work till the dark at night, and do anything I was required to do by my older brothers. It’s a lot of horse riding, a lot of mustering and some other jobs
which were not very pleasant to do, like cut, shear sheep, and even killing sheep before eating them, which we had to do. I had to do a lot of things there, like threading pipes that were under the property to carry water. I was a jack of all trades.
So this is just outside of Adelaide is it?
Oh, it’s about
120 miles north.
Were there water problems then?
Yes. He had to have a lot of wells, and when they had a drought in 1933, most of the wells dried up, so he lost a large proportion of his flock. Through drought he decided to put a deep well – a bore we called them, and pumped water from there all
over the property, we spent laying a lot of pipes all over the place. What annoyed him was as soon as he did that, the tax man came along and valued the property at higher, and he got more taxes. That was the way it went.
It must have been a pretty devastating time.
It was. Yes, he lost a lot of sheep. About 10,000 of his 12,000. And he bought
his own type merino ram, which he lost a lot of his breeding stock. But he picked up again.
Did that happen quite suddenly?
Well, drought just develops, really. It was fairly sudden but he wouldn’t have had time to compensate for the drought. He had to just meet it as it came.
So he was developing a particular type of fleece?
Well, yes. He was concentrating on the very strong merino fleece, and he drew stud rams from only two or three selected properties. One in NSW and one in the northern South Australia. He used to take me along to the sheep sales to watch him, to see how
he bidded. He hardly flicked an eye when he bid for a sheep, and he would pay quite a bit of money for a good ram. Of course he had it in mind that I would go on the land too, in which I disappointed him.
You weren’t interested?
Yes, I was interested. It was my mother who said, “Colin, there are enough boys on the land now, the land won’t take any more on our property. Why don’t you do something else?”
She took me along to meet two of my father’s brothers, uncles of mine. One of them was a professor of law at London University at one time, a professor of law in Hobart and Sydney, and Adelaide. And he was well known in constitutional law, he wrote a lot of books. Jethro Brown was his name. And Edgar Brown, who was a medical officer in France in World War I, went to Vienna after the war
and studied plastic surgery, came back to Adelaide and developed an ear, nose and throat practice, which he worked in until he was 80. Both of them, of course, gave my mother advice on what I should be. One said I should be a lawyer, the other said I should be a doctor. So that’s when I settled on being a doctor. But neither happened. I beat all the advisors completely and did something else.
Was he successful with this new breed?
Well, it wasn’t a new breed; it was just a type of merino. Merino was the breed. He was successful in that he was able to sell a lot of these animals. He got good prices for his wool. The year he died, 1947, the
price of wool doubled, and that was fairly good. Instead of getting 23 pence a pound, I think he got 53. The property was sold lock, stock and barrel to another land man for a very small amount because the prices were controlled by the government at that time. The new man bought the flock as well and he got 240 pence a pound the next year, so we sold it too early.
What about during the Depression? How was the farm affected?
It was scratching along but I was not allowed to hear very much of it then because I only 10 years old and they didn’t think little boys should be kept informed of those things. I realised it was tough times but my father still kept me at school, for which I was grateful.
Where did the family actually live? Did they live on the farm or in the town?
Some of them lived on the farm, there were two properties actually, slightly apart, and some of the brothers lived there. One of the brothers went to NSW and worked over there and had a small poultry farm, I think for a while. The girls were, when I was young,
were still at home, although the oldest one had married about the time I was born. She was nearly as old as my mother. My mother was 33 when she was married, my – was then 52 and so she kept the family together as far as she could, but the boys all out working,
except one who was still at school, at the Scotch College. And whom I adored, he went on the land after he finished school. He was not a student. They just went on and married and had their own families. So we just had contact with them occasionally. Once, this property by the way had very rocky, hilly land, in the South Hummocks
Range. One of my brothers was asked by my father on the phone from Adelaide, “Is there anything you want up there?” “Yes, father, can you bring me up a truck load of post holes?” Because he didn’t like digging in the stony ground. So that’s the way it went on. I was home and all the others, my brothers in particular, always watched to see
whether I was getting favourable treatment or not. When one day the oldest of them came to my father in church, and he said, “Father, we notice that Colin is still in school and he’s nearly 18 years of age. We all had to leave school at 16.” My father gave him a very good answer, he said, “Well, Rex,” his name was Rex, “Colin is the only to pass all his public examinations.”
So, that was the way it went. Then of course, my father was a very strict disciplinarian, and he made me work at home too. I had to get up every morning and feed some poultry; this was in an inner suburb in Adelaide. We had a little chicken run and I had to feed them, and a cockatoo, and the cat and the dog, and open the back gate and clean about 14 pairs of shoes every
morning. On laundry day I had to start the copper going with a fire underneath it, keep the water up, put blue in the troughs for the bluing of the sheets, to make them look whiter. All those chores, that was my regular job everyday.
You certainly weren’t spoilt, were you?
No I wasn’t. He used to be very tough. Very strict of course, I wasn’t allowed to touch a tennis racquet on Sunday.
It was against his religion. Sunday was the day of rest. He didn’t mind that the girls were cooking the dinner or anything like that, but no-one else was allowed to work.
What can you tell me about your relationship with your siblings? You said it was the younger one that was still at school that you adored?
Yes, he used to come home, he was a boarder. He was made a
boarder to help my mother assimilate in the first years of marriage. He used to come home once a month from school and I used to sit at his feet and listen to him, I thought he was Christmas. I always wanted to go to Scotch then, my mother said, “Well we’ve decided that you should go to St Peter’s because it’s closer and all the other boys went to St Peter’s.”
So that’s how I came to go there.
What was the age difference between you and him?
He was about nine years older than I, and he never knew his mother, who was always very ill before he was born in 1914. His mother died in 1921, which she was always in bed sick, he didn’t remember her.
Well, he didn’t remember, he’s dead now. They’re all dead. But I got in well with them all, really. I was unaware that they were always looking sideways at me.
I guess having that many, if there’s 9 years between you and the youngest, there’s a big gap. So they’re all quite grown up.
It would be lovely to get a bit more colour about that period, about things that happened, experiences that you had with your family.
My mother was a very keen gardener and she had a very beautiful garden. She was very keen on all sorts of flowers and she used to take me around the garden and tell me what they were, and tell me how to look after them and so on.
So I became quite keen on gardening. We had an old man who used to come in once a week and do some gardening for her. Very bloodshot eyes, watery eyes, and a big grey beard, Mr. Spencer. A wonderful old man, but my mother had embedded in me never to pull flowers out of the garden, plants out of the garden. Now one day I saw Mr. Spencer pulling up the flowers,
and I was going around the garden pretending to be a cripple with a couple of crutches, wooden crutches. I saw this and I upped with one if the crutches and banged him on the head and knocked him out. I went running to my mother and she came out and locked me up in the bathroom after tending to Mr. Spencer who came to after a while. He pleaded with her not to hurt me, “He didn’t mean to hurt me.” he said.
So I was told afterwards that I shouldn’t have done this. And the reason of course, was that she hadn’t told me that Mr. Spencer was told to pull up the flowers. It was all in the lack of communication. Indeed it was one of my worst crimes.
You said you were pretending to be a cripple? Playing a game.
Yes, I was just playing a game with myself, that’s all.
Who did you have to play with?
In the early days, not very many. Peter was the son of a long life friend of my mother’s, who was born six weeks after me. He became a very well known surgeon in Perth, after. He and I, he was my main playmate. Also, the son of a doctor, Verco[?], who was older than I,
but when he was retired he used to come around and play with me sometimes too. Then other schoolboys and I started at one time to set up a snail racing club, we had fun with that. My father was quite a keen racegoer, he didn’t go every Saturday, but he often went, with my mother. He insisted that the house
never be left unoccupied, so I always had to stay at home on a Saturday afternoon, when they went to the races. That’s what caused me to start this game, snail racing. I wrote a little treatise on snail racing, which is down there. The point, we had to draw up a set of rules, and we had 25 snails each. Each had to be named after a well known racehorse in Adelaide at the time.
We painted them, we had to register them in colours, and one had, it was blue with a silver star, and another one was yellow with green stripes. I thought we’d paint the shells with enamel, it didn’t affect them at all, they still lived pretty well. We used to have a little bowl that we’d change the feed in it every day and water and so on.
We used to have race meetings on Saturdays. We’d draw up a program on the Wednesday, each person would nominate three snails to race, and we had six races over several distances. Now we found out that some of these snails were very good sprinters, others were good stayers. So we classified them accordingly and entered them in the race they were suited for. We had to appoint a panel of officials, one was a starter,
one was the timekeeper, with a stop-watch. One was the judge and we weren’t allowed to touch them on this tin plated table. It was a long table, about eight feet long, covered in tin sheeting. This was drawn up with lines every six inches which were equivalent to a furlong, I suppose.
We would start them off, we weren’t allowed to touch them during the race except to pick their tail, which was like using a whip, I suppose on a horse. That would mean they’d pull their tail in and go faster. We were allowed to direct them across if they started to go off course. They didn’t veer off very much, luckily, because we had a whole lot of green feed at the finishing post, so they
could sense it apparently and go for it. We ran this little competition for quite some time. Over a year. But as we got older we found other interests to amuse us, like girls and things like that.
How many kids would you have involved in the club?
Oh, only three. We’d be out of control if we had more, I think. But we used to have a lot of fun.
Did they live very long, these snails?
Oh, years. Some years later I went home. I was in the army and I used to find these snails in the garden still. Most were dead by that time, but they lived to a great age.
With their painted shells?
Mmm. Anyone else might have wondered what happened.
What else did we do?
What was Adelaide like?
It was a little town. A small town then. We found a house that was two miles from the GPO [General Post Office], very central. I wasn’t allowed to go to use transport to go to school; we were about a mile from the school, which I had to walk every day. I wasn’t even allowed to have a bicycle. And it was a bit hard when I was getting into the
upper graduate school, I had about four hours of homework every night, to drag all the books home in a bag, and it was lumpy. The bag used to make me rather tired.
Why was that? What, you father didn’t want you to…?
He thought walking was better for me. He always told me that one of the boys had a bike once which broke in two in the middle of a tram track, and the tram ran over him.
I don’t know if that was a fabrication or not, but he convinced me that I shouldn’t have a bike. I don’t think it convinced me completely, but I had to go along with it.
Do you know very much about your father’s history?
Yes. He was born in 1870. His father
came to Australia in 1847 as an 18 year old boy, he was born in 1828. My grandfather. He was given a grant of land in South Australia by the government, an encouragement to get people out there. There was a company called the South Australian Company that brought migrants to Australia
on the promise of giving a land grant. He started off with this land grant and he then didn’t do very much with it for a while. He went to a place called Burra – B-U-R-R-A, where he worked as an ox cart driver, taking supplies up to the miners at Burra, there was a big copper mine there. It was a hundred mile
drive, took a couple days. More than a couple of days, I think three days. He’d come back with a load of copper ore to Adelaide where it was put on ships to go to England and Wales for smelting. He did this for several years and then, there were a lot of miners from his area of Devon and Cornwall,
who decided they’d go to the gold strike in Victoria. He went over with them, and when he came back he apparently did sufficiently well to go and buy some more property. And this developed and in the end he had about 13 different properties in South Australia, which would help to support his family – large family. My father went to
a local grammar school called Stanley Grammar School, near Clare, the centre of the wine area now, and it’s not operating now of course. He was there as a boarder for a while, and he didn’t do particularly well, not as well at least as his brother who became a professor of law. They
had an uncle who used to give them presents every Christmas. And this uncle used to give my father books and his learned brother sporting gear. And on receipt they swapped them, because my father wasn’t interested in books and his brother was very interested in books and not sporting gear. They used to swap. But as soon as he left school, he was put on the property to work, of course, and he
worked for the rest of his time. He married at about 1892 I think and came to Adelaide in 1911. That sums up my father I think, as well as I can. I’ve got a whole book on his lineage there, which I did for genealogical purposes.
Did he go to the First World War?
He was, the First World War, he would have been too old for that. He was in his forties then, and he had property to look after. In the Second World War, three of my brothers went into the RAAF [Royal Australian Air Force]. The fourth one, the youngest one, tried to get in, but they wouldn’t take him because
he was the sole operator of the property at the time. So he had to stay and do that. I once went up there during the war when I was based at Puckapunyal, they applied for special leave for me to go and help at a critical period. So, I went over there for I think it was three weeks at one stage.
Where did you go to, sorry?
To the farm. To a place called Red Hill. That was only to relieve the
manpower situation. I marched back into the army very soon.
I’d like to hear a little bit more about your schooling. When we were having a look at the program, you were a member of the dramatic society. You were involved in drama at school?
Did you enjoy that?
Yes, I did. It got a little bit overbearing, though with rehearsals
about three afternoons a week after school. The other afternoons I was involved in sport, and weekends we used to have rehearsals. We had a very good producer, one of the masters, who was excellent. He trained us quite well in that field. I wouldn’t have liked to
have taken it on as a permanent job.
You had a couple of roles as female characters. Why was that? What was it about you that…
Yes. I think it must have been my complexion. There are photographs of me as a girl, they were shown, in two cases I was a blonde in one and the other case I was a brunette. One of my half sisters saw me
in the photographs one day and my mother showed them to her. “Oh,” she said, “That’s Cath and that’s Deborah.” the two other sisters. And they were both of me. We took it very seriously, and my mother was very prominent in providing the dresses and things. Some of them were very beautiful dresses, really.
Did she do costumes?
Well, she did them for that. But it wasn’t a career of hers or anything in particular. As I say, one of the hardest jobs, the hardest jobs was to find shoes for me. I had these huge feet, and lady’s shoes had to be specially made for me.
Were these comedies, or dramas?
Well, She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith was a comedy, the other was a real
drama with séances and all sorts of tricky lighting. Was that The Vanilla Rose by AW Mason. And then of course, Captain Brassbound’s Conversion was different again. I was a much different character then.
And was Don Dunstan involved in this?
Oh, yes. He rejoiced in being a woman. He loved it. He used to act it all the time, on
and off stage and behind in the wings of the featherhead, we were falling all over the people as a gushing lady. He just revelled in it.
So you were good friends?
No. No he was behind me in school. I didn’t have any close relationship to him at all. He was in a lower form for one thing,
and also he and I had different characters, we didn’t mix really. We respected each other and that was about it.
Sounds like quite an interesting school. What can you tell me about the attitude of the school and of the headmasters and teachers?
Oh, it was a wonderful school. Traditionally the headmaster always came from England, and a lot of the masters were of English origin.
The school was founded in 1847 and is probably the longest continuously running school in Australia. King’s Parramatta, I believe was founded a few years earlier, but has a break for a period of time. French School in Tasmania was another of the older ones but St Peter’s claims the record for longest continuous running school. It was
founded by a Bishop Short in Adelaide, and it was a very wealthy school, comparatively speaking. A man called Da Costa, a wealthy Jew who bought a lot of Adelaide property, benefited the school tremendously. He gave masses of money and he passed over half of the
CBD, central business district to the school, he owns that. So it was probably one of the wealthiest schools in the Southern Hemisphere. As such they were able to pay for top quality teachers. That was one of the benefits of it really. It had 65 acres of land within a mile of the GPO.
And what was
it they would do with the land?
Sporting fields, and recreational tennis courts and even now they’re adding to the buildings and so on. They’ve got a tremendous science block; they’ve got a beautiful memorial hall, built in memory of the people who went to World War I. It’s been added to since the, with World War II and subsequent campaigns.
It’s a magnificent hall. It’s got its headmaster’s house on the property, it’s two or three boarding houses, and when I was there it had, four, five, six, seven novelles. So, it was well established.
Was it radical or was it conservative?
I would say it was conservative, although there were people from all sides of the prism there. People like Don Dunstan were there, he was a radical of no mean type. We had people from both parties and other premier later on,
I forget his name now, went to St Peter’s. It’s difficult to label it as being strong one way or the other. They were taught to think for themselves. Nowadays, the headmaster comes from some other Australian school, if they wanted to get upgraded.
Did you say that your brothers had been there as well?
All of them except the last one who went to Scotch, because of the difference he had with the headmaster at that time.
So the family was well known?
Oh, yes it was. Of course my father being one of so many, and having the law
professor and having the ENT [ear nose throat] man and others who were less known, but the family was well known in Adelaide.
So you had teachers reminding you of your brothers?
No. Never mentioned. There was too much of a gap I think. They had seen so many sheep pass through the gate after them, that they wouldn’t remember them probably.
What about your mum? She was what, 33 when she married you father, and there were 10 children already there. Can you tell me about her? How she managed?
She had help. We always had a resident maid who was able to look after things in the kitchen, under her
direction of course. She had a sister, who was my aunt, who was wonderful. She used to come and take me out of her hands, so she could concentrate on the rest of the family. She’d take me for walks and trips to the Adelaide Hills and so on. To the beach. She was a terrific lady. She never married, but she should have. In fact she was
engaged to a man who was killed in the First World War. And she never looked back after that. But, I was largely self-contained. I had no-one else to look after me, I amused myself in all sorts of ways, and of course my father got me working very early. I remember at the age of about nine he bought an electric mower and I had to mow all
these lawns around the property, which was quite large. My mother was dead scared I was going to run over the cord, which I never did. He kept me going, we had four Norfolk Island pine trees that continuously dropped these, tails we called them, and I used to rake up barrel loads of these tails every weekend, and cart them away.
Interviewee: Colin Brown Archive ID 1788 Tape 02
Tell us about your athletics and how you came to be a champion hurdler.
Well, I used to run a lot at school, I was particularly favoured for hurdling and high jumping because I had nice long legs, which were an asset.
So when it came to competitions within the school and out, I was often chosen to represent the school in school competitions and I came first in the high jump. I should have come first in the hurdles at school except I crashed, hit the last hurdle. And it stopped me
sufficiently to make me second. I was asked to take part in the South Australian championships and of course the war was on and I suppose there wasn’t as much competition around then. A lot of the more athletic types had already gone off to the war and I was lucky enough to win the state championship in hurdles, 120 yards. Which was 10 hurdles of course. In those days the hurdles were
made of heavy wood and had a T base at the bottom, which was to stop them falling over very easily, and if you hit them you knew you’d hit something, and you usually went over and the hurdle stayed up. But, when I was beaten at school in the finals there, I just tipped it enough and even that can slow you up for second. High jumping, well
I just happened to have the spring, and I nearly got the record but I was about half an inch off it. When I made three attempts they let me go, but then of course I continued with athletics when I was in the army later. I played in cricket,
tennis and football teams as well. I had a grounding in most sports we played in those days. What else is there we can say about that?
Tell me about when you graduated from St Peter’s. What level did you get to?
I was in what we called leaving honours, which is matriculation level, and that was in
1941, and I then took a little break for a couple of weeks and then I applied to join the army. Actually I was possibly going to Duntroon [Royal Military College] the following year in 1942, sorry, 194-, yes ’42. But I didn’t get there. I was held off for
several weeks because they wanted me to be in reserve in case any one else dropped out. This meant that I had to hang around until I knew. I knew others who had applied and already seen their notices that either had been or hadn’t been successful. I was left in limbo, which was a bit irritating. Anyhow, as soon as I got my word that I wasn’t required because there were no
drop outs, I joined the army.
You said you had two brothers that joined the army, when did they enlist?
Well, quite earlier than the war. It would have been 1914. Of course, they had to make some arrangements for
their properties to be taken over and run. They couldn’t just walk out. They were early in [UNCLEAR]. One was on a hospital ship in the medical corps, and the other two went to the Middle East. They all came back.
So how did you father feel about them leaving?
He didn’t like it much, but
he couldn’t stop them. I think they were partly keen to get out of his stranglehold on them. Have a bit of a break for a while. Because he ruled the roost of a big family.
Did they have their own properties, or were they part of father’s?
Those were my father’s. One of them had his own.
