Archive number: 1794
Preferred name: Bert
Date interviewed: 29 April, 2004
2/9th Infantry Battalion
You are listening to the interview audio
We might just start with getting you to introduce yourself and telling us your date of birth.
My name is Lilley and my two Christian names are Alfred Hubert and I was born in 1918 on a Good Friday
29th March, which makes me about 86 and a bit today.
Whereabouts were you born?
Longreach, back there in Longreach. When I was about eleven or twelve my people left me with my aunt, she had a hotel and I stayed there for about six months and went to school out there. I don’t remember a great deal about
it, but I can remember going to school and that sort of thing, yes.
So would that be your earliest memories of going to school out there?
Oh no, my earliest memories were of Yeppoon, I was a little nip. From then, Dad was in hotels all his life, well practically, he was actually a horse breaker and he worked out on the stations of Longreach, but my mother’s sister
did extremely well and she had a nice place and two stations and a hotel. She started with nothing and wound up with that so she did pretty good. She helped him into the first hotel, which was the Strand Hotel in Yeppoon. He did fairly well out of that and he then toured around the area and parked me in Longreach and he and Mum went around and looked at various
hotels that I could buy or rent or what have you and they settled on the Victoria Hotel Mackay. At that particular time, Chinatown was in Mackay, it’s long since been cleaned up of course, but this hotel was on the corner of Chinatown and it was quite a profitable one. I think the old man, from what I can remember, my sister knows more about the history of the family than I do, but anyway I was mainly away a lot of the time, but anyway he’d saved about a thousand pound,
this is ’26, ’27 so that was quite a fortune in those days and the hotel I think that he wanted to buy was about six thousand dollars so he went to Mitchell-Moore in Mackay and Mr Mitchell-Moore was there at the time and he tells the story that he went there and he said, “Would you support me into buying this thing?” He said, “How much do you want?” and he said, “How much have you got?” He said, “I’ve got about a thousand dollars.”
He said, “That’s not very much for a six thousand pound buy, you’ve got a bit of nerve coming here asking me to support you.” Anyway he did. The hotel was quite a profitable one and Dad stayed there for three or four years and he sold out, I think he got about ten thousand pounds in those days, of course he retired, he was just on forty years old. He was
a bit of an optimist, he just couldn’t stay that long. We lived privately in Mackay for about twelve months I suppose and he went out to Longreach and left me there and came back to Rockhampton and went into the Leichhardt Hotel in Rockhampton, he leased that. He stayed in that right up to the war years and then got out. He didn’t feel like, he was getting old anyway, he and Mum, and they didn’t
feel much like staying there and putting up with all the ruckus of soldiers and what have you. They lived privately in Rockhampton. In the meantime I joined a bank, I was unemployed for eighteen months, we went to a tech [technical] college and then I got a job in a bank and I stayed in that in Rockhampton for about six or seven months and I was transferred to Sarina.
I stayed there for a couple of years and the war broke out, Menzies asked for volunteers at the time I was down at Yeppoon in the 42nd Battalion, we were on training and they asked for volunteers so I volunteered and went into the army.
Before we get into the details of your service, let’s just go back and talk a bit more about your years growing up. When you were in Yeppoon before your dad got into hotels was dad away a lot as a horse breaker?
No. He was a horse breaker when he was on Strathdarr in Longreach, that’s a station out west, you probably know all about it. He had charge of all the horses and he always used to boast that he had a paddock
of twenty thousand acres, which was more than most places, it was a very big station Strathdarr. He was originally a Victorian, I don’t know much about his early years but I think he had his elder sister reared him and she was married to a relieving bank manager down in Victoria and he travelled all around the country. He got a job then, as I understand it, with Gordon and Gotch.
He was a fairly big man my father and a bit of a rough, not a bad brawler apparently because his job was to make sure that the newspaper boys on Spencer Street Station weren’t molested or pushed away from their stands. That was his job in Gordon and Gotch. Then from then on I understand that he and another chap brought some cattle up from Victoria to Rockhampton, they were
taking it out to a station to Strathdart in Longreach. They arrived in Rockhampton, they unloaded the cattle and of course the various things like that and the purser on the ship had sold them some tobacco and cigarettes at a very small price because he was on board ship and then of course he informed the Customs. The Customs arrived in the hotel
that they were staying at, which was the Criterion in Rockhampton, and they were heavily fined, as much as they could afford anyway, so they didn’t make much profit out of that. Anyway when they were in Rockhampton he went out to Longreach and met my mother and he got married and then went down to Yeppoon to the aunt, by this time was extremely
successful. She helped him get into the hotel at Yeppoon. He had spent some time in horse breaking and fencing and that type of thing that you do on a station and that type of thing. He always said that he was a jackeroo, but I don’t think he was somehow. The jackeroo. Do you know anything about jackeroos on stations? Well you know that they eat with the owners and the rest of it and he gave himself a bit of a high
position there but I very much doubt whether he had that position. I don’t know, as a fencer and a horse breaker I wouldn’t think that he had, but he could have been a jackeroo.
Where is the first place that you remember living with mum and dad?
Yeppoon. Strand Hotel, Yeppoon. Then they sold out there and lived privately for a while before they went to Mackay. Yes that’s the first, that would be about the first place I remember.
I must have been about a five year old at that time. That would be about right.
What do you remember of the hotel?
It was wooden, a big wooden place right on the beachfront and it’s of course long since been knocked down and much better rebuilt. It was quite well living there. There was a billiard saloon next door and I used to go and watch the men play billiards at that stage and I remember they had these
long forms with the high back and I fell through the back, I wasn’t big enough to reach up to the top of the what’s its name. I remember that quite well. I think that the man that owned the place was a man called Littlejohn; he was the hairdresser and billiard keeper.
Whereabouts in the hotel did the family live?
They had private residences there, in the hotel.
It was only a ground floor place, that’s all it was. Quite a big area and they lived quite comfortably there and had their own separate rooms there.
Was it a hotel where people came and stayed?
Oh yes. At that time Mount Morgan was in full swing, it was a going concern before the gold became a little bit more difficult to get and
Mum always used to tell me the Mount Morgan miners used to come down there for a weekend and they were big spenders and she said it was quite common to see them light their cigarette from a ten pound note. Whether that was right or wrong, she swears by it. So they must have been, the beer, the hops must have been flowing pretty well. Otherwise
I had a little go-cart, push cart that I used to drive around and annoy people. It was horse and buggy days; there were no cars then. That’s the thing that’s rather interesting in Longreach, while he was out at Longreach there were windmill mechanics and his partner was a German who was apparently a fitter and turner from Germany
and they went around fixing all the windmills on the station. There was a doctor out there that purchased the first car to go to Longreach and he, being used to a horse and buggy, when he came to the Thompson River he just decided to go into it. Well he went into it all right, but the car stopped in the middle and he left it. It was there for about a fortnight and these two fellas,
my Dad and the other chap, saw this car and they went to the doctor and they asked him what he wanted for it. He said, “I don’t want anything for it, it’s not worth a damn. You can have it”. So he gave it to them. They pulled it all to pieces, they were lucky, I don’t think they knew anything about or a great deal about electrical works but they didn’t have to because it had a magneto. Obviously they never pulled that apart, but they pulled the rest apart and put it together and my mother takes up the story
and tells me that Dad got into the car and went to drive it and turned it to the right and it went to the left. The steering arm at the bottom, instead of being up there it was down here and made the wheels go the opposite way. That was the about the only thing I remember there.
Did mum and dad both work in the hotel?
Yes. Mum was a barmaid. That’s rather interesting. To take you many years forward, I was married by this time
and had a couple of children and my wife’s parents were staying in Ipswich and we were staying with them, just for a holiday. My wife and her sister went to mass at seven o’clock that Sunday night. I have to say that Belle’s mother didn’t like me at all, I don’t know why, but anyway she didn’t and I remember sitting, we were both sitting in the kitchen and
not talking, being with people that didn’t like each other you know what I mean, you can imagine what it was like. She happened to mention to me, “You know, before I was married I was a barmaid, before I married Joe”. I said, “That’s funny, my mother was also a barmaid” “Was she?” She said, “What do you know about that?” From then on we were pals. Just goes to show you, doesn’t it. That’s all.
What sort of lady was your mum?
Lovely. Very good looking too, very pretty woman. She was a very lovely…she was a wonderful mother. I leant towards my mother, not so much toward my father. My sister, we were only the two of us, she was quite friendly and like mother and child growing up, but she was very fond of my father.
You often find that in families where the son leans towards the mother and the daughter leans toward the father sort of thing. She knew much more about family history than I did, because Dad never told me hardly anything, but that doesn’t say that we were bad friends, we got on very well together. But we weren’t what you’d call pals, you know, I was mostly away from them, I was away at school and I was away in the
bank being transferred here, there and everywhere. I only got home for holidays.
In the years that you lived in the pub as a young fellow who looked after you when your mum and dad were working?
They lived in the hotel, their rooms were in the hotel, we lived there, we were with them all the time. All the time we were home, yes. There was no separation of any description. Mum would be doing her
work in the office and that sort of thing. She ran the house while the old man ran the bar, with the help of barmaids of course. There was no suggestion of being separated in any way whatsoever, we were just like a normal family, just the same as living privately really.
Was it exciting as a young fellow growing up in a pub like that?
No, not really. Just normal living. I never thought it anything,
no not really. At that time I became interested in swimming and my Dad employed a coach and I spent a lot of time in the morning, of course before I went to work and I finished work, I’d be training all the time in the summer time that was. Eventually I won a couple of championships in the Queensland swimming.
So I became a reasonable swimmer but nothing compared to what they do today. Their time, even a ten-year-old girl is hitting the times that I had for freestyle.
Was that your event?
Freestyle and backstroke, yes. I didn’t do any good. I won the, in Brisbane – I think I must have been about fifteen at the time –
I came second in the country championships. Country excluded the Brisbane people. Then the state championships I won at freestyle. We also went, we took a relay team of boys down to Brisbane, all fifteen or under, and we won that and created a record, which has never been broken.
And I’ll tell you why it’s never been broken, because that was the last time they swam in yards, then they switched to metres and it was a metre pool you see and it was petitioned off at the fifty yards. So that’s the only championship, that’s the only record I ever held and it was never broken and never will be.
That’s a good thing to have isn’t it?
in a sort of a way.
What do you remember about the types of customers at the hotel?
Commercial travellers. They called them commercial travellers then, which they were, and for their firms and they came from all over Australia. There were four hotels in Rockhampton that catered for them, so they were well catered for. Today of course they call them
Would they just be passing through for a day or two?
Oh no, they used to bring their samples with them and there were sample rooms and they had about seven sample rooms there and they’d just lay these samples and they’d call the people in from the various stores to look at their samples. Then they’d pack their samples up and away they’d go to another town.
They were quite a ‘fellow well met’, just as you can imagine they had to be, and they spent well.
What sort of samples would they have?
Oh, clothes, watches, you name it, tools, everything. Also another one, I can remember a chap he was a Jew and by God he was a good salesman and
he used our hotel’s dining room for the New Zealand forest products; he was selling those products that didn’t turn out too good, but turned out in the long, very long run very good because there was a lot of money in it, in pine. You see them all over the place. The people that bought into them and he did very well too, people were coming to see him day and half the night.
They waited a long while for any dividend. Many, many, many years but eventually they came good. That’s what it was, pine products. Of course now all your houses are built of pine anyway.
What about meal times in the hotel for the family?
We ate in the hotel dining room. We had a special table of course and we had no problems, just like in an ordinary private house.
Would the customers be in there eating at the same time?
Oh yes, my word, yes. There would be maybe ten, twenty, thirty people in the place. There was one time, a couple of years I was at home at this particular time, the Country Women’s Association used to have a meeting in Rockhampton and of course they came from all over Queensland. The hotel was full and the dining room was full and you could hear the
noise of the conversation when all the women get together about three streets away, I can remember that well.
So what sort of mischief did you get up to as a young fellow?
Oh I don’t think that I got into any mischief at all. Not that I can remember until I bought a motorbike. That was long before I was transferred. I thoroughly enjoyed that and saw a lot of the country, my word I did, I went all around
The pushcart that you mentioned
That’s a little horse cart, remember you’d have a pedal and you’d pedal it, mainly a slab of wood with the horse’s head on it and steering. I became quite proficient at it. I could go anywhere in the thing. Push it as a kid, yeah I can remember that quite well.
Would that have been bought or would your dad have made it?
No, it was bought.
Apart from the pushcart, what other sorts of things did you do to entertain yourself?
Went swimming and nearly got drowned.
A wave hit me and knocked me flat. I was young of course and the old man held me up by the foot and let the water drain out of my system. I can remember that. Oh, one thing I can remember and the only time I’ve ever seen one was a
water spout. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one, they’re a typhoon over the water and they suck the water up into the clouds. Tell you how foolish we were, they’re very dangerous things because if they come across to land you go up with it, the ones in America take motorcars and houses and everything with them. This is the type of thing that isn’t very common in Australia.
