with similar names, but which is which, have we got two blokes? Or is it the one bloke. So I had to give them a statement about what my name really was and how it all came about. Anyway that was Canterbury. Just not far from the Canterbury station in fact. And
then the family moved to Preston, which I didn’t know anything about being a baby. But I came, my memory comes on the air when we came back to Box Hill because during that time my mother had died. And we were left as very young children to my dad’s care. And how he put up with us, I don’t know, because he
had to keep working. I had two sisters who were older by ten years, older than me. And that let another nigger out of the wood pile too, because later on I found out that my mother was married at a very young age. In fact
she had to get special dispensation to get married because she was under 18. And as it turned out, subtly pregnant. A little bit pregnant you know, as they say. And then 12 months later my mother had another child, another girl. Then she had a rest for
for about five years. And then another boy was born, another three and a half years and I was born, 18 months, another brother was born. Another 18 months, another brother was born. So all of a sudden from 13 years of age, the eldest girl to the youngest boy
oh, baby, we had six children. And then Mum, I suppose she was worn out, if truth be known. And she finished up with some chest problem of the day and of course there were no drugs in those days. We are going back to
1922, I think my youngest brother was born. And so no penicillin or anything of that nature. No, but could be brought to bear on the subject if that had been that, she probably would have got over it and carried on. Dad was –
had left with six children. And so my second eldest sister got the job of looking after the family as the house mother. And I was really brought up by her in the early formative years. She did a pretty good job, but we were pretty wild, you know, as young kids.
I was four and a half by this time. And I went to school at the Box Hill Primary School. For a short time, I’m not quite sure. Then we moved house and went to Canterbury again. And I went to school at Canterbury. And then I think Dad thought, oh to hell with this,
I am going to find myself a girl. Cos he was still only relatively a young man at this stage. So he found a lovely lady who was told that she wasn’t going to be able to have any children. And the story in the family is that she decided that she would find a man that had a family, so she wouldn’t
have that problem. And they met up. Unfortunately or fortunately for her and all the rest of us, she did become pregnant. Big time,
because she had twins. And then 12 months later she had another one. So all of a sudden we’ve got 11 sitting down at the table. For meals, can you imagine it? And one income that was worth calling an income to look after the lot of us. It was quite a
family I tell you. We always reckoned later on that we never owned a home because we used to wreck them so fast we’d have to move on to another house so we could wreck that one too. But anyway, that’s what. We finished up in Elsternwick. Near
where my stepmother who had the patience of 57 angels. You know, because she was a wonderful woman and looked after us like her own. In fact it wasn’t until oh, 10 or 12 years ago when one of my – my youngest brother got remarried that the word stepbrothers and stepsisters came into the conversation at all.
It was all family, no them and us sort of thing. It was good.
so we wouldn’t annoy the neighbours I suppose. But generally speaking, although we had a large family and although there was only the one income to speak of coming in, I don’t recall that we ever went, we were deprived of anything. In the way
of clothing or food. We probably were but we didn’t realise it. it do remember a place we were living in Denver Crescent in Elsternwick. Right along side the railway line, and the light in our bedroom was just a cord
with the light on the end of it, you know, the was no trappings, that sort of thing, it was pretty basic. And I remember a time when we, I went up the street, which went going up to Glenhuntly Road to get some shopping for Mum. They used to have big boxes
on the corner of the street, they were the forerunner of the bins that the Salvos [Salvation Army] put out. But they were a timber box with a sloping top to them, and people used to put stuff in that they didn’t want and the Salvos then would come along and take that out and use it. And I remember seeing the, a nice little tin about three by three.
And as a kid it was quite intriguing to see this thing. So I opened it up and here was about four cigarettes in it. So I thought, oh, I was riding a bike at this stage so I probably would have been about 12 or so. So I took them home and I grabbed a box of matches and I went out into the lavatory which was out the back yard. And
smoked two of them instantly, the unfortunate part about it was that my mother followed me down there. When I came out and of course the place was full of smoke, so I got a whack over the ear for that. It’s just as well, one of those amusing things that sticks to your mind. You know you
remember puts other things into context of what happens. And where it happens, although there is no date to it, I couldn’t say it was on Saturday the 4th of April or something like that, just one of those things.
quarry. And it flooded, they went down so they would come up against the spring and you know, it was of unknown depth, at my time of living there, it had never been depth, nobody could get down there deep enough because there was no artificial means in those days. A lot of things have happened haven’t they? Because they go down
hundreds of feet down now, but they couldn’t get down to the bottom of this on one lung full, and cold of course. Then we went back to Canterbury from there. Then we moved to Elsternwick near the corner of Glen Eira and Orrong Road. We came there I think because Mum’s family, my stepmother, family
lived in that area. And I think it was a case of she wanted to get near her own. And they were a family of spinsters and bachelors. Or a bachelor brother a twin was my stepmother. And there were three other sisters all unmarried.
None of them, Mum was the only one that married in the whole family, they all were spinsters and bachelors. And then of course as the kids, the two, three of the new family we outgrew that place.
So that’s when we moved down to Denver Crescent in Gardenvale. From there we went to Hawthorn Road, Caulfield. That was probably around about 1936 and I say that because
that was where I went into the army in the first place. And it was at that house that I was in that I joined up, into the CMF forces, Citizen [Citizens’] Military Forces. And as a young kid of 16 or 17, the news in the paper was that Hitler was, you know,
flexing his muscles as it were. And I thought, there is going to be a war here, there is got to be a war, the way things are proceeding now, there is going to be a war. So I thought well if there is going to be a war, I’m going to be right in the firing line because of the age group so I want to know something about this caper. So I joined up into the Citizen Military Forces.
And that was in the 2nd Field Squadron RAE, the Royal Australian Engineers. And which I spent, as a cadet, unpaid cadet at 16 two years before I became 18. Then I went onto the payroll and we used to get
8 bob [shillings] a day for the day we were there or less, I can’t exactly remember but it wasn’t much. It was nothing to really get excited about, because you know –
So when they come home, they know everything around here to the finest degree. You know, but we never, I never had that, I used to hate moving because all my mates that I had gathered at one place, all of a sudden would be lost because I would be moving to another house, even though I might not have
moved schools. Might not have changed schools because from Elsternwick, went to Ripponlea State School, when I went down to Garden Vale we walked all the way back to Ripponlea, walked, its quite a hike from Gardenvale to Ripponlea.
There and back each day and then when we moved to Hawthorn Road we still went to the Ripponlea School. So while we moved houses and lost contact with people that we might have been neighbours with and get to know, all of a sudden they were out of our life. So I finished up with no boyhood friends
at all. You know, as such, one who was more an acquaintance than a friend. I met him after the war as well. But we were quite good mates at school. But as I say I moved away and that was gone. But I think the family
as I say, we used to wear houses out, there is no doubt about that we, you know, Dad had no time for gardening or anything like that. If he had some time to spare there was probably three pair of shoes that needed soling and he would sole the shoes with leather and tacks. And sometimes you’d find the tacks sticking through when you put it on and you had to walk to
school with a tack in your boot and you were trying to work your foot in such a way to avoid that tack, you know. Until you got home and get Dad to give it a whack on the last and burr it over so that it wasn’t a problem any more. But he used to put his time in doing that sort of thing. And Mum if she had a, if she had five minutes to spare, she probably found that
there was a blouse to make or a pair of trousers to make which she could do. Pretty self contained, the whole family really, Mum and Dad.
Edna the one that was looking after us, as a house mother. She was taught I think a lot by Dad and her, my grandmother, who was a seamstress. I think she was taught a little bit about needle work so that when she went to look for a job, she finished up with a job in The Block [Arcade] in Collins Street
making really top range bridal wear, you know, the firm she was with, that’s all the made was bridal wear. And you know, they had some terrific weddings to cope with, like six bridesmaid’s dresses as well as the bride, full flowing regalia, you know. But she was a good
my mother, my mother used to, was learnt, was taught the trade of seamstress by her mother. Who had a shop in South Melbourne which is still there today, in Clarence Street, South Melbourne. Which was only a hop,
step and a jump from where her family lived at the time, in South Melbourne. And they were the days of horse and carts, you know, I am talking about a normal run of events, horse and carts were the go, by lorry, by leisure vehicle or anything
else, a car was a rarity. I can easily remember a slow old steam roller, great heavy lumbering roller in the front, it would be about four or five feet wide and about that high, with two whacking great wheels at the top which would be five or six feet in diameter. And
it was such a novelty, it was a steam engine, it wasn’t a combustion petrol engine. And used to have a bloke walking in front of it with a red flag so that you know, its speed would be about two mile an hour. And why the hell they would want somebody with a red flag walking in front of it, but that s what they used to have to
have. Way to use people up, give them something to do. But that was the sort of thing that was used to make the Yarra Boulevard. It was all when they were making that, it was all horse drags and picks and shovels that made it, it wasn’t,
you know, extensive earth moving equipment or anything like that.
His brother also was exempted because he was in the government offices. And he was exempted because of the works that he had to do. In administration work for the government at the time. His claim to fame was that he
eventually became secretary to the treasury, which as you know signs all the pound notes or the dollar notes. So these notes all notes of that era were signed by him. But no, they had these exemptions allowances
for different people in different trades that were better working at home than doing work somewhere else. or trying to be in the army. As I say, Dad could have claimed
three children as a reason not to go if he wanted to do. A wife and two children would have been enough for him to be exempted, but mostly that was all volunteer work anyway, in the First World War. It was all I don’t think it was until later on that Billy Hughes, I think it was,
brought in conscription. Because the First World War fellows, 90 per cent of them were volunteers, as were the first in the Second World War, the first lot of people. They were all volunteers, it wasn’t until later on that they became conscripted and told to be there or else.
You know, so no he never was in the army. Neither were any of his brothers. There was no army history at all. I think I was the first one that took any interest in the army. Pre war,
pre the Second World War. But no well of course you must remember that the war was, the First World War finished in 1918 and I wasn’t born until 1919. When I got old enough to know what was going on the war was
old fellows went to the war, although it might have only been five or six years, they were old fellows that went to the First World War, they were all old blokes. And I suppose when they came back some of them had been in the war four or five years some of them. And
by the time I got to know what was going on, I probably would have been about 10 years of age. Well they were all 30 or 35, so that they were old to me. You know when I looked at them, and thought, “Oh well he is an old man,” 35, oh God. You know that’s the end of the earth, that's what I thought them. I don’t think so now.
I had when my father had just produced with his second wife a pair of twins. And I was sent to stay with grandma, my younger brother, Keith, the one in that picture, he and I were both sent to grandma’s place over at Auburn. Which meant that we had to transfer for a short time
to Auburn State School, from Ripponlea State School. I didn’t know anybody, and they didn’t know me. It was a case of ‘oh who’s this turned up?’ Coming into our school, we don’t know him. And I was pretty much ostracised because the others had all been to school for five years or so
at this time and I absolutely hated it. Didn’t like schooling at all. And the result was that when my next door neighbour came to my father and said, “We have got a job for a boy, do you think Ray would like to have it?” Dad called me into the lounge room where he was sitting
and said, “Mr Vince has got a job, do you think you would like to have it?” and I said, “Yeah, when do I start?” And he said, “Well, you can start tomorrow morning?” So I said, “Fine.” So I went and closed my books up and that was the last I saw of them until after the war. And oh,
yeah it was after the war, I didn’t touch a book in that time until after the war. When I came back I found that I needed to do other things and I did a bit of accountancy, didn’t like that either. But I did enough to be able to get by for what I wanted to, to hand over to an accountant to do the rest of the work. And
I didn’t have any time for school at all. I wasn’t good at sport. I was short and all the kids seemed to be much taller than me. And so football was out, cricket you couldn’t get into because everyone wanted to play cricket.