Can you give me a bit of a picture
of the time, 1939 and war declared, and you’ve got older brothers who are saying, “Well, we’ll go off.” what did you think at that point?
I just was hoping I could get off too. I had to become old enough. I just had to finish my schooling. So I was fairly sole purposed in that direction,
I realised I had to finish what I was doing.
Was it discussed at school? Prior to the war breaking out, what was happening and where?
No, no. My headmaster, when the war came along he used to speak a little about it at muster in the afternoon. He was an Anglican from England,
Guy Penrty [?], a very dynamic man, and he used to give a pep talk about it every muster, say what was going on. And when, of course the casualties came in he used to read them out at muster, all the boys that had been killed or wounded. Schoolmasters, too. Our motto was a very strong influence on my life. The motto was
Pro Deo E Patria, which means ‘For God and Country’. I always had that in my mind.
Was your father patriotic?
Yes, he was, in a strange way, he was very patriotic. He didn’t exhibit it very much, by his action, but
he was quite religious in his way. He always went to church, he always listened to the church service, that was one of the things he had to do. He wasn’t a great extrovert at all in that sense. Kept his thoughts to himself to a large degree, but he has always been supportive.
So when you say that motto, ‘For God and for Country’,
was that allegiance to country, was that about Australia, or was that about England?
It was definitely Australia. Definitely, it was very Australian. It did have a great influence on the life of many of the boys, I’m sure it soaked in.
Where were you when war was declared? Were you at home?
Yes I was. I was on the way home from church. I used to be quite active at our local church at that time, and the rector even asked me if I’d think of taking the cloth. My reply was immediately,
“No, I’m afraid I’m not good enough.” But I sang in the choir and I was a Sunday schoolteacher, I was a server at communion services. I carried the cross, cross bearer sometimes in the entrance to the church for the choir, being a Church of England school, a Church of England church. And I did all sorts of activities; I was secretary of the Church of
England Boys’ Society of the parish, and I was a busy lad.
I don’t know if you remember this, or have a sense of it or not, but I’m just wondering how the community changed once war was declared? The people around you, schools, was there talk about it?
Was there concern about it?
Well they were concerned about it, very concerned. We were all of course not aware that Japan was going to come into it at that stage. War was still a long way off. It got to us at that time in the Middle East, North Africa. But it the concentration, the focus was on Hitler at that time. We were all very much
together with dear old Mother England. We used to send loads of food parcels over to England, to augment there being rations and so on. We were very pro English, not as much as they were in World War I of course, where they rushed to defend Mother England without thinking about their own country. I think there was a different surge of enthusiasm or
loyalty, shall we say, when Japan came into the war and we saw it getting closer. In the school cadets, for instance, when I was at school, we sometimes sat down to the coast, near Adelaide, and dig trenches and weapon pits in case the Japanese landed there.
So it was all quite tense in a way. Unnecessarily so, but still we didn’t know that then.
What did your father think of Bob Menzies [Prime Minister]?
He thought he was very good. He liked his style. He was a very intelligent man and a very excellent politician, he knew how to handle things.
Very quick witted too. The story goes of course, I don’t know whether he told me this or not. No it must have been after he died. Ben Chifley [Prime Minister] came up to him at the rising of the house one day, and Bob had indigestion of some sort, and
Chifley said to Menzies, “What, labour [Labor] pains, Bob?” and Bob said, “No, Chifley, wind.” He was a very good raconteur. I actually met him some years later and I was very impressed by him.
How did you come to meet him?
He visited our headquarters on the retirement of my director general.
He became very close at work following the Petrov affair [famous spy case in Australia]. He used to keep Menzies regularly informed once the thing broke, he didn’t know anything about it until then. Menzies was kept completely out of it, contrary to a lot of the criticisms that have been
made since. However, he seemed an extremely outstanding man I think. We respected his political views.
Was your father involved in local politics at all?
At one stage he was on the district council of Mintaro, a place near Clare, yes. That was all.
He wasn’t interested in going into politics. He was a justice of the peace; he did his bit in that respect. He wasn’t interested in getting into politics, it was the local or regional council really that he saw he could do some good in. He served in that for quite a long time. None of our family have gone into politics.
You said a regional council, so was that a rural community?
Yes, for that particular district it was a district council. Like a sort of, what do you call them here, a shire? In those days of course, there were so many people around to do these things.
He was asked to take it on and he did. His car number was number 26, so he was a very early driver.
That was his licence plate?
He was driving before he had to have a licence, before he had a licence plate.
What kind of car did he have?
He had lots. He started out with a Star. And then he started off with another
English car, oh, I forget now. Then he later bought a Renault, streamlined before its time, where the bonnet used to go like that, you know? Then I was about six, he bought a Packard, which was a huge
car really, that weighed over two ton. It was a very comfortable heavy car. He didn’t use it very much, in fact he had it for 17 years before he died, and the mileage was 17,000 miles. A thousand a year. He wouldn’t let anyone else drive it. The nearest I got to it was when he was lighting his pipe
which he always had in his mouth, and he’d say, “Here Colin, hold the wheel.” I used to hold the wheel while he lit his pipe.
In the Packard?
In the Packard. But he used to, if he was going into the north of the property, which he did sometimes, he’d do a little sum, as to whether it was worth taking the car or not. If he was taking his wife, or me perhaps sometimes,
then it was cheaper to take the car than to pay the train fare. If he was going late he would always take the train, and one of the boys used to meet him at the station. In one of the station cars, the public cars. We had several cars up there of course.
Yeah, a two ton car is going to be a petrol guzzler, isn’t it?
Yes, it was a magnificent animal but, in fact
it was one of the interesting things, it had a lever, the sort of lever you pulled out and it would automatically grease 16 or 17 points around the car. So, it saved on maintenance. I was very impressed with that car.
What was the interior like? Was it leather?
No, it was plush velvet.
Not velvet, what’s that stuff called? Upholstery, short, clipped.
No, not suede. It had a fleece, a pile. I don’t know what it would it have been called, it was like velvet, sort of a heavy, heavy velvet. And the back seat was big enough to have a dance in.
Did you do cadets pretty much all the way through your schooling, or your secondary schooling?
Only for the last three years. My father was rather reluctant to pay three guineas, three pound, three shillings for a uniform for me. In the end he decided to let me
do it. So, that took up a lot more of my time than it should of, too. My studying and things stopped.
So you liked it?
Oh yes. I worked my way up through the ranks, to becoming an officer. I had special courses in military engineering and tactics and things like that.
I had a grounding in it. When I went into the RAAF I didn’t have to do any of the training, I went straight in as a fully trained recruit.
This was additional to your other school subjects?
Oh yes. I’m afraid I didn’t give my full attention to school work.
Can you give me a bit of an idea of what you did in the cadets?
What sort of activities?
Weaponry, mostly and a whole range of training that soldiers do when they go into the army. We did drills, we did weaponry, we did tactics, we did special courses like midgebooey [?] (UNCLEAR). It was quite a general – we didn’t go into specialties
like artillery or signals or things like that, because for one thing the equipment wasn’t there to do it, in those days it was very short. One of my extra efforts was to run a light machine gun course on Saturday mornings for those who were interested. I used to go along every Saturday morning, or second Saturday I think, and spend about an hour and a half with a small team
of very keen people to learn more about a machine gun. So, we did that. We never got around to firing it because there was no ammunition available. It was just a general basic training really.
What would you be teaching them about the light machine guns if you didn’t have any ammunition?
Oh, you know,
how it works, hire to fire it, how to strip it and clean it. And learn how to do it fast. We would have a competition as to see who could take the thing down and put it together in the shortest possible time, things like that, just to learn to master the art of handling a gun. Which is not, you don’t learn that in five minutes.
What sort of gun was it?
Then, the guns we would have had at that time were Lewis guns. They were a World War I gun. We hadn’t yet got the Bren gun, which was the latest thing; it was only just coming in then, actually for us, for Australia. So, we used Hoskiss guns, which was a French gun that our Light Horse used in the First World War.
And I thought a lot of those guns had a lot in common. So, it wasn’t that difficult. We had a man who looked after the armoury, who was a former sergeant major, Haig was his name, Haig [?]. He showed me how to do it and I just passed it on from there. It was good training. One of my best
students was Tom Hardy, who was the son of the founder of Hardy’s wines, and the older brother was Sir James Hardy. He was a great friend of mine, John, Tom, but he died prematurely of cancer.
You had aspirations to do medicine?
I don’t think I
would have done it, made it.
Was that difficult for you when that decision to continue with you studies, or…?
No, no. I’d been talked into medicine; it didn’t come from within me so much. My mother thought I should do it, and my uncle thought I should do it and it was just to branch out from the farming,
for which my father had incessantly tried to groom me. I didn’t fuss too much, after all the war was on and that sort of occupied my mind more than anything else. I thought still that I might go back to it after the war, but of course I didn’t. I stayed in the army then.
Were you hearing from your brothers? In the Middle East?
rarely, yes. They didn’t write much. They were probably too busy. We used to get the occasional letter.
You wanted to get into the army, why the army?
Well, a lot of things fascinated me about it when I was at school in the cadets, and I
liked the camaraderie of it. I can’t describe it, just got carried away with it, and in fact it is a wonderful experience, but not always easy.
What was feeding your interest? I understand in the cadets, but did you have fantasies
about being a soldier?
No. I was very down to earth about it. I didn’t, it wasn’t the uniform that attracted me or anything like that. Not at all. I don’t know why because all the military connections in my family were very tenuous, I suppose. Hard to explain why, other than the
fact that it was war time and I felt a bit gung-ho about it.
And what about media coverage of the war at the time?
Very poor. In fact all my emergency service media coverage was shocking.
Poor in the sense there was not much information coming in?
They were hardly ever around to be seen.
And of course there was limited photography, and very journalists who got anywhere near the front line. It’s much more easy for them these days, where the army’s realised that they need the publicity sometimes. I can mention it with security.
There was only one journalist that came near us in Korea, for instance, even later. That was a man called Charles Madden, who was with The Sun, a wonderful man, nice guy. He came around sometimes; in fact he used to bring his dispatches to me for checking before he sent them, which was a good arrangement.
Where did you enlist?
In Adelaide. From home I went down to a camp called Warradale, which was 3rd Field Squad of Australian Engineers. That’s where I started as a sapper.
So you wanted to be an engineer?
Well, I had no particular requirement
for an engineer. I had some training, as I said, and one of my brothers was an engineer in the Middle East, and I thought that was a pretty good thing for me to go into. I didn’t stay an engineer that long. When we went to Puckapunyal, we were incorporated in the armoured division which was due to go to the Middle East but it didn’t because of the Japanese coming into the war and
everyone was needed at home then. So the tanks, realised that from my limited training that there wasn’t much of a future for tanks any more. I was paraded before the brigade commander, Brigadier Monaghan, tough old man, who said, “What do you want to do in the army?” and I
said, “I’d like to get infantry service.” He didn’t want me to leave the brigade you see. “Why do you want to go to infantry?” and I said, “Well the war’s going on and I want to get away.” and there was more chance of getting away as an infantry officer. Anyway, there was many more casualties and replacements were needed. And he said, “I’m not going to let you go. How would you like to be transferred to the tanks? Now that’s a tactical unit
and fighting and so on. There’s a good South Australian unit we’ve got in this brigade.” So I knew I wasn’t going anywhere with my infantry, so I said, “Sir, I’d love to, Sir.” Well I was transferred from engineers to tanks, as a sergeant I was put in command of a troop of tanks, three tanks, which I didn’t know one end from other. I had to learn all about tanks
in quick time. The same time I was teaching the armoured people about laying mines and explosives, I was doing quite a lot of explosives exercises. That was fun. And then a few months later the commanding officer of the armoured regiment sent me to the officer training school at Bonegilla, Course 29. That was a three months course.
After which you became an officer in RAAF. Well, all the people at that course were sergeants, and many of them had been in the Middle East and all over the place and New Guinea, so I was running pretty well in that course. I was running fifth at the end of the second wing, 130 students. I got a telegram
one day in the second month saying report to RMC [Royal Military College] Duntroon. So I went to Duntroon for two years. And my commission was held off for two more years. I didn’t graduate until 14th December ’44.
Why were you instructed to go to Duntroon?
Because my name was on the list from the previous year, you see. When I’d applied and not got
in. So I obediently got on a train and went to Duntroon. And I didn’t enjoy that, because it meant going back to do a lot of rather advanced civil subjects. You see, you had a lot of civil subjects to do, like maths, you had algebra, geometry, trigonometry,
astrology. Not astrology, astronomy, and … four, five anyway, there were six, physics, chemistry, which I hated. I had to do chemistry and all the explosives and that sort of thing. Which is terrible stuff. And English, which I excelled in, actually, believe it or not. Psychology
and accounting and all these things. Twenty-three subjects you had to pass to qualify. But it was a step backwards for me, having to go back into civil subjects again after knocking around in the army for a while. Anyway, I went through.
And what were you qualified as when you graduated from Duntroon?
Lieutenant. It’s there.
The course took all arms. We had to know, for instance, control artillery barrages, we had to know how to build bridges, we had to know how to use signals equipment of all sorts. Every aspect of the service we had to cover. When we graduated, we got told, we were asked what branch we would choose. So, like a few of
my colleagues, we all chose infantry because we knew we’d be able to get away sooner. We went to Canungra [Jungle Training Centre]on the way, of course up there the south thought they’d show how much we had to learn, and show how much better they were than we. And we ran them into the ground; they gave up in the end, sent to scrub bulls
and went straight up to New Guinea to various units.
You said you weren’t required to do recruit training?
Yes, that’s right.
What did you do? You went straight in to Puckapunyal, did you?
No, I went straight into Warradale Camp in South Australia. From there the unit was
moved across to Balcombe, down south of Melbourne. From there we went to Puckapunyal and that is where we moved from the field company, which is an engineer company supporting infantry, to a field squadron which is an engineer squadron supporting tanks. We were transferred into the
armoured tanks so that was the curse we took. I had, we were posted, oddly enough when we were at Balcombe, we got a posting to New Guinea, which was in, what, 1942. I went home on final leave, after being vaccinated, I had five days final leave, two of which was travelling
back and forward to Adelaide. Where I had been vaccinated just the day before, several days before we our leave started, and it didn’t take. So I had another one, a vaccination and that didn’t take. Sorry, it was more than that, more than a few days before. So they gave me a third one, and no sooner did I get back to Adelaide that I developed a fever
and spent my whole final leave in bed. I was just well enough to get back in time at the end of my leave by train, feeling like death’s headed beast. Then after I got back the order to go to New Guinea was cancelled and we went to Puckapunyal instead. Strange ways in the army.
Balcombe, what were you doing at Balcombe?
We were doing training and we were also assisting in extending the camp. Building roads that didn’t exist, that hadn’t existed. There was a lot of rocks there and we had to use drills and explosives to blast the rock. It was good training really, but it was with a purpose of extending
the camp. That was another main task we did.
So are these the roads that now exist down there?
Oh, I don’t know, I haven’t been down there since. I don’t want to go back, particularly.
Did you find it interesting?
I enjoyed it, yes I did. I learnt quite a bit about explosives and drilling and things like that. I know we were sent up once from Puckapunyal, we were sent
across to a place called Rokeby, not far away where they were building another camp. And there were these huge boulders that we had to demolish to make way for drill holes and plug them with gelignite and blow them and chips would fly into the air. One day a red cap brigadier came down, from his office which was in one of
these huts up the hill, and said to me, “Sergeant, are we safe in that hut up there, with all this going on?” and I said, “Yes, Sir. Certainly, guaranteed.” So I see some of these big stones going up in the air and he’s, “You’re sure they’re quite all right?” and I said, “Yes, Sir.” and a few minutes later when he went back to his hut, we set off one
charge and there were these rocks, the rock came hurtling down on the roof and landed on his desk. Well, I was summoned. He was very good about it. We had reduced our charges after that.
So you’d been playing around with the strength of the charge?
Oh, we weren’t playing around with it; we were using the charges we should have been using,
the stone just fragmented differently than normal. It is something you can’t tell. But we did reduce the charges.
So, from Balcombe you went to Puckapunyal, why were you shipped to Puckapunyal?
Well, to go into the armoured formation you see. That was the armoured base there. Some of the units had moved to Perth
in preparation of going to the Middle East. But then the war changed course, and from desert fighting we had to train for jungle fighting. It was quite a change.
Interviewee: Colin Brown Archive ID 1788 Tape 03
Colin, did you want to tell us a bit more about the sort of work you were doing with the armoured tanks?
Well, it was the 12/100th Regiment and we had General Grant tanks, 28 tons; they were the last word in tanks at that time. I had a troop of three which involved about 20 men, and
of course I, apart from a little general reading, had little knowledge of tactics or anything like that. Though I was quick to learn. We did manoeuvres on the ranges around Puckapunyal, troop tactics and so on. But we had to do maintenance of the tanks, learn all that, which was quite foreign to me.
We went on exercises. As a squadron, there were several squadrons in the regiment, squadrons used to go out and do squadron exercises and then converge in the one central spot at night, and form what we called a leaguer, which was a circle or a ring, and the tanks in the centre, all pointing out, and
the troops would be outside that perimeter where they would sleep and stand guard and so on and all the routine had to be followed. We used to do that about once a week, and we were ready to be in a state of combat readiness by the end of it all. There was a lot to learn in those days, but fortunately I had some help with some of the other
NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] and we were forming quite a good unit. In addition to that, we were training, I was teaching about explosives and booby traps and that sort of thing, the minefields, and sometimes when we went out on these operations we used to form our laager and I would sit in the pools of water
that were around the area, there were lots of pools of water there. I would sit and soil expose an explosive charge in the water, and a trip wire following, running across to give us warning of anyone else coming in to raid us. Other squads used to come in and raid us at night. They used to come in and the explosive charge would blow up and the water would go everywhere and they’d be drenched. I got a terrible name for this.
They complained to the commanding officer that this wasn’t fair in the game at all, but the officer discharged that completely and called me up and thanked me for adding reality to training. But the explosives work was mainly on the minefield, I was explaining to the tank crew how the minefields were laid, how if necessary to lift
the mines and so on. Which was quite a necessary part of our training. So I was jointly training them about explosives as well as learning something about tanks.
How well did you get to know the tanks?
Very well, very well. I knew them inside and out. Of course, it wasn’t just the tanks you had to learn about, you had to know the gunnery and
the radio communications which were rather different from anything I had ever seen before. It was very interesting, but I didn’t see as much future in the tanks at that stage of the war.
What became of the regiment? They went off to the Middle East?
No, they didn’t. You see, with Japan coming in, they didn’t used to send any more armour away. Ultimately, some squadrons
were sent in penny packets to the jungle to act as mobile pool boxes, which wasn’t the role of armour at all. But they did work a bit up in New Guinea with the tanks, but I wasn’t with them. I didn’t get there till 1943, mid ’43.
You mentioned about Monaghan, was it Monaghan that gave you the news that you were off to Duntroon?
No, no, that was when I was at the OTS [Officer Training School] at Bonegilla. I just got a telegram then.
It sounds like you weren’t terribly chuffed at that point.
No, I was getting on towards my commission, but then I had to wait another two years.
However, I got more rigorous training there than anywhere else.
Tell us a bit more about Duntroon, just the nature, the culture of Duntroon at that time, and you’ve mentioned to sorts of subjects you were doing, the intensity that required. But just the conditions there at Duntroon.
It was a
big adjustment for me after the army, because I was the senior, or the oldest person in the class, going on 20 at that stage, and the other were just come from school, without the experience of 12 months in the army. I thought I was amongst a lot of schoolboys. However, we soon got to, we were very friendly with each other, and
we had all this intensive study, we had little time for any complaints or anything like that. We wouldn’t complain anyway. It wouldn’t have done to complain about anything. Life was hell sometimes. The problem
to some extent for me was that I had a bad year the first year medically. The conditions for living were good, very heavily programmed. I had appendicitis after a while, suffering from a certain amount of what they call ‘fourth class training’
when you had to answer a lot of questions about the place, “How high are the masts at one front of the buildings?” “What’s the inscription on General Bridges’ grave?” and all sorts of things like this. And if you couldn’t answer them, you were penalised by having to drink a glass of mustard, or something horrible like that.