Thank god. This wasn’t on the land but in the water and very visible to us and we just stood there looking at it. Had it swung our way we’d have been dead for sure, nothing more certain. That’s ignorance is bliss sort of thing. I can remember that well. The sky, it wasn’t raining, but the sky was black with this water going up and it was quite a large amount of water
going up. It was there for quite a while, a quarter of hour maybe twenty minutes. Then it sort of disappeared over the horizon still sucking water.
Where was that?
When you were saying that you used to go swimming, where did you swim?
On the beach. Have you ever been to Yeppoon? It’s a lovely seaside resort. It’s a very big seaside resort now; in those days it wasn’t quite that big.
What was the beach like then?
Very good, but there was very little surf because the reef was just not very far outside it. All the waves were broken up and the big waves, you couldn’t have a surfing contest there because there wasn’t any surf. There was a little bit of surf there. We made the most of it. Later on when I had the motorbike, I’d go down to Yeppoon and a mate of mine
he’d be on the back. I saw a bad accident on the way. It was a flat-top truck and it was a school picnic or a church picnic, more or less, and the children on it would have been anything up to thirteen and fourteen down to about eight or nine. Of course like kids, the truck was going slow and they had their legs hanging over the side. On one particular side they brushed with a car and you can imagine the mess.
What it did to the children’s legs. That calmed us down a bit, prior to that we’d been speeding a bit, but we continued our journey at a much quieter pace.
You mentioned earlier that the hotel was next to a Chinatown, is that right?
No, that’s Mackay.
Did the family go to church?
Well I was a product of a mixed marriage. My father was, I think, Church of England, I’m not quite sure, I don’t remember him ever going to church, he believed in God but that was about as far as he went. Mum she’d go occasionally, she made sure that we went, my sister and I. We had an average religious background, you
wouldn’t call it anything startling. We went and when we lived privately we used to live almost diagonally opposite the church so we were at church every Sunday, no trouble, Mum even came with us. Mum was a Catholic by the way.
When you were in the hotel with mum and dad both working, was it difficult for the family to have family outings?
No. Oh well, of course Dad always had a car and he taught me to drive
very early in the piece, long before I could get a licence and every so often we’d sort of we’d go down to Emu Park or Yeppoon, the seaside resorts, not a great number of times, but we were visiting the place. I’ll tell you an interesting story there. My sister was younger, about three or four years younger than I was, and she was a tot about that big and a real little bully.
My aunt was down staying from Longreach, was staying down at Yeppoon resting, I think she must have had an operation and she’d had a rest and this hotel that we were in, I can’t think of the name of it now but it was a very big hotel with two or three waiting rooms and that type of thing and the ladies were all in there talking and having
afternoon tea. My sister and another little girl were playing apparently, I wasn’t there, but I heard what happened is there was a walking stick, my aunt, the chemist out at Longreach gave my aunt a walking stick. Of course the two little girls got hold of it and they both wanted it and one got one end and one got the other end and pull it and a bloody sword about that long came out of the walking stick. Of course, you can imagine what the women all did they nearly all fainted.
They didn’t faint of course, but screaming, grabbed the stick and that stayed in our family for many, many years. It was quite sharp and it wasn’t rusty or anything like that and the weight of it wasn’t any heavier than any other walking stick that you could imagine. As I say, it stayed in our family for a long while. When Mum shifted into hotel, after they sold the lease of the hotel in Rockhampton,
they moved up to this place and in the move the stick disappeared. Someone obviously picked it up and they recognised it for what it was, slightly different weight and recognised it quickly, and pulled it out, saw the sword and put it back, and that was the last we ever saw of it.
When you were in the hotel in Rockhampton and eating meals in the dining room, what sort of meals did you eat?
Real flash. This was a first class hotel. The meals were very, very good.
Chinese cooks and, my word, really top quality meals. The Chinese cooks in those days they were great cooks and they knew what to cook. You’ve got, you had about fifteen or twenty dishes for breakfast, for lunch you’d have, it was a lunch but it was more or less a cold meal,
but there were entrees at the beginning, warm if you wanted them, then you went onto about four or five meat and I don’t think, yes there were some puddings you could have for lunch, about four or five puddings maybe even less. But the big meal was dinner. That was soup, entrees, meat, and there’d be about half a dozen meats there, always in a separate place.
The York ham was always, why they called it York ham I’d be blowed if I know, anyway it was always known as York ham and then of course you had four or five desserts, coffee and tea. The meals were good. Better meal than you got anywhere. When I went living in hotels, and then working, better meals than I ever got I can tell you. They were very good.
Were there many rules for you growing up?
No I don’t think so. We were kept in check, you know, by the mother and father nobody else. I can’t remember any rules. We were told, we had our ordinary Catholic rules sort of thing, we had to behave ourselves. No, nothing. My father was very strict
for any stupidity. Oh yes, that was a rather interesting one. When I came back from Longreach, I’d become a little bit unruly out there in my aunt’s control and when I came back the old man had to pull me into gear, which he did very smartly. He was a very big man, the old fella.
What did that entail?
The old strap would come out and he gave me a couple of hidings and pulled me into gear.
Many years later, I’d come back from the Middle East, I’d been three years in the Middle East and a lot of my swimming mates were still in Rockhampton and they decided they’d have a party, which they did. One of them owned a hotel and they got a room going upstairs with a casket of beer in it and we drank that, we didn’t get drunk but let’s say we were a bit merry.
I got home about two o’clock and I knew the old man would be at me in the morning, he drank like a fish of course when he was in the pub, but that didn’t apply to me even though I’d been three years in the army or more, four years at that time. I’d come back from fighting in the Middle East and it didn’t make any difference to him. He called me down under the house, they were living privately at the time, he said, “I want to talk to you”. I said, “Yes, I thought you might”.
He said, “I just want to tell you that your mother was very upset you coming home at that time of the night”. I don’t know why she should have been; I was about getting on to the middle twenties at the time. He said, “I want you to know that this is my house, not yours” and he said, “I don’t care if you get drunk and lay out in the gutter as long as it’s in front of the house or away from it, but you’re not to come home drunk.” I said, “I wasn’t drunk.” He said, “I know that, but you were pretty tipsy,”
and he said, “I don’t want it to ever happen again”. That was the type of father I had to give you some idea. He didn’t stand for any bloody nonsense, believe me. He was, I have to say that he was a very honourable man. Just branching into religion for the time being, he wasn’t a Catholic, I don’t think he liked Catholics either to be quite honest with you. I found out many years later that he
was a Mason, but that didn’t make any difference. I never knew it, but at the time you couldn’t say that he liked it, always a little bit of friction there, that’s why I didn’t have much time to do with him. But he was a very honourable man. He sent both my sister and myself, he sent us to good schools, Catholic schools, he promised that of course when he got married. Whether he liked doing it or not I wouldn’t know, but he did it.
That’s the type of man he was, a very honourable man, very strict, strict with me not with the sister I don’t think but I had to toe the line. I didn’t mind it; it was quite OK.
What were you parents’ names?
I was named after my father, which was the biggest mistake in the world, Alfred Hubert, and it was a mistake in this way, as I was growing up in my teen years I was of course getting friendly with girls. They’d write letters and he’d open the damned things because they were
addressed to Mr Alfred Lilley. He was quite entitled to open them. There was nothing in them anyway. My mother’s name was Nora Eileen Gleason. She was a Gleason, the Irish connection. That was a rather interesting connection too just quietly. Her real name was Honora,
but she didn’t like that name so she shortened it Nora. I didn’t know that, I found out later on. They were a very poor family. The father, it was a large family, many of the children died of diphtheria. Diphtheria epidemics used to break out left, right and centre in those days and there would be yellow flags outside the houses and all the rest of it. They’d be on quarantine, they’d
quarantine the house. I remember in Longreach there was a big outbreak and all the kids at school got put into the showground, we slept there and everything for a while to try and cut it out. They swabbed our throats and all the rest of it. I got diphtheria but I’d had diphtheria as a very young person, much younger before I was out there. Am I boring you?
No not at all. My aunty, that’s my mother’s eldest sister, there were three sisters in the family and she had a younger one and an older one. Aunty Springer went out there and the father he worked in a bank, but he was a staunch, long before there was a Labor Party,
he was a very staunch Labor man. He was managing a bank in Cooktown and his wife got very sick, Mum’s mother, and he had to come back and he had to give away the managership and he took a much lesser position as a teller in Rockhampton, which was quite OK. They were living quite well down at Depot Hill, a very poor part of Rocky [Rockhampton].
The IWW, International Workers of the World, was the precursor of the Labor Party, they were marching through Rockhampton and he was so staunch in the fact that he left his post and shook the hands of everybody in the march. Of course was immediately sacked, which of course he must have expected surely. Anyway, I don’t know how he supported his family, I think the family was supported by neighbours to be
quite honest with you and charity for many, many years. How he managed to educate his children, I suppose at Catholic schools, but they all had a good education. There are a couple of what I call funny yarns about it, but anyway Aunty Springer went out to Longreach, I don’t know how she got out there, by train of course, and she married a fella called Springer. She had three sons, Bill, Jack and Herb.
She was very, very poor and he would have been an ordinary worker. She was interested in a hotel, very broken and run-down hotel on the banks of the Thompson I think. She went to the, she couldn’t afford to buy it of course or anything like that, she went to the wine and spirit merchant, said could she have a case of
whiskey to start it off and she’d hock her specs [spectacles]. He said, “We don’t want you to hock your specs”. He gave her that whiskey. Well she built that hotel with the help of her two sisters, she got them out there and she built that up until she bought the biggest hotel in Longreach and she also owned two sheep stations, which she put Bill and Jack on, and Herb the youngest she sent down to Bathurst to learn
wool classing. He was a good classer and he classed for some of the biggest stations in the west. He eventually drew a selection himself. She was a very clever businesswoman apparently and quite smart and she did very, very well.
How did it come about that you went up to live with her?
Well I tell you, they sold the hotel in Mackay and they went to live privately for twelve, eighteen
months. But Dad found the ten thousand pounds that he’d earned wasn’t quite supporting the lifestyle that he wanted and he decided he’d have to go back into business. So he went out, took us by car, my sister, myself and Mum, and he was that sort of bushmen he was, there were no roads in those days and just bush tracks. He went from Mackay to Longreach cross-country without any trouble.
That’s when they decided, they looked at a station out there but it wasn’t either Dad didn’t like it or it was a bit too dear for the price he had. So they went around looking for hotels and they got down to Rockhampton and they bought the lease of the Leichhardt in Rockhampton. But they parked me out with my aunt in Longreach for six months. That’s how I got there.
So, from the Strand Hotel in Rockhampton.
No the Strand was in Yeppoon.
Sorry, the first hotel that you were talking about in Rockhampton.
Where did you go to after that?
When he sold the place, we lived privately. We moved exactly one street up, right opposite the church and we lived there for twelve to eighteen months. Then we all went to Longreach and of course they came down to Rockhampton to look around and finally settled on this hotel and they let me out of it with my aunt for six months.
That’s how I got to Longreach.
Interviewee: Alfred Lilley Archive ID 1794 Tape 02
So where was it that you started school, was that in Longreach?
No, it wasn’t in Longreach; it was in Mackay. I started off in the baby’s class and got up to about form four it was in those days, that’s what I went to in Longreach. I must have been, here I’m boasting, a reasonably clever kid because even though
they’d put me in various schools that I went to, I was always taken out of that class and put up to a higher one. Not that I was a great studier or anything like that. I must have been fairly smart, and that’s just boasting. Didn’t do me any good.
What do you recall about the actual school?
Longreach? What do I recall? Well I was a cheeky bugger apparently at that age, I must have been about ten or eleven, and I would have been form four or five. There was a girl in the class, of course, at that age and she was friendly with another chap in the class and over a period of a week I
tried to get friendly with her. I made an enemy of this other chap. So we had a fight out in the lunch. Anyway I beat him and what I didn’t know, he had a very good friend who was much bigger than me going to school, he told him and he belted me all the way home. Didn’t do me any good. I think I dropped her anyway, didn’t do any good there.
You think about these things and you can’t help laughing at them.
So you didn’t even get the girl in the end?
No, no good lord, no. I never did much good with girls to be quite honest with you. Although later on, I married the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen in my life. You’ll see her photo in there. But that, she married me I didn’t marry her, by that time I’d become pretty shy of girls and I’d become more interested in grog.
Anyway that’s another story. I had female companions growing up. I went technical college in the eighteen months I was out of work and I was with the belle of the school, of the college, we were very friendly so I wasn’t exactly poor with girls, but
I wasn’t what you’d call a girl chaser, put it that way, I had other things on my mind. By the time I’d gotten to that stage I was more interested in grog. That was after the war.
When you went out to Longreach, can you describe Longreach at that time?
Longreach the streets were named after birds and animals,
birds one way and animals the other. It was quite a large town of about seven or eight thousand people and the outlying district had quite a few people because the stations were very large. There were hotels, there was the aunt’s hotel, which was the three-storey one, and on the opposite corner was the other first class hotel. There were two first class hotels in the town.