So I muddled along just doing enough to get by, to get grades. And then I went to, down to the Brighton Technical School and I though I was in heaven then, I really thought I was in heaven. Going to the Brighton Tech because they had a quite a
different system to what they had in the primary school, where you sat in front of the one teacher and she gave you arithmetic and spelling and everything else. And drawing and everything else by the one teacher. And I got down Brighton and only had a teacher for an hour and then your had to go to another classroom, you had another teacher. And I though this was
great, because they didn’t get to know you at all you see. But the end result was I did very, very badly. And Dad said, well that’s enough of that son, you are out of there. So well I went back to the state school and finished off my schooling and then went straight into work. And mostly
I never had to apply for a job, never applied for a job. So I was always handed over, they’d say, well we can’t use him any more, but you might be able to use him, “Oh, yeah, I’ll have him.” And this carried on right through. Even after the war the same thing happened. You know I was working for one fellow and he said, “Look I am going to close
this section down. I know if you go and have a talk to Joe Blow I’m sure he will take you on.” So that’s what I did and I never actually had to go and apply for a job ever. I suppose I missed out on some training somewhere. Along the line, didn’t have resumes.
What sort of work did you do? Your first job?
Well it was with Ince Brothers in Swanston Street, they were tailors. And he, this was in the height of the Depression I might add. This would have been somewhere about ’32, I suppose.
Yeah, let me think what happened then. Yeah, Mr Vince said to Dad we only take the boys for a year. And the idea is to give them training about the city, about knowing what the city is made up of, how to get around the city,
introduced me to the despatch department with Victorian Railways and the post office and just general knowledge sort of thing about how to conduct yourself in the city. And I had to deliver parcels around the city.
And then they, the 12 months was up and they said, well your times is up here, but you go down into Flinders Lane and see if Mr Thomas. And because he’s looking for a young bloke. I would have been about 16, roughly, at the time. So I went down to see Mr Thomas and I was
there for two or three years. And then he was a big man in the Freemasonry. And he decided to get out of the wholesale woollen fabrics, which was mostly overcoating. And go into secretary of the Masonry. So that
closed him down and left me. And he said to me, “Well you go along and see Harry down at Majorca Buildings and he wants a young bloke down there.” So I finished up as a – I suppose you could virtually call it a commercial traveller. Going out selling stuff. But I really didn’t know
what I wanted to do then. I mean I was 18, that time, I didn’t know what to do, what I wanted to do, had not a clue. The only I knew was how to sell. That was not learnt, that was just a natural ability. Nobody
taught me how to say the right things to the right person, you know, just happened. And so I went down and saw Harry and I got a job there and I was there until the war started. Then I went back there because, after the war, because of
restriction of imports and that sort of thing. They didn’t have any stock at all in the place, it was bare empty. And then when they did get a roll of material, say from Yarra Falls they might have got a roll of material in, that was knitting or woollen mills in Collingwood, Yarra Falls, have you heard of it? And they used
to make good suitings. Yeah, but it was, just lost it for a minute there, got side tracked.
but I was about 16. So 16 years on to I would have been 15 or 16 when I joined that. And that was, there were two things as I said before. I reckoned there was going to be a war. But one of my outlets which I liked to do was
riding horses. And I had a mate that lived not far away from me and he also liked riding horses. So we used to go down to the livery stable in Hotham Street just near Ripponlea. You know the Ripponlea, heritage place? And we would
hire on Saturday afternoon a horse for two or three hours. I think it cost us about five shillings. Which was a fair amount of money, but I would rather do that than go to the pictures, we had great fun. And when this mate said to me, well I’m going to join up the army
and I'm going to go into a mounted unit. And I said, “What’s a mounted unit?” and he said, “Oh, they have horse to ride.” “Oh, that sounds a good idea.” So he by this time had joined up there and I went along and they said, “Oh, yes okay, you can come in.” So we were
issued with our army uniform. Leggings and all that sort of thing they used to wear, jodhpurs, and leather leggings. For riding. And we used to go away on bivouacs on the weekend and we’d be riding horses and looking after horses. Learning how to feed horses, water horses, groom horse, do everything for
the horses before you would do anything for yourself. So first thing in the morning you woke up you didn’t go and have a shower. You went and attended the horse first and made sure that their stables were clean or their horse lines were clean, and the droppings were cleared out of the way. And they were
fed and watered and groomed, and then you could go and have your breakfast. But it was good training and we used to get engineer training. At the same time mostly how to dig holes, with picks and shovels. But they were good years those, we had a lot of fun.
It was rather funny we would go away for a weekend. We’d go to work in the morning, Saturday morning, 12 o’clock we’d finish up, we’d be down to the drill hall by half past 12. And we’d be either drilling or doing something to do with the army. And by six o’clock
we would go on leave. And we couldn’t get out of there quick enough to go on leave. To go into the city. Because we were highly rated amongst the girls in these fellows in uniform. We had a, I’ve got a photo of some of them there,
we used to have an emu plume or an ostrich feather and I think I was originally an ostrich feather then I think they developed it to an emu feather, but it doesn’t matter, it was a feather. And it used to come right over the top of the slouch hat you know, the slouch hats the ones with the sides up. And these were quite distinctive, quite different. And we would go to the
Glaciarium, ice skating or we’d go to a dance which was pretty difficult because we had army boots on, and they didn’t go well with dancing usually. But when we went skating we took the boots off and had hired boots on, skating boots. And there was always the chance
I never got lucky, but there was always a chance that you might be able to talk a girl into going out with you or something like that. Bu then we’d go home, we’d have to be back at the camp within a certain time. And of course you’d be all on wires you know, with the doings of the day and the night. To the point where you were trying to go to sleep on the
ground. And I can remember just laying awake talking with others that were there. Looking at the stars above us, no tents or anything like that, just lying out in the open. But we did have blankets but we got very little sleep. And then by the time we had to go and start up again the morning
at six o’clock it was by the time you finished the day you were zonked, you know. I would be in bed by 8 o’clock on Sunday night, boom, out. Like a light. They were good days.
well you’d have your drill nights which were one night a week. Then every so often you would have a bivouac. I don’t know who worked out the program, but it certainly wasn’t me. One of the officers would say we’ll have a bivouac on that weekend, a bivouac on that weekend and we would go to
places like Broadmeadows. Which were the most of the horses were held. Camp Pell in Broadmeadows is in evidence that something used to go on there. That was the camp. Camp Pell. And we’d choose Seymour. Puckapunyal
at one stage we went down to the Epsom Race Course down at Mordialloc on a bivouac. We’d ride the horses down there. Both at Broadmeadows and Puckapunyal. I don’t think Puckapunyal was in existence then,
it was Seymour, we went to the army barracks at Seymour and the horses were kept there too. You know. They had four or five different places where army horsemen used to train the horses.
And they didn’t want things happening that were going to damage the soldiers so some of the horses had a habit of rearing their head back like that . And if you happened to be leaning over the horse and it happened to come back, that would hurt. You’d get it fair in the face. So if they had that habit they had to be brought under control and taught not to do that.
And I can remember one of these trainers, can’t think of the name, officers I suppose, rear mount officers will do for want of a better word. They used to take these horses which were giving trouble. And I remember one of them this horse was doing the same
this sort of thing, pulling its head up, trying to, some of the fellows would hold the bit so they were forcing it and the horse would try and pull it away. It was the bad habit of the driver or the rider more than the horse. But they didn’t want the horse to do that. So they just came around with a, waddy you call it, and whacked its
fair in the ears. And the horse dropped like a bag of spuds. And it was all right I mean it got up, but it temporarily went down. Whether it happened again, I wouldn’t know. But that was one occasion where they had to teach the horse that it had to do what it was told to do, not muck around.
if you were using a pick to dig a hole you would work on what we call a face. You would start here and you would dig it out on the face. Now some people and we saw this happen time and time again, they would try and pick it all over the whole area that they wanted to do, it was just a great
jumble and they would get nowhere. I would get three times as much work done because I was working on a face, you understand what I mean by face? Well if you, let me try and explain it. First of all you going to do an
a rectangular hole, right. So I did out the first foot, clear that away. Now it leaves me with a face, I have got that much dug out. Now when I put the pick into that face I’m likely to put the pick in there and I can force all that face
out and its much easier than try to dig it, each little, little pick as they say. The way to use a shovel by using your knee to help you force the shovel into the dirt that you are
picking up, all those things make it a lot easier for those that know how to use it and those that don’t know how to use it. And its one of the, what we call the ‘vol [volume] one’ of military engineering, one of the first things you learn. Because that was how you did it in those days, these days you have got a different thing altogether.
But our equipment was very basic, very basic. We did knots and lashings, we had to learn how to lash two pieces of large timber together.
Now the average bloke hadn’t seen a piece of rope let alone how to handle it. Some of them used to take special course in how to splice rope, either together or on an end. We used to learn knots and lashings, that was a big part of our training. How to tie
knots that will, for instance if I wanted to lower you down, say you are up on the roof there, and I wanted to get you down, but I wanted to tie it up there but when I got you down I wanted to undo that, without going back up there again. So I would learn how to do that particular know. Not many people know.
At all, in fact I don’t think anybody would know it if they hadn’t been involved with knots and lashings. We used to make –
got to have enough rope to double going down to where you want to get to. Then on a beam that might be up there you tie the knot from here, I can’t show you without having the rope, but you make the knot on that beam
so that when you get on this piece of the rope, that knot will hold. But when you get down, you pull the other rope and this whole thing will come away and the rope will come down, and you’ll have it there to use again, you know. So that used to be quite a lot of work that was done.
When you get two pieces of timber that might be 10 inches in diameter and you’ve got to lash them together so that they will hold. You’ve got to know what you are doing otherwise you have all sorts of problems. Making anchorages were another thing that you might have.
What we call shear legs, two pieces like that, you make up on the ground, pull it up there and you attach a pulley onto there and lift the lower things underneath it. It was a fair bit of weight involved in that and if you haven't got somewhere pretty strong to hold that up,
then you are going to have trouble. Somebody is going to break their neck or their leg, or their arm. So you may not have tree that you can get onto, so we used to have big pickets of about five feet long, about four inches, steel pointed, steel collar and we used to tie them into the ground
on various ways. You might have, you might have a three on there, two behind it, and another one behind that again and you would lace them down with the rope, so that when you pull on one the strength of the whole lot had to be contend with and you can make
a much stronger. You might be in sandy type soil and you want it so that its strong you have got to know how to put these together, it’s just a basic thing, but its one of these things we had to learn how to do. Knots and lashings were a big thing. We’d spend hours doing various clove hitches and
reef knots and magnus hitches and the whole bit. And know how to put a piece of rope on a rope, so that if you tie the horse to it, it wouldn’t drag it half way around the world. You had to know that it would stop there and there was a certain hitch to do it. But the average person wouldn’t know how to do it, so you’ve got to be taught.
doubt about that it was going to be on because Chamberlain at the time was running backwards and forwards to Germany, I don’t know how he used to get there, he probably got there on the train. Might have gone by plane, there might have been planes sufficient for that type of person to be able to move around. There certainly many planes about at that time.