Then answer another question. Sometimes you would almost have to forego your meals for all the questions asked by the senior class who were quite bullying in a way, and you couldn’t use your age or anything like that against them. You had to just knuckle down, so you were being knocked into shape as they say up there. The discipline of course was as you’d expect very strict.
I found that if you were too good, and didn’t get enough to fault this parade for some misdemeanour; they’d manufacture it for you. You had to go out anyway. I didn’t appreciate that side of it, but as I said, you just didn’t complain. There was no point in complaining. Except for the rules.
Were there those though
that did resist and end up in more strife?
Oh, anyone that showed any fight was sinned, you know cut down to size. I think the senior class in many ways respected my having NCO rank in the outside army first. Even so, I didn’t use it.
I kept a low profile. I had appendicitis after this training, the fourth class training, and the wound didn’t heal for three weeks. Then I had blood poisoning after that and all things went wrong. I played football and I had ingrown toenails, and I got them infected,
and the medico saw me, took one look at them and he just got the pair of pliers and pulled the nails right off, without any anaesthetic. That hurt. The second one worse than the first, because I knew what was coming. So, my first year there was troubled with all sorts of medical things.
It didn’t matter as far as the military subjects were concerned so much in the beginning because I had that previous training. Civil subjects were the thing that I had to spend the most time on and catch up again. Second year I was much better off. Took more part in the other activities like sporting and so on.
I see what you mean about it being a bit hellish, drinking mustard and toenails being ripped out.
Yes, I didn’t appreciate that. I think he could have given me a local injection, but he was a butcher.
Were you able to form friendships during your time at Duntroon?
Yes, one of my closest friends was Tom Miller. He’s dead now, he became very well known as a writer on the matters of defence. He was at the Australian National University for some time.
I saw quite a lot of him, and not too much of the others. Of course after I left the army, I didn’t see much of them either. We had about five generals I think in our class. Quite a good record. I was friendly with all of them.
Was any of the training
you were receiving there becoming more specific to what was happening in the islands in New Guinea?
Oh yes. We also had to, it wasn’t just basic training, we had to learn with military exercises how to handle a brigade of troops, or a battalion and so on, it was much higher training in that respect. We had all sorts of exercises that were quite advanced.
But the main thing was to understand in detail every arm in the service. It was normally a four year course, but with less leave and longer hours, they managed to get it to two years. It was pressured.
How much time off did you get?
We had a mid-year break, for two weeks. That was all. Oh, at Christmas time we had about three weeks.
Apart from that it was all solid go.
The instructors there, were they generally men that had seen action, in the Middle East and so on?
Yes. Indeed. Yes, they were selected for their experience they actually had.
But we even had a military lawyer. Military law was one of the subjects. It was quite intense.
Was it quite frustrating at that time, knowing that things were heating up, up north, and you had that option to maybe get over?
We were getting anxious towards the end of ’44, when it looked as if things were folding a bit, after the war in Europe.
And we were getting very itchy feet to get away. After we were, well we were planning to be regular soldiers, we realised it was necessary to have experience. But in the end when the time came for us to chose our arm, quite a large number of us chose the infantry, even though they might have preferred
other arms, like tanks or signals or something like that, but we all chose for the fact that we wanted to get away.
Was there much ceremony when it came to actually receiving you commission, at the end of the two years?
Ah, yes there was a graduation parade. We didn’t have the pretty uniforms they had in peacetime, we were in
khaki, but the drill and that sort of thing was the same as usual. We were standing to attention for endless periods on the playground, preparing for the parade and after the parade and of course, it usually was the Governor-General who came along and inspected the troops and took the march past and so on. All those thinks were normal but there was less colour in it
in those days, with the war on. The standard drill of course, was very, very high. I remember when I first went there; the regimental sergeant major was a man with a very aggressive looking face and a very loud voice, an aggressive voice, too. He was trying to get us all to slow march, and that was thing I
had not done in the army before, because we weren’t involved in the ceremonial army outside. They were slow marching, which meant it was very shuffle sort of march, and I remember the RSM [Regimental Sergeant Major] call out from the other side of the play ground to me, “Stop! Lieutenant Brown, you look like a cow trying to pull its foot out of a bucket!” Whereupon there was a titter through the ranks.
Was that a fair comment?
Well, I think it was unfair, but still. That was my introduction to slow marching. Of course if you were up for a faulker’s parade [?], you had to get up at the crack of dawn in the morning and load up with a pack and all the necessary accoutrements
and you paraded, you had to march up and down the playground for about half an hour, in wintertime it was damn cold. So the idea was not to get caught.
What was the harshest punishment you saw during your time there?
The official punishment, the things like that, the punishment meted out by the senior class was a little less conventional.
The initiation period was terribly rough and usually people ended up in hospital. Depends to some extent, how the senior class regarded you as you came in. I think that I was lucky. I only had to, after an exhaustive run around the country side at night, in the pseudo exercise exhausted everyone.
We had to strip off and be able to, we had to race around the gym with, starkers, no clothes at all, and be flogged by the senior class men. All sorts of implements, wet towels and bayonet scabbards in the towels, and if they didn’t like you, if you didn’t make the right noises
any time before that, you were in for a doing that night. I only had to do three laps of the gym and I was out, luckily. But you had to be very mindful of your spare parts.
When you say ‘a doing’, what do you mean by that?
I didn’t get flogged or anything like that to any extent, but it was a terrible exercise. It appalled me. Having come from the army
and this was a schoolboy thing. I had no time for it at all. They also had a hole outside that was dug in advance, under some fake auspices; they were going to bury an oil tank. In fact what they were going to do was fill it with sump oil and douse all the cadets in it one after another.
They were dumped into this, after the flogging, into this pool and you had to get one submersion for every letter in your name. One poor guy was called Stanley-Harris, a New Zealander, and they even gave him one dunking for the hyphen between Stanley and Harris. Unbelievable. I don’t know whether it still goes on, I hope it doesn’t.
They tried to stop it after that. When we went to senior class we didn’t do it.
I was going to ask, what were you like as a senior.
Years after, it got worse again. I had no time for it.
Once you received your commission and
you decided to go into the infantry, I think you mentioned Canungra, were you in a unit or battalion at that stage?
No, somebody sent us as reinforcements. We first of all went to Cowra, which was the recruit training base for the overseas people. We had to run a platoon through a training course for a month
and after that we went on to Canungra. We went up to Canungra and I remember when we were taking the truck to Canungra from the railway station, the first thing I saw was the cemetery, just inside the gates. This is where all the poor guys who were killed in
training were buried. Good introduction. We did what we called an Officers’ Cadre there and these instructors were all seasoned fighting soldiers, and we were the new white-haired boys from Duntroon who didn’t know anything, you know.
They were ready to take the mickey out of us. We said, “Well we did a very tough course there, we were driven to extremes in fitness. In the end the instructors had to call it off.” So we won that one. It was good training and we did a lot of jungle stuff up there, in the jungle outside of Canungra.
Even thicker jungle than in New Guinea. Then we were allotted to New Guinea, to Wewak area. We went up on the ship.
Can I just ask a bit more about Canungra, getting a sense of this real rivalry, “Who are these upstarts from Duntroon?” and you having to prove yourselves. Can you explain to us in more detail how that
exhibited itself? They basically gave up on the instructors?
Well, it was all very proper, they just made it very tough for them. I think when we went on the exercise, and they had to come with us, we used to go faster than they could manage, we were so fit it was ridiculous. We got their respect very well, in fact the same
Brigadier Mulligan was up there as a commoner when we were there, and he was so impressed with our time, he gave us week off at Surfers Paradise. Which in those days was one clock tower, and we were living in tents. There was nothing there. It’s different now. We had a week’s rest, which was very nice. And then after that, oh, I didn’t finish at Canungra.
We then had to take a platoon through a course up there, a platoon of potential infantry, before they went to New Guinea, on training. It was there that we had at one stage to take the platoons down to a place called Wasps Creek. Well named. The temperature was 105 degrees Fahrenheit,
it was very hot and humid and we had what they call march discipline, whereby you march 50 minutes and rest for 10. So, it happened at one stage in the middle of this march, Wasps Creek was about 28 miles from the base at Camp Canungra.
We stopped at a creek, and I told them to all take their boots off, and put their feet in the creek, in the cold water. Which they all did, but being the officer I had to get around and check that they were all doing it. After about seven minutes of the 10 minute break I tried to get my boots off
and go into the creek too. So I did this and stepped a few steps and hit with my foot, a tent peg, that had been under there a very long time. My foot went purple, and the medical corporal came along, and he said “I think you’ve sprained your foot, Sir.” I said, “Yes, I have too.” I had no more time to worry about it, I had to put my socks and boots on and be gone, and we marched the rest of the
23, 22 more miles down to Wasps Creek. When I got down there, the next day, we had this tank corporation exercise where you had to get into trenches and it takes fly over the top of you and that. The medical officer was around and he saw me limping around and he said, “What’s wrong with you?” and I said, “I sprained my toe.” “Let me have a look at it,” he said. And he looked at it and he said, “You’ve broken it.”
After walking of course 23 miles with a 70 pound pack, that’s 30 kgs [kilograms] on my back, it was the longest march I think I ever did. But I was choofed off to hospital. I finished up in re-slips for several weeks, which delayed my departure slightly for New Guinea, unfortunately, but still, there you are. Then I went up to New Guinea from
the queen steps [?] and after a week of rehabilitation training I was allowed off to the 2/5th Battalion, in the 2/5th Brigade. The brigade commander was Brigadier Merchant of the South Australian, bank manager actually, very nice man.
Brigadier Merchant saw me and we had a bit of a chat. I went to the battalion soon after getting there and Colonel Buttrose [?] was my CO [Commanding Officer]. Buttrose happened to have worked in the Gildersmith’s [?] will department in Adelaide. When I got there he said, “You’re not AP’s, son?” The name of my father being AP. I said, “Yes, Sir.”
and he said, “Good to meet you son. I’m allotting you to C Company as a platoon commander.” I said, “Thank you, Sir.” and off I went up to the C Company to be platoon commander. I was given a briefing up there in an area called Maprik. I flew from Wewak to Maprik in the DC-3 because
there were no roads in, this is in the Prince Alexander Ranges. About 20 miles in from the coast, the north coast, we were going along a chain of mountains, squeezing the Japanese between two brigades and, it was a pincer movement really, and there we had the job of attacking these Japanese positions.
The terrain was very, very steep and there was a track along the top of this range, or these ranges I should say, which was no wider than about 30 feet, or 40 feet. The sides were so steep that the only way to attack a Japanese position up on the rise ahead of you was on top of the ridge. They had fixed Japanese machine guns firing fix flyers all the way down this ridge.
Which made it a fairly hazardous business to attack. So what we used to do was to send small groups to climb up the steep slopes at the sides throwing grenades first, and disorganise them a little bit and we’d come in behind the smoke to this hopefully deranged group of Jap’s each time. Each operation was pretty nasty, prickly
piece of, because you were so restricted in you movement. The only benefits were that they couldn’t see you and you had to hope that you’d get between the bullets and they’d sprayed down the ridge. This went on until armistice.
When you went to the 2/5th and you were platoon commander,
how experienced, how battle hardy were the men you were…?
Oh, really. Most of them had been in the whole campaign from Aitape to Wewak. Aitape furthest from up the coast of Japan. But they were fairly seasoned people. Some of them were new, but not many.
How was it for you personally fitting into that where you’ve got a group of men who have been together for a while?
Well, they looked at you sideways for a while and they had to take you in your merits. It was much harder for my fellow graduates who had not been in the army before. I felt more familiar with it. Mind you I was only there for a month or so, when the war ended.
When the armistice occurred, we had just before that pulled in to reposition 25 pounder artillery guns which were Australian designed. They were short barrelled because they had to fit on to the aircraft to be flown in. When the armistice came the artillery unit were there and they fired some star shells over our
heads, just as a celebration. And some of these fell on the Japanese bridges which weren’t very far away. They didn’t actually fall, they were just over them. They wouldn’t have hurt if they had fallen. But the following day we had a white flag party from the Japanese, who were told to lay down their arms, before they moved in, they were blindfolded and brought them in just to see what they wanted and the interpreter
said, “If you want to continue fighting, we’re quite happy to go on.” Very bravado. We said, “No we don’t want to continue fighting, thank you very much. You go home and wait.” Anyhow they didn’t believe the war was over, that was another problem, we had to convince them, because they were taught to never surrender. We had to hold our fire, and hang on in that
position for another three or four weeks. During which time they used to come in every night with pickled acid bombs, and try to hit us in our weapon pits. That was a bit uncomfortable, in fact 2/7th Battalion next to us lost 14 men after the armistice that way. Which is an awful way to go, when the war was over.
How did the 2/5th fair in that respect?
I don’t recall what the numbers where, I haven’t got that in my mind, I’m sorry. But I don’t think we had any, we might have had one or two, but that’s all.
After the armistice, obviously you’re still getting this infiltration of recalcitrant Japs. Were you still actively able to patrol or was it a matter of just trying to defend where you were?
We did a few patrols but we were very selective on
how we did them, and we didn’t go very far. We wanted to clear the immediate area. That’s the hazardous business to patrolling a jungle when you don’t know what’s behind the next bush or leaf.
So other than those who surrendered, the ones who kept resisting, were they eventually rounded up?
All of them were rounded up, eventually and we were going to form a
big defensive position on a mountain called Mount Turu, T-U-R-U, for the last stand. Was their plan. They didn’t have to do that, but they were convinced in the end by Japanese officials who came in, that they had to surrender. Then they were taken to the coast, flown to the coast, and
transferred by barge to an island called Bushu, just off the coast by about five or six miles. That was organised by their own officers, and they made, they provided labour teams for along the mainland, we had to put them to work rather than them putting us to work. There was an army of 110,000 Japanese in New Guinea at that time, or before that time.
Under General Udachi [?], and they finished up with 10,000. So they died mostly from disease and the malaria and so on, but they had quite a lot of casualties, too, from the fighting. They also stripped the country of whatever they could get, paw paws and bananas, and live animals, pigs
and they were short of food. They are on record as having cannibalised the prisoners, the bodies they came across. Someone on one occasion had been found a couple of our people who had been killed, and they were
missing their buttocks. So we worked on that one. I wasn’t around at that time; it was before I got there. And apparently they found these guys cooking the buttocks on their fire one morning and they managed to dispose of them all, they were incensed by it. They were very, very hungry. It was good to see the 10,000 on the
island out of harms way.
What was your opinion of the enemy in terms of their soldiering?
Oh, very good. They had some flaws, like for example if they went on patrol and the patrol was beaten up you could be sure that the next day they would send another 12 on the same route, do the same thing and they’d be beaten up again. There seemed a lack of flexibility and imagination.
That was one of their worst faults. But nevertheless, they were pretty good jungle fighters. When we first came into the war with the Japanese of course they were written up as being the experts on jungle warfare and so on, and we hadn’t any experience in that field. The psychologists said that if we could
turn around our ideas about this, we could be better than the Japs at it. And in fact in the end we were. But there was an incentive to be like that too.
How useful had Canungra been in that respect?
Oh, excellent. The jungle in Canungra was thicker probably than the jungle I saw in New Guinea. It was an excellent training ground. Some Americans had been though there too, and they
hadn’t been though any experience like the training in Canungra for jungle warfare. We were flown out after the Japanese were being marshalled, sent back, when they were no longer any threat. We were flown back to the coast. There is a very long, narrow strip of land on the northern coast of New Guinea there, which has the sea on one
side and a huge swamp on the other. And the mosquitos were vicious and full of malaria. So, in our unit we had a 97% malaria rate, which is very, very high. We used to, they used to do it with DDT [pesticide] spray and that helped to control it. But we had all sorts of activities there to amuse the troops.
On the coast, after that we had a very good pipe band which had been formed and they got their pipes out of store and drums and so on and we used to pipe the retreat, which was a Scottish ceremonial thing, and the troops from the whole of this coast line used to
swarm down to watch a lot of the (UNCLEAR) of the day. My CO wanted me to take on a few extra duties. I was made the ticketing commander of the company, of the cadet company. I was also made transport officer which was to control the battalion’s transport to the 15 jeeps and a few trucks. I was made the education officer, to organise a training course for those who wanted to reintroduce to civil life again. I called it Bonehead College. And I was made amenities officer to provide some entertainment for the troops. I did that by a PA [public address] system with medical programs and talks and so on, organised through the education service. And I was also mess secretary. At that stage they thought they’d bring in some alcohol, which of course hadn’t been there before. Mess secretary was more than a difficult job at that time with these officers that had been through a fair bit of hell, trying to relax and perhaps drinking a little too much, and getting them out of the mess at closing time was just something that I didn’t want to do.
Interviewee: Colin Brown Archive ID 1788 Tape 04
You were saying there were five jobs?
I had five jobs yes, and with this school I had to find people in the unit that had teaching experience, and I could, I found a few. I taught quite a few subjects myself. I taught German and I taught maths, and I taught English, English correspondence.
It was a busy time. I decided I’d get some revenge on this commanding officer who was giving me such an overload, so I said, “Sir, would you run the wool classing for me?” So very quickly we got some sale bales of wool from Australia. He couldn’t say no. He got
impressed into the Bonehead College syllabus. The rest of it of course was just normal duties as far as I was concerned. Each one took a long time. Incidentally, this schooling was quite voluntary for anyone who wanted to do it in the morning. And those who, they were exempt from latrine duties and things like that.
To go to their courses. In the afternoons they were free. People would rest and go for walks and so on, listen to the music on the amenities program. It was busy and I didn’t have time to think about anything else. Then as ships came in after quite a while to take people home, we had a points
system. Married people got more points than single, and length of service away, length of service of any sort, counted towards points. In my case, I think because of my previous service, before I became a regular soldier, I was married and I had no children at that time, but I had quite a few points, but of course they were no good
to me being a regular soldier. I was the last one to go on the boat. Well, I was due to be. The unit gradually dispersed, and as it got to that stage, people from all the other battalions were pulled together, those who were left, were pulled together to another unit, under Brigadier Garrett, who became Chief of General Staff later. And there was I, in this unit; somehow they made me intelligence officer,
that didn’t mean very much, I think I made a few maps and things like that. The education officer buttonholed me to teach maths, and it was first year university maths, which I’d forgotten pretty well. It took me about three hours of study before I could teach each lecture. And I had a funny feeling that a lot of people knew more maths than I did. However, that went on and –
Were the students particularly serious about this or were they just getting out of – ?
Oh, yes. No, they were serious. There were a very limited number of them who were that way inclined, who weren’t in an educational frame of mind. Eventually I was flown home at the end of February in ’46. My father was very ill and the doctor asked me to go home. So I got home sooner than I might have.
On the other hand, a lot of the others, the regulars, went up to Morotai to form the BCOF [British Commonwealth Occupation Force, in post-war Japan] – advanced group. I wasn’t interested in that, and I wanted to get home. So I went home then to Adelaide.
Can I just ask one or two questions about your time in New Guinea?
How was it with the first skirmishes that you encountered. What was it like after all that time training, was it a matter of just relying on that training?
Yes, it was just as I expected it be really. Our training in Duntroon was very realistic. Some people got hurt in training. My friend Tom Miller got a lot of shrapnel in his leg from a banger of a torpedo that blew up
when he was trying to cross through barbed wire. It was quite realistic exercises. In Canungra, of course we got used to bombs going off all around us. It was fairly safe, but frightening at times. I remember crossing the stream there at Canungra with a pack on my back and rifle slung.