There’d be, I don’t know how many, what they called pubs but they were good hotels they weren’t just sleazy ones. But they weren’t what you’d call first class; they didn’t cater for that type of personage. These two hotels did and I suppose you’d have to say fifteen or twenty other hotels. I’ll tell you one thing that’s interesting.
There was a very shiny spot on the way to the convent that was about a half a mile out of town and they were petrol tins, in those days there were no bowsers, the petrol used to come out in two four-gallon tins in a case, a pine case. Of course, they’d empty them and of course they had to dump them somewhere. The thing that made them shiny
was the fact that there was very little rainfall out in that country and they didn’t rust. They stayed shiny. Later on, many years later in a place I was working, of course you knew all the local people and the local postmaster I knew and our post office in those days and right throughout and this is just joking, but more or less some fact in it, he said, “All our furniture was
petrol cases”. Wasn’t far wrong.
When you lived in Longreach did you live in the hotel?
Yes with my aunt in the private residence. She had private residences on the first floor, very nice residences too. That’s an interesting thing. Longreach had two bores and it was very short in rainfall and the bores were hot, they were scalding water. One ran into a drain
in east Longreach I think it was. But the other bore was connected to the pipeline, the water, and you couldn’t drink it was very full of soda. But when it came to the hotel they had to have big tanks on the roof and they’d fill them up during the nighttime and that would cool the water off and the people could have a shower
in the morning. Of course the hot shower was no problem, you just turned the hot water on. If you were very late and slept in, all the cold water got used up and you never got a bath or a shower, it was mainly showers in those days. In fact I don’t remember, we had baths in the hotel and in the private residences but we very seldom used it.
Just the shower was over the bath, that’s all. We all had showers. In fact I still don’t have a bath, there’s no baths here.
When you went to Longreach, who were your playmates, were they your cousins?
The children in my class at school, they were very friendly. We used to, we never played the wag [truant from school], but we used to smoke when we could. I remember we
hopped into an old ship’s tank, great big things they were but of course this was all rusty and dumped in a vacant property and we’d get in there and we’d smoke. Of course we forgot that the smoke would come out of the holes in the tank, they could see us. They didn’t mind.
Where did you get the cigarettes from?
Well I lived in a hotel.
So you used to supply them for everyone?
Oh no, not a great deal. You know what we used to smoke? Lawyer cane, you wouldn’t believe it would you, that’s a fact. It’s a wonder it didn’t give us yellow jaundice, but it didn’t.
Do you remember your first smoke, whether you liked it or not?
I didn’t like it at all. Made me fairly, I think I was a bit squeamish. I never took to smoking in those days that was just a bit of bravado amongst the kids.
I wasn’t a constant smoker, none of us were at that age, we were too young. Later on when I was about fourteen I think I really started to hit the cigarettes.
Did you ever sneak a drink from the hotel?
Yes, quite frequently. I’ll tell you two stories. In those days when they had a show time ball, when they put a
show on out there, they put on a good show and then they’d have a show time ball, fancy dress. I remember one of my cousins got dressed up as a swaggie, the interesting as far as I was concerned was that there was a spare room near the kitchen and of course the bottle of champagne and wine and grog of all description they put the bottles out there. I, being a young chap, I decided I’d pour all the bottles into one.
I wound up, after three quarters of a bottle of wine, spirits, beer, you name it put it all down and got as drunk as a lord and couldn’t walk up the steps so I had two of my cousins coming home and they got one each side of me and they’re killing themselves laughing, carting me up the steps and putting me into bed. I can remember that quite well. Later on
when I was living in the Leichhardt, Dad used to, he and the one of the chaps working there, they’d go down an they’d stock the bar up with spirits and rum and that sort of thing for that particular day’s trading. Every so often, the Chinaman used to get a cheap sherry for his sherry trifles and that type of thing and they’d often be on the back steps of the separate
building. If ever I spotted them and there’d always be a bit of sherry at the bottom, because he only wanted them filled up, I’d knock that off. Other than that I never drank, not at that stage. Later on my drinking days started. They were bad too. I really drank heavily.
When you were talking about the Chinese workers. How did they mix in with the rest of the town?
Well there was a Chinese club that they had, it used to be an old building. You must remember in those days particularly in Queensland, there were a lot of Chinese because they came out in the gold rush days.
They did rather well, they tell some hairy tales of cutting off their pigtails and all the rest of it. I think there were a massacre or two took place in some spots, but mainly in the north of Queensland. There were plenty of them around Rockhampton and they were good citizens. They had this club and as you went past, you could smell this smoke, we used to think it was opium it could’ve been too that they were smoking. The Chinese that
worked for Dad, or let me put it this way, the cook was a pretty clever sort of a joker and he really was a good cook. There were quite a number of them around. My Dad used to pay them in those days, I think the average wage was about three pounds something a week and he used to pay them twenty pound a week, but they had to employ their own labour. They’d employ
another Chinese of course to help them. I remember one particular case, rather funny, normally they were about the same size but this fella was a great big fella and he couldn’t speak English. The rest of the staff, he had about twenty or thirty on the staff, the old man, they were mainly waitresses and housemaids and yardmen, anyway I remember the Chinese cook
he must have had a row, they called him Charlie, he must have had a row with Charlie and he came in, Dad and I were in the office at the same time and he said, “Hey boss, you sack Charlie!” Dad said “Oh, no I can’t sack him, you’re employing him not me.” He said “Boss, I want you to sack him” and the old man wouldn’t come into it because Charlie was almost touching the roof sort of thing.
I thought that was rather funny at the time. The Chinese fitted in very well and one or two of the teachers of the technical college were half Chinese and they were very clever too.
What about Aboriginals?
Well there’s a lot of Aboriginals around Rockhampton, there were Aboriginals there but you never saw much of
them in the town, not very much at all, they were there but they were very quiet and subdued. Never caused any trouble.
What about in Longreach?
No I don’t remember any Aboriginals but they would have been there, but I can’t remember any.
My family come from a small town in Queensland as well.
Oh Gin Gin, I’ve been there.
I know around the small towns there’s always a story or two about locals, the local legends. What were some of the stories that floated about some of the characters up there?
I can’t say that, I can’t recall any. I had a good mate who was Chinese and a damned good diver too, and good swimmer. I can’t think of his name now.
Of course there was in town a white gang of people called the Dirty Dozen, there always is in most towns or most bigger towns. The police had them well under control and they never caused any great deal of bother. I could just remember seeing them there about half a dozen of them congregated in the pubs.
Was there ever any trouble in any of the towns that you recall?
No. I don’t remember any great riots or anything like that, no certainly not, not to my knowledge. Then I worked in a lot of towns in Queensland, most up the coast and a few inland. No I never remember any.
We might just go back and talk a little bit more about your school days. What sort of things were you learning?
Rather interesting. I don’t remember much about my early days
in the convents, I can remember a bit I told you about fighting. Not a great deal and when I got to Rockhampton, I was a bit unruly and they didn’t like me just staying in the pub on my own, so they sent me to the Rockhampton Grammar School for twelve months I think it was. I didn’t like it there and I was actually boarding there. I didn’t like it at all.
I must have showed it because my mother got a bit concerned that I wasn’t going to a Catholic school and I wasn’t learning any religion. They must have talked it over and he decided that he’d send me away to college. Why they picked Sydney I’ll never understand, but they did. I used to have to travel between Rockhampton and Sydney, I got used to it of course
from an age of eleven upwards to fifteen. I went through the various classes there, again the same thing happened to me when I went to a Jesuit College by the way called St Ignatius.
Where was that?
Riverview in Sydney it was on the harbour. In fact I used to watch them building the harbour bridge, watching the two halves coming together, we could see it plainly as pie staff.
Also another one was, there used to be two, you’d call them tug boats today but they weren’t, they were sort of cargo ships in the harbour and they belonged to Uncle Toby’s. Uncle Toby’s was on the Lane Cover River, the factory was further on up and they used to chug past, you could see them out through the window, we were higher than the waterway of course, and they used to go past there.
I can always remember them and they were called the Annie Love and the Bessie Love, Clifford Love owned the factory at that time. They were his two daughters and he named them Bessie and Annie. Anyway they were after his daughters. I can always remember looking out the window and seeing this. What did I study at school? Well it was a college, there were
about five, six hundred boarders in three lots, junior, intermediate and senior. The senior classes were up to seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, big fellas. Sport was, they always had a good football team. St Joseph’s College over the road was just over in Hunter’s Hill, just over from Riverview and they were the top college.
They had a brother there who was a very good football trainer, union. They were the top. I remember one particular year I was there, they were both Catholic schools, they used to call them I forget now, anyway they both came through undefeated and we were to match at Joey’s
and Ignatius were to play it off. God, there was a crowd of people, they used to follow them because some of those fellas would leave college and go straight into the Australian team, Beaton and a few of them like that. They beat us. That was our highlight that I can remember. In cricket and football they had
about seven or eight teams and they were all well trained at our school and Joey’s must have been even better. Football was of a good standard and the cricket was of a good standard. My word. There was tennis and handball, what else did they play? That was about it.
Did you swim at school?
Oh yes, that’s right swimming.
We had a baths there, they weren’t cement baths they were part of the harbour fenced off. Yes, we swam. The team I was in was usually the winning team, but there was a better swimmer there than I was. He went to, I think he came second, he was much faster than what I was, he was much older and better.
There were plenty of good swimmers there, my word there were. Oh, rowing. Rowing was a big thing, a very, very big thing.
Did you row?
I rowed in the six oars, like a light boat. The shells and those types of things, I never got to that stage.
Going to a boarding school, some fellows that we’ve spoken to spoke of initiation process that boys put each other through.
Oh yes, pelted with oranges and that sort of thing. The priests didn’t mind. At this particular, they were Jesuit priests and there were about nine or ten of them and four or five what they called scholastics. The Jesuit order is, it’s a missionary order really, but they’re a very good teaching order too.
They are very smart people, make no mistake about that. You wouldn’t want to take them on at anything. But anyway what they do, after they’d passed senior and been accepted into the order they have sixteen further years of study before they’re ordained. They were ordained four years at a time in various places. They might, say they started off here and then they’d go to
Britain, then they spend another four years in France and another four years in Germany until they’d finished their, what they called, scholastic training. You can imagine at that time they were highly skilled in whatever particular type of thing they took on. There was an observatory at the college too, a big one and a good one. They built their own instruments
and that type of thing, the clocks and that sort of thing always had two pendulums, each one keeping the other in check. They took us through the observatory, it was a big, huge round thing and a great telescope and you’d looked in this way and they could swing the roof around. It was a proper observatory they had.
The interesting part for me was they built their own instruments, but they built them to a specification by a Polish scientist and he designed them and they had all the instruments there to make them, which they did. The interesting part was, and this absolutely staggered me, before you could go into the room where those seismographs were, they
had to press a button on the wall and that put a mark on the film that was there because it was going all the time looking for an earthquake around the world. There were plenty of earthquakes around the world and that type of thing. Anyway the interesting part to me was they got that square and that high, in glass, and the thing was going like that all the time marking.
You know what it was marking? Piano rolls, they put the black off the kerosene flame and of course they’d film it. When you went in there, they stood on a pillar and the pillar was about ten feet deep, beautifully made, right around there and it’s a on a sandstone promontory, it’s all on sandstone. This pillar
was well up in the middle, the gap between the pillar and the wall of sandstone was about this big and you couldn’t actually touch it, but what you could do, to tell you how accurate these things were, when you stood on this side of the seismograph away from it the needle would go that way and when you went over the other side the needle would go the other way. That was through the pillar about ten feet deep.
That gives you some idea they really knew how to make the instruments. The clocks are electric clocks and they were quite good. I did look at Venus through the telescope, that’s all I ever saw, and I saw the various rings around it. There were two fathers and a lay person there and they spoke, I think, about
eight languages because they were always conversing with overseas people. They were very clever. Of a night time when we used to go up to do our study we’d go through, we’d have to pass up on the second floor and we’d pass the common room and all you could smell was cigar smoke and port wine.
I will say this, we had masses, we had about nine masses every morning, there were always three altars and one upstairs, four altars, so they could all get their prayers. The interesting thing about Jesuits they have, Catholic priests, I don’t know if you know it or not, they have what you call an offering, not an offering.
We went to mass every morning and benediction every night of course, religion was well taught. Something I wanted to tell you.
Something about the Catholic priests having offerings?
They used to say an office, the church office, but they said four hours office a day.
That was reading scripture. You could see them, they had to do that every day, they were well versed in it. You’d see them walking the football grounds and there were about three or four grounds. They’d read a bit out of the bible and then they’d think about it, you know. You’d see them walking and that’s what they used to do. In our classes we were taught seven subjects
and no more, no more for the majority that is. We were taught Maths I and Maths II, English of course, French and Latin, Physics, Chemistry and Religion. We were taught those every day, three quarters of an hour on each subject or an hour maybe. But it never varied, we were taught except the subject matter varied
not the subjects that were being taught.
What about history?