They were pretty unreliable anyway, but Chamberlain, the Prime Minister of England, he was running backwards and forwards and he was always saying that, no its going to be all right. They had what they called, what became later known as the appeasement policy. But it didn’t work, see.
But, I don’t think there was many people that thought that it wasn’t going to be on at that time. We certainly were quite sure, it was only a matter of time, it was a case of when. And it was the 3rd of September wasn’t it, something like that. That it kicked off.
And I can remember the speeches that were given to the, from the parliament, we used to sit around the radios to listen to the news that would come out, special addresses being given by the various members of the parliament to say that the war was on, we have declared war.
The war had been declared. And while it didn’t feel, as far as we were concerned, there was no joy attached to it, it was a case of, well, that’s what we are here for, what we have been training for. So
as I say there were 10 of us joined up together, one officer went and we all went with him. And we only had army training, there was no, I don’t remember any boffins being in our group anyway. There were the odd eccentrics that sat
and read Shakespeare or something like that. You know, but the average bloke was just what I say, was average. Run of the mill fellows, next door neighbours type of thing.
What was the real spur of joining, patriotism or?
As I said before I reckoned that Hitler was making so much noise and the news reels that we would see in the theatres would show you massive formations of troops. The like of which we had no idea about. Never seen anything like this.
And a parade of army artillery, modern stuff, you know. There was no doubt in any of our minds that it was going to be on, it was a case of when. So I didn’t have any doubts it was going to be on, no doubts at all. That’s why we are here
we are not here to, not, I think the word was formed about that time, that there were certain types of soldiers that were known as chockos, they were chocolate soldiers, they were dress up soldiers. Soldiers that had no intention of being real soldiers
but they liked the uniforms. And that was later transferred to people who were formed in Australia and stayed in Australia. It was an unfortunate word, but it was word that was used. I know because I had, my younger brother was in the same CMF unit as me. He was a tailor and he didn’t join up when
I joined up. But later on I think he was called up and he stayed with the same unit that he had been with as the 2nd Field Squadron. And the army really didn’t recognise it, and still doesn’t recognise his efforts and
they were efforts that he was told to do, the same as I was told to do. Certain things during the army, while I was in the army. And he was to do the same way, he had, he would have got shot if he hadn’t have done it, you know, or words to that effect. But even now to this day, the
government give him nothing, virtually. Compared to what I get, with overseas service.
been going for about three months. And we were in camp down at Torquay. Didn’t have horses with us this time we were just down there, just general training. I can’t remember anything special except that water
clarification exercise that we did down there. But apart from that there wasn’t terrible much going on. But I think there, I remember there were big bush fires at the time and we went out and helped with those. One fellow was unfortunate, the fire was within yards of his house,
so everybody raced down there and took all this stuff out of his house and put it in the middle of the road and all the stuff in the middle of the road got burnt and the house was left. It was all right, so it was a bit of problem. So we talked about the war and that sort of thing and what are you going to do. And oh yeah I think I will join up, I’m not sure when yet.
I’ll make sure it’s going to be on properly, we weren’t sure at this stage what our involvement was going to be. But as time went on and we still going to our normal weekly training sessions with the CMF. But this particular day we said, “Righto, it’s on, let’s decide now, what are we going to do?”
So 10 of us there and an officer and he said, “Well I’m going to join up on the 16th of May,” or the 20th of May whatever it was, “so if you want to join up, then I’ll ask for you to come with me.” He had to go. Officers were over there and men were over there. So didn’t want to mix them up see. So he went and joined and he put in that these
fellows that went there are to go with him. And that’s what happened, we went down, joined up at Caulfield and we had our photos taken in a row. Just been issued with ill-fitting garments like the army does. And then we spent a few days in Caulfield.
And we had some of the horse stalls to sleep in. These were race horses I am talking about now. They put a flooring in these otherwise stone floor. They put these floors and they
issued us with a palliasse, you know what a palliasse is?
I remember one sergeant who was of the First World War, seeing that he did have prior training, the officials at Caulfield decided that they were going to make him camp sergeant. So he lined us all up one day and said, “Are there any drivers here?” Well driving was something that you didn’t do a lot
of before the war because hardly anyone had cars. Certainly very few young fellows had cars, some did but very few. And this sergeant lined them all up and said, “Are there any drivers?’ So I thought, oh drivers, this will be a good cop you see. So a bloke puts his, two or three of them put their hand up. “Righto, fall out, over here
see that barrow there I want you to do and sweep up all this area here and put it in the barrow.” It was a con job. But little instances like this that happened that stick out in your memory. I remember when we went into this, these stables and
we were elbow to elbow, with this bloke, you didn’t have a 10 feet space or anything, you were jammed up. So that anybody that snored, everybody heard him, you know. And this particular day, this fellow was snoring his head off. He was lying on his back, his mouth was open
he was snoring good enough to make the timbers vibrate. And I thought, “God I can’t stand this. This is terrible. I can’t sleep with this racket going on.” So there was only one way to shut him up and that’s to go and tell him to shut up. So I straggled up and up to this bloke, I think I probably had, nothing but nylon, I think I might have had underpants on, I went up to him
and shook him and said, “Hey, hey!” And he sat bolt upright and he was nearly as big as I was. When he sat up. And I said, Jesus he’s a big bugger too. And I said, “You’re snoring,” “Oh, sorry mate, sorry mate.” And everybody settled down and went back to sleep. I remember that.
The way he sat up as if somebody had shot him. And but no, we were only there for a little while. Then we were transported up to up to Puckapunyal. And there we were given the treatment of having to live in iron huts, open at both ends, cold water showers, early morning rises
which none of the fellows were particularly keen about. And it was a pretty tough life there. And but then when I went to do the physical exercise training, the job then was to come back and be physical trainer for the unit
which meant that I had to get them out and they had to do the, one, two, up down, jump around, and run around and I tell you I put them through their paces. And we knocked two blokes who had come into the army from the First World War. And they were, must have been very young when they joined up in the First World War.
And they still thought they were good enough to come into this man’s army. And I had them collapsing on their bed at half past six at night, after they had been running around first thing in the morning, jumping around like frogs. And doing all this physical training. Trying to get their muscles all set up properly and route marching
and doing all that sort of thing. But by seven o’clock at night they were knackered. And it wasn’t very long before they got their discharge early. Go! But that happened periodically right through, fellows failed for one reason or another and they were sent home, they’d send them back. They
were either crook or got into trouble, something like that.
had push out type windows. I’ve got a photo of them there. They were a bit better class than Puckapunyal was, but they were also colder. And I mean cold when I say cold. It was degrees
colder than here and still is funnily enough, down there than what it is here. But we mingled in there very well, we settled in. And then they took some of our NCOs back to form another company. They bought them back here as the nucleus of another company.
And the same officer that we joined up with originally came back to form another company, the 2/16th Field Company. And one of – my best mate was given that assignment.
But they only took a few of our fellows back with them and then they formed a new lot here, in Melbourne. We used to get leave from there. Come home every six weeks or so. Spent most of the time we were over there route marching and doing just general
basic exercises. You know, bridge building was another one of the little tricks we got up to. I don’t think anything ever went over it, it was built in the back lots of an area that was small and you could get around it, there was no problem there. But the only time we
ever used what they called bell tents. It was a round tent almost like an Indian tee pee type of thing. All the other type we went into was the standard sloping roof with the walls down, when we were in tents. But over there they seemed to use these bell tents, it was all feet
to the middle. You know, and you put your palliasse around, it was a good wrestling match, we used to have some ding dong battles. you talk about this, what do they call it, tag wrestling where there is about four or five of them having a go, well there’d be six or seven of us all having a go. And the last man standing wins. I tell you we didn’t bite any ears, but
by golly it was close. We used to get stuck into one another I tell you, of course there was your prestige and I had some prestige to keep up with because I was the PE instructor. See, so I was supposed to be pretty hot stuff with the physical stuff. If somebody leant on me, I had to lean on them a lot harder. And we used to have fellows flying all over the place. I
even thumped a bloke on the Mauritania when I was going to the Middle East. He came at me in a ferocious manner and I just grabbed him by the shoulders, lay down on the floor, put my foot underneath his belly and, threw him over the top of me in the cabin. We got
rid of him, he didn’t come back for any more. But that was the sort of thing that you know you had to show your, that you were boss truckie in the place otherwise they would walk all over the top of you.
Everybody fitted in quite well. Never any problem at all. Oh there might have been an odd case and it would be unusual if it wasn’t but I don’t recall any. I mean sometimes you were quite good to the Tasmanian. I remember
I was on picket duty, this was guard duty on this particular day and night, 24 hour duty it was. And the guard house had couple of cells in it to put naughty boys in it who went AWOL [AWL – Absent Without Leave], which wasn’t terribly frowned upon but, had to be
disciplined. And the break, the boredom the various guard officers or NCOs used to allow these fellows to come out and wash up the dishes and sweep the floor. Just give them something to do rather than just bored to tears sitting in a cell you see. And this particular day I am on duty as the sergeant of the guard. And
this peanut came out to do his usual jobs. And then all of a sudden, “Where’s Harry, I haven’t seen Harry?” Harry had taken off, he had gone home for the weekend. Well there was all sorts of hell, I mean it had to be reported, there was no way you could cover it up. Because you didn’t know whether he was going to come back or not, whether he was gone forever and all of a sudden you got
a bloke missing, where is he, did you shoot him? Sort of thing the MPs [military police] weren’t very long before they had him under control and brought him back. But I got a demerit mark because I was in charge, it was my fault. And you got, whoever, you know, the old story, where the buck stops, if you are in charge, that’s where it
stops. And they used to get up to all sorts of tricks to get out of there. But this fellow was just taking the rubbish out in the normal way. And away he went. And that caused me the loss of a stripe as a matter of fact, instead of being made
staff sergeant, no I was to be made sergeant, I was what they called lance sergeant at the time, that an unpaid sergeant, he’s still a corporal, but he’s an unpaid sergeant. Allowed to put up three stripes. And I was put back to –
I was due for promotion and they didn’t give me the promotion I should have had so I virtually lost the stripe. That’s what it amounted to. Anyway that was just another little episode that happened.
the best of times. And they put a few more thousands in when they were cramming troops in. There was a lot of troops on board. We were lucky because I think it was the first trip that the Mauritania had done and in the army you have other ranks as a mess,
as a mingling area. I think it was called a mess because it was always in a mess. But the officers also had mess and the NCOs had a mess, but in the engineers, corporals and above
were allowed into the sergeants’ mess. Now in infantry battalion that doesn’t happen because they have got a lot of sergeants in infantry battalion. But in the field companies there is not many sergeants, so to build up the numbers, they allow corporals to come in. So the men had their mess downstairs and the NCOs had their mess
upstairs which was the first sitting in the same mess that the officers used. Understand? So we went in there and sat down and the table was as if you’re paying 5000 pound a trip. It was all set up exactly the same with the same waiters, all the staff
was there exactly the same. We had the waiter coming to us with his napkin across his arm here. And what would you like and it was an a la carte menu, have what you like. And when we had finished with that the officers would then come in about 8 o’clock and have their dinner, which was under the same rule that we had. So it was a pretty
nice sort of set up I tell you, as far as the NCOs were concerned. The downstairs where the ORs [other ranks] were, other ranks, they just had ordinary fare. And you know 15 to a table sort of thing. And in sittings, I wouldn’t know how many numbers because I wasn’t down there. But they would have to sit so many at this sitting and so many
at that sitting and so many at that sitting, and then clean them out and get the next lot, you know, to get them all fed. But our facilities were plush. I had a two berth cabin with another sergeant, with a porthole. You try and buy that, you know, it was just fantastic, that was where I threw the bloke over my head that
I told you about earlier.