There were two ropes, and the bottom one was covered in mud and wet going across the floor, and the ropes were getting a bit slack, and sometimes I would lean back almost horizontally over this stream, still hanging on grimly. And there were explosives going off in the water all around us. You finished up on the other side, if you got there, drenched. Fortunately I don’t remember anyone falling off, but it
can be quite dangerous. One of our class was doing a commando course in Wales later and he was drowned from falling off a rope, crossing. So, you know, it was realistic enough. I also fell off, I didn’t fall that time but I fell in another exercise, I was up there and we were crossing ropes over a big pit, called a bear pit
that was 12 feet deep. I slipped on the rope, covered in mud – it was always raining – and I fell with a pack on my back onto the floor of the pit. I felt a little bit shaken and numb for a while, but I had to get up and do it again, I never went to see it again. It didn’t affect me at all, only nowadays it’s given me a bit of a wake up.
A few years later I was running over hurdles in the Australian championships here. It didn’t worry me at all.
What did you learn about leading a platoon, up in the Alexander Ranges?
Leading a platoon. We were taught how to lead a platoon in Duntroon.
But in battle did other things come into play,
or was it all just text book stuff?
Yes, well every day was a different day, and things happened. The training was very good. It was really not much of problem to apply what you had learned. Of course it’s a little different when you know you can be hit and so on, but you got that
additional factor, but you don’t shun from it at all, you just go ahead. I was walking through mortar fire like just going through a rain storm. Hope you’re not going to be hit.
It is February 1946, and you go back home, what happened from there?
I was in Adelaide for a little while,
and they were holding just our of sympathy out of my father’s condition, they left me in Adelaide for a couple of months I went to the headquarters of the 4th Military District. There, I was a G-3 brackets training for South Australia, for three months, two months. Then they decided I’d had enough over there and they decided to send me back to Greta, the 2nd Recruit Training Battalion.
The sergeant commander was Brigadier Monaghan again. I was there as adjutant, I was actually assistant adjutant because the adjutant was away sick most of the time. So I was literally adjutant and assistant adjutant and that was a good experience. I hadn’t been an adjutant before.
One night I was going down to the hospital to see one of the other officers who was there with malaria, a man called Cunane [?] and much to my surprise I walked in and there was this huge hulk sitting up in bed, Brigadier Monaghan. “Hello Brown, what are you doing here?” and I said, “I’ve come to see Captain Cunane, Sir.” “Oh, that’s very good.” He said, “Come over and see me when you’ve finished with him.” So I went over and saw him.
And he asked me about some things. “What are your plans in the army? What do you want to be?” and I said “Well, as a matter of fact, Sir, I would like to do intelligence work. I find that very interesting.” When I was in Duntroon we had to do give lectures on these from time to time, and I usually chose intelligence subjects. He said, “I think that’s going to be more in the future a civilian job
rather than the army.” He was probably right. But he said, “You write to young Spires, tell him that I was the one told you to write.” ‘Gun Spire’ was Colonel Spires [?], so he had recently become the Director of Military Intelligence. So, I didn’t even know he was Director of Military Intelligence until I wrote to ‘Colonel CCF Spires, Director of Military Intelligence, Army Headquarters’. I knew that
(UNCLEAR). Months went by and nothing happened and so I had given up any hope of going any further in that. I got an order one day to report to centre headquarters at this camp to be staff captain. I packed up my goods and went across to
headquarters and the other staff captain, a man called Dave Johns showed me a telegram from Melbourne posting me to DMI [Department of Military Intelligence] Army Headquarters. So, I didn’t stay at centre hall, I went straight back to Melbourne. Was in a divvy by Colonel Spires at army headquarters here, and I went into
security side of DMI.
When was that?
’46. In Australia at that time the security service didn’t exist so much. Their wartime security had been disbanded the year before and there was no civilian organisation responsible for this sort of work except what they called the Commonwealth
Investigation Service – the CIS, which was a very inefficient and unqualified group of people. So, we had received, because the security service had to have a lot of service personnel in its ranks when it was operative. They had retired and we had
managed to get a lot of the records from these people, information from the people on their contacts and so on. It came to us without much effort at all that there was a growing problem with the Communist Party here. We were nervous about getting involved in this
because it wasn’t an army affair really, but no-one else was able to do it. However, we did tell our chief of general staff what we knew and the chief of general staff went to the secretary of the Department of Defence, Sir Frederick Snedden. Who went to the Prime Minister Ben Chifley. And told him the situation was getting serious. Strikes were causing all sorts of problems. Industry was being brought to a
stand still. Chifley said, “Well, keep me informed.” We told him in advance that there was going to be a general strike of the coalminers. This was very much under the control of the central committee of the Communist Party of Russia. The Central Committee of the Communist Party of Australia had an
industrial subcommittee, which was composed of all the heads of major unions. Including the Miners’ Federation, who was going to end this nationwide strike, the coal supplies were drying up, industry was grinding to a halt, it was getting very serious. And Ben Chifley was astute enough not to tell his deputy, Dr Evatt, who hated anything to do with security and intelligence. Nor did he tell anyone
in his cabinet because if the cabinet had known he was listening to the army about civilian matters, he would have had trouble holding on to his position all together. So, Ben Chifley decided to be kept informed and we told him of the imminent strike. He said, “I’ll talk to the miners about it myself.” So he went along and talked to the miners, and they were adamant that they were going to strike. He then, after a while, tried again,
and before he went the second time, he said to the Chief of General Staff, “Get ready to send some troops into the mines.” Which was contrary to any Labor thinking in the past. So we had to prepare a unit of people to go to the mines who never had been in mines before, didn’t know one end of the shovel from the other.
He came back with the same negative reply from the miners, and pressed the button and said, “Send the troops in.” The troops went into the mines. The interesting thing about that was that they produced three times as much coal than the miners. Industry of course, as I said, was almost at a standstill. People started converting their Aga [stoves] to oil.
And not long after that, when the coalminers went back, they found that there was less than half of their coal. They demanded compensation. Which I don’t think they got. It just showed how important it was to have someone be aware of what was going on. It was very tricky because we were very nervous about getting involved in it. We
had the information and we had to do something with it.
You mentioned CIS, were they involved at all? Were they seen as competition almost?
No, they got involved in a lot of Commonwealth crime, attending to Commonwealth law, in terms of pricing, and price control and things like that. They had no real capacity for
organisation at all. We didn’t have much either. We just relied on the old sources but we learnt quite a lot in that period.
How were you gathering that information?
From the people out in the field. We had people out and researching it, and doing what we could with it.
For you specifically, what was the nature of your job?
The text book responsibility of ours was security of personnel, installations and any operations, to protect them from any adverse situation. That was really what it was.
Straight obvious protection of army facilities and their personnel. We had to institute a vetting program for army people, and we had to special checking for army people going into signals intelligence, which was a joint service. That was very hush-hush in those days.
In fact, the book I have there, Breaking the Codes, that red book, does tell you something about the DMI at that time. I get a couple of mentions in there. Then of course we got to the stage when we had to tell the Prime Minister the state of affairs
and recommend that we needed a proper security service. He got experts out from England who consulted DMI and the other services about security conditions in this country and so on, and they were supposed to help us do up a model along the lines of MI-5 [British security service]. It so happened that
happened to Charles Spires who always looked ahead, decided he would draw up his own organisation for ASIO [Australian Security Intelligence Organisation] , and give it to the Brits to look at to see if they could improve on it. I was involved in the formation of ASIO at that time, drawing up the plans. A man called Phillips and I. So it was an interesting period.
Sure. What more can you tell us about that? With
DMI obviously set up to look at army security, but obviously with the miners and the possibility of strike was a civil matter. Were there times when it had to work in that area, outside of army…?
Well, we worked on the Communist Party generally to some extent. We had limited resources, we couldn’t do very much. The
main thing was that we did get to the critical things. I worked many long hours, most of those four years I was working until quite late at night and with the young family I had then, or we had one child anyway, it was quite hard on the domestic front. I was in there in the morning at about eight o’clock, and I wouldn’t leave until eight or nine
at night. I got no overtime.
What was the day to day routine for you? Were you mostly office bound?
Mostly office bound yes. There was a certain amount of liaison with the other services, and we had the bulk of the intelligence, the air force intelligence was the minor, concentrating more on the air force
duty, and so was the navy. But we had the spread on the ground you see. We had an officer in every capital city. From there we had the remains of a network. We thought we were doing something worthwhile.
You talked about
the influence of the Russian communists. Were there other examples of, this is before the Korean War and Petrov and all that, but were there other occasions where that influence or that infiltration?
Oh, that was several of the unions, yes. The whole purpose was, the Russian purpose, was to bring industry down in Australia, as it was in
most Western countries. To give them a chance to catch up, but their aspirations were international development. There were lots of cases where various unions where the Communists inflamed strike action, which was quite intentional to disrupt industry.
We had other commitments in the security field but, it’s not normal.
You mentioned the liaison work, would that also be, I guess there would also be informants in the field?
No that was different operational stuff, but
this was just re-educating other government departments, sometimes quite overt stuff, just to get the full picture. We were cloak and dagger people.
What can you tell us about the development of ASIO and you involvement with that?
We drew up diagrams of organisations and the functions and so on and we then discussed these with two or three senior British officers that came out. One was Sir Roger Hollis, who was later the director of MI-5. They seemed to agree with our recommendations pretty well.
It was of course designed to suit Australian conditions, which are different from England. We just then had to go to the Prime Minister, who’s – it was to appoint someone to be director of ASIO and he chose a judge from South Australia called Reed. Who had little
intelligence experience, but it was his political wisdom that he chose the judge because he was beyond reproach, and it would be more likely to be accepted by Dr. Evatt and cabinet and the public at large. So Judge Reed took it on the first year and a half,
before he was replaced with Spires, from DMI, Spire became one. There were only two or three people who were in line for consideration. A Justice Windere [?], who was a very capable man, but they picked Spire because he was in DMI and he had most of the grip on intelligence matters generally, nationally particularly.
He was chosen and he was a good choice. He was a very tough man to work for.
Very demanding, and he didn’t tolerate fools. When I was appointed there from infantry, I was allowed to stay for four years only. I had to go back to infantry then. That was a rule.
The only the people that didn’t spend four years with ASIO wasn’t satisfied with. Who were bowled out very quickly.
So what was a typical day for you, during your time with DMI?
I was sitting at a desk most of the time. I was doing research into a lot of things and
correlating all the materials coming in. Writing reports for the chief of general staff. Very dull.
And if you weren’t in the office who would you be out or seen talking to?
Oh, as I said there were government head departments and we had
quite a lot to do with the Department of Supply in those days, in setting up the rocket range in Woomera. We first of all had to send posts around the area to make sure there was no nefarious activity going on, and operations for the range, and testing and so on. We knew the Communist Party was very interested in it. So
I didn’t have to go to the range; the man in Adelaide did that. But it was very mundane really. It sounds otherwise, but it was interesting.
Well I guess like any organisation there’s a routine and protocols and that sort of thing but it is, I guess for because for a certain period of time those things are not made
public, so therefore it gets that mystique about it. What you were saying about setting up the rocket base at Woomera, what were the requirements there in terms of security and, you said the Communists had an interest there as well…
Yes, they had an interest. They were just interested in getting the organisation and where the establishment would be and so on.
We also wanted to know if anyone was wandering around the area in advance of the getting going. So we had our living posts around all over the place out there. Just loyal citizens who were prepared to do their bit, you know.
What more can you tell me about that? Doing their bit how?
Just reporting any suspicious activity,
there wasn’t very much of it.
What about relations with MI-5 and the Americans and the English and how much…
We didn’t have a deep relationship with civilian organisations. Any of communication would come through our
what do you call them, service attachés and various embassies. Through army channels to the armies of various countries. It was a purely military effort. Except when MI-5 people came out, that was at the behest of Ben Chifley, when he was convinced that he needed something better than military intelligence.
We closed that one. We didn’t want it.
It was long hours, but were you enjoying the work?
Oh, yes I was. I thought I was doing something worthwhile too. It was always foremost in my mind. It was interesting, I could have been doing some basic military training, or training people somewhere, which is also quite a good thing but
it didn’t have the interest to me that this other did. It impinged on international affairs too, which was pretty interesting.
You mentioned earlier how you met Bob Menzies, but I think that was later on in the peace when he was Prime Minister. Did you have anything to do with the other politicians of the time? This is during DMI days.
Can you recount any encountered meetings, characters, the luminaries of the day? We have ways of making you talk, Colin!
Yes, I think most of my contact was amongst senior officers in the army at that time. General Sterling and General Rowe I knew well, my
DMI was keen to have lectures prepared by his officers, for all the senior officers of the army, navy and air force at headquarters once a month. Because of my posting he wanted me to talk to the 60 or 70 senior officers including overseas liaison officers, on the
case of Richard Sorge, the German who was a spy for Russia, based in Japan. That case had just come out after the war and it was a very interesting espionage case, which we given a lot of information on. I had to talk on Richard Sorge on that whole operation for an hour.
Then I was given the task, jospy [?] said, “Now, I won’t allow you to have any notes.” So I said, “Well I’ll just have a few headings on my hand.” “Well yes, but don’t make it look like you’ve got any headings at all, you’ve got to speak without anything.” So I rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed an hour’s speech for about two or three weeks before
in my own time, on weekends mostly. And this went down so well, General Rowe asked me to do it again. So that was one. It was a very interesting case, really, one of the classics. Then I got involved in the Gouzenko case in Canada, which was the spilling of the atomic secrets to Russia from
Canada. That was the subject of another lecture I had to give to all these people. As a young sub-lieutenant it was an overpowering thing to face a row of about 70 senior officers. And below the rank of full colonel. I had to do a few talks like that.
At this point, you’re still quite young, what you were in your twenties, weren’t you?
Yes, in ’46, I was 23.
Hadn’t done too bad for a young fella.
Oh, I was coming on.
You said it was a four year term, what happened at the end of the four years?
I was posted back to infantry, in to the
South Australian Scottish Regiment, the 27th Battalion in Adelaide. I might say that at about the middle of that year I was admitted to do a pre-entry course for the staff college. I’d become a captain by the way. This pre-entry course meant you were supposed to spend 21 hours during the week of your own time studying.
The course started earlier in the year and I missed the notice that came out about it, so I applied for a late entry and they gave it to me and I had to do all the backlog of tests and things. Then I went to Adelaide, I had to work for very long hours, I could never do 21 hours a week, the most I had ever did was 12.
As an adjutant of the 13th Scottish, I had 13 sectors stretching form Orroroo north of Adelaide down to Mount Gambier. I was like a one armed paper hanger with edge. I was just working long hours and travelling a lot to these depots and so on, and this training, all that went with it. Anyhow, we went to live the next year, 1947,
I got the opportunity to go the School of Land and Warfare at Williamtown. That was a joint school, there was only one naval officer and about three or four army officers and the rest were air force. This was a six week course which was a very nice gentleman’s course, not very long hours, but it gave me a bit of time to catch up on
the course for my pre-entry. I topped the course and went back to 27th Battalion. Just in time for the birth of my son. In Adelaide I stayed for a bit longer. Eventually there was a course in Seymour for pre-entry. Followed by an examination
in nine subjects and you had to pass them all or else do it again. There were 37 people I think who tried for it and only seven or eight of us got through. So, I was hopeful going to the staff college the next year in Queenscliff, it was then. As luck would have it someone decided I shouldn’t go, and instead
I was posted to Korea. What actually happened in the event, Brigadier Martin, my old New Guinea friend, was up and commander there. We had parade nights for the senior officers and this night I had got my posting to brigade headquarters, as the staff captain again
and I went up and stood in front of him and saluted. “Hello Brown, what are you doing here?” as if he didn’t know. I said “Well, I believe I’ve been posted to your headquarters, Sir.” “No you haven’t, you’re going to Korea.” Just like that. Boy, it was such a frightening shock. After having got this posting to another place, then finding out I’m going to Korea.
So that was the end of my chances of going to the staff college the following year. That pre-entry was a lot of study, as I say, however I went to the 1st Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment in Ingleburn. I was sent out to there. But just a few days after that posting me to 1 RAR [Royal Australian Regiment]
in Ingleburn, Charles Sparr [?] phoned me from Melbourne. “Colin, I’ve just sacked quite a number of officers.” He hadn’t been there very long. He said, “Would you consider leaving the army and joining me? I need someone that I can trust.” So, I said, “I’d love to, sir, but unfortunately three days ago I got my posting to Korea.” and he said, “Oh, that’s terrible. Would you like me to speak to General Rowe?”
Chief of General Staff who he actually knew me on a first name, he would pass in the passages and say, “Hello, Colin,” which was very flattering. But I said, “No, I don’t want you to do that sir. It would look very bad if I left the army now, having been posted to Korea.” I said, “If you’d rung me a few days ago…” He said, “I meant to ring you two weeks ago.” So I didn’t take it on then. He said, “The job’s open for when
you come back.” So I went away with that in mind, and I went to Korea in, Oh, I went to the 1 RAR in Ingleburn where I was intelligence officer again, only because I had been in DMI. It was different sort of intelligence work, but I had been trained in that too so it didn’t matter. And I formed the intelligence section for the 1 RAR and when it came to getting on the boat to go to Korea, the commanding officer appointed me as the rear guard, the officer in charge of…
Interviewee: Colin Brown Archive ID 1788 Tape 05
Do you want to just…
When I was left in charge of the rear party at Ingleburn, I had to clean the camp up and hand it over to the next incumbents, and the battalion went ahead by sea. Luckily, I was quite grateful that I didn’t have to go by sea because I found myself so seasick on the way up the New Guinea
that I didn’t want another sea trip. We flew over the heads to Japan, and on arrival I became the OC [Officer Commanding] of the advanced party and then we had to set up camp in a place called Hitachi. Not very far from Kure. This sight we were allotted was a former Japanese naval arsenal. Where they
were making warlike equipment and ammunition and stuff there. It had been bombed out but it was a mess, there was metal and rubbish and everything around everywhere. I was given a team of about 30 Japanese workers and a little man called Oto-san, who was the foreman. Also a secretary named Grace Takashi, who was Methodist-
trained girl there, but spoke excellent English. And of course I couldn’t speak any Japanese so she was a good go-between. These fellows worked very hard for a couple of weeks cleaning up this camp and making it liveable. We had to clear a site for tent rows. I used to see them going out in the evenings with loads and loads
of metal on their backs. I said to Grace, “What is that for?” and she said, “Oh, when it’s all over they have a party, they sell all the metal and put the money aside for the party when the job is finished.” Well, when the job was finished I was of course invited to the party, and these tables were all set up at the Hitachi Town Hall, little tables about a foot high for all the workers to sit around and
I was sitting up like a lord at the end table, high chair and a proper table. It was a geisha girl who was pouring my beer constantly; I didn’t want to drink sake, that was too strong for me. We had to exchange speeches and it went on. I made noises about ‘We mustn’t come to war again.’ and all that jazz.
Anyway it was a useful experience. One man who looked like a frog got up, he was dressed in national costume. He did the most graceful dance with the geishas playing their shamisens. And he danced around the floor like an expert, I wouldn’t have thought he had it in him, but he did. Interesting, anyway. When that was all over, I handed the camp over, oh, I supervised the directing of
the sick tents in rows for the whole battalion, there being about 900 of them. Nine hundred men. And then the battalion arrived and moved in and I reverted to my job as intelligence officer. I hadn’t been there for more than a week getting the section together again, when a man called Brigadier Ian Campbell, who was the area commander, came around to visit us to see how we were getting on.
I had contact with him at Canberra in army headquarters when he was the director of military training, and he knew me by his first name. He came in and sat down in my little tent and said, “Brown, we’ve looked at this and you’re far too senior for this job, you’re the senior captain of the battalion and it’s only a lieutenant’s job.”