No. No, you were never taught History and you were never taught Geography. If you wanted to and you didn’t want Physics you could take History, if you wanted Geography and you didn’t like Chemistry you could take another. We were taught French and Latin, not that I ever learnt any, I lived in the French country
overseas for six or seven months, but I never, that didn’t mean that I spoke French. That’s me all over, forgetting what I was talking about.
I was asking about history?
I never learnt any history.
What did you know then of World War I?
Well you’d be surprised how much you learnt outside school and I did
know a lot of history and I liked history. I liked reading it, particularly English history. Geography I never had any trouble later on working in later times, geography just came to me sort of thing. I never studied it and I was never taught it, but I knew it. I found that I did know it, listening to quiz sessions, I was always reasonably well up with
the geography or history questions. It never affected me in any way.
Had you had any family that had served in any of the forces?
Oh God yes. I had the two elder boys, the eldest boy he decided when he left he was a very clever, all my children got scholarships, that might seem incredible but they all did.
I like to point it out to you that they never got it from me, they got it from their mother.
I mean though older relatives like your father or uncles?
No. Don’t remember any. Dad never went to the war. I remember when I joined up in Sarina I was twenty-one and I rang Mum and got her on the phone and she was terribly upset, so Dad told me later on. “Don’t worry it, Nora”,
he said, “Bubs’ flat-footed” I was always known to my family as “Bubs”, that’s all I was ever called. I wasn’t flat-footed as it turned out, but he thought I was. He said, “You know that I joined up but they wouldn’t take me because I was flat-footed,” and he was flat-footed. In the Second World War whether you were flat-footed or not, you were taken into the army, it didn’t matter you were in trucks anyway.
Yes I did, I had an uncle he was in the 9th Battalion and he was wounded and decorated. It’s funny that I should be in the 2/9th; that was the way it was.
What did you know then about Gallipoli and the Anzacs?
I knew that, oh yes, that’s the type of history that you learnt out in the world. From reading newspapers, from reading this, you learnt your history. The school was quite right
in not teaching us geography and history because we learnt it by reading newspapers and that type of thing in your normal world.
When you were at boarding school, how often would you get home to see mum and dad and your sister?
Christmas, three times a year. We’d travel up. By the way, have you ever travelled in New South Wales, I bet you have, you went over the Grafton Bridge, there was no bridge there in my
day, we had to get into a ferry and go across. So there you are. You tell that to people and they look at you as much to say, “My god how old are you? You must be Methuselah”. That was quite normal. I did travel over the bridge in the last part of my twelve months I was there. The other thing, another mate and I wrote home and told our parents that each one was going to come up from Sydney to Brisbane by boat,
the Oarmaster was the boat we got. The fathers put their heads together and had a good giggle over it and said, “Yes, you can come”. We went and did that part of the trip to Brisbane by boat. That was quite interesting too.
Otherwise how would you be getting back?
Train. Train all the time. That’s when we had to go by ferry over the Grafton River.
How long would that take to get from Sydney back up?
Well you’d get to it, you’d get into the train at Sydney at midday and you’d have a sleeper and you’d wake up at Brisbane and you’d spend a night in Brisbane, usually I went to the Salvation Army place, they had a marvellous cup of tea there, it was really good. Then you’d catch the train into Rockhampton
on a sleeper again.
Did you find it hard living away from your family?
I found it, I absolutely detested going to Sydney and being sent to school, I didn’t like it at all for about the first three or four months. But as I got used to the college, it was good, very good. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Four years I had there. I wasted my old man’s money because I didn’t study very much, but I played a lot of
sport. You had to play sport every day whether you liked it or not. They teach you boxing too if you wanted to learn boxing. Various things like that, gymnasium they’d teach you that.
Being involved in sport, who were your sporting heroes?
Lindrum, we had billiard tables and that type of thing,
Bradman of course in cricket, some of the cricketers used to come and play with us, play cricket with us.
Did Bradman ever come?
No, but the chap I can’t remember his name,
Bill, even their names elude me, I knew them all then, I didn’t know them personally, but I did follow them avidly my word. Football, the same. Some of our fellas, particularly a couple of students from school, went straight into the Australian team.
With the football, is that Rugby League or Union?
I played both sports, rugby union, rugby league. I blame it on my knees, but that’s not it, it’s arthritis that caused my problem with my knees. I was always having trouble with my knees and ankles.
When you left boarding school, was that the end of junior?
It was what they used to call the leaving,
intermediate and leaving [certificates], instead of senior and junior here, down there it was intermediate and leaving. Our standard of education was a great deal higher than New South Wales at the time I started, I was put in the class that I should have been put in. I can remember it as well as anything; I went around to the scholastic teacher and he
went around the class talking about genders in English, none of the other children had ever heard of neuter but they’d heard of male and female. When he got to me he said, “What does this do?” It was neuter that he was looking for and I said, “Neuter”. He said, “You’re too good for this class. You stand aside and we’ll take you up the next class”. My education in Queensland at that age was of a higher standard than the one in
New South Wales. That’s when the scholarship was available in Queensland. There was a terrible thing they did away with that scholarship junior and senior. They did away with those things and that was a mistake, one they’ve since regretted. The scholarship education was of a very strict and very good education, a solid education to build on.
I found that there were quite a few Queenslanders down there and we found the same thing, our education in maths and English and that type of thing, but in French and Latin we were nothing, we just didn’t study those sorts of things up here, not in scholarship. But in English and Mathematics, what we used to call Arithmetic, we were well ahead of them.
When you were down there at school, what were you thinking you might go on and do at school?
I wasn’t thinking about it at all. All I thought about was sport. Looking forward to getting down into cricket or football of an afternoon. We had to go every afternoon, go down and play a couple hours of sport. The Jesuits firmly believed that sport was necessary with part of your education. I think it was too. It made you pretty sharp on various other subjects. That’s all I was thinking of.
When I came out, I came out in the middle of the Depression, very bad, I couldn’t get a job. I spent twelve or eighteen months going to the technical college, which was up over the road from the pub anyway. I played up over there of course. Appears to me in all my school days, all I did was play up.
However, I certainly settled down. My settling down period came in my marriage; that was the end of it. She was pretty good, a lovely woman.
When the Depression, how did that affect mum and dad’s business?
Badly. Yes it did affect them. It didn’t break them of course, but it did affect them, my word, very much so. Hotels and café would be the first thing to suffer.
They didn’t have to close?
Oh no. They kept going and they were still earning a living but not the living that they were earning. My Dad was a racehorse man; he loved horses. Of course he was a horse breaker in his youth. He really knew horses and he loved draught horses and he loved racehorses.
He was in the race club and on the committee and various other things and trouble with the committees, that sort of thing. He had a couple of horses, a couple of good ones, Plaid and Scots Talk, and they were very fast horses. He used to take me over to the races occasionally, I’d go with him, but I wasn’t much interested in racing or betting to be quite honest with you.
I think that was a bit of a disappointment to him, I was more interested in motorbikes and cars. We’d already passed out of the horse and buggy stage and into the car stage and that more interested me. I was a pretty good mechanic as a matter of interest.
Interviewee: Alfred Lilley Archive ID 1794 Tape 03
What else do you remember of the impacts the Depression had on the place?
Well nothing at the time because I wasn’t interested really in finances of the family or anything like that, never ever was of interest. Later on in the war years, I got a lot of the fellas in the twenties up the thirties were all Depression
You were saying how you met a lot of blokes that had been effected by the Depression once you got into the army.
The vast bulk of the Australians in the Second World War were not a vast number but just about they were all Depression people. Most of us
out of work. I was in work at the time, but there were a lot that were out of work and they were travelling, they used to jump the rattler [freight train] and they travelled from place to place. There was a scheme to make them travel around, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of this or not, but the government introduced, Queensland Government introduced a scheme of they had to be twenty-five mile away before they could get rations, you know, they used to issue them with rations.
To get them the next time they had to be twenty-five miles away, the only way of getting there other than walking, was by cattle truck and that type of thing, which they used. They were always chasing them off the trains and that type of thing when they pulled up, but there was a vast number of them travelling.
Do you recall whether people who were a bit destitute used to come into the hotel asking mum and dad for work or food?
Yes they did and any money things like that, my people were always pretty generous to them. Some of them were bums, they were out of it and all they wanted was grog, and of course I don’t doubt that’s about all they had to live for. They took the money off Mum and Dad and they wouldn’t take much, a couple of bob or something like that, and they’d go to the next pub and drink it.
Almost a certainty, sometimes they wouldn’t. Some of them of course had families and that was a different proposition there.
The Depression effect on you was that…
So you went to tech?
Yes I went to tech.
What did you do at tech?
Accountancy. I don’t know why. I wasn’t very much interested in accountancy, I didn’t like it very much but I have to say I was pretty good at it in
college, compared to the rest of the class. I think I told you I wasn’t an idiot but I was fairly clever in the middle range, not the top range because I was too bloody lazy, but I was in the middle range.
Had you started to think about what you wanted to do as a career?
Not particularly, you never thought it because you didn’t know any career that wanted people, you know.
Anyway, Dad got me into a bank and that was all there was in it. I started, it wasn’t a good bank to work for, the Queensland National, and they were the old English and Scottish managers brought out here in those earlier days and they were still around and they were autocrats. Ring the bell sort of thing and they didn’t call you by name, you never got your Christian name,
it was always your surname, that type of thing and they overloaded you with work, there’s not the slightest doubt about it. There was more work than you could possibly cope with. That applied to most banking in those days. Anyway when I was transferred to Sarina and then I went to the war and then I came back and I went into the bank again and I don’t why, because there was plenty of work around those days, but anyway
I went into the banking game because they paid my salary all through the war or made it up. So I think I owed them something. I didn’t like it and I was transferred to Mossman, I met my wife up there. Then I was transferred to a branch in Millaa Millaa and helped the manager open it up and I was transferred to Ravenshoe and sent over to Millaa Millaa. While I was over at Millaa Millaa, the National absorbed us,
it was a takeover of course but they called it an amalgamation, nice word. Oh but what a difference. One was a terrible bank to work for and the other was probably the best bank in Australia to work for, to be quite honest with you, they were lovely people and treated you well. When I joined them, not that I had anything to do with it, when I joined them they were the smallest of the big four. They treated their staff,
you couldn’t have better treatment than what you were having and they were terrific. In twenty years they were the top bank in Australia. The staff did it. Just goes to show you, if you treat your staff right, you get the results, no doubt about it. They made a few blips here and there, just recently they made a blip in foreign exchange, I don’t know how that came to happen because all the other banks fell into it,
about four or five years ago, they all got their fingers burnt, National didn’t. The National waits about five years and gets its fingers burnt properly.
Did you have to do a banking entrance examination?
No. Not in those days. Today if you haven’t got a degree in Commerce, go somewhere else. Today it’s different,
what actually happened was computers. I like computers because I helped put the capital office on computers, not that I was a genius at computers but I was in charge of the section going on. The moment, the Commonwealth were the first people to put them on, and the moment one bank went on to computers, it was inevitable that every bank had to get on it because it was so cheap compared to
paying wages and that’s a fact. That’s the very reason all those wages were lost because they couldn’t, if they employed them and kept their branches open, they’d have gone to the wall. So they had to follow the trend, which they did and finally led the trend. It was a shame because it destroyed the great comradeship that existed in the staff with the National Bank. They were really good.
All the ones I met anyway.
Where were you when Menzies announced that we were at war?
Sarina. Where was I? I was down between Emu Park and Rockhampton with the 42nd Battalion. They were down on learning the trade sort of thing and I never went back to the bank, not then, not until after the war.
Can you remember hearing Menzies’ speech?
Yes quite well. It was broadcast, yes.
What sort of impact did that have on you?
It had a big impact because I suppose I was foolish at the time but it looked like a good sort of adventure to me, like something to be in, not to be missed. I didn’t miss it all right. Half way through I wished the hell I had have, make no mistake about that.
So you joined the militia before war was declared?
Yes about a year before and the reason I joined it was because you got a month’s holiday, you had to go away in training for a month and you had a month holiday anyway that meant you had two months holiday a year. I wasn’t going to pass that up if I could avoid it. I was down there.
What did you do initially; whereabouts did you join the militia?
In Sarena. In that time, the forces were divided up; in Mackay it was the company headquarters and Sarina was a platoon of the company. You must remember in those days the drill section of the army, the drill part was four, you formed square on fours.
About six months into our training or less than that, they made it threes, we formed threes, a totally different proposition. In the beginning in that time there were four battalions to a brigade, I don’t know what they were then, but anyway when we first went into the army the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] it was the 2/9th, 2/10th, 2/11th and the 2/12th that was four. Then it became three. It came the 2/9th, 2/10th
and 2/12th, the 11th was the southern one they went over to one of the other divisions, I think they went over to the 6th Division, I’m not quite sure. Now the 6th would have been four, they probably went into the nucleus of the 9th Division, probably I’d say, I wouldn’t know. The 2/9th was originally formed for Queenslanders, the 2/10th was all South Australians, the
2/12th was half Queensland and half Tasmanian. The 11th I don’t remember, probably Victorian.
What designation was the CMF [Citizens’ Military Force] at Mackay?
What platoon were you in at Sarina?