build roads. And we would organise the building of the roads, the native population would do the actual building. And the idea was we might want to use those trees as camouflage for guns but we couldn’t get them in over the normal ground so we had to provide them with a road. And
they used the method known as macadam road and where we would build a macadam road by putting large stones and finer stones and finer stones and finer stones, they didn’t have those facilities. So the workmen that we had used to have delivered to them stones that would be
that wide, that high and about that thick. And they would place each one of those stones and tap them with a hammer so that they were all level. Almost like putting down a mosaic. And then on top of that they would fill all the gaps in if there were any,
and there were some. Finer stones and then over the top of that with a finer grain of stone again. But the hand placing of all of these rocks, you’ve got no idea. It was a mammoth job, and but they just went about it, it was days’ work, there wasn’t much else for them to day’s work at, you know. So they enjoyed doing it
because it was – it wasn’t hard work, it was relatively easy work. And we had to do was supervise, from point A to Point B this wide, do it. And that was it. But that was our main work doing there. Some of the other troops had other jobs to do. At one stage we had to
do I think they really wanted to get us out of their hair. And they sent us on reconnaissance work. In the trucks to find out and map where all the watering points were in the area. It didn’t matter if it was a well or a sump or a river, wherever there was water we had to put it down on a map. So that anybody else coming
along later could say that, oh well, that’s where we will find some water. And a lot of them were really just wells from olden days, that had been there for centuries. Put the bucket down type wells, you know, and bring up some water. I remember one well,
it was on the top of a old fortress building it was up God knows how many feet higher than the surrounding town, hundreds of feet, and there as a fort on the top an old castle sort of arrangement and they even had water in holes up there. How it got there, I wouldn’t know whether it came off natural water and just stayed there or not I don’t know.
But that was one of those jobs we had to do, we covered miles of the whole area. And some it was beautiful country, beautiful country, and hilly and got some photos there and I’ve made a remark alongside the photo that these are not aerial photos they were taken from the truck, but they look like aerial photos they are so high. Looking down across the valley, you know,
you think you are in a plane, beautiful country there. And of course we went up to Aleppo from there.
definitely, yeah no question about that at all, very hush, hush and secret. As far as she was concerned. She came, I had to be there but she came in a taxi and the taxi was instructed to come back at a certain time. And you know, but there was another incident not far removed form that. When we were in Aleppo and we brought all our supplies, food wise, from the local market.
And it was one man’s job, the quartermaster to go and buy the goods. Lettuces, tomatoes, potatoes, bananas, what ever he was needed to fill his requirements for the troops. So it was very off, usual thing for them to get fairly friendly
between the solider and the seller. And he was the local man. But this lieutenant so shall remain nameless, basically because I never did know his name. He went, he asked this fellow could he take his daughter out. He had seen his daughter working in the area. And she was quite a nice lass.
And the father was so pleased, oh, wonderful to think that his daughter was going to go out with an Australian Army officer, with the greatest of pleasure. So the date was set up and he arrived at the prescribed time to pick this girl up, take her to the pictures I think. And while
the girl was getting her coat on or whatever she was doing, the father came into the front hallway and pulled down his coat off the hall stand and started to put it on. And the lieutenant said, “Oh, you are going out too?” And he said, “Yes, we are coming with you.” So he had to escort mother and father and daughter.
His father wasn’t letting him out with it, the army officer. So it wasn’t all bad things you know. As far as we were concerned we reckoned we were the lucky country. We had all the luck in the world. Well we did because A, we missed going to Malaya. Now when we were coming back from the Middle East, I suppose I am
jumping a little bit here. We were half way again home, when somebody comes and says, “What company are you with?” “We are the 2/9th Field Company.” “But you are not supposed to be here, you are supposed to be on your way to Malaya, to Java. I suppose we can’t do much about it now.” Now those blokes went to Malaya and they got off the boat straight into …
I'm curious about how the military people interacted with the local people?
Well we did, we fitted in. We were accepted, I think that’s the word accepted. No dislike or like, just accepted, right throughout the civilian population. Things seemed to go on around us wherever we were, you know, the world didn’t stop because we
were there, every body went about their business. The shops opened. Admittedly they weren’t shooting at the shops but you know, they just, the company was split up doing various jobs. And I can’t tell you what they were doing because I wasn’t there. I can only tell you what we were doing.
And we were, after we left the camp at Aleppo we went up to the Carababa tunnel. I think I have got that name right, and it’s right on the Turkish Syrian border. And the seasons there when we were there, and I am saying when we were there, not saying it happens every year. It went from
summer to winter overnight. One day it was stinking hot and the next day it was snowing, and it never got stinking hot again, it just stayed cold, all the time. Until there was snow and we were in tents. And sometimes the snow was that heavy that it would collapse the tents.
Our bully beef which we were fed on which is a tin camp pie type meat, corned beef. Set in an aspic jelly, which if the chef puts it out and tells you it’s good well it must be. But it’s pretty hard stuff to eat and under the conditions
that we were in we got blocks of ice, there wasn’t any ice chests around or refrigerators but the temperature was so cold that those tins of bully beef had to be boiled before, nearly boiled before you could eat them, get near them because they were just like blocks of ice, hard.
And yeah it was pretty rugged and the work that the fellows were doing, myself not included, I didn’t work terribly hard, my job was organising. I was a reasonably good organiser. So that I didn’t have to work, but these fellows had to go into this tunnel
go into a tunnel, railway tunnel and they went in in three or four places, that a way into the side of the tunnel. And having gone in there about 10 feet or so they had to go that a way, like a T, so they finished up with a T. So the idea was that you’d fill the end
of that T up with explosives, you fill up all this other part so that the explosion just didn’t follow the T back. It had nowhere to go, so it just blew the tunnel, and the tunnel would collapse and the train line would be of no further use and if anybody came to repair it our guns where there to make sure
they didn’t repair it. So that was our job to do this. Well we had jackhammers, compressors, things of that nature to help do it. But a lot of it was done by hand. Again there wasn’t very many of these jackhammers that you could use. And then in the very confined spaces of working it was pretty hard yakka, believe me.
But that was the idea of it was to stop any pincer movement of troops using the German troops using the railway line to bring their supplies down.
mining the tunnel, it was feared amongst the hierarchy that Rommel would come through Africa, through El Alamein, Tobruk, Bardia, Alexandra, Cairo and then some
another force would come through, German force would come through Turkey, Austria and Turkey, and come down through Palestine and across that way so that you had two trips in what they call a pincer movement. And everything that gets in the middle gets crushed, it’s as simple as that. And they
were frightened that that might happen, it never did happen. One, a lot of things didn’t happen with us. It didn’t happen because Rommel was stopped by partly the Americans coming into the war at that stage, the Australians were there at Tobruk. They caused quite a headache for Rommel. And
things at home weren’t working out exactly as they wanted it in Germany. And so that part of it never came off either. So although we mined the tunnel it was never used. We mined other bridges, I was given a job, what time was it I was told that
some time like four o’clock in an afternoon, one afternoon, I had to go to a place which was hours away by truck. And we had one full day to mine this bridge to
have it ready to blow up in case troops came around that way, which they never did. We had to arrive in the middle of this town, there was no lights no street signs. But I had to find where the stores dump was to get stores to use to do the work.
And our fellows worked through the early parts of the morning when we got there, day break sort of thing. Right through till the next morning without a stop, without much to eat and very little to drink, until they got the job done. To mine this thing ready for blowing. One fellow was so thirsty he said, “Thank God
we’ve got some water,” and he opened it and it just happened that it was a petrol tin and he took gulps of this petrol and he was a very sick boy for days. We fed him all sorts of milk and cheese and everything to try and soak it up, but he took it right down into his guts. And he was very sick boy I tell you, for days after. I was
so tired I had positioned myself in a gutter off the side of the road. Using it like I was telling you about a weapon pit. Sort of thing that the sides of the road, and I would be down below level. The place had all been mined
the, all the explosives and the detonators were all in place and I was the NCO in charge of the exploder which was a electrical device that you’ve seen probably on TV and that, they push the handle down
and everything blows up because when you push the handle down it creates an electric current, instant, you don’t have to rely on mains power or anything like this. And I was lying in this gutter with my hand on the top of this handle and all it had to do was to push it down and the whole place would blow up. And
as the day goes on and I got sleepier and tired, until I went to sleep. And one of our officers came around and I was sleeping on the job. Naughty boy, you shouldn’t do that. But he understood the situation and knew what it was all about, but he did kick me off I must admit.
I didn’t go any further than that.
the America I think it was called, strangely. It had navy personnel on, it wasn’t only, wasn’t a commercial venture, it was a navy ship. And it brought us back to Adelaide where we were offloaded.
And we were billeted with people in Adelaide, no, no, we were billeted with people in the meadows 20 miles out of Adelaide. And it was a farming community and we were allocated, you in that house, you two over in that house, you in that house and there
were no men in the town because they were in the army . The only other people in the town, men-wise was First World War men that might have been on the farms themselves. And we spent, we were there for two or three weeks and I got malaria and went to hospital. Where I got the malaria from, I wouldn’t know,
but must have picked it up in the Middle East or the way through there. Because it takes a germination period of a few weeks to germinate. And they showed us a good time, then we went home. Then we came back to Adelaide.
We were billeted with another couple in Burnside just out of Adelaide. Very nice people called Mourne. And he was a mains motor type bloke, you might even know of it, Mourne & Seen [?], they were big car retailers. And we stayed with them for about
a month till the troops got all their gear together and we headed up north to Alice Springs on the old Ghan, the very old Ghan, the one that always tried three times to go up a hill. You know, it was very narrow gauge, nothing like what’s going up there today. The trains were more like
tram bodies than trains. In so much as the, remember the old trams they used to have seats going up the lengthwise and so that this had seats going lengthwise like that. We had blokes sleeping on the floor and on these things and some on the luggage racks above. Eventually we got to
Alice Springs where we were put onto tracks that had been impressed from the local people, not army vehicles, they were civilian vehicles that had been commandeered virtually. And they took us up to a place called Elliott, which is about
half way between Alice Springs and Darwin. Then we tried to build, rebuild the road there so that the convoys could get goods through, mostly American trucks through to Darwin. And we worked on that for about six months. Which was pretty boring really.
Very hot, not many amenities. The big deal would be to go up to, travel 40 miles to go to a film, theatre to watch a picture, and 40 miles back again. And then the first truck would leave and somebody else would say, “Who wants to go up there?” And there would be another two or three, hop on
another truck. So there would be three or four trucks going up this 40 miles up, and 34 miles back, 40 miles back. But who cared. Because if we moved from one camp or another I saw them, kick over a can of oil, 44-gallon drum of oil, rather than put it on a truck, we’ll get another one later on.