And I said “Yes, I know Sir, but here I am.” He said “We’ve got to do something about this. How would you like be a company commander in 3 Battalion?” and I said “I’d love to.” Actually I didn’t see eye to eye with the CO very much in 1 RAR. He was a funny little man. And so I, “Yes, I’d love to take on a company, that’s more my line,” and he said,
“Well, A Company will becoming available soon, Shulton [?] is due to leave very shortly, and you can take it over from him.” and I said, “Thank you very much.” So I marched from the unit to the enforcement holding unit, a place called Haramura, which is where we did a bit of advanced weapon training, or practice
as you say. Shooting at targets and so on. The commander of that little unit who had been in Korea, had to find some men to go to an explosives course which was being run by Americans at Osaka further up the coast. This was an explosives course lasting two weeks for Marines, the air force
the navy, army, Americans. And the corporal of the mission was supposed to send some people. They sent an officer from the 7th Hussars, another one from the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, an Australian air force officer who was responsible last year for the construction of napalm rockets against the Chinese, and I. I was the fourth one.
Well I had a bit of a lead on; because I did explosives work before. We had three examinations in this course, the marking of course was relaxed, but to my surprise I got 299 marks out of 300. The one mistake I made was to call an explosive we called aminel [?] by what the
Australians called it, and the Americans had another name for it. So I lost a mark on that.
For not knowing the American? Can you tell me about the type of explosives you were being tested on?
We had to learn for instance the explosives to apply to a railway line to blow it up, how to make a booby trap, how to
hold other grenades and type explosive, how to delouse them if we came across them. It was a naming thing. We had to do a little bit of chemistry but not much. It was mainly practical aspects, which I had already done before, so it was easy. It was a pleasant time. I was very interested in the barracks
where we were placed. Everyone slept in together in the same big dormitory, wired off into and corporals and officers all together which was something that we never had. We always had separate quarters as officers. Of course we had batmen too. Which the Americans don’t have, but they had good purposes, not just a luxury,
it’s a necessity really if you’re going to do your job spending you time with your men. As I explained that in my Korean book, I have a little section on batmen, in that. Anyhow, I went to Haramura for a very short time and then was off to Korea.
Just before we get there, can we just backtrack a little to your arrival in Japan and you were
setting up the intelligence section, is that right?
Well, I’d set it up already, I was just reuniting with them after my separate duties as the OC in the rear party and the OC in the advanced party, when they were on the boat.
Who was in that section and how did you go about setting it up? Who were the people?
Well, they were men of the unit who were selected by someone else, not me to be in the red section.
The sergeant, O’Sullivan, ‘Slim’ Sullivan, he was used too in the section and the others were just regular men who had perhaps had a little more grey matter in their heads than the others. They were handpicked people and we had to go through the normal training to
get them in to the section people. Map reading particularly, and being able to quickly determine co-ordinates on a map and we had to draw start lines if there was to be an attack, or we had to draw map routes for patrols going in and out, all those sorts of things. And to report all the activity that came from the Chinese, where the movements were. Perhaps how many shells landed
in the space of a night, or how many mortar bombs and so on. And those were by the hundreds of course there. It really knocks you around.
This training happened in Australia?
It started here. In Ingleburn I was concentrating more on the basic map reading, filed sketching and things like that which I was called upon to do sometimes. The
actual other aspects were done later on in Japan. I didn’t, I wasn’t there. I would have had to do it but I had passed on then to A Company in the 3 RAR.
As the company commander?
As the company commander. I was then still a senior captain, so most company commanders eventually reached the regiment major. There was a bit of a hiccough
in my day, for example there was an officer before me who was company commander who was two years behind me from Duntroon who was already a major, and who hadn’t done any qualification courses at all. He was a very good soldier. Then, again, the one who followed me was two years senior to me and he was a major. I was only a captain.
Why was that?
I don’t know.
And yet before I came up to Japan, before I went to the 1st Battalion, I had done my examination for major and pre-entry course, and one of the few who passed for major. But I wasn’t given major rank. It’s one of those queer things in the army, you never know, you have to attract the right people,
at the right the time. I wasn’t exactly in that game.
So you kind of kept quiet about it?
I didn’t project myself very well. Others I know who did, they got along well. So, I went up there and I stayed a captain for the whole time I was there. When I came back, this is another story, I got to my majority soon after and I joined the Sydney forces.
You’ve been in intelligence, in the DMI, and then you’re suddenly intelligence officer for the battalion, were you daunted or excited, was it an easy job?
It was a routine job. Not many people are trained as thoroughly as people who have gone through that training. They may not be any better soldiers for it, but they’d at least been through the mill and
learnt quite a few things. It didn’t worry me at all. I was quietly confident.
Your section, the intelligence section would have been very critical, the make up of that.
Yes, it was. We were a good family, a good group too. In that way I was sad to leave them, but from a career point of view it was stupid for me to stay there when I had this other offer.
I was in fact over ranked for the position, so wasn’t allowed to stay there anyway. So, there we were. I went to Korea with the 3rd Battalion. The CO of the 1st Battalion never forgave me for that.
Yes, he thought I was deserting him.
But you weren’t happy with him, were you?
Oh no. I don’t know if he was happy with me I don’t think. We didn’t
have a great personality, what’s the word? Affinity. We didn’t really. Another officer with the adjutant had served with him in New Guinea with his battalion there. The 2/3rd Battalion. He was at Duntroon with me also,
but he was his favourite. I wasn’t. That’s the way it went.
Was it something in his leadership style?
I think his leadership style was very frustrating. He was a very small man, a bit of an ‘I am’. But it didn’t go further than that. I didn’t know any more about him. He was a highly decorated soldier in World War II. He’s dead now.
But, he was very keen for promoting his officers for their service. He did a lot for promotion of some of them, and a lot for getting them decorations. Unlike one of the other battalion commanders who didn’t praise, boost anyone with a decoration really, very serious.
It was a different style altogether. So, that was the way it went. I was happy to take over A Company. They were out on the line when I got back, and I wasn’t given a chance to get to know them better than when we’re scalloping around in trenches and so on
on the front line. I had two weeks there, familiarising myself with them, and them with me I hoped, and then we moved into the line. We hadn’t been there more than about three weeks when we were ordered to do a raid on a Chinese village in the Costa Valley, which was a very hazardous thing to do, because the Chinese were well dug in with concrete trenches.
The idea was to capture a prisoner. This was all at the behest of the Americans who always wanted prisoners. It occurred to us that it was futile because most of the Chinese soldiers were peasants and knew nothing more than their name and their unit. We already knew the name of the unit and the names weren’t of much interest to us, but they didn’t know anything about the plans, or future movements
or whatever. It was a dead loss really. It was a wicked waste of men to send them into these trenches. Imagine trying to haul some Chinaman out under fire from someone else in the trench, hopeless. We had three casualties on that night. About two of our 25 were either wounded, or, three were killed, and nine were
wounded, and another 13 had to help the wounded back, which was a big job. Especially when the Chinese were following up with mortar fire all the way. That was my first actual operational task there, apart from patrols.
You said you had two weeks not in line, so what in a reserve?
Yes, two weeks not in line.
In those two weeks how did you go about being a company commander?
Doing day to day things, doing inspections in accommodation and tents and so on. Going on training exercises, we trained a lot of the time when we were out of the line.
There was a lot of refurbishment of equipment, maintenance of weapons and so on, all that needed to be done while we were out of the line. So that’s the way it went on and then we went out into the line again. We had in the space of the last 19 months of the war, the problem of the position of which we were a part
we only had two months out of 19, out of the line. I’m going to digress for a moment to talk about the actual topography and the conditions. There were two ranges of hills, and a valley between which was flat, it was only disused paddy fields. The paddy
fields as you know have earthenware mounds around them to hold the water in certain places. We called them paddy bunds. Along the centre of this valley there was this stream, only a creek, that was given to sudden flooding when it rained. This made it difficult. We had patrols
across there on the other side. And it started to rain, and by the time they got back to the creek they couldn’t cross it. They were still on the Chinese side. So that was tricky. There was no cover to speak of at all, very few trees and therefore it was murder to do anything in the daytime under the eyes of the Chinese guns, because we were only 400 to 700 yards apart,
or metres if you like. And there we were facing each other all day, all night, for all that time. All the fighting was done at night. That was very hairy stuff, because you couldn’t see in the very dark nights that seemed to come around up there. You couldn’t see anything except your hand in front of you, and that wasn’t hard. One of my boys said to me once, “You
could smell the Chinese before they get to you, Sir, before you can see them.” and I said, “Yes, but just remember they can probably smell you too.” Because of the different foods. It was essentially an area of patrols, and we the Australians didn’t want them patrolling anywhere else. We were regarded as the experts. And that’s why in the time I was there
we had not one attack against our position by surprise at night. We had attempted attacks, which we broke up before they got to us, but we had such a thorough system of patrols that it was hard for the Chinese to get anywhere without us being aware of them. We one
time broke up a buoyed attack of about 150 Chinese, or Vietnamese with a 15 man standing patrol. And inflicted a lot of casualties on them and that was in the valley right down below us. But we also had standing patrols outside the barbed wire and mines, which both us
had lots of barbed wire and lots of land mines, and many special tracks down to get in and out to the valley.
Your post, your position, where the company was positioned, this was Hill 355? Is this what you’re talking about?
Well, it was next to Hill 355 at that time, we were on 355 later.
Little Gibraltar, they called it.
When you took the command of the company when you arrived there, was already there?
There was another unit there before us, it was a Canadian unit, and what impressed me was the Canadians had built veritable castles of sandbags up; they didn’t like to dig very far. Our first job was to dig down, get underground
as much as possible because you were much safer that way, and sandbags above the ground were usually blown over with mortar bombing and shelling that we used to have. Furthermore, they used to deteriorate very quickly and rot and that kind of. So we set upon a building program to dig, reconstruct the whole position, and a couple of weeks later the Canadian company commander came up to see how we were getting on
and he couldn’t believe it. He said, “Gee, it’s no wonder you Aussies are called diggers!” He thought that was amazing. For instance, in the back side of the hill we would dig our quarters for resting, and we’d dig a hole in this rocky ground 15 feet deep.
And we had six feet of living space, nine feet above that was covered with our protection, with logs and rocks and sandbags. All the logs had to be carried in by our porters. And the rocks were easily obtainable. There was a layer of rocks and then a layer of sandbags. Logs, rocks, sandbags to the depth of nine feet, because the Chinese were using deep penetration mortars that used to go into the ground six feet before they exploded.
Although we had hundreds and hundreds of those bombs land on us, sometimes in a couple of hours, we had very few casualties from that sort of thing, because we were well dug in. The other thing of course was because all the action was at night, no-one slept at night. We only slept between breakfast and lunch. I know for
nearly three months I only averaged two and a half hours sleep a night, a day I mean, every day. That was usually broken, I was like a walking dreamer I was so tired but nervous energy keeps you going.
That’s very intense.
Yes, it was very intense.
What about your actual attack position,
defence position? What were they like? What did they look like, what did you have to do?
Well, the trenches were dug about seven feet deep, and they were very, they changed direction often because if anyone did get to the trench and fire, they wouldn’t get very far. Then occasionally
there would be a little branch off the weapon pit, what the Americans called fox holes, and they were facing outwards all around the perimeter and the company area in case of sudden attack.
What was the purpose of those?
In case there was attack by the Chinese, if they decided to visit us and could get through the mines and wire, which they could do.
We were ready for them there. That’s why they’d stand to every morning, half an hour before daylight, there was stand to, every one of those weapon pits had to be manned, and the guns ready to fire. That was the time most likely that the Chinese would attack. The other time they might, would be at last light of the evening. So half an hour before last light again the same thing
happened, and this went on for about an hour each morning and night. And then you had running from those trenches were other side trenches, communication trenches to go to other positions, so it was all interlocked. There were plans to make them more permanent when the armistice came along, we hadn’t done very much at that, mainly because we
didn’t have the materials. There were no trees left around the place to use and as I say, we had a team of Korean porters, I think there were something like 60 or 70 allotted to the battalion. My company, because it always seemed to be the most forward company, got about 40 of those. Allotted to us, and they had been going backwards and forwards during the night, only at night, carrying all their
stuff. Rations, logs, mail, ammunition, guns, weapon, spare weapons, tools and so on, and brought the lot up. On these frames on their backs called A-frames. They had a Korean army man in charge of them so he could, he spoke English too, he could
take command of them and discipline them when necessary. He did that with an iron fist. I saw him hit one over the head with the butt of his machine gun, and smashed the butt. He was a very intelligent man, and he wrote me a few letters when I came back,
all very flowery, and it had been some days which I never heard of him again after that. He was paid by our battalion because to get his Korean army pay, he would have had to go right down to the south of Korea, far to the south to collect it. And the train fare cost more than he’d get so we used to, when we had the chance when we weren’t on line, to accumulate our bottles.
The boys would open a bottle of beer everyday, and this amounted to quite a number of bottles over a period. We used to take them into Seoul in a truck. Everything in Seoul at that time was made of glass, there was no industry otherwise. It’s different now. We would pay him out of the money from those bottles. He also was quite an ingenious fellow, he found one
of his Korean porters could speak Chinese, which he couldn’t so he came to me with a proposition. He said, “If you can get me a serviceable radio set, I’ll have my man tune in to the Chinese Army,” and he would hear the reports from the Chinese and what they were doing, and give them to me and I’d have them translated into Korean, and
have them retranslated into English. We were able to stop two very big attacks by the Chinese on other positions. There was one attack on the Black Watch [Scottish Highlanders] at the south end of our line, which was on a point which was very important to us, tactically and strategically. So we were able to tell the Black Watch 36 hours in advance that the Chinese were going to attack there, which helped them a lot.
Who was the Black Watch?
It’s a British unit. A British battalion, very famous one with a long tradition of fighting. Even that watch used to come to us to see how we did our patrol, because no-one else knew what we did.
It seems a very simple solution to have someone who understood Chinese to listen on the radio.
Yes, well it is.
It’s a simple solution, it seemed a simple plan, but it was a very successful one.
I guess my point is, did that happen very much?
No, it didn’t. No that was one out of the box, because any Chinese speaker was suspect, if he were Chinese. Of course, another little operation that was in the intelligence side of things and which I had no part, except that
they used to through my position. We had a unit called the ‘Pally Pally Boys’, and these were Chinese recruited in Hong Kong and trained as Chinese soldiers by the British, and were dressed and equipped as Chinese soldiers. They used to come through late in the day, not long before dark, and suddenly, when the light was right, they’d
vanish into the no-man’s land and they’d move across and somehow to the best of their ability would join up with the Chinese unit and become a Chinese soldier for a while. Then eventually when the time was right, they’d come out with intelligence. A lot of them were caught of course. Not a lot of them came back. Sometimes only one would come back out of the pair. That was rather sad to see, because they were usually great friends.
They were being trained by an Australian whom I knew very well. He later joined ASIO. That was one form of intelligence which was interesting, not the sort of thing I would like to do.
What sort of training would they have got?
They would be trained as Chinese soldiers. I didn’t know how Chinese soldiers were trained, the British had control
of this practice, and the Australian was just in charge of the section that had all the areas out the front.
So the British must have known something about how the Chinese trained.
Well, they did, of course they had a lot of experience with the Chinese in Shanghai and Hong Kong and that was one of their plusses really. They were very good at that sort of thing.
I refer once again to the batmen. We had our batmen a lot, but we didn’t use them as batmen except when we sent them into the line with the soldiers, because we needed all the men we could get. We were short of men, man power. We, through this Korean Army liaison officer who was paid with bottles,
recruited young Chinese lads who were keen to come and fight with us. They came in as batmen; we called them ‘houseboys’. They did all the duties like looking after the officers with their washing and so on. This was a very important role. When we had our meals the officers got together to
talk about operations and plans and all that, so we were able to sit down for a little while and concentrate on one thing, and not have to worry about getting our food. They would always bring our food to us; keep all the bunkers tidy and so on. They were quite invaluable. We used to pay them out of our own pockets. It saved us a lot of manpower. It didn’t need much pay, but it was a lot more than they were getting anywhere else.
So that was one aspect.
You said that you were always in advance, or on line more so than any other company?
No. The Commonwealth Division. The whole division which included the Canadians, and British, New Zealanders and ourselves. We were used as a division to come into the line
and it was placed by say the Korean Army, or the Americans perhaps, or something like that. So the Commonwealth Division as a whole was always in the line most of that time. Whenever intelligence pointed out there was ever going to be a major Chinese attack, we always would find ourselves right in their way. They always put the Australians, the Commonwealth Division on command. They always put the Australians in the hottest spot.
My men got a bit sick of that. That was because of course that we had a higher standard of training, and a higher standard of performance than any of the others.
Was there anyone you could complain to about this?
I didn’t complain. It wasn’t my job to complain. I was there to do what I was told. I used to get the odd words from the boys. We had an unusual way
of replacing people who left the unit for various reasons. You see, everyone went up there for 12 months, that was the idea. Some went out after finishing their time, others were wounded, and evacuated and didn’t come back, so there was a constant turnover. One day I was expecting a dozen recruits coming in
to company headquarters, and I saw them looking around over these bare hills over where the Chinese was. “Good God!” I heard him say to the other boys, “If this is what we’re fighting for, let’s go home.” So I jumped on him very quickly, because if that had pervaded the whole organisation, it would have been hard to control. If they got this funny idea, so it
had to be nipped in the bud.
How did you deal with that? If your company felt like they were in the firing line more than anyone else, it would affect morale?
No, our morale was excellent because we had confidence in one another, which was a very big thing. We were very well trained and even the corporals who had to lead patrols sometimes, were very good.
You wouldn’t get a corporal in any of our units doing it. Our officers were nearly all Duntroon officers, some were not. Whereas in other units, one British unit came in with three platoon commanders that had had their commissions for three weeks and never done any training at all, got their commissions from the British Army because they had the right breeding. It was quite different. And they,
when the squadron commander, who was a seasoned soldier in the King’s Regiment it was, came in with his newly found officers, I had all my platoon commanders provide plans, fire plans of positions and where the trenches were, arcs of fire, everything. He looked at these and he said, “Did your officers do these?” “Yes, of course.”
“I couldn’t ask my officers to do anything like that.” That was a typical example, there was that much difference.
Interviewee: Colin Brown Archive ID 1788 Tape 06
You’ve just given an interesting example of how Australian officers would draw up the maps no problem, that was part of what did but for the British this was quite a surprising thing. Can you say some more about the differences between the Australians, the British, the Canadians, the Americans?
I think the Australian soldier
is blessed with a lot more initiative, and self containment, self driving. Always ready to assume any position if he had to. We had several occasions where an officer leading a patrol was killed, or badly wounded, and couldn’t be active any further and
there was always another soldier, be it a corporal or a private even, to take over, to take command. It wasn’t something you were ever to hear of in other units. It was partly due to the supreme confidence they had, and that is only engendered by good leadership, good training and discipline.
Some people have the discipline without the ability to take over in a position in a situation where they are required to.
To be confident to take over a leadership role when you’re just an OR [Other Ranks] for example, or lower ranking, means that they must be encouraged in some way to be able to do that. The hierarchies and to
Well, there is such a thing as chain of command, and normally and theoretically, a sergeant might for example take over from an officer if he’s killed, if there was one there on patrol, or a corporal. That’s their responsibility, if they’re around to do it. But in the heat of a battle where you might have lost sight, or not even lost sight,
you might not know where the next in line was. It’s like the guy with the radio set who was nearest to the officer, would have to take over, and he’s just a private soldier. We had one case up there, a man called ‘Chookie’ White who did that marvellously, he was in fact decorated for it. But that was a very serious patrol, and his commander was killed and he
just took over, and did a terrific job. There were a lot of others that could have done it too, but he happened to be nearest the position to see what happened to his commander. Probably the NCOs didn’t even know he’d been bowled over. It’s a lot to do with the Australian character, we’re very different. We’re much more self reliant than most
people. I mentioned the New Zealanders, they were not infantry, had no infantry units there, they provided the artillery and they were excellent, they were very good fire. You see, we had a lot of features, of geographical features in front of us all with names. I remember the four hills in front of us were called Matthew, Mark, Luke
and John. They were reference points for artillery and they were all registered on their guns, so if you called for firearm one or the other, one of 40 or 50 different points, they would within two minutes bring the fight out in that position. And sometimes when a patrol was out they were aware of Chinese movement in the area, and they’d got on
the radio and called me and say they wanted fire on a certain point by name, minus a hundred yards, and that was tricky because they were only guessing, or judging themselves. And they could easily find the fire landing on them in the darkness. So I had to then convert that order in those days, it’s much easier now, convert that into artillery fire orders
for the guns and phone them back. Or radio back which it was like. So it was a bit of a process, but they could expect the fire down between two or three minutes from the time they asked for it.