Oh, I wouldn’t know, one of the four I suppose. There was only one platoon anyway.
Did they have a full complement of blokes at Sarina?
Oh yes. A platoon was only about 32 anyway.
What sort of training did you do?
The normal marching training, crawling on your belly to somewhere and shooting, target practice, doing drill on the parade ground.
Did you have plenty of weapons to train with?
I had a rifle. The Australian Army was poorly supplied with weapons compared to other armies, yes it was. We were largely supplied by English in the end and we started to get well. But the Japanese were ahead of us in field telephones and that sort of thing, they were smaller and they were longer range and another thing they were well ahead of on was in submarines and torpedos. The Japanese torpedos
could be fired, so the navy fellows told me during the war, could be fired from a much greater distance of accuracy than our own torpedos.
As far as the army was concerned a lot of blokes told us that they used to train with broomsticks?
Well, I don’t remember, I’ve heard of it, but I never ran into it, I wouldn’t doubt it because it was common talk at the time.
We stopped at Lewis guns. We used to train with and then they dropped the Lewis while we were at sea and they issued us with Brens, which are a far superior weapon. The other thing we had were Boyes anti-tank guns, which were a bit of a flop, but they were useful in various places.
As far as the militia was concerned, it was just a 303?
There would have been a machine gun unit and the mortars; there were always mortars and machine guns irrespective of whether they were militia or AIF they all had to have them.
Did you enjoy being in the militia?
I didn’t mind it. It was quite nice, well as I say I got an extra month’s holiday a year, that’s all I was interested in and I was interested in the training.
Obviously already being in the militia had more of an impact on you when war was declared?
You mean to make me join up? No. I don’t think it had any effect on it. See I didn’t like the bank that I worked for, that was the essential thing; I didn’t like bank work at that time. I never did get used to it. Anyway, there was a sense of adventure; you had a sense of adventure. Another thing to that most people never hear about it today,
but the British Empire owned a third of the world. We were somebody. In essence we were proud of it, in a peculiar way we were very proud of it, sort of thing, we owned the world. They might have been very bad taskmasters and they were in many cases, all they did was rob the places, but the fact of the matter was they were pretty good, what do you call them, I forget their names now.
They were pretty, they left the places, they put good governments in sort of thing and they gave them legal systems that were pretty good, that other countries didn’t, they just went in and raped the place right, left and centre. So we were, the British were fairly good taskmasters.
What sort of education, what sort of teaching had you had in regard to England?
We learnt English history before I went down to college.
I was always interested in English history, it was always very interesting sort of history you know, the kings and the queens and the various ones, the various battles they fought and lost, Maid of Orleans and people like that. They were, what did they used to say, one Englishman was worth ten Frenchmen and this
Maid of Orleans came along and she took charge of the French people and trained them up until one Frenchmen was worth 10 Englishmen.
What sort of feelings towards England? A lot of blokes talk about the Mother Country.
I like that, I was over six months in England, we landed in England. Instead of landing in North Africa chasing the
Italians, we were dumped – dumped? We landed in Scotland in Greenock and came down to a place Lachlan Corner where we spent quite a few months. It was the first time in my life I ever saw chalk, I’d never seen it before, not in the bulk. In that country all you did was dig down about two feet and you hit sold chalk and it was as white as snow.
When we went there at Lachlan Corner, they had all these trenches dug, you had to smile when you saw them because all you could see was all these white patches all over the place, of course a plane could see it a mile away.
Before you decided to join the AIF, was it just the adventure or was it for King and Country, or were you doing it for Australia?
I certainly wasn’t doing it for Australia because
Australia wasn’t being attacked at the time. That’s why I hated the Japanese, dirty little bastards coming over here and taking our country, there was nothing like that in the first, the English may have felt it but the Australians didn’t, or I didn’t anyway. It was because a certain type of adventure I suppose. You didn’t really know what war was, you might’ve read about war, but you never really knew it was like until you were involved in it and then you found out
in double quick time. For King and Country yes it played a part in it, not a big part but it played a small part. I was proud of the British Empire, yes I was. I don’t know why because when you’ve started to read into the family history of it, it wasn’t so great, but they did leave a
country with a proper legal system, many other occupying countries didn’t do that.
What sort of active recruiting was the government or the army doing at that time?
They were actually recruiting but it didn’t interest me because I was already in it. It certainly directed their recruitment at me because it was just wasted. I tell you one thing I did notice.
We weren’t popular with all the people in Sydney, see there were a lot of troops there at the time; we were out Liverpool way, Ingleburn, when we transferred down from Brisbane, Redbank. They used to call us “five bob a day murderers”. We got a bit of shanghaiing, a bit of shanghaiing, or chiacking [insulting] really.
But the troops I really felt sorry for were the Vietnam boys that went over there. That was shocking. The Australians had nothing to boast about there, they treated them abominably, no doubt about it. I don’t know why they did it; Australians weren’t normally like that. Of course they turned around many years
later and showered them with this, that and the other. But of course by then it was too late. The Agent Orange got in and all the rest of it. That was the only time, the two times I’ve ever marched in a march through Brisbane, I thought that they needed some support. I feel sorry for them.
If we can go back, did you discuss your decision to join the AIF with mum and dad?
No. I rang them and told them I’d joined. That was when Dad came
along and said, Mum was very upset apparently I found out later, Dad said “Don’t worry he’s got flat feet they won’t take him”, but of course they did.
Whereabouts did you have to go to sign up to join the AIF?
It’s funny I’ve been, I was put on that
I’d swear on King and country in Yeppoon, Rockhampton, Brisbane, three times I was, first of all in Yeppoon.
So you went back out to Yeppoon to join?
No I didn’t. I was in Yeppoon at the time I was in the 42nd Battalion.
So you’d gone back from, where was the place that you were working?
Did you go from Sarina to Yeppoon?
War hadn’t been declared at that time. While we were there, war was declared and that’s where we signed up, we were signed on sort of thing.
You were being moved around and sworn in every time you go somewhere?
Yes. Then they swore us in in the drill hall in Rockhampton before we were entrained and went down to Redbank. When we got to Redbank,
we were sworn in again, so I was sworn in three times.
Is Redbank where you did your basic training?
Yeah, a bit yes, that’s the first time I ever saw a palliasse straw, well I’d seen straw plenty of times but never a palliasse, never slept on one, didn’t like it much either, but however.
Did you get a new issue of uniform?
Yes we got a new issue. We
handed the other one in. I didn’t hand the greatcoat in so I had two greatcoats for a while and they got on to me and tore strips off me and took the greatcoat off me, that was the only time I ever did it.
What sort of basic training did you do at Redbank?
Just drilling, marching, a little bit of machine gun training and rifle. There was, in those days,
there was a range at Redbank and we used to go there and practice shooting. We used to do that in the militia by the way.
Did you find that it was basically the same kind of training you’d already had?
In what was it more advanced?
Different weapons. There were anti-tank guns, and I wasn’t in the mortars or the machine gunners so it didn’t greatly concern me. The rifle
and the Boyes anti-tank, which was a pretty useless sort of a thing, I don’t think it would cause much damage to any modern tank, it would just bounce off it. They were .5 bullets [0.5 inch or 50 calibre] and had a bit of a kick in them. There’s an interesting thing, I’d forgotten that. The army, or the government decided that supplying point five ammunition was too expensive,
so they put what they called a Morris insert into the Boyes anti-tank rifle, which was a 22 [0.22 inch calibre], so we fired a 22. It was quite good training that.
That was purely for training purposes?
Yes that’s right, it would be useless in war.
A 22 wouldn’t do anything to a tank would it?
No. Even the Boyes didn’t do too much to it, just might have knocked a bit of dust off it, but that would be about all.
Did you have a stack of mates that would come down with you from up north with you?
Oh yes. There was quite a few Sarina people there, fellows I knew. I can’t think of any now. Most of them got killed. Most of my mates got killed as a matter of interest. Very few of them are alive, the ones I joined up with.
Besides the palliasse being a new experience for you, what was the accommodation like at Redbank?
Tents, just in tents and on the ground. What they do they issue you with a palliasse, which was a coarse bag, hessian bag, and they’d have down on the flat about
twenty or thirty straw, not straw it was food really, it was stuff that they feed the sheep and they just hit them with an axe and just broke them and spread them out on the ground. You picked it up and stuffed your palliasse with. Not a very comfortable bed I can tell you, because it was full of lumps.
What about the food?
Food was all right, always good. What they did do, they did break us down, I found this out when I went home on leave. Mum would feed me the first few days I was home the same sort of plate full as I used to eat as a single man, the army had broken us down, we knew they were, we always reckoned they were starving us but they weren’t, they were
shrinking our gut. That’s exactly what they did do, because when I went home I couldn’t eat the food that Mum put in front of me. Well, I’d eat half of it, but that was it, I was full. The army kept us on that ration all the while, which was a good ration because the fat building up on us and that sort of thing.
In what way did they do that?
Just by giving us smaller portions, that’s all. Enough to keep us
alive, you know training. In fact I saw a fella do it here in the last six months. He had a bit of a pot on him, one of our, he’s gone now. As a matter of fact, his wife gave me two windcheaters that he had and they’re damned good ones too, I’ve still got them. They fitted me but they wouldn’t fit him because he’d grown out of them, this way I mean. I saw him a couple of weeks ago,
he’s left Brisbane and gone down to South Coast and here he was beautiful and slim and his gut was as straight as a die, you know. I said to him, “How the hell did you do that in that time?’ He said, “Easy” and I said, “How was it easy?’ He said, “I just cut down the portions, smaller portions”. Exactly what the army did. Gave us small portions, which was enough to satisfy us, not really satisfy us but enough.
Enough to keep us alive and keep us working. He reduced himself down no trouble at all. When I get, I’m a bit there now, I’m going to have those small portions too. I don’t like having too much weight.
How long did you spend training at Redbank?
Maybe three or four months. Then we went to Ingleburn, spent a deal of time there, six months maybe. We went to a place north of
Newcastle, that’s the most funny place I ever was. I can’t think of the name, but it’s not far from Newcastle. The interesting thing about it was, it must have been dairy country because the flies were everywhere, blow flies. You couldn’t eat your meat, hardly eat your food without the blow fly landing on it. The interesting part about it was mainly the blowflies I
knew in the west landed an egg if they dropped on your food, dropped an egg, but not these flies, they dropped a maggot. I’ve never seen that before in my life. That’s the only place I ever saw it.
Did that turn you off your food?
No. You had to eat it, you were waving your hand over it all the time. You got your food down. You ate, in many
sense looking back on it now, you don’t have to do that sort of thing, what would it matter, the blow fly was only meat that’s all it was, part of the fly, you know what I mean, you didn’t like it, but when you come to look at it, it wasn’t terribly serious. Never caused any illness as far as I know.
What exactly were you doing when you got to Ingleburn? Was it more training?
More training, yes.
Was it infantry training there?
Infantry training there yes, but a band of course, I wasn’t in the band. But the band was learning to play the instruments
and that sort of thing.
What sort of specialised training did infantry training involve?
It involved word of command and various other things like that. They never went like the militia did, we were learning to creep up on people, we never did much of that sort of rubbish.
Just the ordinary marching, training and shooting, when you got a chance. It was a full-scale; we knocked off about three or four o’clock in the afternoon.
Did you have any leave at all in this time?
Yes we did. We got home. We used to get leave into Sydney. We were treated pretty well.
When you were at leave in Sydney, did you catch up with any of your old school chums?
No. I didn’t. The first time I saw, I met them, three or four of them was in New Guinea and they were in the artillery. You’re not going to believe this but the fellas that I was interested in, a good mate of mine was called Cannon and that was his surname, and he was in the army. I met
him when we were on the way to Oro Bay on the way to Cape Endaiadere, that was a nasty one, and I struck George Cannon and I said, “Where are you off to?” and he said, “They tell us they’re going to drop us in the Ramu Valley”. I said, “What do you mean ‘drop us’?” “Drop us out of parachutes.” I said, “Have you ever been dropped out of a parachute?”
He said, “No.” I said, “This is going to be the first?” and he said, “Yes”. It was and that was good training. They dropped their guns or whatever they had. I learnt a lot of interesting things about, not about the army, but about, I was very friendly with English troops and particularly chaps in the air force and they were paratroopers. I asked them I said, “How do you get on?”
tell you how primitive war can be, “How do you get on with your weapons?” They said “OK, you’re dropped out of your plane and you have plenty of practice of parachuting out of them and you’re quite used to it” and I said, “But what about your weapons, how do you deal with that?” He said, “You want to know how we did with our rifles?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “They were tied to our feet.” I said “What?” He said, “Tied to our feet.” When you come to think of it, what else could they do with it, they wanted their hands free and the only thing that was free
was their feet. They’d tie the weapons to their feet and when they landed they’d pull the weapons up. So in actual fact it was quite effective, it was pretty primitive, wasn’t it? It was pretty back in the arrow days, bow and arrow just about the same. I said, “How do you land in a parachute?” He said “No I was in one of those...”
aeroplanes that they had him in, anyway.