You know, who cares, pretty lax. Then we came from there and we were basically on our own, within the company, we were on our own. Most of the work there was very tedious and boring. Driving up and down on the roads, or it might be in
the pits that we used to find these, I believe they are bauxite, it’s a marble size clay stone, rounded to a fair degree, not perfectly round, but rounded. And we used to mine these in an open cut mine with scoops and
we used to fill the scoop up, dragging it behind a tractor. And we’d go over the top of a sort of a bridge which we developed in the pit that we were working in. We’d drive the tractor over that, it was like a bridge with a hole in the middle of it. The track
would go underneath, down into it like so. The bridge would be over the top of it, say here, and the bridge has got a hole in it, and as the scoop comes along here, it emptied its load straight into the scoop into the truck and the truck drives away with the load. It was a very basic type of operation before they had these huge grabs of things that they use now.
But it got the job done, even through it was pretty slow.
what can I liken it to, miniature Drouin, just a very small farming community. It had a dance hall in it and a theatre I think they doubled one to the other. But when we got there, there were almost no young men in the place at all. And here
we were a month off the boat from the Middle East, full of vigour, and amongst women who hadn’t seen a man for months and months and months. So a lot of them got on very well together. I know in the household that I was in there were two girls.
There were three of us all billeted in the one house. And they were quite young. I think one was about 16 or 17 and the other was about 21. And the eldest one was due to be married while we were there. And we
formed, well we pretty nearly ran the place as far as the wedding was concerned. One of our fellows was the best man. Because although the bridegroom had come back from overseas, he was one man on his own coming home to be married. So
he didn’t have any of his mates around him, so we formed the wedding party and he was the best man, my mate was the best man. We formed a guard of honour for the happy couple. We went to the wedding breakfast. And
there must have been 20 or 30 blokes there. Aunties and uncles were out, say in the kitchen, and the rest of us were all in here around a big table eating our heads off because this was real food, this wasn’t army tucker, this was real food. And the
relatives seemed to be doing nothing else but feed us, foreigners, strangers in their midst. I thought that was quite a comical sort of set up. The bride went off to her wedding, to her honeymoon and I went off to hospital with malaria. When I
came back from the hospital and I didn’t want to stay there, I came out early because I was frightened my unit might take off and the word that they were getting ready to move back to Melbourne. And I thought if I get shunted from here into some transit camp or something. I might never get back to the unit. Or it might be difficult, it might take a long while to get back there. So I decided
that I better tell them I’m all right, just give me some pills, I’ll take them and get better, back where I was. So that’s what I did. I took off with permission and took pills with me to combat the last parts of the treatment for malaria. But when I went in, the nurses didn’t know what was the matter
with me. Because I was shaking like that. And this is caused by the red blood vessels, ah, what do you call them, the red cells being eaten by the white cells, or vice versa. Something like that, which causes the shaking, I didn’t know what I had,
just I had what I felt was a cold, but why did I shake you know. Some older nurse with a bit of experience came along and took a blood test and said this is it. That's what it is, it’s malaria. So this was something they hadn’t heard of back here at this stage. Very rare occasion. So anyway I went back home and this lass came home from
her honeymoon. And her husband went back to his unit and we were still there. And I was crook, I tell you, I was still crook. And I was spending most of my time in bed. And this particular day I suppose she must have been feeling a bit lonely. She came in and crawled in the bed alongside me which was very nice, but
I got very upset when I found that the head officer in charge of the training camp was still teaching or trying to teach how to build trenches. And the army in by one of the
engineering manual shows in detail how to build trenches á la France type or Gallipoli type trenches. Now I had not seen any thought, or heard of a trench other than a weapon pit or
something like that to disguise yourself into a stone, like getting into a little pit for yourself. I had never seen anything that even remotely resembled that type of thing. So I just through this was load of hog wash. And I let everybody know about it.
And the powers that be didn’t like that, because they thought I was very much out of order by using these derogatory terms about their training. I saw it as complete and utter waste of time, of mine and anybody else’s
that was involved. So the senior officer thought he best get rid of me because I was no damn good to him where I was. But at the same time I had an attack of tropical ulcers. And they had the effect of coming out, they were caused by bites of some sort. They come out in ulcers
as big as your finger nail with a crusty top on them. And they seem to be sort of grow underneath. And the flies and we were basically in shorts most of the time, at this stage of the game, the flies would come along and they would bite that crusty and rip it, and oh. Go like this you know. So
I paraded sick to get these things done. Then it was a case of come back tomorrow. And then come back tomorrow to have them redressed, which was fair enough. But it meant that I, Instructor Watt was never on duty instructing, he was always in sick parade.
Which was all legitimate, no problem. But the next thing I knew was that I was being sent back to my unit which I was very pleased about. And I got back there and the adjutant called me into his office, at Aleppo. And he said
“What's all this about? You are supposed to be one of our head NCO s and I have got a note here to say, “Please don’t send any of your cast off NCOs.” That was pretty blunt. So I said, “Well I can only tell you what’s going on,” he said, “Do.” So I told him.
“Oh,” he said, “All right fair enough, go back to your unit.” And that was the end of it. But I could have got my throat cut out of that. If he’d like to take it another way. But I was lucky I got out of that. So I wasn’t charged or anything. So no problem. So where are we, we are back into Kapooka.
we could blow hole in an RSJ. Rolled steel joist, that’s what they use for an I-beam, sort of thick about that wide, and then it’s got a vein down here, just a thick usual steel girders you see. And we wanted to try and evolve something that would blow
a hole. And somebody had the idea if you moulded a piece of gelignite into a cone and put a hole up the middle of it. When it blew that hole, the air in the hole would be punched straight through the thing. That was sort of the theory of it. Although this required us to take the gelignite out of the
wrapping that it was in, it was water proof wrapping and mould it with your hands around what ever thing you want. Even if you wanted to do it in an ordinary cutting device. You would undo it and make a pack of it. Get it really hard and close up to the girder so there
were no gaps in it. And it would slice straight through. And in this moulding, something comes out of the gelignite into your blood stream and you finish up with one mother and father of a headache. To the point where you want to be sick, you can’t think straight, you are really as if you had been on a fortnight booze up.
You know it all happened in half an hour or so. It taught us not to take the gelignite out of the wrapping. But no that’s all that’s about the only thing there that, oh, you want to hear about a drunken episode? A mate of mine, as a matter of fact he finished up being
my best man and his name was Colin. And he told me that he had found a way to drink but not get drunk. And I said, “How do you do that?” He said, “Well, while you are drinking beer I am only having a small sherry.” Oh good, so the hourly session comes up and it’s a case of one drink, two drinks, three drink, four drinks
thank you very much, you see. And he’s keeping up with drinking these little sherries. Well by the end of the hour he was wanting somewhere to be sick. So the lavatory was out in the backyard of this pub. That’s how old it was, they hadn’t got around to bringing the toilets inside. The
dunny is out the back, no it was a toilet, but it was out the back. Well the upshot of it was he couldn’t stand up. And he finished up crawling into, putting his head into the basin and bringing his
heart up. So we decided, what we’ll do is go down to the park and just slack off for a couple of hours before we go to the dance at night. So we all tramped down, there would have been half a dozen of us. Lay ourselves around in the lawn in Wagga, in the park in Wagga. And it was
a sloping lawn down to a billabong which they had formed to make a sort of artificial lake. And we were all slacking off there, half asleep. And all of a sudden Colin stands up. He said, “I’m going for a swim.” “Going for a swim! What are you talking about?” And with that he took off down the slope so it was easy to run down,
and he was reasonably fit . He got to the edge and he threw himself out into a swallow dive, he landed in the water and he was thrashing the water with his arms and his feet were still out on the grass kicking like hell. But here he was, the wasn’t drunk, not much.
It was the finniest thing to see it happen. He was soaked from there up. And I think he just dried out, I don’t remember him ever going back to the camp at all, he just dried out during the day then we went to the dance at night. And probably had some more beers, I don’t remember that it was a highlight of the day.
So you know it wasn’t if you wanted a beer you either bought it or took it home with you. Or you stayed until six o’clock and did what I was saying. It was still going on after the war, still this happening, 19, oh I forget when it all started, I think early ’60s they brought in the open time, open to all hours
sort of thing. Because I know around about ’60 it was still on, so it would have been after that. Anyway. So then we got on board the boat and we went over to, went up to Brisbane, camped
there for a fortnight before we embarked on some vessels known as landing ship tanks. These were able to be opened from the front. So that you could get the tanks out, bit like he ferry down here, loads trucks on and cars on same sort of thing
as that. And we were loaded into this over to New Guinea. And going across the Coral Sea, we hit one mother and father of a storm. And it really tossed the boat around. Two or three blokes and myself had great pleasure standing up on the bow like the girl did in the Titanic,
you know. And we’d go up and, teeuw, it was a classic roller coaster, it was quite a thrill. We eventually got out of that, went to New Guinea. Got to Moresby and they set us into building a hospital. From the concrete up, form the concrete foundations up. We
started in on that we were there for about a fortnight and they all right you are out of there. Start something never seen what happens in the finish. So they loaded us onto a 500 ton coastal steamer. Just our unit. And when I say our unit, I don’t think it was full
unit, I think there were other parts of it went in other directions but the main part of it was on this boat and we were to go about three or four hundred miles to the west and then go into a river. Which was navigable, and
when we got there it was on low tide. And the bar was so had so little water over it that we couldn’t get over. So the captain decided he’d make it go over. So he turned to boat out to sea and he lined it up
when he got out here. Lined it up with opening of the mouth of the river and poured everything onto the engine, and we come steaming in at about 20 knots. And all of a sudden we hit the bar. And talk about put the brakes on, people went in all directions. We couldn’t stand up, because they hit this bar it was like hitting a brick wall. And no sooner had we
done that but the next following wave come over the top of us. And we had scattered blokes right the whole length of the alleyway. And two or three times while they had the engine turning over like it was going out of fashion, and each bump would push us a little bit further over the bar, you know, as the waves came in. And we
eventually got over the bar, in the middle of the night, this is. And all we can see around the edges are trees, forest. In this huge river about three times as big as the Yarra at this point, it’s no comparison, just a wide, wide river. And we stayed off at
a native village there, we go toff the boat, not before it hadn’t turned at the right time, and we finished up going into the bank and we finished up with trees hanging over our heads. We didn’t think he was a very good pilot this fellow, he led us into all sorts of trouble. But he eventually backed out of that. Just muddy areas, luckily there were no rocks, it was
just mud. We backed out of that and we went into the village where it was arranged that we would stay over night. Which we did. That was where I told my son how we invented air conditioning. Did you
and the natural round of the palm tree over here. And that’s how they formed their flooring, it wasn’t milled in the way that we know milled timber. So we had to sleep on this, so we put our ground sheets down and we put our mosquitos nets up to keep the mosquitos down. It was terribly humid,
just think and you drip with water because it was so humid. And I told my son how to, when these big mosquitos came along, they could smell us for sure, they would come right underneath, they could come full ball and they’d go straight through these palm trees with their stingers
and we’d see them coming they’d stick their heads up and we’d knock them off over so that they couldn’t get out again, and they would stay flapping their wings. So after we had four or five down of them, that created quite a draft so we were able to get to sleep. Regional air conditioning. But they were big mozzies I tell you. We didn’t exactly do that, but that was the story for the kids get a laugh out of it
every time I tell it. And then the next day they piled us into native canoes with an outboard motor on it. Probably about 10 of us in each boat. And we spent all the day going up the river, so you can imagine it was some river. There was very few bends in it, might have been bends on the edges. But you just went straight into it, you
finished up in a staging camp there for the night. And that was where, the only time, at that camp, which was just on the side of, hacked out of the forest, cleared down to the main trees. It had been cleared by the natives. And there had been tents set up for us there to go into, you know.