Can you just take me through that step by step, what you would be told, and then how you would translate that?
I had my own map in front of me. I had the registered points and I knew that that point was on their gun
and I’d say, “John, minus 300,” or whatever, and then you’d hear the shells go. But it was very efficient and the Americans were much better equipped than what the New Zealanders had and they were amazed. They said, “We have to wait half an hour for our gunners to get the fire down.”
And half an hour you haven’t got when you’re close to the Chinese.
This is the Americans?
Yes. They didn’t have the same ability for some reason, and they had equipment.
But isn’t it just about getting that information through?
Oh, it’s partly that yes, that’s right, but we got onto that part very well. And as simply as we could, but today it’s much better. They’ve got much better arrangements.
So, this would come in to you from?
The patrol units.
Can you describe when they would go out on patrol; they would set up a listening post?
How was it coming through to you then?
There were various types of patrols, but most of them were constantly on the move while they’re out. If it’s an ambush patrol where we think
that the Chinese are going to come along a certain route, which is what happened when we broke up this attack one night, well out in the valley. The ambush patrols lies up, lies still until something happens. And in the middle of winter in these paddy fields covered in ice, it’s not funny. You freeze up very quickly. But the ordinary patrols move
around, and they do a sweep one way and a sweep the other way and then they come back. Then you have the standing patrols which are, as I said, out the front of our position, to give warning of any imminent attack. This is something we did and other units didn’t. The British and the Canadians didn’t do that very well, with the result that sometimes they allowed the Chinese to build up a considerable force right at their doorstep. Then the Chinese would jump on them.
That never happened to us.
Because you had standing patrols?
Yes. Every night, Oh, in a battalion you might say there were between 400 and 450 men who would be available for patrol. Of that 450 men every night there would be at least 200 out on patrol. To give you an idea of the importance
we placed on them.
They would be coming back in from patrol and giving you information?
Oh, yes they would, but mainly that would come on the next morning. It wouldn’t be much information that was of immediate importance. But when they came in, in the middle of the night, by arrangement, they were we had a midnight meal for them. We had to have four meals a day. And that takes me on
to the rations story, which is another interesting one. But they’d get a meal and they’d have to man their position, they couldn’t go to bed. Man their position until morning, and then at the same time that would happen another patrol would go out, having had its meal before it went out, and go out and do the same sort of act, and do what they were told to do.
Next morning, they would have breakfast, they would have to come in before first light and they would stand to in the morning. Then they’d have breakfast that was another big deal. Then there was an administration period where they had to shave and wash and clean their weapons and clean their ammunition.
And rebuild the trenches, reinforce the walls and the weapon pits, and generally clean up the place, administer themselves. All the patrol commanders of the precious night would have to go into a debriefing session on the patrol of the night before. They’d have to go into battalion headquarters for that, for the intelligence officer to debrief them. They reported
anything they had to report.
Would you be there for that?
No, sometimes it was only a corporal. Sometimes it was a lieutenant. I went in there once or twice on special occasions when there was something special on. I would go in, in the afternoon for the battalion commanders – O Group, Orders Group. Where he would give us our tasks for the next night, and we would organise those tasks.
And my O Group later in the day. But before that I would have told the patrollers for the next night, report to them what they were going to do. The afternoon was spent, oh, by the way in the morning those that could sleep were sleeping, and in the afternoon it was all go again. We had to fire our weapons every time, test them to make sure they were working properly. We had to practice movements on the back slopes of our hill,
for the formations they were going to use that night, so that everyone knew who was on their left and who was on their right. And so on, and know all the detailed movements.
So planning actually what individual was going to be left and right?
Yes. So all that went on in the afternoon before I detailed our group later in the day. Then the meals, eating was served, and they
started getting ready. They wouldn’t go out until the light faded completely, and they’d race into the valley at night between the Chinese and us to see who got to the valley first. The question of rations was a very worrisome one, because we were on an English scale ration, and the English were only allowed to have, or rationed about
six ounces or seven ounces of meat a day. On the other hand the Australians who are great meat eaters needed 16 ounces a day. The British rations were unreliable sometimes, because sometimes they got short changed. We were desperate for food almost. So I got an idea in conjunction with my quartermaster sergeant that perhaps we could
do some bartering with the American Marines. We officers were given a grant of spirits every month I think it was, which we never drank, because no-one drank in the night except in very special circumstances, when there was nothing else to drink. Beer only was sometimes used, but all our spirits were pooled
and we used to send them with the quartermaster across to the marines in jeep, and we also sent the only thing we had a surplus of, and that was butter. The Americans loved butter, they only had margarine. He’d come across with a parina number [?], an opposite number and came back later
with a jeep and trailer stacked full of 56 pound boxes of beef, fish, chickens, turkeys, even big turkeys – 25 pounders. All manner of food, meat and stuff like that. We just ate like kings really. We had a limited cook, cook out right on the front line with us.
They used to do very good brawn there. A few bee gees [?] UNCLEAR). Then we developed that further. We had five jeeps allotted to each company, and the battalion 2IC [Second in Command] noted that we were the only company that always seemed to have five jeeps running. He wanted to borrow the jeeps out to give to other companies
who had problems, mechanical problems. The other company managers used to say to me, “How do you keep five jeeps going?” and I said, “It’s simple, you can do it too. Just give the right man in the Marines a bottle of whisky and he’ll give you a jeep engine.” That was the rate of exchange. We used to get all sorts of spare parts. The British supply system really folded at one stage because they thought the war
was going to end sooner than it did. So they cut off a lot of the supplies. Things like greased nipples on the jeeps used to be so brittle in the… very, very cold that they’d snap off it touched almost. So we had to get things even like greased nipples. We developed it further we feel for sometimes a Chinese build up we’d feel that we’d need more weapons, that we could get through the usual channels
so we in excess to our establishment we used to get Browning machine guns with ammunition form America. The .303, the 30, and the .5 Bowning, a much bigger weapon. We used to get mortars and they used to supply all the ammunition to us. We needed sandbags at one stage when the sandbags were rotting away. We had no supply of sandbags any more, so we had to go to the Americans for sand bags.
This went on for a long time.
So liquor or spirits wasn’t part of their rations?
For officers it was, but…
I meant for the Americans.
They didn’t have any alcohol at all. Even beer was a premium for them. It was like their ships in the navy are dry. There was one exception really, in the wintertime, I don’t know if you’re aware
of the temperatures but it went down to minus 35 in the winter, and plus 105 in the summer, which was pretty warm and humid. In the winter when the patrols went out, the company sergeant major was to issue a tot of rum to every soldier going out.
This was simply to keep them warm, because it was so cold. It was an old British tradition, in the navy which extended to the army in severe climates. So that was the sum total of alcohol consumption. At one stage, or
during the war up there the troops were allotted ration, one bottle of beer per person per day. Which was very generous, because we were never allowed to have it in the line, only when we were out of the line, so the result was that we pooled up a surplus of beer. When we went into the line, we thought, “How do we deal with it?” We didn’t know
whether we were going to be moving backwards or forwards or staying in the same position. So I got my company sergeant major and a small team of trustees to bury it in a place behind the lines where I thought we might be able to get it when we came out. And we camouflaged it. Anyway, there was a huge downpour of rain and we couldn’t get water, the
water trucks up to the big tanks they had behind the hill, battalion headquarters which was about 1000 yards behind, couldn’t get the trucks up the hill because it was so muddy, we couldn’t use the water as we did from the sometimes paddy fields, from the spring in the paddy fields, with our own little 44 gallon drums dug into the ground, and which had to be treated with dreadful tablets all the time.
We couldn’t use that water because the paddy fields had been fertilised with human dung for centuries and it was out of the question. So, in the flooding that wasn’t on. The Koreans had to bring the water up from behind when it was available but the trucks couldn’t get up the hill to get the water from the main tank. So we had no water. I got the sergeant major to get the Koreans to
bring up a few bottles of beer, enough for one bottle per man, which was very popular. They were supposed to wash in it, but I don’t think they washed. The company battalion second in command called me up the next day, he’d had a complaint from someone in one of the rear companies that A Company was getting beer and that they were using porters to carry beer. “Why is this?” I said,
“Well, it’s very simple. If you have nothing else to drink, you have to drink beer. Have you got any other suggestions?” He shut up straight away, it was the last thing I could have done. But it didn’t last for more than three days. It was a popular decision with the boys. But they had to remain sober all the time, with the Chinese breathing down our necks. It was very well regarded. There were no
breaches of it at all, the discipline was good.
Did you lose many men on patrol?
Yes, quite a few. One time I think I lost, you mean killed? I think there were about 60, 63 killed. No-one was taken prisoner.
Can you say a bit more about what patrols went out to capture enemies to get intelligence. You didn’t feel that they were very worthwhile?
Well the objective was stupid really. That was all I felt. It taking unnecessary risks. We were there really to combat them and deter them from imagining that they could move south any more, and generally wear them down. Of course
there were about 10 of them for one of us, which were odds that didn’t really alarm us but it wasn’t very even. We had quite a few wounded as well of course, sometimes when they came back in the middle of the night, it was black, they used to have trouble finding the entrance to the track coming up through the minefield.
If they tried to count on the boundary wire, there was always a boundary wire around the edge of the minefield of barbed wire, sometimes they used to count on that to steer them to the gap. But they didn’t sometimes believe the wire had been smashed to pieces by bombing and shelling, so they’d walk into the minefield. We had quite a few casualties that way.
A lot of people killed that way. Not a lot, but I suppose it was a dozen or so all together. But it was too bad. We had strict instructions not to rely on the boundary wire to find their way to the gap, but easier said than done in the pitch black though.
How quickly were those wires repaired?
How frequent? Oh, the sappers, the engineers in the unit
had the responsibility for erecting them, and sometimes our own troops did it, at night. It couldn’t be done in the day time, because we were right under the eyes of the Chinese.
How close did the Chinese get? You said before that they would stray into the minefields.
No, that was not the Chinese, that was our patrols coming home.
Yes, I know,
I realise that, but how close did the Chinese get?
Sometimes they, with us they were on the front wire really. We had several lines of concertina wires, curly stuff you’ve seen in pictures, running around the position between the lines. The mines were usually pretty unstable because they had been there a long time. It wasn’t very helpful to get caught in those.
What can I say about that? We often had to do a lot of rewiring of the position if we had been severely mortared. We sometimes had about 500 mortar bombs in the space of about an hour and a half or two hours, and it was a bit unnerving. To have this constant pounding, and you’d hear them wherever you used to and you’d hear them hit the ground
and you’d wait a couple of seconds before the crunch came, and it would be six feet down and then it blew up. Only once was I blown off my feet, because I was stupid enough once instead of keeping to the trenches I tried to take a shortcut in a hurry from one place to another, and one of these bombs landed about 10 yards from me. It was quite heavy explosives and
it blew me right over. My helmet came off, I didn’t hurt myself, but I find I’ve got a slightly deaf ear now.
Where were you trying to get to?
I was trying to take a short cut through another area, from one area to another area. All the platoons were more or less around the centre, three of them. I was in one, the trench was snaking around a bit, so I thought I would hop across the top.
I didn’t do it again.
And it was something you wouldn’t want your men to do?
No. I didn’t even talk about it.
Can you say something about the command, the Commonwealth Division, the High Command Division and how that worked?
Well, the commander was a man
from the country who had the biggest number of troops in that division. There was only one Commonwealth Division. There were three brigades, and the one time when I first go there, there was a British commander, then there was a second one and a third one. They changed over fairly often. The first one became chief
of general staff later, and the second one was till there when I left. But they were Brits – but then we got a third, sorry – the commander was always British because of the larger British force. One brigade had three battalions, British battalions. Another brigade had two British battalions and two Australian, which was unusual,
normally three only in a brigade, but we had two British and two Australian, and then the third brigade was Canadian, all Canadian. So that the British had the predominance of troops. In the case of our brigade, we had a British brigade commander when I got there first. Then when the
1 RAR arrived as the second Australian battalion, early in ’53, the Australian was the commander of the brigade because we had more than the Brits had. So we got Brigadier Tom Daly who was later the Chief of General Staff, as our brigade commander, and then of course you had a lot of ancillary units like civil engineers and
signals people to do the higher level back rigging where you had communications and so on. We had British artillery regiments, we had, the Canadians had their own artillery. We had the reserves as I said. We had odd numbers of Australians working with all those in the British units
at a high level. Engineers and so on doing special tasks, but it was a very, multiple facets to the division, and the division usually about 14 or 15,000 men. Brigades have about 5,000 or less, 4,000.
We were sorted, if ever, we were sorted up to strength. We had to stretch ourselves to make the requirements because we had less than we should have had. The senior commander was American. The corps commanders were Americans and they called the tune. But at one stage
our divisional commander objected to the way they expected us to capture prisoners. One general, American general, demanded that we capture a Chinese soldier at least every three days, which was like calling for a recipe from a recipe book almost. It was stupid. Our divisional commander objected and it was almost made a difficult incident over that.
Because you should never challenge a senior command. The Americans liked to be in command of these things, they had the greatest number of troops of course. That caused a lot of problem, taking prisoners. I always tried to capture them in no-man’s land, out of their trenches; because that was the only way we ever got one.
We got him in all right, but he was useless.
You only got one?
Yes. Even that way. But it was certainly better than trying to capture them in their positions. One other aspect of patrolling I’d like to tell you about is that we had deep penetration patrols, which are the toughest things that we ever had to do. Usually an officer and two men would
be given the task of penetrating the Chinese front line, and going up and lying up for a day or two, in their area, and watching, and then getting out again. So it was one of the hardest things anyone had to do. There is a photograph in one of my books of one team that had just come back and it was as if they’d been through the mill properly. They used to come back with information and intelligence which was quite
useful sometimes. On one such occasion, the officer who went up, Bill Harrington, with his two men, got stuck in the flooding creek when they got back, and couldn’t get across. They were trying to work out ways and means for getting them back, before dawn because the guns would have shot them the pieces on the Chinese side as soon as light came. We tried just about every thought we had to
get someone. We couldn’t get helicopters, because in those days helicopters were passé, not passé they were not on all, except to pick up casualties from behind in rear area, they never came forward, they were too vulnerable and they were like gun ships that they had later. So we gave up any ideas of getting them back across the swollen stream, and
said, “Dump your rifles, dump your gear, get in the creek and swim on down to the stream.” which was getting towards the sea on the east coast, on the west coast. The Marines were there in a situation, and we had to call the Marines and say, “Watch out for these three men coming down the stream, and please help them to come up to you position.” The valley widened there and the Marines were a little further back, so
they had more chance. Well, the Marines, unfortunately for them, sent down a whole platoon, where they should have only sent two or three men. They made such a rumpus getting down there that the Chinese got to them and they lost several men, with the Chinese guns shooting them down. They didn’t know how to do these things. Yet they were very hospitable to our guys when they got hold of them. Took them up and gave them a feed
and new clothes and so on. Took them back in a jeep to us. They drank with us, they were lucky they were saved, but it was a difficult night that night. Those are the sorts of things that all should have been rewarded with a decoration I think. It was not always, but nearly always, and they never were. I figure there was only about one man in ten that deserves,
who gets a reward who deserves it. There was a limit on the number of decorations available, and these things always, these acts of valour always have to be witnessed by someone else, that’s not always possible, especially in the middle of the night.
Exactly. Being on patrol at night, basically fighting the whole war at night in the dark, it must have been extremely…
It was very nerve-wracking.
So the senses, the hearing and being able to communicate quietly, all those sorts of things were very important.
Yes, it wasn’t easy. It was a real strain. I felt 10 years older when I came out even though I didn’t go on patrols.
What was it like for you being back at command while your men were out on patrol?
I was just part of the team. It didn’t annoy me that I wasn’t out on patrol. Someone had to, as a commander I had perhaps three or four different patrols out, I was running all night, so I couldn’t be anywhere else except for the nerve centre. Of course that was bad enough, we had some pretty noisy nights there with bombardments, and then you had radios going constantly, and all sorts of messages coming through.
So you were directing the patrol?
Can you give me an example of a patrol that you directed and what sort of information would come in, what you would have to instruct the patrol to do?
Sometimes they would call in and query their positions, and they’d tell me where they thought they were, so I’d be able to correct them. Mind you we didn’t use radios very much.
The less spoken on the air, the less likely they were to be heard by the Chinese, who might be less than 10 yards away, and they’d hear a message being passed on the radio and give you away. So we only used it solely for very important information, when they had to speak. It was, they were well briefed before they went out, they knew how to do their job. It wasn’t that often I had to call any advice or anything like that.
If they made contact they’d be on the phone, once they made contact I’d tell them what was going on and I’d decide what should be done. Whether to send reinforcements or not, that was a very dicey business in the middle of the night, because they might end up shooting each other. When you see people coming towards you, you don’t know whether they’re Chinese or Australian until they’re right on top of you at least.
How do you find a position out there in the dark? Have you got a map?
They don’t usually take maps out, no. They’d measure roughly in daylight beforehand from their own position. They see the spot where there’s a bump in the ground, or a paddy bung or something like that. And they estimate the distance,
and they get there, and they know they might have a compass out there for bearings. You could always do that. They take the reading for the next leg of their route. It would go on like that. It was all worked out beforehand. I remember once taking one of the platoon commanders, who is now a doctor down on the west coast of Victoria,
he lost a leg ultimately, but I took him forward in daylight down the slope from our position, right into the eyes of the Chinese, to try to point out a route for him to take the following night to patrol. We hadn’t been there for very long and I heard bullets whistling past me. Very close. I said, “I think we should get out of this.” So we zigzagged up the hill
until I got to a position where I could see where this firing was coming from. When I got into a platoon area just above, I got onto the telephone to our mortars, to call mortar fire down on the only tree that was standing, from which I thought this fire was coming. The mortar fire was called down on this, I made one correction, it
was nearly on the target straight away. Made one correction of fire and it came right down on the tree. Out of the tree fell the Chinese sniper. He had a sniper rifle and he still missed me. That was a bit scary, but we found when we went, when we got in the next evening before the Chinese could get him,
just to see him, we went through his things to find information. He had glasses. I never heard of a sniper wearing glasses before. That was not very nice. I lost count, but I think it was about eight or nine shots. He was cheeky to get as close as he did.
Interviewee: Colin Brown Archive ID 1788 Tape 07
The last position we were in was on a hill called 355, which was a very commanding position and on day before I was finishing up my 12 months there, an air strike was planned on the hill opposite. A hill called 227, which was also known as John.
The planes that did the attack came from the fleet of the Royal Navy and they came zooming right over our 355, straight over to drop their bombs. Which were very impressive, they were deep penetration bombs that landed spot on the target. We blew up a major Chinese headquarters which happened to be there, deep down in the hill, and change the whole shape of the hill. Because these bombs
went in and nothing happened for about 10 seconds and then ‘Woomf!’ it happened and the whole hill went in the air. This was the best raid I’d seen, because we had called on several occasions for air support to soften up an operation before we moved into it. The American marines were hopeless, they never hit the target at all, just simply alerted the Chinese that we were coming.