Yeah, the gliders. I said, “What happened to gliders when they landed?” He said, “They smashed up”. I said, “I bet they did,” out in the fields and that sort of thing. I said, “How did you get on in Arnhem?” He was in Arnhem. He said, “I walked out” I said “What?” He said, “I walked out”. I said, “You got out all right?” “Yeah, I got out all right”. Just goes to show you, doesn’t it?
Were you at Ingleburn when you first found out that you’d be going to the Middle East?
Yes. Yes that’s right. We were to load onto, in Sydney Harbour. The Queen Mary was there and we were on the, she was on a forty-five thousand tonner, isn’t that amazing that’s slipped my memory.
We had the Queen what was the name of those things, we had about six ships with troops on and then there were trailing ships they were a bit slower. Of a night time, they used to speed up, put the speed on and get up to about twenty knots or more,
or maybe more. These ships would be so far behind that you could barely out of sight, they’d catch up during the day time. I wish I could think of that ship’s name.
That’s all right, it’ll come to you Bert I’m sure. Before you boarded the ships did you get a pre-embarkation leave?
You went home?
How was that, saying goodbye to mum and dad?
Quite simple. It was quite easy. They were quite used to it by that time.
They were hoping the war would be over by that time, but of course it wasn’t; it went on for many years.
Was mum still upset?
I think she probably would have been. She didn’t show it, but she would have been.
Did they have any send off for you?
No. Not really. No nothing, it wasn’t a time of jollity or anything like that, by that time we knew we were going into something that wasn’t very nice.
Did you have to do any special preparations before you boarded the ship?
We took all our needles and smallpox and various other things, but other than that. I’ll tell you one thing we did, but that this was in the Middle East, we had a change of doctors and this particular doctor he lined
the platoon I was in up and he had his orderly with him with a tray full of needles and he went ‘bing’ ‘bing’ and went around and came back again and put the needle in there and we were standing there with two needles in us and he went along with a syringe and squirted it in. How we didn’t all die I’ll be buggered if I know, but we didn’t. Goes to show you what can happen. I’ll tell you one thing I did see, I had to smile, I’d never seen a man faint before,
except one when the needles were out, he was quite a big fella, about your size, and he was about six in front of me and when got three to where the needles was he fainted. Down he went on the floor. I’d never seen that happen before. Quite surprising.
Was there any sort of farewell at the docks when your ship left?
Was it secretive?
No, it couldn’t be secretive in Sydney Harbour, you couldn’t hide the Queen Mary, she was a whopper a big one there’s no doubt about that. They were all pretty big ships except for the two that used to fall behind. They were twenty thousand tonners. The others were all in the forty-five thousand ton group.
Whereabouts on the ship were you put?
When we went on in the harbour, we were put on the upper deck, she’d never been used for troops before this particular ship, I don’t think she’d been used, she was brand spanking new,
practically. We were in the top deck in the two bed cabins where we had the ship’s type air conditioning type of thing and en suites. Then they put the engineers on and they were senior to the infantry so we got pushed down to the cinema. We spent the rest of the time on that boat in the cinema,
they had about two or three cinemas. There were about forty of us in the cinema with bed and bunks and that sort of thing.
Did they still screen movies?
Oh no. Nothing like that. There was training on board ship, with machine guns, Brens and that type of stuff.
What was the food like on the ship?
Pretty good. It was all right. I learnt a lot there, the way
they fed of course they had, we weren’t the only battalion on the ship, there were bandsmen, air force, but anyway to make a stew someone cooked the meat, someone cooked the vegetables, they put them all together and someone cooked the sauce and put it on and that made the stew, pretty neat way of doing it.
It was a constant routine of training on the ship?
Yes that’s right and lectures and church parade and lectures. It was pretty good on board ship. I didn’t mind it.
Did you get any free time on the ship?
Oh yes of course you did. Gambling on the ship was absolutely prodigious, everyone was gambling, more or less and drinking too. They used to sell beer, but they used to water it down.
What sort of games were the gambling fellows involved in?
Two-up, housie, bingo what do they call it today, mainly two-up and that sort of thing. On the British ships coming back from England, the British troops on board had the right to have the bingo and they ran it and of course they took their share of it. You couldn’t, nobody else was allowed to, or not supposed to start a bingo game.
Of course you had a mixture of troops there, you had troops from England and others.
Interviewee: Alfred Lilley Archive ID 1794 Tape 04
After Ingleburn, are you attached to a battalion once you’ve finished your Ingleburn training?
In Ingleburn we were attached to the 2/9th Battalion. The 2/9th Battalion was formed in Redbank, formed in Queensland. We stayed with that all through the war.
Did you have a specialist role?
You were an infanteer?
Well sort of yes. I spent a lot of time in what they called the B Echelon,
that’s the food section, getting the food up to the troops. Sometimes, particularly in New Guinea, they’d short of men and boy did they run short of men, and of course they’d grab everyone from B Echelon, not that there were many of us, there was just a platoon, and we’d be all shot up to the front. Away we’d go and we’d have to stay there. It was just as dangerous as it was in front line anyway because you were only fifty yards behind them. Sometimes
you were a matter of miles separated from the front, but we had to go up there every day and take food up to them. In New Guinea, you were on the front line anyway. It didn’t make any difference.
So you’re on the ship going across to what you think that you’re going to the Middle East, did you stop at any places along the way?
not there but we were across the Indian Ocean and we were heading towards Suez [Canal] and then all of a sudden they swung around and we pulled into Cape Town. We had a couple of days leave there, we trained again and off we went to the next place Sierra Leone, it was Freetown, we never got off the ship but we were in the harbour and would have been there,
could’ve been a week as far as I know. I’d say that there were about sixty to seventy ships in that harbour, a very big one, the mouth of the river actually, and even warships were there. They were all waiting for convoys to England, that’s what they were doing there. Then they loaded us up and we went off to, while we were in Sierra Leone
the natives came out and they used to dive for coins. Now this is the thing about Africa that did surprise me. Out here all our rivers are yellow, you know, but not in Africa. The ones that we were on, they were clear crystal clear water and pretty fast flowing too. These people used to dive for coins. We’d drop sixpences and pennies over the side, I suppose it meant a lot of money to them. But anyway we went out and
started on the convoy to England. I saw a ship I couldn’t believe it, it was the Argos, it was an aircraft carrier, the deck was flush, there was nothing on the deck, no bridge no nothing, it was all on the side of the ship. Even the exhaust of the ship, of course they were all diesel, they were out the side.
It escorted us for a while and went through and back and forth and let the convoy catch up to it and it’d catch up them and away it would go. Years later, I was talking to a chap who was, I don’t know who the hell it was, but he knew a lot about the Japanese and he said they had those types of ships too, they were no superstructure it was just a flush deck.
What were your feelings leaving Sydney Harbour?
I can’t remember any particular feelings. We were leaving Australia; we knew that we were going towards this great adventure that we were supposed to be going on. It was a great adventure all right, it wasn’t the type of adventure that we thought it would be though. I think this time we were starting to get a pretty fair idea of what war was all about, we didn’t really know but we were getting a much better idea than we had when we joined.
From Sydney did you call into Melbourne at all?
No, we called into Fremantle; we went across the [Great Australian] Bight and into Fremantle.
Did you go through Bass Strait or did you go around?
Went Bass Strait and across the Bight.
Did you doing anything at Fremantle or just picked up more blokes?
We went on leave to Perth, we had a couple of days yes, we had a days leave and went there.
I was surprised at the amount of sand between Fremantle and Perth. We got the idea that Western Australia was all land, of course it wasn’t, sand and camels. Just like the Western Desert in many cases. I liked Perth; Perth was a nice place. Fremantle I liked too, I thought that was pretty good. Then of course we entrained and we started our switch around
and around Cape Town and Sierra Leone and we eventually got to Scotland.
You were actually diverted weren’t you?
Were you told at the time what was going on?
Yes I think we must have had a pretty fair idea because wireless were there, I think that the Germans had started to agitate for chasing the allies out of France and Belgium, which they did. Yes it had started
and we knew that was on. We knew that we were going to England, we really thought that the Germans were going to cross the [English] Channel, of course they never stood a chance they didn’t have the number of ships and that type of thing. We were stationed down on the southeast coast ready to repel. First of all we were guarding a drome up at Lachlan Corner, I can’t think of the name of the place, but it was a fighter drome.
I did see something there, a single German plane came over and machine gunned and I don’t know what type of machine guns it had on it, but it was just a ‘pop, pop, pop, pop” single shot sort of business. But it hit a fella in the 2/12th, hit him in the leg. He was the first man wounded in the brigade. Anyway he was all right,
he wasn’t seriously hurt. I did see, there used to be Polish airmen so the war in Europe must have been on in good thing at the time because a lot of Polish airmen were there, they’d escaped from Poland and Germany. And he had a Spitfire and he must have had the engine running because this plane was one of those ones with a long pencil part of it was the fuselage, I wonder where the gunner was, must have been in the back somewhere.
Anyway he took off from the plane and he shot the plane down in our sight.
The German fighter that came in?
Yeah, German, it wasn’t a fighter it was a bomber of some description, obviously pretty slow because a Spitfire took off caught it up in our sight. We saw, he actually hit it, shot it down in our sight. We used to call him ‘the mad Pole’. He lost his life later on.
I guess the blokes enjoyed that show, did they?
How were you received when you first arrived in England?
Oh they loved us. We went through a few towns at the time, I was sitting in a Morris truck and I was sitting in the front seat, not driving, and a lady at the side, they were all lined up waving, “How are you?” that sort of thing, and
one middle-aged lady came out and said, “I know who you are” she said, “You’re Australians aren’t you?” I said, “Yes”. She said, “I remember you from the First World War,” so she could’ve been middle age. That’s about all I can remember there. I can remember we marched through Durban, we marched through Cape Town, not too sure if we marched Cape Town, did Durban. The 2/10th behind us always had a band and
they made a special of drums, of kettle drums, of side drums and of course we were at the back usually of the platoon I was in and we could hear the strains of our own band in the front, but we could certainly hear more of the strains of 2/10th, which was following us, these drums, they were on a different step to what we were. We were continually changing step trying to keep pace with it, wasn’t easy.
Did the blokes like having to do marches like that?
They didn’t mind it. I didn’t mind it. Speaking personally I didn’t mind it. What they did, I’d never seen it done before, before you went on a march they lined you up in height in your company and the tall ones were there and it went down like that and then they put them in and they all seemed to be the same height. It was pretty well done
in that way. The marches were pretty good. I thought they were.
Did you get any leave in England?
Oh yes. I had thirty-six hours leave and seven days leave. A mate and I, can’t even remember his name, we went to London and we had a good look around London in thirty-six hours. We came back and the seven days leave, see there was no Blitz on at the time, that was before it.
We went around, I went to the science museum and other places like that, a lot of London houses, we saw a bit like footballs like that and it was interesting. We stayed at the Strand Palace Hotel. It wasn’t much of a pub, it was one of the top pubs in Britain at the time, but looking back on it, it never had separate bathrooms or anything like that; you went
to a bathroom way down the corridor, but it was good.
How did they compare to the Australian pubs?
About the same, built on the same line. The hotels of those days, the very first class hotels would have been separate bathrooms but the others didn’t, they were just ordinary down the corridor sort of thing.
What did the English lasses think of the Aussie soldiers?
Oh, they liked them. Didn’t like me very much, but they liked the rest of them. A lot of them got married and got killed later on of course. No, I never.
Did you sample the British beers?
Yes I liked them. Some of the beers were awful, but some of them, gee they were nice, nice beer. Can’t think of the names of them now.
Were they served at room temperature?
No not always. Bottled beer was chilled, you didn’t have to, room temperature wasn’t all that hot, not like Australia. You could get cooler beers, yes. Drink became a big thing in the army when we came back to Australia, when we were camped outside Adelaide, can’t think of the name of the place in the Barossa Valley anyway,
wine was two and sixpence a flagon and didn’t we give that hell, but beer we used to, they’d bring a three ton truck of beer into the battalion every night and that would be drunk before morning. It was all beer casks, so it was drinking was pretty heavy in the army. Not out of control, you had to line up and do your training
in the morning. There was no sick headaches or anything like that. There must have been plenty of them about though. That’s where I got a good taste for beer; I really got into the grog there.
How much did you find the fitness of the blokes contributed to the blokes’ ability to have a drink and not get too crazy?
Well they were well disciplined by that time. We’d been quite a number of years in the Middle East and the discipline was very strict in there and
most of the battalion discipline was strict. I don’t know what it was like in the militia battalions but in the AIF battalions it was very strict. If you overstayed your leave or anything like that the first punishment you got, in our battalion anyway, was five pounds and twenty-eight days. Well that was a pretty severe punishment believe me because you were in chasing the bugle in Australia
and the twenty-eight days was worse than it sounded because you never got paid for the twenty-eight days and that made a very big difference. I was only on seventeen [shillings] and six [pence] a week in the army in the six years I was there. So you weren’t…today they talk about forty-two thousand when they join up, it’s just incredible. It wasn’t as bad as you think it was because a lot of the times
you were in action and you couldn’t spend it and you came out and you had twenty and thirty pounds and you were almost a millionaire. So in that respect, but when I look back now at seventeen and six a week for six years, God that was terrible wasn’t it? That was starvation wasn’t it? We were fed of course.