Now we’d gone from home to Kapooka, we’d gone from Kapooka to Brisbane we’d gone from Brisbane to Port Moresby, we’d gone 200 miles or so what ever it was to the west. And now we were coming up this river for a whole day. We must be on the other side of the
earth now. This was the feeling that you had, you were so far away from home. I got the jim jams, I got he feeling of absolute home sickness. And I don’t think I was the only one either. And I was almost at the stage where I was crying, you know, it was a strange, never had it before or since. And I pulled the blanket
over my head and said, right, you are here for 12 months so put up with it, get used to it. So that was the end of that, I didn’t have any recurrence, it was just that half an hour of absolute lost I suppose you’d say. So the next day we finished up going up to a town called
Bulldog which used to be a very, oh, major town in the area which was no town to us. It was the headquarters of a mining company, mining for alluvial gold. And they had a dredge in amongst the, a big pond and they had gradually worked their way around this, dragging up this stuff
and sort of using the water they were in the sluice this stuff and they’d gradually get the gold out of the ground. They’d have plates with mercury on them which used to attract the gold. And having got all this gold and they see that it’s filled up they take it off, clean it off and so
put it back again and start again. This is the way they got the gold out of the alluvial mines. And but our job, when we went there, again, was to build the road the Wau-Bulolo Road, they called it. And Wau was on the other side of the island. Hundreds of miles away
Our first job was, I think they called it the 20 mile camp where we had to set up, we started first thing in the morning and as we went along and we going up steps like that in full gear. You know you could almost not see where it finished, it was that steep.
Natives had cut sort of thing of pathway through it, and built ladders to help us get up these embankments. And it was hard tough, only for the youngest and the fittest. Anybody else, pack it up and go home mate. Well we cleared most of our older troops out or the
unfit ones by his time, fellows we brought back from the Middle East, who couldn’t hack the pace, they had been boarded out. And we got a new lot of young blokes in. So we walked 20 miles and along the way we’re there, tin hat, don’t need that. Gas mask, that went away, blankets went
that way and something else went this way. I think even a few rifles went, were thrown out alongside the track. Just anything to lighten the weight they had to carry. It was just almost an impossible feat. We’d walked this 20 miles in the day under these fearful conditions. Arriving at our camp spot which had been cleared
by the natives. And along with that, with us, came working parties of natives carrying tents and that sort of thing. And the army had a regulation that I think it was 30 pounds per man. You couldn’t give anybody more than that to carry, just one person. So If you had something that
was 60 pounds in it, you stuck it on a pole and you put one man on each end of the pole and you carried it that way. And the same thing applied with the natives, that was the army regulation. Don’t use, so that if you had something that was 120, then you needed four men to carry it. But then you had to have teams so that they could have a rest and sometimes
you might have three teams, all to carry this one article that was a bit heavier. So you might have a dozen men, at one stage they had a big tractor wheel, it was about that high, each tractor wheel, that needed four men to carry it. And when you think about what the terrain was like, I tell you, you didn’t want to be too old to take it on.
The natives had that work, they were pretty tough kids, believe me they were tough. And
have come through first and put pegs down. Six foot pegs with a white top on them. And that’s where the centre of the road was to go. Our job was to cut the trees down. Give us some axes we will chop these trees down, no trouble at all.
So they brought up fifty or so axes for us to use. They were store sharpened, so they weren’t like competition axes or anything like that. They were just as you would buy them form the store. So righto, we didn’t know anything about axes, we had one axeman, but he only stood back and laughed. Because he wasn’t going
to involve himself in this silly looking lot that are going out there. But we issued the bloke and started them in, there are the pegs, everything that side of it got to cleared off, that side of it, back to 10 feet and just keep going you see. When you get three or four blokes it’s bad enough, but if you’ve got twenty blokes all having a go, you got to give them a bit of space. So they spilled out over about
100 yards. And they chopped the trees down, about that far of the ground. Which is not good when you want a road built. But not only that, once the tree lopped, was lopped and it might have even been pushed off its foundation, it now had to fall.
In New Guinea they had a thing called a loyal vine. It’s a vine that grows right through everywhere, they use it, they strip it, they use it for sting, they use it as it is for binding heavy things. Or they strip it down to almost needle threading size. Depending, this is their reel of cotton that they use.
And it’s useful in everything they do, they make baskets out of it, they make clothes out of it, they bind up their rafts in it, they do everything with this useful loyal vine. And it runs along the tops of the trees. So when you push the tree over, you might push the tree nearly down
but that loyal vine will hang on, like you wouldn’t move it with a piece of blow torch. And so that went that way and then that went that way and the next one went that way, and that one went that way, and that one went that way. So that by the end of the day we had such a hell of 100 yards of half cut down trees like you couldn’t believe. You
couldn’t believe the mess that we had created just by wanting to get in and flex our muscles you know. Fortunately we had a gang of what they called ANGAU [Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit], Australian Native New Guinea Unit, I think. These were men who had been in New Guinea who worked with the natives, knew the native language, organised working parties for us
when we wanted then. If we wanted 50 men they would find 50 men form somewhere and bundle them down into the camp and they would work for the Australian army as a civilian. And the ANGAU men were there to sort out any problem that we might have. And they worked fairly closely with us. And
we said, look what’s happened, we chopped the trees down the damn thing won’t fall. He said, “Righto leave it with me.” So he set his blokes into this mess and I think it took them about four or five days before they got that all cleaned up. This was about 50 men they had. Working, from my memory our blokes were nursing sore muscles. And back. For the next week while these natives cleared the place and they cleared it as natives will do, down to the last leaf. And they chopped and they hacked and they cut, but they cut it away from the bottom first so they could walk through it at least, where we had trees here and bushes there and, they cleaned it all up and worked on it over about five or six days or so, and got it all cut down. Then they had to cut the main trees down, had to lop the top and run up like monkeys, chop, chop, chop, and ride the thing down. Which by this time had gradually sagged and sagged and it might have five feet to drop and they would go down with it. But they were very useful…
Destroying it would be a good word because it was well to start from that style was something quite unusual. We usually came in and fixed something up rather than trying to create something from brand new, you know. So it was, after we had learnt the lesson
of – we were able to handle it. The natives went ahead of us and we came on and dug out any bad or blew up or did something to get rid of these stumps that were still in the ground. And gradually shaped the road by hand with ordinary picks and shovels so that it started to look like a road. And then we came against the time where you went
along so far this way and all of a sudden the terrain started to go around like that. And you came across rocks. Well that was another story, because we weren’t set up for that. So we sent word back and sent one
of our fellows, while he was sort of a – I was going to say an engineer, he was a mechanic, he wasn’t a trained mechanic, but he had a lot of nous [knowledge] about being a mechanic. Anyway we sent him down back down to Bulldog to bring up what we
called a D4 tractor, tractors are known in size by their number, a D4 is smaller than a D6, the 8 is bigger than a D6. And so on. And so you get a D4 which is a little tom thumb almost type bulldozer, with a blade on the front of it. And it pushes earth out of the way in front of it.
And he had to work that bulldozer from not knowing how to drive it at all over this terrain and he had to find his way back us. Well that required him, well he couldn’t go up a mountain, a slope like this, so he had to find a way around it.
And sometimes he took himself right to the edge of a river with a sloping side right way down there was the river. Might be 100 metres down, so there was no way around it so he had to dig the earth away from the bank, push it over the side and gradually work himself with enough space so that he wouldn’t fall over the side. And that he
could move around the terrain. And by the time he got to us he was quite an efficient operator of the machine. But he had learnt it all his knowledge came from backing and filling and pushing and shoving and carrying on while he got up that 20 miles to where we were. So where we would
skirt round with a hand held picks and shovels, we would dig around some sections of this, just to make path around it. He would then come along and work this machine. So that it widened it up to something that a jeep could run along. And I suppose that’s not very different to what they did around the boulevard
around Collingwood and that area, around through to Fairfield. It started off as hand dug thing by the people that were on the dole. And they brought in the shovels and the horse drawn drags to drag the earth away. So it’s from
little oaks to great trees grow sort of thing, acorns to oak trees grow. The same principle is really being applied, we would make a track and this bulldozer would come down, enlarge us. But without us putting that track in he couldn’t have got into it anyway. That was okay until we came to real rock, real rock.
So the word back there, we want a compressor, we have got to do a lot of drilling to blast rock out of the way. Now how do you get, I don’t know how many tons that a compressor that you drag behind the truck, normally drag behind a truck. You couldn’t have a truck because there was no road
to put a truck on yet. So we had to dismantle this compressor entirely, entirely down to the last nut and bolt. And make it up into man loads. 30 pound per man. And that’s where the reels that I was telling you about came from. They
pulled this tractor down piece by piece, bolt by bolt. We had the mechanics as part of our establishment to have mechanics. They pulled it down they boxed it up and the natives carried it. Hundreds of natives we used for the trek and to make sure they all arrived there with all their limbs. And
still able to do some work, that whole 20 miles. And then having got it there they then reassembled the whole lot of it. And put it back together and used it to drill the holes to put the gelignite in to blast the rock and so make the road go around the bend, out of the rock. So that was
quite a massive undertaking really, for so little equipment. Today they would probably bring in a D8 and go through everything, you know, quite a heady smashed with a big one. We couldn’t get a big one in at this stage at all. So that was all right, then we came across area where we needed to put a bridge in, there was a river.
You couldn’t just put a culvert in, they were huge rivers. At one stage we were moving forward and as a unit, we were moving camp and we came to a time in the day it was about five o’clock. And we said, “Right, I have had enough for the day. Let’s camp here.” And we happened to be at the bed of a river which was running like a little
trickle. So the officer said, “Righto everybody, tools down, make your bed, lie on it and see you in the morning.” So during that time or the following morning it may have been, I’m not sure about that. At a later time the officer report back to his chief
which was probably the major and said, “I’ve got them all camped in the bottom of this creek,” and the major words were, “Well you bloody well get them out of there, and get them out of there quick, don’t stay there tonight.” Because at there, the habit of the rain is to fall during the night. And when it falls and if it falls in your area, it falls with such gusto that
that river becomes a 10 foot wall of water coming down the river. And anything that is in that river base is gone forever, finished kaput. And if he had troops there, they would be all gone. So we were hastily up anchored from there up onto the top of the bank where we camped for quite a while, while we
did further works around the area. And we had to set up, in this particular area, we had to set up a – oh by the way, that did happen. After we got out, it wasn’t the next day or anything as dramatic as that, but about a week or a fortnight later we got a storm that 10 foot boulders were seen to be running down in front of the water that was pushing them.
In that same bed that these blokes had been in. So only a fortnight or so out they could have been caught overnight in the – they wouldn’t have known what had hit them except there was an earthquake was coming. Because that would be the noise that it would create. As these boulders rumble down in front of the water. But we had a
cook house to build to make it look something like an orderly organisation. And we cut these small saplings down so that they didn’t have twig, not a twig on them. They were virtually shaved off with a machete to the point where they were just sticks. And were as big as about my arm.