That this was so spot on and accurate that it gave me some more confidence in air strikes. Anyhow, I watched that and it was my last display of fire works before I left. I returned to Australia very soon after that, the next day, or after two or three days after being in Japan first, till I got on a Qantas flight back to Australia.
How long were you at 355?
Oh, I was only there for about a month.
And how did that area differ from where you had been preciously, in terms of the operations?
Well, it didn’t differ in terms of operations. The country was different. It was a big hill, and very steep, and we had all our supplies had to come up by a flying fox.
And the casualties had to go out by flying fox. There are photographs of that in the book. We at one stage when someone else was occupying the hill, and we were in reserve, we had to practice counter attacks up this hill. You had to hang by your teeth almost to get up the hill. I couldn’t imagine counter attacking up that hill and
being fired at. It would be pretty nasty. It was very steep on the rear, and westward slope. On the eastward slope it was more gradual, and that’s the way the Chinese recaptured the ones, from the Canadians. They never were able to with us. We always had an Australian digger’s hat flying at the top of the hill, to warn
You think they knew not to mess with you?
You’re talking generally about the Chinese but were you aware of North Korean units operating along the line there? Or were they all Chinese?
No. The North Koreans were on the eastern sector. They were just the remnants of the North Korean Army which had been smashed to pieces. On the other hand
during the early days of the war, it was the North Koreans we were fighting, they were very cruel people. Much more so than the Chinese, they were gentlemen in comparison. So, all we had opposite us were the Chinese.
I think I’ve read stories about at Christmas or New Year gifts being left. Did you see anything like that?
Yes. I did.
They used to put cigarettes, toothpaste, greeting cards, all sorts of nice things on the barbed wire. No-one, I think one person tried the cigarettes but didn’t like them. No-one used the toothpaste or the candies they produced, thought they might have been laced with poison. We didn’t reciprocate in that sort of operation
but that was a way of trying to soften us up. When the second 2 RAR came to the line once they used a loudspeaker system to play music to us. That Japanese woman in the Second World War who spoke to the troops, you know?
Tokyo Rose. They were trying – the Chinese Tokyo Rose came on the air one day, and directed a few words to the 2 RAR people. “Welcome, you Australian soldiers from the 2 RAR, we are now going to play you some Australian music.” And with that came the Twelfth Street Rag. So they knew they were there. We weren’t alone in the knowing the
identification of the enemy.
You mentioned cigarettes, toothpaste, greeting cards. What sort of messages were scrawled?
Oh, ‘Happy Christmas’ and so on, or ‘Please go home’, ‘Think of your loved ones’. Just really other people’s propaganda. Of course both sides had
leaflets encouraging people to defect. I have samples of that in the book too.
How were they distributed?
We distributed them from the air. They didn’t have any planes to do it with. They used to leave them on the wire. The only planes that
flew directly over our area were our reconnaissance planes and the marine corps air that came in. I had to fly up once into a Chinese position and that wasn’t a very nice experience. I went up with this officer who was leading this fateful raid and he was killed. He went in one plane and I went in another, we lost a
two seater, one pilot and one passenger. We flew around they were in a position to try to work out the best route. It was very difficult to look down into the trenches because the sun was shining and they were in deep shadow and you couldn’t tell the depth. In the event though, they weren’t very deep, they weren’t fighting trenches, they were communication trenches. But all the time this was going
on they were taking pot shots at us. They weren’t armoured underneath. That was not exactly a happy experience. Luckily I survived but he didn’t, poor chap.
His plane went down?
No, his plane didn’t go down, he was the one who was killed in the actual raid the following night. He was stung by a grenade and wounded too and died.
I mentioned before he died four hours later. In enemy captivity. On our intercept unit we were able to hear the Chinese say that had three ‘pigs’. ‘Pigs’ being their code name for the enemy. They didn’t say whether they were dead or alive. They were all dead.
What was the procedure when the dead and the wounded were brought back? How readily
were you able to bring casualties back to your position?
If a patrol got into serious trouble and if it was detected, the Chinese always bombarded them on the way back with mortars, if we knew there were casualties, we’d send up another team, a flying squad to meet them and help them in.
The first hundred yards, or two hundred yards they were on their own and they had to help themselves, it was difficult. In the case where I said there were twelve dead and thirteen not wounded, the thirteen men had a hell of a job getting the others back. They were met and helped. I never remember
bringing anyone, any dead soldier back. In my time. They were usually lost somewhere in the dark, and Chinese were very efficient at cleaning up the sight, not only their own but anyone we might have had to leave behind. So, they have no known grave in most cases.
When the wounded got back, what facilities were waiting for them?
We had to carry them up the hill on a stretcher. Each one on a stretcher with four men because it was very tough, they were being mortared all the time too while they were doing it. They would come back and our case would be when we could afford company
invent another few hundred yards, some six hundred yards or so back to the battalion headquarters. They had to be taken by stretcher; there was no access by jeeps, jeep ambulance. And there they would get on a jeep ambulance and be taken after initial treatment with the medical officer, would be taken back to an advanced hospital. Some of the worst ones were taken to MASHs [Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals], which you’ve heard about from that dreadful film
that came on the air. What was it called? MASH.
The TV show?
But always on a patrol there was a medical orderly. Who was good with morphine and could give an initial dose to save the pain a bit. It was possible, as I say in my book, it was possible
for a casualty, provided he wasn’t too far away from base, to be brought in, put in a jeep and in hospital within about two hours. That was probably as good as you get it in Melbourne at the moment.
It wasn’t that good this week. You mentioned the MASHs, did you have any experience of seeing
some of those?
I was in one, where one of my officers got wounded in the throat, and he was lying there amongst about a hundred and fifty others in this huge marquee. It was very impressive; they had duck boards running between the rows of beds. Very efficient. It was an American run place but it serves all troops from
all countries. Otherwise they were fuelled ambulances. We had many fuelled ambulances supporting us. And the serious cases were taken there and they were taken to the MASH, and they surgery facilities and everything like that. So I only went once to a MASH, it was difficult for me to get away to one. I wasn’t supposed to be in the rear areas at all.
What were the most common injuries
sustained in those patrols?
Oh shrapnel mainly, and bullets sometimes. We used to wear bulletproof vests. They were good for against slow weapons, slow firing weapons. Not slow firing, slow velocity weapons like some machine guns and pistols and things like that.
Because the lead would spread quickly and not go through. A real bullet, a .303 bullet or thereabouts, that calibre, would be hard to stop. And a .5 bullet would be even worse with an armoured vest than without. Because that would spread and keep on going in back into your hole..
Sometimes our boys would come back with a spray of bullets across their chests, which gave them a little confidence in the vests.
You mentioned the deep penetration patrols when you were gain intelligence, how much territory would the patrol cover? What was the distance basically between the positions?
that time it was about five hundred yards, before they reached the front of the enemy position. But then they had to get through the front without being detected. Sometimes when they were lying up behind, they would have troops within a few yards of them. It would be a bit scary.
So what was the deal if they were a matter of feet from the enemy, did they just stay quiet and let them go?
They weren’t going to fight; they were just there to observe what was going on. It would be ridiculous suicide to try to fight them. It was a hazardous exercise. One night an officer and one man in another company went out with a view to snatching
up a farmer, an old farmer. He wasn’t a very old man – he was middle aged – from his hut, because he was suspected of spying for the Chinese and importing things to them. So we wanted to get him back for interrogation. They took chloroform with them with the view to quieten him before they moved back. So he wouldn’t scream and yell. Unfortunately he yelled and screamed so much that
he was – in fact had to be clubbed on the spot for our boys to get back, and he was left for dead. That was one of the failures really, we didn’t get him back for questioning. But he was making such a noise that he was attracting Chinese attention. They were pretty ruthless.
Where would he have been? Where was that hut?
Well he found himself in no-man’s land without knowing it. For a while, and then the North Koreans, the Chinese got onto him and they were able to use him, to our disadvantage. We didn’t, so we had to dispose of him.
Was there much of a civilian presence at the rear?
Most of the civilians had cleared out because there was a threat of a northern advance by us. There was no active farming for 20 miles behind us in our area. The country was desolate really. The rats were very prevalent.
They were the size of small rabbits, brown, and they lived in the courses and we had to resist the possibility of what we called haemorrhagetic fever, which was almost 90% fatal if you got bitten by one of the mites the rats carried. So we were very strict about food, controlling the food in the dug outs and if anyone was caught with an open packet of biscuits say,
or in their bunker, they were disciplined. But that didn’t happen because we were right in top of it. The threat was there. Suddenly, it was like the French 22nd Infantry Regiment, there they had a very low standard of hygiene; they suffered a lot from the haemorrhagetic fever.
It was a very nasty thing. Of course we were subjected to a lot of spraying with DDT and that sort of thing. Some of our men were suffering from that and will for the rest of their lives. Our dug outs were sprayed out two or three times a week. To combat disease, and we also had malaria fever up there. Not like (UNCLEAR).
We took precautions against it.
What was haemorrhagetic fever? What were the symptoms of that?
You started to bleed from every orifice of your body. Your liver turned to sort of like putty. 95% mortality rate, I think it was. We only had two cases in our battalion; they were both at battalion headquarters interestingly enough. They both survived, but
I think it’s something like Ebola in Africa at the moment. It sounds very similar.
Tell us a bit more about the elements. You mentioned before about the extremes in temperature, how did you deal with those in terms of your quarters and what you wore?
Well we had a little stove made out of an ammunition box,
and this is the stove with two pipes leading in. One from a water tank, which was inside the bunker, the other from diesel which was on top of the bunker, hoping that no shrapnel would ever hit it. These were dripping into a pan and into a box. The two were combined and lit once
the thunder and roar, the ammunition box would get red hot. The chimney going up would take the fumes out. That was in the dead of winter. It was very efficient. It was also pretty dangerous sometimes if it was misused, if you weren’t careful enough. Several times the bunker went up in flames, but no-one was lost in it. It attracted attention that was unnecessary
to the area. That was the heating. We slept in sleeping bags, but it was very difficult to sleep in sleeping bags with you boots on and you couldn’t take you boots off when you laid down, they had to stay on all the time, and in the winter time if you took them off they’d freeze and you couldn’t put them on again. It was very, very cold and my legs were stone dead up to
the knees. I’m not one with good circulation anyway, and it was uncomfortable. Our clothing was by the standards at the time pretty excellent. It was very heavy stuff that we had. We had a string singlet, which didn’t appeal to me. I had sensitive skin, and my titties used to get rubbed on this string and it hurt.
It was the idea of creating a layer; it was all done on layers. We had worsted shirts and we had thick woollen pullovers, and on top of that we had a nylon jacket. But under we had all the underwear plus under that worsted leg, full length
leg sword fighters I suppose you’d call them. Then on top of that we had the nylon trousers full of simpson [?] pockets and things, jacket and trousers. Then on top of that again, when we were static, in the position, not when we were on patrol, we had parkas but they had hoods. We were mad if the troops tried to use their hoods.
Because they couldn’t hear anything. These were the fleecy lined parkas; I gave mine to the War Memorial when I got back. It’s not on display; I don’t know what they’ve done with it. Several things of mine are on display but not that. That was about the sum of the clothing. The boots had
thick rubber soles like motor tyre treads almost, and then inside we had nylon insoles, and two pairs, we always wore two pairs of socks. Even then our feet froze. We didn’t have many cases of real frostbite. I know I can still dig needles into my toes and not feel anything, but it wasn’t frostbite.
It was very close to it I think. The worst aspect of that was lying in no-man’s land in the middle of the night on the iced paddy field. We might have to lay there for an hour, two hours, it was a long time. We also had gloves, which when you’re fighting with weapons gloves are a nuisance. You have to take them off
more than you have them on. We didn’t wear steel helmets on patrol because they made too much noise. We always just wore beanies, and took the risk of being hit on the head.
The tin helmets weren’t worn because of the noise factor?
In patrols yes, in the position we had to wear the steel helmets.
Was it just the rattling if they fell?
Oh, yes, or if you knock anything against them they’d ring like a bell. You couldn’t have that when you’re on a patrol. Beanies were the favourite on the patrol. And when it snowed of course it was patchy sometimes, there were patches of snow and patches of ground, so patrols going out in those conditions took a white cape,
like a sheet, turned into a cape and they’d have to put this on before they crossed the snow patch and take it off again when they’d get to the other side. To cross the other side. That was one of the things they had to do when it was snowing.
How was it worn, from the top of the head down?
Like a cape really, just tied up at the front.
Weather like that creates all sorts of problems. That’s why the theme in my book is really how we coped, because the conditions caused no end of problems and we were pretty good at coping with those problems in our own way much better than the Americans, who had to have a switch to turn on for anything they wanted.
Do you think they learnt anything from the Aussies by the end of it?
Some of them did, but most of them I think always thought that they were the best, you couldn’t teach them anything really. On the other hand sometimes we had visits from these units, not just the Americans but the Canadians and the British and Koreans, South Koreans, and
some American Marines, they’d come and see, learn from us how we did our patrol, because they all had so much to learn.
I noticed in the back of the book in the appendix there’s a thing about, it looks like an officer’s notes about dealing with the conditions and how sweat was one of your main enemies. Can you explain why that was?
Well the sweat, if you sweated when you were doing any sort of activity,
used to freeze just as soon as you settled down again, and it used to cause a lot of problems. Everything that was close to you would freeze, that was one thing, and of course those conditions caused all sorts of skin conditions too. So you had to watch for that one. I think we had
quite a lot of skin problems. Of course we were limited with how we could do our ablutions too. There were some conditions where you couldn’t have a bath at all, and other conditions where we concocted a bit of a bath with some 44 gallon drums cut length wise and propped up by rocks and we’d light a fire underneath and take chunks of ice from the creeks and put them in the
tub, and melt them down. One at a time troops would come down for their ablution and come back and someone else would jump in the same water, it got a bit soupy towards the end but, that was the one way of keeping them washed and preventing any skin disease. There were all sorts of things like that we had to think about. Hopeless.
Were there latrines?
Yes, we always had a latrine, with a hole in the ground in a protected position of course, not on the side facing the enemy. They were carefully handled. We had 44-gallon drums cut in halves, and used the end of each one
as the seat, and it had a hole cut in it. On top of that we had a wooden seat, a rough wooden seat. The reason for that was if you sat on the steel in the cold weather, like one guy did in a hurry and there wasn’t a seat there, he stuck to it and lost the skin off his behind. He had to be evacuated for over a week.
It was very important, we had very strict hygiene rules and how they should be handled. Whenever we came into position we had to pour diesel down onto it and set fire to it.
So was it your job to be communicating all the requirements to the men?
Oh, that was the company 2IC. Most of the time when I was company commander I had no 2IC, so I did the job too,
when I was my sergeant major was helpful on that regard. No, they had to be trained specifically for fighting in that area because it was something they hadn’t learnt in Australia. They took it well, some of them learnt the hard way.
So you had no 2IC for how long?
I had no 2IC for about seven months.
So I was on my ear.
What, you did such a good – they just thought they’d leave you without one?
I think I did a very good job, but they were just short of officers. The troops were given a period of two weeks leave after a period of eight months. The officers only got two weeks.
We were too short.
How much sleep were you averaging?
Well most of the time I was averaging about three and a half hours a day, a night. Always in the morning, usually interrupted.
How do you cope with such deprivation?
It’s surprising what the human body can do if under great strain. The nervous strain of that was considerable, I guess.
I must admit sometimes I would lean against something, if there was something to lean against, and have a short cat nap standing up. I felt a bit like a horse. When we came out of the line, I slept for about 30 hours without waking up. It was a good sleep that one, I wasn’t even hungry.
When you did get leave, what did you do and where did you go?
We were always flown into Tokyo by American planes, big planes with two decks and 150 soldiers in each case. Some of them came to grief in Kempo airport, but none of the Australians
were luckily. We’d fly to Tokyo and then these buses would take us to these camps where they could clean up and have accommodation. My first time was after
six months I went there for five days, and actually I went with our medical officer, who was a travelling companion. We went and looked around Tokyo, looked around some of the shops and the sights, some temples and some things like that. Next time I went I got a Qantas flight, gratis, from (UNCLEAR) to
Qantas to go down to Kure and see some of my boys in hospital there. So I spent some time there with them, and I took a train back to Osaka, and looked around Osaka and saw some temples and interesting museums. Then I went up to Nara, which was the old capital before Kyoto was. It wasn’t Osaka, it was Kyoto, sorry.
Then I went to Osaka, to Nara and saw a bit of Japan there. I was very interested in the fact that the Japanese school children were all going on tours on big buses, so soon after every everything collapsed. They were very nationalistic, learning everything they could about their country. It was very impressive. They were very disciplined.
Anyhow, it was out of sheer curiosity and interest myself that I wanted to travel to these places. Most boys stayed and drank and frequented the beer holes and that sort of thing. That didn’t really appeal to me so much. I went to Tokyo
in the – there was an interesting mall. A big mall. Looked around Tokyo a lot, went to the shrines.
Were there still many signs of the destruction?
No. They cleaned it well. When I first landed in Japan before I went to Korea. I went down to Hiroshima, and
there were piles of rubble everywhere still. The place was a mess. I didn’t think about radiation then, I could have well got it, I suppose. But it was a real mess still, I looked around.
What were relations like between soldiers and the local population?
I think as long as you treated them
like human beings, they respected us very much. They had no problems with that at all. They were very subjected by that time, and intimidated, because they always thought they were the world’s best and this surrender shocked them, the people. I got along very well with the workers
of this plant, this camp we were making for the battalion. I set up a few hurdles, so I could practice my hurdling up there, and that impressed them a lot. To see me going over these hurdles like a piece of lightning, supposedly.
I read something in the notes about, it
maybe written in the book, attributed to another place where you met a family in a resort town, in Nikko maybe?
In Nikko, yes that’s right. Yes the story there was that I went to this place on a couple of days leave over the weekend, and stayed at this hotel, the Nikko Kanawa Hotel.
Which had only recently been returned to the Japanese. It used to be an American leave centre. Beautiful hotel, very nice surroundings in the Japanese style of course, Japanese gardens and shrines and things. It was so quiet, the place was dead on Saturday night, so I decided I’d sit in the library and look at some books. Then I found a book, saw one that was called The Japanese Pictorial History of the War, which
interested me very much. I was sitting on the couch reading this, and looking at the photographs and suddenly a little voice came behind me, “Are you finding that book interesting, sir?” I said, “Yes, as a matter of fact I am.” And then she started to talk to me, very pleasantly. She was only about 18 and so I said, “If you’re not doing anything, would you like to sit down,
and we’ll talk more?” So we talked for ages and it turned out she had just won a competition writing a letter to the Queen, our Queen, on the occasion of her coronation. And the prize was given by a Japanese newspaper, the Azahi Shinbun, a trip to the coronation. She won this, and that was very impressive, because she spoke perfect English. Anyhow,
we talked for a while and she showed me around the shrines and she said, “When you go back to Tokyo, call me at home.” she gave me her address. Her grandfather was the founder of the hotel chain, and she was there in fact running the hotel for her grandfather, for a period of the school holidays, as an experience. So she took me to lunch on the
Ginza to a restaurant, and it was the first time I ever had sushi and I got sick after it, which is terrible, but it was very interesting. After lunch we walked around the park, the local park had lovely cherry blossoms out at the time, and it was picturesque. So I bid my farewells and didn’t see her again. But she was very friendly and educated and it was interesting just talking to her, was a nice respite from handling the brutalness in the soldiery.
But you didn’t meet the grandfather?
No, I didn’t. I think his photograph’s in the book, on the spreadsheet. But it was interesting; I thought I might try to get a better insight…
Interviewee: Colin Brown Archive ID 1788 Tape 08
Well, I came back to Australian independently of course, because as I said before, each officer, each person came back after 12 months. There was no question of a unit returning and being cheered along the road or anything like that. You just came back as an individual, no-one
cared where we had been and in fact very few people knew where Korea was back then.
Did you have a chance to reflect on what had been achieved?