So when you were in England on leave, how did you get around?
I did a couple of bus rides, the tube was running and you could get in that. Mainly we walked although we went from place to place you could use the bus, they had double-decker buses going then, it was just normal peacetime as far as they were concerned. Worse was to come of course, the Blitz. When you come to think of
it, the German air force never had the terrific bombs that the allies did and they never had the planes to deliver them. They did a hell of a lot of damage, don’t misunderstand me, and they could be very frightening. They were nothing compared to what the British and Americans did to Germany. They created firestorms over a lot of those cities and I never knew what a
firestorm was, but somebody told me, “It’s this way, Bert, they drop the high explosive and they blow the place to pieces.” Don’t forgot these were a thousand bomber raids we’re talking about, so they made a lot of debris around the place, then they dropped thousands of tons of incendiaries. And all that stuff got set alight, that started to burn and that created a tremendous firestorm and
it sucked the air in from the outside and if you were standing too close to it you got sucked in with it. They really suffered, there’s no doubt about that. Thought at the time, looking back on it, you thought “Great, great”. It was a terrible thing really for those people. Germans really suffered in that war.
When you were in London before the Blitz started, did you see or sense a preparation for war in England?
Yes. There was plenty of water in
between the houses, you know they’re built like footballs the shape of a football and they were two storeys and they put a lot of people in them. There were always people on watch and there was water for fire and they made good preparation. We were lucky
there was no bombing while we were there.
At that time had they started to construct bomb shelters?
Oh yes my word very much so, and also in Australia too, even in Rockhampton the bomb shelters were in the middle of the streets. My word. They were well provided for in that way. And of course they had the tubes you see, they could go down to the Underground to the tubes in the bombing raids of a night time,
most of them would sleep under there. Some of the more brave souls stayed in the flats and that sort of thing up top.
How long all up did you spend in England?
I’d say we were about four months in Lachlan Corner and when we moved to Colchester and the winter came on, they reckoned Australians couldn’t stand the cold, which we couldn’t either, and they moved into Colchester, which was an army town. The
army had barracks there.
So all the while what were you doing? Training?
Training that’s all. That’s all we could do; there was no one to fight. The fighting never started until we got to the Middle East and it started with a vengeance.
Were the blokes getting bored?
Oh yes. Yes they hated it. How many times can you take a Bren gun to pieces and put in together again? Some of those fellas had done it a thousand times
I’ll bet particularly on board ship. They’d say, “Righto, we’ll take the Bren gun” and you’d hear, “Oh God no, not again please, not a Bren gun”, growls that sort of thing, but they did it.
Did they ever cause any problems with blokes getting bored?
No. No. Never had disobedience problems not to my knowledge. The NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers] and officers had firm control of our battalion, it appeared to me that way.
When you were told you were finally going to go, what was the mood amongst the blokes?
No. When you were in England and you were finally told you were…?
Oh, take us out of England into Middle East; well we got on the ships you see and went back the same way we came around the Cape [of Good Hope] and this time we pulled in at Durban. The interesting part there was they got word of a
submarine pack waiting for this particular convoy and we went north and east and north and east and north and east and north until finally we got to the stage where it was practically dark in the middle of the day, the north and freezing cold. I remember we were standing on the deck all rugged up and I said to Jack, “How long do you think we’d last if we were torpedoed?” He said, “Five minutes”.
That’s about all you would last in those waters. They were very cold. We couldn’t have been far off Canada, the northern part of Canada. Anyway they must have decided they’d eluded the subs [submarines] and they thought they’d swing in and they swung in to Sierra Leone again. Stayed there for a couple of days and went on. We didn’t pull in at Cape Town, we went into Durban. That was a nice city,
I liked it, we were there for a couple of days had leave and then we got and we went up through to the Suez. In the midst of it all, I caught a fever. They called it sand fly fever, but I don’t think they knew what it was, it could’ve been anything. Anyway I was all right by the time I got to the Red Sea and came into the Suez. We were in training.
There’s something I’ve got to tell you about that it’s not very nice. The desert starts very quick from Alexandria, Alexandria is a lovely city, it’s right on the Mediterranean, it really is lovely, but the desert starts very soon afterwards. We were a few miles out, but getting there we had to go from one of the Suez stations across a bit of a desert before we could get there.
I could never understand why we’d be through all desert and it would just be sand and all of a sudden you’d see a lot of stones outside every little way stop, the stations, you’d see these stones. They weren’t stones. There were no lavatories you see and they did their business right out in the open. Of course over the years a number of businesses had been done and
made it look like stones. Extraordinary. We weren’t in carriages; we were in cattle trucks. The cattle trucks have no Westinghouse brakes on them and when they started off, have you ever heard a sugar train start off? It goes “rat, rat, rat, rat” all the way and when it stops it goes “chat, chat, chat, chat” as they hit the bumpers. Well that was what it was like on these things. They were clean
and they had iron sides, quite high, and there was no place to get a grip. The surface of the trucks was steel and quite clean and polished and when they took off if you were up this end of the truck you’d go right down there, you had nothing to hang on to. When they stopped, you could hear ‘bang, bang, bang’ along
the line and “whoosh” up you’d go to the front. How we weren’t killed or break our legs or hit our heads, you had your hands to stop yourself, rather interesting.
When you blokes were told, “OK we’re off to the Middle East”, were the blokes excited?
No. No, we knew that war was properly on by that time; the Dunkirk had taken place and the troops had all been
pulled back. The English didn’t like the Dutch because, that’s the impression I got anyway. Yes that’s right when we came down from Dunkirk, the first of the English trains were arriving with the troops on and of course they were sleeping all over the place, all tired from waiting up days trying to get a boat out. One thing I struck in England, I didn’t like it very much; the ladies were on the platform
giving us sandwiches when they pulled in, but they wouldn’t give them to the English. That’s a fact. They wouldn’t give them any sandwiches. I said, “Why don’t you feed them? They’re the ones that need it”. “Oh they lost”. That’s true. Just goes to show you, doesn’t it? You don’t see that in history books, but that’s true.
When you were in England, what sort of news were you still receiving about the war?
Same more or less as what you were getting on the war out here on Iraq. Same sort of thing. In the retreat from France onto Dunkirk beaches, where they were all congregated, the German fighters had a field day. They machine-gunned them all over the place, but never killed that many. There were a few ships that were sunk
with troops on board, great loads of troops of course pouring into England. All or most of their weapons were lost and all their transport, they never took anything like that.
That all happened while you were stationed in England?
That must have been big news?
Yes it was. It was over so quickly, it only lasted about a week or so and it was all over. Then it was a
stalemate. I thought the Germans would come across the English Channel but of course when you realise from this point of view they never had the transport. They never had the ships, no way they could do it and they didn’t have the navy to protect them either or the air force as it turned out. The English air force was superior to the Germans. Not so terribly severe, but they were better than them.
So did you know when you were sent to the Middle East what your actual destination was?
No. We were supposed to go, we knew that we’d go through the Canal and go to some camp outside Alex [Alexandria] or we thought it was Alex, but we never got there of course. But we did get there eventually when we came back from England. We didn’t know where we were going. We thought we were going to fight the
Italians but we never fought Italians for a good twelve months after.
Before you got to JeraBub, your first destination, in between England and there did you have any leave along the way? Or was it all just transport?
We were transported to our destination, then when we’d settled down and settled in we did get a days leave to Alexandria, yes.
What did you do there?
Oh we drank, what we used to call ‘wog beer’ if we could get it; you couldn’t get Australian or English beer that was reserved for the officers, pretty sure it was because we didn’t get much of it. We used to get a supply of beer from the army, we used to get two bottles of Al Maza, I think they called it, and one bottle
of Richmond Tiger. That was the cheapest Australian beer they could get I think. We used to get a lot of that. I didn’t like the Al Maza beer at all, some fellas liked it, it was a sweet beer. Some used to, they’d go for Arak and we had a company sergeant major killed, shot to death
by one of our blokes. Duchy Douglas was the chap that created the, he was on Arak, it drives them mad. It tastes like aniseed and it gets a milky look, they sell it out here not as Arak but as Greek whisky I think they call it. I never went for it. I didn’t like aniseed anyway. Duchy got drunk on Arak and he was creating a noise, now where was this?
Latakia I think, he went down and quietened him down the first time and he came back and he created a noise again and he went down again and he shot him, killed him. You know the army never tried Duchy, they put him before the civilian court and he got life. He came home with us on the ship. He was quite a normal sort of a fella, of course he wasn’t drinking, not Arak anyway. I thought
that was, he was a nice fella the chappie that he shot, a good sergeant-major as well.
That was alcohol induced?
Oh yes. Arak purely and simply, nothing else.
What was the drinking culture that existed in the army?
Oh well practically everybody drank beer. Out here they could get it and it was quite good. They probably get a little bit tipsy and they’d toddle off to bed and
go to sleep and wake up in the morning and they’d be all right, or pretending they were all right anyway. It was heavy drinking, but after all the army encouraged it. They did it to save desertions, that’s my opinion. They supplied this beer that you could get and drink it and it was supplied free from memory. You never had glasses, you had your Dixies.
The army they did purposely for that reason, otherwise there’d be desertions in the camps in Australia. It would be so easy to go home sort of thing. They cultivated it.
Did you find drinking more in the army than you had previously?
Oh yes. You drank a lot when you could. When you were in your base camps when we were here before
we went to New Guinea, but when we got to New Guinea that was different. Oh, beer was provided for in New Guinea, a couple bottles a week. Not in the action part of it. Always there was grog somewhere. A wild story went around at the time that we were camped near the air force and it was reputed that some Australian soldiers went there and they drained the alcohol off from the torpedoes.
Whether this is right or wrong I don’t know, but this was the story at the time. When the poor unfortunate air force dropped the torpedoes they just went straight to the bottom. I don’t know what alcohol did to the torpedoes but it was there apparently. They said they drained it and that was the story we got back. Pretty poor, but reputed to have happened and I can’t say that I actually witnessed sort of thing.
What about cigarettes?
Yeah we’d get plenty. We’d get cigarettes, well tobacco and when we fought under the Americans in Cape Endaiadere, we came under the American command and they supplied us with Bull Durham tobacco, a packet a day if you wanted it. If you didn’t want that, a packet of American cigarettes, but you very seldom got Lucky Strike or any of the good ones.
We got the cheaper ones of the Americans. They were quite good and they were supplied free. The Americans supplied it.
Did you start smoking in the army?
Oh no, I smoked long before. I smoked pretty heavy in the army after I left for a number of years. I got on to a tobacco in the end, the nicest tobacco I ever had in my life called Erinmore, I believe you can still buy it. I used to buy it, well Mum used to buy it for me first, of course this is
when I was working, seventy cents for a tin, a two ounce tin and that would do me for a couple of days. I have seen Erinmore on sale in some of the shops here, it’s over twelve dollars a tin. By that time, I’d stopped smoking.
So your first task was at JeraBub?
That was the first battle we ever had yes.
What can you tell us about that?
was an oasis, but it was a fortified oasis. It was fortified by the Turks, they built the fort, but the Italians of course used it and fortified it and the Italians put barbed wire all around it about six or seven feet or maybe ten feet thick. That doesn’t say that you couldn’t hop over it because the sand used to build up underneath it you see, it was right out in the desert.
When they made the attack they had to go through this barbed wire and things I’d never seen in my life called Bangalore torpedoes. They were a two-inch pipe or whatever it was, one man or two men could handle the explosive and they’d shoot that under the wire and it really made a mess of it, it just tore it back with no trouble.
The British engineers did it and they didn’t lose any men, how the hell they didn’t I don’t know. Our fellas of course kept them pinned down, kept firing on the machine gunners, and mortars and the artillery, we had the Royal Horse Artillery with us too. They kept them down and anyway they got out of it. They blew the wire. The next time I heard of a Bangalore torpedo was back here in Australia when I was working in the
bank and some chap and some fellow had a crook back, some Australian soldier. He couldn’t get any satisfaction from the specialist so he built a Bangalore torpedo, I suppose about that long, took it up and dropped it in, fired it and killed three of the specialists. Of course blew the place about and it was a hell of a hullabaloo. That’s what he did. I don’t know what they did,
I don’t think they knew who it was. He learnt that from JeraBub, there’s no doubt about that, either being on the spot or listening to people talk about it. When you come to think about it, you don’t have to be a genius to make a Bangalore torpedo. You could fill the tube with dynamite, put a fuse at one end and let her go and away she’d go.
Very big explosion too.
What did you do during that battle?
During that battle I wasn’t in the battle at all. I was in B Echelon at that time and I was sent to a food station that had been established by the British, I don’t know how the Italians never raided it, I don’t know why they didn’t.