And they formed the basis of the top. Now before we left there, and we left there probably within the month, those sticks were growing, had branches on them, like you wouldn’t believe. That’s how fertile the ground is, moist, atmosphere, moist ground, fertile ground and just everything
just explodes, can’t stop it. I heard a crack of thunder there one day, you’d swear it was 10 feet away from you, it was like a whiplash a hundred times louder, event the natives got scared of it. It seemed to go off in the bush, you know, just a little away from us. God, what a racket it kicked up.
There were always natives around there. Then we got word that we were doing the road all the time, oh, when they were building, that was an interesting thing, when we were building the bridge they rigged up a pile driver. And they must have got to the weight for the pile driver from
one of the local mining camps or something, because I don’t remember it being brought over land by natives. It would have been tons heavy, it must have something they were able to get locally fairly easily. Anyway they did have it and they were driving piles into the ground to form the basis of this
bridge. The pile driver works by the engine pulling the weight up, then it’s tripped at the top and it comes streaming down this guide rails and it hits the pile, and it might drive it that far. So you lift it up again
and boom, this continuous boom, all day and you might be sinking it that far sometimes, you might sink it that far every time it hits. But sometimes if there is something underneath that you don’t know about and you’ve got a steel tick point on the pier, it can start to go one side or the other. At the top of the
pile, which was probably that round, you’ve got a ring around the top, a metal ring inset at the top so that when this thing comes down, it’s virtually hitting the metal rather than hitting the timber. So if a pile is moving that way the little trick that these jackhammer
men have is to through over the top of this, trow a bag, if you want to pull it this way, you throw the bag there, the pile driver comes down and hits that first and tends to knock it like that. And so straightens it up and as soon as you get it back on line again, you take the bag away,
and so it proceeds to drive it straight. This was very delicate operation. This particular day this fellow who was a bridge builder, he had thrown this bag over the top of the pile and down came the thing, and he had done it again and again and again. To
bring this pile straight. This particular time he, when he threw the bag over the top it, some of it stayed up over the top, so he, that would have caused all sorts of problems. So he went like that to knock it straight, but they didn’t tell the fellow on the other end. And while he had his hand there
pushing, down came the thing, from that day on he was known as claw because his fingers finished up like that, hell of a trouble over that. But it was just one of those incidences that happened when nothing should happen, you’ve done it 500 times before. But this time he just left it there a little bit too long. That was it.
So next thing we knew, we were coming home.
You know, if you sometimes you might somebody to dig a certain area out and you might ask for 20 blokes to come along. And they would do in a week, what half as many of our blokes would do in three days. But they had a good time and had a sing song while they were doing it, nobody cared very much. Life just goes on you know, up in the mountains.
One day there we had a place called Zanag [?], we were camped at one stage and the officers had through that we should have some sort of recreation there was nothing within 500 miles that could cause recreation so they decided it was time we had some recreation.
So they set about damming the creek to make swimming pool, water hole. Sort of thing that our blokes could have somewhere to swim. sort of thing that was all done. That was organised and on this particular day which was party day, so anybody that did have any grog brought it out and those that didn’t put their
swim togs on if they had them, and if they hadn’t they just wore their pants anyway, sort of nothing else. And they all joined in and had fun and had apple on a string competition, you know, over the thing. And the slippery pole and all that sort of thing. Created very childlike exuberance, you know,
and this childish behaviour came out quite a few times while I was in the army. I remember once we were going back to the hockey games that we used to play against he girls. We found a team in Indooroopilly in Brisbane.
We organised that, the girls organised the dance party where everybody had cakes and things, and the games and things that we had were things like musical chairs and rats a rabbits and these sort of kids games. And I’ve seen some of the biggest drunks play those games to their hearts content. Have a
ball, you know, the simplest of things. And this was another case where we had a swimming pool and they entered into it with all the boyish enthusiasms you could find. Everybody had fun, take it in another context and they’d say, what’s up with them, you know. But this stage everybody had fun, I’ve got photos of it where they laughed
their head off. One bloke dressed himself as a butterfly, another fellow made himself a net and they chased one another around the rock. You know, that sort of thing was childish fun, but they enjoyed every minute of it. And then we forced ourselves onto some trucks and went
up over the mossy forests which was the Owen Stanleys the top of the Owen Stanleys up to about 9,500 feet. And then down the other side to Lae. And we got on the boat in Lae. And went back to Melbourne, And that happened I think I said it before
12 months after we landed exactly, to the day.
So we were sent home to re-train. But before they could do anything we had to have leave. So I came home and got married, I had only known my wife a fortnight before I went away before. Now I come home for a fortnight to three weeks leave and we get married. This was an enjoyable institution to belong to. And
I spent three weeks of honeymooning, I suppose you could say. My wife had taken the time off from work. And then I said goodbye to her again. And after
3 weeks and went back up to, I’m not sure where we went to, to be quite frank, but sufficient to say that we eventually arrived back without much ado, up on the Queensland Tablelands up at Kuri [Kuranda]. Where camp had been set up
and we were to train, re-train, still didn’t know where for. It turned out of course that it was to go to Borneo. And re-training was really not the right word to use actually. But that’s what they called it. We were to re-train. We had 9 months there,
the only thing I learnt about was Japanese mines. In 9 months. Now I could teach you all of that before you left home. Before you left here to go home. I was able to learn and that’s how long it took me to learn about these mines. But we had 9 months to do that. The result was that of course the blokes got bored to tears, and
we’d be out teaching them, showing them how to delouse a particular type of mine. And you’d have to wake him up, he’d be asleep in the sunshine. This is what I said before about discipline you know. There was discipline but when there’s really, another instance of boredom, officer said, righto
motor unit, I’m going to come around tomorrow morning and inspect your vehicles, make sure they are all trim, taut and terrific. So the next morning he comes around, “You reckon that’s clean? That’s not clean. Make sure that’s clean. I’ll be back tomorrow.” Or, “I’ll be back Thursday,” or whatever.
And Thursday would come and they would be spending all their time. I don’t know what I’ve got to do to impress you but I mean your cars have to be clean and I mean clean. And this time he came out with a white glove and he wiped it across the engine. And he got an oil mark, “That’s not clean. Clean it.” And that whole exercise
was to divert the blokes from being bored. Firstly they knew by now that they had to get their car clean so they worked like hell at it to get it right. Secondly, they worked up a healthy rage and hatred for officers and anybody that looked like an officer. Because this was pure stupidity what they were doing. But
it gave them something to think about. And so they survived, but it was a shockingly boring time.
when I came home, I was talking to a fellow, he made blinds. And I said to him, I said, ‘How is it that I come here in amongst a whole lot of machinery like sewing machines and your place is absolutely spotless, how do you do it?” He says, “Well every now and again we don’t get very busy, so I tell the girls
right, I want this place 100 per cent totally clean.” So they have got to get down on their knees and they’ve got to sweep the cobwebs away from under their machine, they have got to oil their machine, they’ve got to clean the floors around the machine. And after doing it for two days, more orders have come in. All of a sudden he’s got a lot of work that’s got to be turned out, get to it, we’ve got work to do.
So A, they worked like hell, they are not bored to tears, they are not sitting around going, “Oh we haven’t got much to do, we’ll just do it this way.” All of a sudden there is an urgency around the place. He’s got two jobs done, he’s got the place cleaned up, have happy staff and he’s got his work done. So this was all sort of in line with what I am talking about with the officers making such a big deal about cleaning
the engine. There is a way to do it. I had one bloke jack up on me, he said, “I’m not going on parades.” “Yes you will.” No I won’t.” How do you deal with somebody that won’t turn out on parade. Stamp and raise as you like, he’s made up his mind he wasn’t going to do it. I had no alternative but put him on a charge sheet.
Up before the officer, the major, the major says, “All right we’ll sting you through your pocket book.” He deducted two weeks wages or whatever. Next day, nah, righto, that didn’t fix you, so righto, so you’ll have four hours on the bullring. That means
using marching up and down, up and down up and down up and down. Using your rifle for exercises and doing all that sort of thing, and sergeant will take you. So I had to do the penalty as well as him. Now all of a sudden I am getting very dark, because I don’t want to be marching up left right let right, right left, right left, and so on, I don’t want to be doing that. I’ve
got plenty of other things I can do. I can play chess but I had to look after him. And his attitude was I don’t give a damn how I walk, he walked but he didn’t march. He did his rifle exercises as if he had never seen a gun. What do you do with him? Next morning, “I am not going on parade.” Now you can’t physically kick him out.
But anyway eventually that’s that did happen to him. We put him on charge again and the officer called in the bulls as we called them, the military police, and they took him away and that was the last we saw of him. But eventually they dishonourably discharged him and he was out of the army. But it was only a few months short of being finished
anyway. He could have finished it off and been entitled to all his entitlements, as it was, he gets nothing. Dishonourably discharged, he wouldn’t do what he was told to do. Can’t shoot him, just because he wouldn’t stand to attention properly. Anyway he got boarded out. And we learnt about Japanese mines.
Which I was glad of later on when we got to Borneo.
Involved too. There were navy there was army, there was air force there was everything there that you could think of it was a huge staging camp, Morotai. And nothing else happened other than regular duties and getting ready for the big push that we were told was coming. We were going to land at Balikpapan.
And they loaded us onto landing craft tanks I think they were. Landing craft tanks into amphibious tanks known as
alligators. They were just like a Bren carrier, only the tracks were made like you’d make a paddle wheel, say lets put it this way, the ordinary track of a tank would be like that, say that size. But with an alligator, it’s like that size so the track came through the water it scoops it up
and works like a dog paddle. And that was, we were on those, and we had to work our way through all the shot and shell and rockets and big bombs, big shells that were coming
from the naval craft which were standing well out, 10 miles out from shore with no problem for those big guns. And they were lathering the hell out of the shoreline. I saw, I don’t know whether you saw the first day,
the 8th day, what was the name of that show? The landing at Normandy, Saving Private Ryan, that was the one. Now if you have seen that or if you go to see it, watch the landing. Because what happened there was almost exactly the same as what happened at Borneo except we didn’t have
any people firing back at us, of any consequence. Whereas they got shot out of when they were still in the tanks, in the crafts, but they were shot at with a massacre… We had everything but that. We had the entanglements, barbed wire entanglements that had been blasted out of the way by
the navy seals had gone in earlier. And like frogmen, and gone in and blasted all this stuff out of the way. There was rockets coming from the various smaller navy boats. And to see them firing is just awe inspiring, where they might have,
well, I’m not sure how many they have but they must have been firing them off at 20 at a time at least. Like, shoo, shoo and shoo, almost as fast as that, bloody rockets 20 at a time would be going off. In the narrow section of the beach, where we were going to land.
There were bombers, American bombers coming over, constantly, hour after hour. Blasting the place, you think, go nothing can live through that. Nothing could live through it. It was hell on earth there that morning. Absolutely hell on earth. But still some of the Japanese came out of their bunkers and made a nuisance of themselves. That
was all, it was a nuisance, they didn’t sort of overran the lot of them in no time. But we were in these alligators and we hardly go our feet wet. From memory I think we disembarked to the rear, whereas the boats you saw, landing craft
in [Saving Private] Sergeant Ryan, they all came out the front. Well by this time they had woken up to the fact that that wasn’t a good idea, because you could get shot as you came out. They just trained me to train the gun directly. And that would be that. So we came out the back. And dispersed around up onto the beaches.