Oh, yes, I did. I’m often asked to talk about it from various groups, but I came back and went to Adelaide straightaway, and reunited with the family. My little boy was one and a half, and he didn’t know me from a bar of soap, and my little daughter
was four and a half, and she was a little happier but didn’t know much about me. It took a while to settle down and make friends again. The next day after I’d had a bit of a rest, I called up Colonel Spry in Melbourne and said, “I’m back, remember, you offered me a job.” I said, “I missed out on the staff college now for two years, one because I was sent to
Korea, and two, the second year because I was still in Korea when the course started.” and I said that I had lost the running, the flow of learning. I was all fully up to date with all the materials before I went to Korea, and then to have a two year lapse put me out of the picture again and I realised it was too much to wait another year before I could possibly
be going. I asked if he would be interested in my joining him. “Come over and see me tomorrow.” he said, so I had to jump on a plane and fly to Melbourne, all at my own expense of course. He saw me and he said, “Good God, Colin. How much leave have you got?” and I said, “Seven weeks.” and he said, “Well, you look as though you need it.” So I had seven weeks’ leave in which to become
acclimatised to Australia again, and my family. And then I started in Melbourne. Through friends I found accommodation in Brighton, and decided the whole house needed painting out. It was a rental house. So I used to stay at a boarding house on St Kilda Road called ‘461’. It’s now
demolished. And I’d take my cans of paint and brushes and other equipment on the tram, the 64 tram because I had no other mode of transport, go out to East Brighton, and I’d paint all night until three or four o’clock in the morning. Then I’d get on the four o’clock tram back to St Kilda Road, go to bed for two and a half hours, have breakfast
and go to work. Now, I did this until I’d finished painting the whole inside of this house. People were quite amazed, because I was in the cycle of going without sleep then, and I could do it. I wouldn’t do it now. Anyway, eventually that passed and my family came over on the train. They lived with me and we settled in there. But it was a bit of a change, a sudden change when I was put
in a room in charge of six female graduates doing research. It was a bit different from running a company of soldiers. I had to bite my tongue quite frequently, my language changed. So, anyway that was my first job in research. After I settled in there I joined the CMF [Citizens’ Military Force], as I say,
and became their training officer, and trained people up for their position rank, running a company and generally doing training exercises for them. So I was spot on then, because I was the latest in the military to have war service. Not long after that, I was given the opportunity to go to the
School of Tactics Administration for promotion, to lieutenant colonel. Which I did and I passed that fairly easily and it wasn’t long after that, in 1955, that my boss said to me, “Colin, I’m going to send you to Athens.” So I had
to leave the CMF, that was for the last time, I didn’t get back in it again. So I never got command of a battalion, which was probably the thing I would have liked to do most if I had stayed there. However, anyway, that was the end of my army career. In Greece I was doing what our people were doing overseas, it was not operational, it’s screening of migrants, potential migrants. Liaising with the local intelligence services to
exchange information on things like espionage and terrorism and those sorts of activities. So I was with the embassy there. From there I was transferred to Holland, and I did the same thing there. In each place I had an area of supervision that I had – Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan,
and Cyprus and Turkey, which was very interesting. Going to all these places and talking to all these senior people in all these organisations. I’d ask the same questions in Israel and Jordan and I’d get different answers. Even then, even in those days they were talking about the threat of Iraq. It was fascinating. But in Holland I had to cover Belgium and Luxemburg which was a much more civilized area to
be working in. Or it was then. So I stayed in Holland for three years before returning to Australia. I went back into the same research branch that I was in before, but soon after getting back I had to get interested in SITO – the Southern International Training Organisation.
Every six months there was a meeting of a committee of experts. I was put in charge of Australian interrogation which became, which composed of me and a military intelligence officer and a diplomat from the embassy, usually Bangkok. I only lived in the Australian delegation at these meetings for about three years,
in which I made a lot of ties and so on up there at the same time. It was very interesting, especially to see how the other countries worked. Then after that I went back to the research for time and what happened then?
Oh, I worked in the other branch of the field division quite a lot. But eventually we had some shootings at the Victoria Market. Involving Italians. It was thought that this was an Italian organisation behind it all. But no-one
knew much about it. So the Attorney General of the day, Billy Snedden, asked all the police commissioners if they had someone who could investigate the Italian organisation. None of them claimed to have anyone who could do it, they probably didn’t, it wasn’t in their line, that much, or I was a commodore thing, nothing to do with security.
So in the end he asked my boss if he had anyone. And he in his bullying fashion said, “Yes, we’ve plenty of people who can do that.” It turned out that I was the bunny, and I had to be seconded from the organisation, to do this, and it was very hush-hush. Because it wouldn’t have done for the Italians to know. Nearly everyone who’d been charged with investigating the organisations, Italy hadn’t been liquidating before he’d even finished his job.
So I was given free rein to do what I wanted. I had to find an office in the city, way away from my own organisation. A secretary had to be found who was thoroughly screened, who had excellent shorthand taker but knew nothing about security matters or research or anything like that. I had to teach her how to open a combination safe, and close it and so on.
I was given a book of air warrants to fly anywhere I wanted without asking anyone’s permission or telling anyone anything. I went all over Australia initially to look through records of the states. Tried to pick out the people I needed to work on more. Anyhow, to cut a long story short, I finished, I was given two years to do this job
I finished it in six months, and wrote a report which was about 300 pages long. I named about 200 members of the organisation of the local mafia. One of the most hairy things I had to do was to meet an example-member of the organisation up on the River Murray, in this orange orchard.
I was to meet him at this house in the middle of the night, so I went up in fear and trembling, it reminded me almost of Korea. And I left the car about a half a mile away from the orchard, walked up this long driveway, and what I could just make out in the dark was the outline of the house. Then up closer
I saw an oil lamp burning in the middle of the table. No other lights, it was a bit eerie. I walked on and eventually got there and saw this old man sitting at the table. I knocked on the door and he said in good Australian, “Come in.” And I went in and he greeted me nice and warmly.
I thought, “Ah, at least I got this far.” I talked with him for three hours, took a lot of notes, and at three o’clock in the morning I thought it was about time I left and I got up to go out, I was about to shake his hand and there was another knock at the door. My heart dropped, I thought, “God, this is it. I’ll disappear.” He said
“Come in.” and two of his sons came in; they had been at a party. They were in good shape. They probably knew what I had been there for, because he must have told them, and they started talking about things, and I said, “Are you thinking of joining this organisation?” and they said, “Oh no, we can make much more money outside of that organisation and not get into trouble with the police.” Which I thought was good.
I questioned them a bit, and it turned out that, of course these young boys, they went to Australian schools – they had to. They couldn’t go into a ghetto of Italians and learn the mumbo jumbo of the mafia. This was sort of trained out of them, this secretive aspect of their work. That was very enlightening to me that our system seemed to be working
and the only thing I had to look into what was wrong with the system of migrant screening in Italy by the Immigration Department. That was the side that we didn’t touch. About the Italian Camorra organisations. What the real problem was they had written their reports to the Australians about people in terms which the Australia migration people didn’t understand. They were letting these
people through. So, we managed to stop that by planting someone over there in the embassy who was given access to all the records. He was an Italian, by origin, came out at the age of twelve. Got his university degree in Melbourne and spoke perfect English after that, and he was welcomed home like a long lost prodigal son. He had access
to all the records, which was wonderful. After that the supply of recruits for the mafia here, stopped. So that was a job I didn’t like, but I was glad to get out of it.
That’s why you got it done in six months I guess.
Yes! I worked like steam.
Was that the main finding of the report, that there was a problem in the screening process? What was the upshot of the report?
The upshot, well, the finding,
finding that out only happened when we sent this man over to proof the screening. I had three questions to answer. “Is there such an organisation in Australia? If so, what are the ramifications?” and “How do you recommend we cope with it?” I made 23 recommendations, most of which were implemented very soon after that. I think it has had a marked affect. You’ll notice there are still a lot of Italian
names coming up in some of these activities. It’s all still there.
There’s a good mix of Anglo names in there.
Yes, and Irish.
Yeah, and Irish.
But the essence of an organisation like that has got to have some respectable cover, and they’ve got such cover in the industry here, or did have. I presume they still have it.
Give them a legitimate cause for existence.
What sort of cover did you have though, doing work that, if word got out, could…
I didn’t have any cover, I was just in, was just a person. I wasn’t seen to be attached to anything. I wasn’t really. I was to report to the Attorney-General’s Department, but that was all. I was a lone soul working like that, and I kept a very low profile.
So you had the secretary, did you have anyone else working for you directly?
No. One-man job. I used a lot of the same techniques we used in counter espionage, actually. How counter espionage works. It was nothing new to me really. Just a different target.
Can you tell us any more about that counter espionage work? What are you allowed to tell us, Colin?
Everyone knows what ASIO does; it’s got branches dealing with subversive type activities, like the Communist parties and other nefarious organisations that don’t seem to fit into our way of life. We are certainly in touch with overseas
organisations everywhere. They were a very good link there. We had another branch dealing with espionage, and counter espionage, which changed quite a lot. There is as much Russian activity on now as there was when I was in it. I was involved in the Petrov case
and some of the other things that happened. Then there was a security screening branch that takes on protective security at all suspects, advising defence establishments on their security. Advising all departments on their security within the departments. Screening migrants coming in and out of that section. And there’s
also another section, or was, I don’t know what it’s like now. I’m just saying how it was when I was there. There was a section that dealt with running agents. We all had sort of pseudonyms and so on to cover them. A great deal of my time was in the research branch, but have worked in all the other branches.
In 1967, early ’68 actually, I went to Canberra as regional director in the Canberra office. Which was the second largest office in those days. There I had, of course, the Russian Embassy was there and other organisations of some interest.
Nothing political, we kept our noses right out of politics. But I had to do a certain amount of liaison with government, because our headquarters was in Melbourne, and having worked in headquarters a lot that was very easy to do for me. I was there for about six years as
regional director, and then it was decided that we should have a special unit up there called Headquarters Liaison Group, which was like an advanced headquarters because there was so much dealing with government departments, I couldn’t be regional director doing the other things as well. So it became another appointment and I then made a
first and secondary continual. As regional director I was assistant director general, and I was there for three more years before I was sent to London to oversee all our overseas posts. The reason being that you might have heard of Senator Lionel Murphy, who
conducted an inauspicious raid which was quite uncalled for and unnecessary. [Prime Minister] Gough Whitlam was in and it was the worst thing that happened in the Labor Party in the whole time they were in office. But it did upset us a lot because a lot of our overseas contacts in various other countries were suspecting that he was getting information for political reasons which they might have belonged to them. He wasn’t actually but still
one of the reasons I was sent over there was to protect them and put them right and it was all under control. So when I was in London, I never dealt with the British services, but I had to deal with the services of twenty-six other countries. That kept me flying like a pea in a bottle. Seeing the heads of services in all those countries once a year, sometimes twice a year.
I was around all over the place doing that. When I came back, my time was nearly up to retire. The organisation had come under the spell of a Mr Justice Woodward, who, prior to ASIO hadn’t had that much intelligence experience at all. He didn’t like army people very much and,
his father was a general of course, and governed NSW, he didn’t like the army and the air corps and he thought I was too much of an army man, I think, he never told me this. I just surmised it. So I then went into the administration if the organisation, and training of people.
I supervised all of that for the whole organisation, and the administration and all its aspects. Which bored me stiff. It was very necessary of course, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. So, I thought, “Well, I’ve had my fling and I’ll retire.” And I retired about a year earlier than I needed to.
One of the other things I did at one stage, was I was called upon to go to Thailand to help reorganise the Thai provincial police. That was the internal security section up there, and also to run training courses for them. So I was there for about six months. I ran several courses. The reason I was chosen for that was
because having been to the CSE [Committee of Security Experts] and a few of the experts meetings, I knew a lot of Thai. They wanted someone there who had a knowledge of Thai, a knowledge of security intelligence, but also someone who understood the army. I was the bunny for that. And having done that I came back, I had to spend Christmas there away from my family. I worked right through.
I came back just before Easter, thinking, “Oh well, I’ll be able to spend Easter with the family.” and as soon as I arrived I had to – Charles Spry. He said, “Colin, I’ve got a very important job for you to do straightaway.” So I had to work the whole of Easter, on a white paper for the government. And Bill Snedden asked for this. I think we drafted three different white papers, he never told us exactly what he wanted,
and he didn’t know. We didn’t know at all, and it really put me about, having to go straight into that after the other, without seeing much of the family. It wasn’t taken very well at home. So there you are, there are various things, apart from staying directly in the organisation.
So how long was Spry in charge?
20 years. That’s a long time to do that job, because it’s a very demanding job. He was a brilliant intelligence officer; he was highly respected all over the world. He was followed by his deputy, Peter Barber, who was about my age,
he wasn’t a commander of any note. He fell foul on libertines and was sacked.
When was ASIS [Australian Secret Intelligence Service] formed?
I can’t tell you that, I don’t know.
You mentioned the work with SITO, what was your role with that?
This committee of security experts was one of several that would meet every six months or so. Representatives from each country were in attendance. That involved the British, the Americans, the Filipinos, the Thais, the French, the Pakistanis, New Zealanders and ourselves. We’d
discuss the situation in South East Asia, which was pretty tricky. This is before the Vietnam War started. The clouds were growing; you could see all sorts of Communistic expansionism then. It was attempted but it failed in Malaya, and it failed in Thailand, but it didn’t fail in Vietnam eventually, as you know.
We’d look at all aspects of security and try help one another with information and train. Train people, or send courses from around, the various countries were asked to send instructors and so on. I used to; we all used to be given tasks, to write papers for the next meeting. These had to be handed in to
the secretary after two months, on whatever subject was given us to write about. And the secretary would redistribute them to all the countries for discussion and comment, thought, before the next meeting, and we’d put all our thoughts together. One of the interesting things about that was English was the official language, but the French used to submit all their papers in French.
When they did that they insisted that the secretary translate them and then they had to check the translation before they were then distributed. Typical French. So that was the duty of a think tank, in sharing of security and intelligence wise. It went on for some years and
then they decided that they’d confine themselves to diplomatic areas. The whole thing was played down, this is after my time. It was interesting to me to meet other people.
You mentioned the further possibility of communist worlds of Malaya, Thailand and Vietnam,
did Vietnam have any impact on the work you were doing?
Yes it did. This was the early days of the intrusions in the north. We were well aware of it. We were also aware that it was likely to spread. In fact, not many people know this, but a lot of it was going on in Thailand even. When I was up there with the Thais we
had quite a lot of operations, not, exercises I meant. Training them on how to reorganise their security and their stations and so on and how to report things, and chain of command and so on. It was a real threat in those days. The Communist Party was going, it was eventually curtailed.
Was there a Communist
militia or resurgence in parts of Thailand at the time?
In the far north there was, yes. We would have spared [?]. One of the problems was that too much of the money was going into the pockets of a few top people, and the Americans were aiding and abetting it, having a very good time with bags of money to spend and most of it wasn’t spent, in one direction anyway.
Which is where the Australians excelled. We sent a team from the Snowy Mountains project which was just finished, to get all their equipment – earthmovers and so on, to Thailand. We built a road system throughout the north east of the country which enabled the farmers to take produce to market. Until that time they only grew enough for their own family needs.
Which was a waste really. It didn’t use their full potential for agriculture. So they were able to market their goods. But the way we did it was we sent our own Snowy Mountains people there with the machinery and they employed local Thai labour which we paid.
The Thai government didn’t know we did it. So we stayed clean. The Americans on the other hand were dishing it out like a man with no arms, and wondered why they weren’t getting anywhere.
Kind of like covert humanitarianism.
That’s right yes. But they had the idea that these people were exactly the same as we, and had the same
mental process and so on, which they hadn’t. You had to deal with them quite differently. You had to be flexible in mind. But they thought that they were dealing with other Americans. It would be an interesting study. I find them very affable people; I always knew how they were thinking.
Looking at the situation today, do you think that things are
improved at all, that it might be a bit more sophisticated than it was back then?
Yes, I think they are. They’ve had more contact with the West and they’ve realised there are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream, so to speak.
What about in terms of attitudes and the way we do business and share?
I don’t think they’ve improved at all. I think they think we’ve got an effective idea
which possibly doesn’t fit in with their temperament and character, but you’ve got to modify. When I was running training courses up there, I had to modify our modus operandi to their psychology. It wasn’t always easy; you had to be very patient with them. They were very nice people.
I have people up there now that I know that would take me to their house straightaway if I went up there. Very warm.
Can you tell us the sorts of associations you had with people you fought alongside in Korea, and also in the book, about the origins of the book that you wrote.
Well, since I left the army of course, I lost contact with most of them; I do see some of them occasionally. My old friend the medical officer are quite close and unfortunately he organised this seminar on the Korean War a couple of years ago, which I was given a segment to handle. He was one
of the ones I saw most frequently. One or two of the others who I knew quite well, I saw a few times since, have unfortunately died. One of them lived on King Island, he was only up there a few months and he died not so long ago. He was decorated for this aborted raid that we did, in fact.
Got a Victory Medal. Then of course, one or two others that I know, like Jim Hughes who was a platoon commander when I was a company commander, I see him sometimes. I don’t really keep up contact with them. Sometimes if I come across them I’m on good terms with them but I see them as social friends.
Of course, part of that is the fact that he (UNCLEAR) [?] half the year. It’s hard to keep up regular contact in that way, when you’re only here for a short time. I’ve got family in various places. I’ve still got a lot of family in Adelaide and so on. My daughter and her husband are in Hong Kong, he’s consulate general up there. They won’t be coming back till next year.
My son is in Melbourne, he’s in charge of a section at the National Gallery. He’s got these two children at university who stay here apparently when they want to. So really this pan-Pacific life we lead is not conducive to developing a lot of deep friendships. I’ve got no problem when I see any of them
though. All good friends.
Tell us about the book, how you came to write that.
Oh, the book. The book on Korea?
Yes, Stalemate in Korea.
Having read most of the books that have come out on Korea, I was aware of the fact that not much had been written about the conditions, and I thought that we should put that down for posterity.
To point out the differences in Korea and how it was fought and the different climates and so on that we had to contend with. I wanted to explain the problems and how we overcame them, that I tried to concentrate on. I tried to make it as readable as possible by adding a bit of humour here and there.
Some of the funny incidents that happened even adds more humour. The [Department of] Veterans’ Affairs ordered quite a number of copies, about 12 copies I think, they wanted to pass around to their doctors because they thought that the doctors checking Korean veterans should know what they’d been through. Which is fair enough. So that was the purpose of the book really. It hasn’t of course attracted too much interest
after all that. I’ve still got a stack of copies, the publishers have, I’ve only got a few, but I hear they’ve given them to me to sell. I have to give them the money back as I sell them at a small commission. But I’ve still got a box full. When I empty a box they send me another one. Oddly enough I’ve sold somewhere between 70 and 80 on this little island we go to in America.
This is where you go for four months of the year? Why there?
Well, they know me. I suppose you’re more interested in a book that you know who’s written it. I’ve made some critical remarks about the Americans but they don’t seem to mind. I just wanted to put it on record, because I thought it should be
known more. So that was what drove me to write it. And I did most of it straight out of my head; I didn’t have to do a lot of research or anything, unlike the other book, that took seven years of research. Three times in London, three times in Paris, up and down the coast of, the East Coast of America and New Zealand and Australia. So I was doing research and that was quite a job.
What was that one?
It was based on the journal written by my wife’s great grandfather. He was on a whale ship from Nantucket. Nantucket being a big whaling centre at that time. This was at the end of the 18th century. Napoleon wanted oil, and he tool Nantucket’s ships under contract, to get oil for him in France, because oil for him was like petroleum now, for them. So as such his ship had to be registered in France and therefore carry the French flag. Well England and France were at war on and off all the time, and anything French was fair game. He was chased all over the Atlantic Ocean in this ship and finished up on the coast of…