Very little resistance if any, I never heard any in my section anyway. But our job then was to go in front of these alligators and find any mines or whatever, and we found after we had been on the thing for a few hours. We started to find
trip wires, wires that would run across about that far off the ground. For 50, 100 yards, and when you traced them you found that they disappeared under some of this paper, um, not paper, palm fronds, matting type things.
And in one instance I found one and it had I think of a mother’s ordinary skewer, about that long. Attached to the wire. And then we had heard about these mines that were adapted from these
sea mines, like the ship, ah, well put out and then submarine mines, sink down an blow up when they get to a certain distance. They had been adapted as a land mine. And the operation of it was, the whole size of it was about a 44-gallon drum. Drum stands about that high and about that round, 44-gallon
drum. Down the centre of that there was a tube. Between the tube and the outside of the thing was filled with explosives. At the bottom of this tube was a spike. And held by this pin or skewer type thing
was a billy type filled with high explosives. And held in position, the handle of it was held in position by this skewer, pull the skewer out the handle comes up, the billy drops down, hits the plunger and kaphewy. The whole area blows up,
and it could blow a hole 12 or 14 feet across and about 8 feet deep. So this was quite a blast, you know. I found this tube, this skewer and thrashed it where it should have been and found that there was this thing at the bottom, hauled it up and
realised what it was. Looked at it, it was a dud, it hadn’t gone off. Bu this time there were all sorts of personnel coming around and a lot of tanks. And I called a few of them over and I said, “Look, this is what we are finding. This skewer has come out of this one over here, because I just found one there
that’s come out and it’s got down and it hasn’t gone off.” So we were all standing around this area where it had this matting over the top of it, to camouflage the whole 44-gallon drum, which was sunk right down to the level of the ground. And I said,
“You’ll find when we take these things off.” And I told him what the whole operation, so I proceeded to take the matting off only to find this handle that comes up, and things go, well if ever did a little bit of kicking, that was the time. Because I had probably six or eight tank officers standing around. The weight of those
palms had been enough to hold that handle in its original position even though the skewer had come out. But as soon as I took the weight off, by taking this palm off, the whole thing operated. And here we are all looking at it like this. Now if it had gone off, I
wouldn’t be telling you this story. So it was a lesson that I learn that you don’t take anything for granted. But everybody was happy because instead of having six or eight dead people. Because looking over the top of it, we’d have to be either dead or very, very seriously burnt or blown up or something.
And it wasn’t long after that that a fellow came back from the front line which was only a quarter of a mile up the road from where we were at this stage. With an officer on the back of the tank, a dead officer on the back of a tank. And he didn’t know what to do with him. I don’t know
what to do with him either. Because this was only hours after the landing. So nothing was really organised, chain of command wasn’t there yet. So I said, “All right, we’ll take him off here, leave him with us we’ll do something with him.” So after asking quite a few questions around the place, nobody knew any better than I did what to do with him, so I simply dug a
grave ourselves, being pick and shovel men. And put him in it and put a cross on it and put his helmet on it and so forth. And eventually, later on in the day, a padre came up to me and said, “I’m looking for so and so, so and so.” I said, “Well if you go back down the road about two or 300 yards, you’ll see a cross on the side of the road. I buried him there.” “Oh, good
thanks very much, we’ll go and find him and dig him up.” So he would have gone back and taken him up, buried him with the dignity that was necessary. But it was a bit of a spooky experience what to do with somebody. And seeing a dead person wasn’t new but to have one landed in your lap sort of thing, under those circumstances, what do you do?
So anyway that was all right, got rid of him. And then I think the next couple of days after. There is not a lot of time here because I think it was on and off in about three weeks or something. So I don’t recall exactly how it fits together. But at a later time
by a few days they wanted to bring tanks up the road and wanted to be at a certain point overnight. By the next morning. But they had this bloody great tank trap which was a huge hole dug in the road to stop anything going past it. So the officer said, “I want you to put a bridge over the top of that
by six o’clock in the morning ready to take vehicular traffic.” “Okay, all right. Why can’t they go around it?” Because A, there is houses there, and B, the ground is so wet and soggy, it won’t hold vehicles on it. Only place is to come over
this tank trap on the road. And there is no hardware shop opened that particular day, how do you do it? Anyway we had a tank assigned to us, so I said, “One, two, three, four, five, make it six
telegraph posts, pull them down and drag them up here.” No trouble. So he gets his chains out and sticks it onto this post and out it comes. And put that over the top, and held it down in position by digging the earth into a little bit a groove like this. So
sitting it back a fair way from the edge, so it wouldn’t have any twisting effect or anything like that. All this happened overnight and with no lights. All the lights, I pulled all the lights down if there was any, I would have been pulling them down and mucking their circuits up and doing all sorts of things. We pulled those down, we pulled other areas to pieces to
make decking. I don’t exactly remember where we got those from but they were scrounged. There was nothing came out of a store. We found some bolts, spikes that would normally be used on railway lines. We found them. And we
used this other timber as decking across these telegraph posts and a bit of tidying up. And six o’clock we had trucks going across it, very gingerly to start with I must admit, they went at a dead slow pace you know in case of any accident or something gave way or it wasn’t strong enough and it finished down the ditch.
But everything went fine and it wasn’t long after that of course that they just bulldozed it out of the way and filled the hole up. But for the time it did the job that was necessary to be done. And all the blokes were, hurrah when the first lorry got over the top of it, it was good.
just didn’t get anything that I know of. It would probably be noted that he did this, you know. Because ultimately I did get an MID [Mentioned in Despatches]. But I thought that might be because of the tank, there was an officer of the tank that may have said, “Your bloke did a good job for us.” And it filters back
through the system and it’s a case of oh well we’ve got an issue of five MIDs, three MMs [Military Medal] and who are we going to give them to. This sort of thing goes on. So I got one after, I was back home by quite a few months, a year or so before I read it in the paper. That was the first I knew about it.
Then I got a certificate to say that King George was very pleased. So and it wasn’t long after that we were hearing news that Nagasaki and Hiroshima were being bombed out of existence. And we thought, “It’s got to finish, it can’t go on,” you know, when that’s – and we got word that that was happening,
it can’t go on, it must come to an end very soon. That was the scuttlebutt around the area so this particular day I thought I would take a day off. So under my own say so, I took the day off and went with a couple of other blokes on a scrounging expedition to see what we could find. And when we were pulling these houses down we found there was
a tremendous amount of machinery, machinery by the way of sewing machines that type of thing. Or small engineering, small engineering works, almost backyard stuff. But the place was littered with these small houses that were burnt blown or otherwise
dispensed with, because they were mostly burnt, I think, because they were mostly made out of reeds and stuff like that. And anyway I came across this piece of material which was plain white and about as fine as your handkerchief. And I picked it up and I thought, that feels beautiful. And when I went back to the
fellows and to tell them that I thought this was beautiful, this was lovely stuff, very fine, the sort of things the natives would make undergarments of the women. And they though I was gone off my nut, they thought I was troppo completely. But it said to me then at the time, that thou shalt go along the line of materials.
You know, I got that feeling that whatever I did I wouldn’t do any good unless I could feel those materials. And that was the way it turned out, I came home went into the retail haberdashery and that sort of thing. And eventually after managing three or four shops all to do with fabrics, took on my own business at
Mentone, which is still operating as a curtain business and blinds today. Owned by me worked by them. And its, it was a what do they call it, a money tree because at the time I went down there which was about 1956, the year of the Olympics,
Beaumaris and Mentone area was just building up. And I was right there in the middle of it, fixing it for them and I had 20 good years of work, with an odd hiccough here and there, which took me 20 years and then I retired for the first time. And a mate of mine
died, he was in the same business. And I went to work with his widow for another 10 years, but only as a consultant. And that gave me the time that I needed to sort of settle down and not think too much work and not think too much about doing nothing. I had
something to do but it wasn’t terribly much but it was nice. And that paid. And it was great. So I finished up retiring eventually fully in 1990, I think it was. And I have done nothing but play bowls and do the garden and the house and my wife died
about – in 1989. And just before I retired actually, 1989 she died. And I’ve lived on my own ever since and loved every minute of it. And you know one of the nicest things, I’ll tell you, I won’t tell her, I can fart when I want to and nobody cares.
so you know its, I’ve enjoyed my life. I’ve done pretty much, I’ve had the luck of the draw. For instance, talk about the luck of the draw, all right, luck as I told you right through, everywhere. A mate of mine down the road here, I was his best man, he was in the army with me. He said to me,
he said, “Why don’t you put yourself in for the Sol Green Homes?” And he had been at me for a long while before this. I said, “All right, okay.” So I applied for a Sol Green home and the advantage of it was that this Sol Green was a philanthropic gentlemen that owned a series of
shops in furnishing shops, furniture shops, right throughout the country and he had put a few millions pounds away. This was a lot of money in those days, in 1945–46. And he started building homes for ex-servicemen that had qualifications
and one of the qualifications was that you had a family, he had a good army record, the longer the better. And when I applied for this, I was lucky, again. And I got this house. And the beauty of it was, there was no interest charges. The trust that this fellow set up paid the interest on the house. And you can believe this or not, but
when the final payments came out, the final quote for the house was about five and a half thousand pounds, which would equate to about 20,000 dollars on today’s prices. And they said, oh no, ex-servicemen couldn’t possibly afford that, we’ve got a bit of money left
we’ll deduct 20 per cent off the price. So I got the whole, everything, house land, road built, everything for just over 5000 pound, no interest, thank you very much. That was good so I have been lucky, lucky all the time.
that you learn there stand you in good stead anyway. I was still only 26 and a half years old when I came out of the army. So I wasn’t exactly what you would call an old man. But I’d been through a lot and seen a lot, been near a lot, even if I hadn’t been active in it.
I don’t, I suppose I could say I enjoyed the experience, but that’s only because I came out of it with good health. And without my good health constantly, it could be a different world completely.
You know if I had had a leg shot off or something like that, the world would have been different. As it was I was lucky. Came out of it with good health. The worst I had was malaria, that’s the worst thing I had. Been much the same every since. The worst thing that ever happened to me. Apart from a few cancer spots on my skull and things like that
which are really nothing. Just superficial stuff, I’ve been lucky. I had a good family upbringing. I had good people to teach me, people who had a very
good regard for what they were doing. They liked what they were doing; they liked teaching me what they were doing. And I talk about people that were army, in the army, permanent army, was there, it was their life. The army was their life, they earned their money that way, it wasn’t just a part time
business. And they were all good men, you know, I didn’t find any ratbags amongst them and possibly because of the disciplines that they had to look to. So but, I think that the best thing that happens is to select the right parents.
I think that’s the… If you pick crook parents, or bad health parents, you haven’t got a hope; you are behind the eight ball before you start. But my, although my mother died very young, her mother lived on to a great age of about 90. And my stepmother, although that has nothing to do with me, she went on to 99.
She was always Mum, never called her anything else. She was 99. Both my maternal grandparents lived quite to quite a good age. So that has its bearing on what happens. Both the grandmothers were well into their 90s. One grandfather was about 60 and he died of a heart attack but the other grandfather, he went on to his 80s. You know, and here I am at 85, beaten the lot of them. Well I have past most of them except the women. I’ve past all the men, older than any of the men so far. But most of them…