Anyway it was out there full of food to supply us and also water, which was more important, although it wasn’t important there because JeraBub had underground springs. That’s where we got caught in the desert. Slight sandstorm and a German plane flew over, dropped himself down to about fifty feet and turned his, there was a middle gunner, there was no tail gunner, and
the machine gun that he had had those little nests and quite a few had them, but anyway he was very close to us, only about fifty feet up and about fifty feet in front of us, and by God he was accurate shot. He was aiming at me and I was behind a tailboard and he hit the tailboard and it was like a blacksmith’s board, there were sparks everywhere.
Of course it was all over in a matter of seconds, but the plane went away. He was a very straight shot. The bullets never came through the tailboard, I was behind the steel tailboard and the bullets never came through. That’s a fact. He was that close to me I could see his eyes behind his specs, like gas specs with a bit of wadding around them and I could see his eyes. I can laugh about it now, I wasn’t laughing at the time. A couple of bullets
went into the back of the truck and most of them hit the tailboard. Some of them, and this is why I found out why they didn’t come through, the things that go over and take the canopy at the bottom of those shafts is metal surround and it comes about that high, well a couple of bullets hit that and they penetrated the metal, which was only thin, but when I pulled one out to have a
look at it you’re not going to believe this. See they weren’t like 303s they were only that big and about that round to the first join of your little finger and of course they had no penetrating power whatsoever because they were all fitted for aircraft and they were for all the incendiary. There were some that were solid core. That’s how big they were, so they couldn’t go through the tailboard. If they’d
have been 303s, we’d all have been dead for sure because they would have gone straight through the tailboard. The tailboard was fairly thick stuff. All I could think of at the time, you don’t have much time to think, I was hoping for a tin hat, I don’t know why, because I was behind the tailboard but I could see over the top of it and I saw this bloke’s eyes. A bit startling.
That was the first time you’d been fired at?
Yes it would’ve been. It was a good education wasn’t it?
What did it teach you?
It taught me to keep my head down. Most definitely. I had a few other experiences of course.
Interviewee: Alfred Lilley Archive ID 1794 Tape 05
Simemi Creek was at Cape Endaiadere, ordinarily it’s called Buna, Buna was another village captured by the Americans further up the coast. The Cape Endaiadere was the headquarters for his attack on Moresby in Australia and it was all very heavily fortified and about
ten, fifteen in the fortification with little peep holes to shoot through and overgrown with coconuts so you could hardly see it. One of our tanks came up against it earlier in the piece, I didn’t see it, and they ran into this and the tank stalled and in the meantime a Jap raced around and put his revolver in the back of, so I’m told, in the back where the starter winder went in and cut the starter wires and they couldn’t start the
tank again and it was standing there with this explosive shell through it. There it stayed. A lady from New Guinea told me years and years later all they did was just push, they got bulldozers in, the Americans and just pushed the whole lot into the ocean, coconut trees and all. It was a coconut plantation; it is now coffee plantations. Simemi Creek, I was in B Echelon and we weren’t in the actual fighting
with the sangers [bunkers], we called them sangers, with the fortifications. We lost very heavily there because we went through I understand and the soldiers dropped down grenades into and they weren’t strong enough and didn’t kill them. So they dropped two-inch mortars down and that killed them, they were all killed eventually. They killed a lot of us shot in the back
because as we walked past they saw us and they shot us and that was it. Anyway they pushed through to Simemi Creek, it was about a hundred yards further up, maybe less, and of course by this time they ran short of men so they wanted all the men they could get, so they went down to B Echelon and took the surplus down there and I was one of the surplus. They put us on a creek called Simemi Creek and on the other side of that was the Buna
airstrip, it was only a small creek of twenty yards wide. A chap was on the other side and two of us were in there for three and a half days and three nights. Alongside us was a dead Jap, would be about two yards away and the place was being heavily shelled. With ordinary shelling you get overshoot. They were overshooting the Jap side of the creek and landing on our side.
My great fear was that a shell would land on this Jap, blow him up and we’d be covered with him. It didn’t happen that way, we never got hit and a fella called, I can’t remember his name, he’s a banana farmer in Yeppoon, and his one cry was, “I don’t mind being killed by the enemy, but I don’t want to be killed by my own people”. There were the shells landing on there and they were shelling very heavily, that went on
for three days and three nights. Finally the Japs were either killed or escaped, they escaped through the lines back through further up the coast. We were relieved and I was very relieved to get out of the damned place believe me. But on the way back an interesting thing, this is the truth, you won’t believe it, but it is the truth. As we were coming back on these sangers
or fortifications, I saw chimneys and I was with another mate of mine and we’d been in the war all the time, called Jack Gavin, and I said to him, “Do you remember those chimneys when we passed through?” and he said, “No I don’t, so we’ll go and have a look at it” and marched over about ten or twelve yards and heard a loud buzzing noise and saw a black funnel about, standing that far out of the
fortification, flies, and they maintained the same opening that they had to get in to the dead bodies, which they did. Most people don’t believe that but it’s true. I was telling it to this lady from New Guinea who told me what they did; she said, “Have you written that down?” I said “No”, “What about Jack?” I said, “He’s dead”.
That was the way it was. You’re the only people that have it officially in the archives as far as I know, could have been others that seen it but I don’t know if they did, I’ve never heard it if they did. That’s what they were, they were flies. They kept the same formation as the breathing space because they wanted to go down again, up and down and up and down. We went back to B Echelon.
Before we talk more about New Guinea, I might just go back and ask you some more about being in the Middle East if that’s OK?
You were just talking about some of the casualties in New Guinea, what had the casualties been like in JeraBub?
One hundred and twenty five we lost there and in Tobruk; I don’t know if I was seven or nine months in Tobruk. I got an idea it might only be seven.
I came out with a thing call PUO, something [Pyrexia of] Unknown Origin, turned out to be yellow jaundice from the food. I think I spent seven months there. I don’t know the casualties. I couldn’t tell you because the destroyers in the moonlight were coming in with reinforcements and taking the casualties back to Alexandria, which I
was a casualty and finally wound up in a British hospital in Alexandria. What I’m going to tell you now, I know you won’t believe it again but it’s the God’s truth. Alongside me in the ship, it was in a sunken place, it was obviously made there before wartime but ready for war and all the what-do-you-call-them were sunken that deep into the earth because of the shrapnel that would fly over the top. Anyway
we had to wait, I think it would be about forty-bed ward and we had two inspections during the day, one in the morning by a doctor and we had to be under the blankets, English hospital and very strict, you couldn’t smoke, you couldn’t do anything while the doctor was in the place and you had to be under the cover, never mind how hot it was. In the afternoon, you’d have to suffer the matron going through.
She used to come around, much quicker than the doctors of course. The interesting thing about it was the Dutchman had his leg off, just above the knee, but it was healed. He was still in hospital. He had to stand alongside his bed and rest his knee on the bed, this is the truth, his knee that was cut off, he had to stand there while the doctor went around the ward and the matron went around, twice a day. They
left us there for a week and then they opened an Australian hospital in one of the buildings in town and that was totally different. We had decent people to look after us without these stupid clap-trap that the English went on with, well they hardly ever spoke to you. Anyway it turned out that the comfort fund was there and they put it around and they were selling chocolate. They had MacRobertson chocolate, do either of you remember them?
They were in a square about that square and I bought two of them. As soon as I ate a quarter of it, I had to get a kidney tray, I vomited and as soon as I vomited, I turned yellow. They knew then what was wrong with me, my spleen was playing up and in a bad way. I stayed there for another maybe a month, I didn’t mind it, it was very nice.
Then I went to a, where you used to rest, and it was full of wounded and sick people.
Convalescent. Convalescent home, Con Camp, and I spent about three months there, I could never understand why. I asked a doctor later on I said, “Why did they keep me there that long” – it was on the
shores of the Mediterranean, it was a beautiful spot – he said, “That would be infectious”. I don’t know if it was infectious or not, finally I went back to the Con Camp and you see a photo in there, to the Reinforcement Depot, we all had to go through the Reinforcement Depot so the battalion could pick the ones they wanted. Eventually they picked, I got picked and I was on my way up to the battalion, which was at that time in
Lebanon. I can’t think of the capital of Lebanon, but that’s where we were. A rather funny episode happened there, we were in houses in the city and everyone was there, the brigade, the Brigade Headquarters, the Brigadier at that time was a General Wootten and he was in charge and in that country
they have performing bears and they have someone with a rope on them and the bear, brown bear, performs and this fellow was performing and the brigadier came out and saw him disturbing the troops and said, “Go on get out of the way” and his transport officer came out and put his hand on his shoulder and said, “Keep calm old man, keep calm”. This is only hearsay what I heard later, anyway the brigadier got that annoyed with him, he was drunk of course, he sent him home. He was lucky or unlucky I don’t know,
but that was that. We left there and we went up through Idlib, Latakia we went through, and wound up in Aleppo, which was a very big city in northern Syria. We were in the Germans’ barracks there and we stayed there for a while over Christmas and they transferred us back down away to a place called Latakia,
which was a monastery, I don’t know what religion it was; I take it to be the southern or whatever religion it was, I doubt it was Catholic. Anyway it was very similar to it and they had an olive grove and they used to supply us with cooked turkeys when you wanted them, that is where the company sergeant major got shot by Duchy Douglas. I always thought he was a German and I think he was too.
He went to gaol and he got life out here in Australia. We were there and believe it or not it became very cold. The ground froze over and of course you were sleeping on it, well, with a ground sheet and a blanket. You were pretty cold yourself. In the daytime, it used to melt into a slush. It actually snowed there and that was on the seaside too.
Can get pretty cold in northern Syria. We stayed there for a couple of months I suppose. Then we came down to the Canal where were in various camps, Kilo 16, Kilo 89 and all that sort of stuff; that’s what they called them alongside the Canal. The other side, we were on the, there was a sand hill quite high between us and the Canal and I can remember
seeing ships going through the Canal, seeing the superstructure going through this sand, it was a weird sort of a sight. There I had an unfortunate occurrence where I had a very good friend called Carter. They were looking for me to send me down to some ordnance depot to get something, I can’t think what it was, and they couldn’t find me. So they sent Carter; unfortunately it cost him
his life. He went down in a carrier and the carrier clipped another and turned over and crushed him to death, which was very unfortunate because he was a hell of a nice joker. Then we just got on a ship and went into Bombay, stayed a couple days there and left and went to somewhere in Ceylon and we got out of there and
came down to Perth.
When you originally got over there into JeraBub and the casualties, what were you thinking as a young man?
I wasn’t terribly involved in the fighting there at all because I was in B Echelon and they were a bit behind the lines, but not very far and I was sent away to get some
rations; for the life of me today I don’t know why the Italians never attacked that ration point. It must have been there a while because it had a swimming pool full of water and a lot of food, they could have easily done it but they didn’t. That’s where I got caught with that aeroplane.
What were your feelings towards the Germans and Italians?
I felt sorry for the Italians because they were mainly
farmers and that sort of thing and they were taken away over there as farmers and inducted into the army, Mussolini was just as much a dictator as anyone else. There they were, they didn’t really want to fight but there were some battalions who did want to fight and they were very hard to subdue, but the other Italians weren’t. They seemed to have the impression that they could fight up to a thousand yards or six hundred
yards of them and then they’d sling their things down and say, “Come on, it’s all over, it’s finished”. There were some followers of Mussolini and his gang there and they could fight. Don’t kid yourself that Italians can’t fight, they can fight if they feel like it, they are just the same as any trained professional, they fight well. What were my feelings? I don’t know. We spent about three days there after the capture.
Oh, I don’t know it was just a normal place in the desert. There was a mosque there, a very big mosque too, it was quite a big oasis.
In that battle, were there any prisoners of war taken?
Yes. We captured, we heard before we went there when we were on our way,
there were two hundred Italians I think it was and thirteen hundred whatever they call those people in Libya, they’ve got a special name, I can’t think of it at the moment, but they all deserted. We never fought them. It was only the Italians that we ran into. They caused enough trouble, one hundred and twenty five. It didn’t last more than two hours.
Do you know what happened to the POWs [Prisoners of War]?
They came out to Australia.
The usual things happened a mixture of troops, there were Italians there and there were Australians and, I never saw this but I heard it, our chaps that were Catholics used to wear rosary beads around their neck it was quite a common practice and this Italian called one over and gave him a gold watch, quite a good one because
he spotted him with the rosary beads around his neck and knew that he was a fellow Catholic. Apparently he was supposed to have said to him, “No you have it, it’s too good to give to me.” He said, “No. They’re going to take it off me as soon as I get into prison camp.” He said, “I’d rather you have it”. So he got a nice watch, I believe that would be true. It’s the type of thing that would happen.
The casualties that were suffered there, the men were killed in action, were they buried there?
Yes they would have been but they were interred a bit later and put into a proper war cemetery that was in Tobruk. I always called it To-bruk, that was my pronunciation not theirs.
From JeraBub you were told you were going to Greece is that right?
No we were taken back to Ikingi Maryut, stayed there a couple
of days and they put us on the ships again and we were going right into the Mediterranean and we were on our way to Greece, we knew that but we didn’t like it because we knew that Greece was a land bridge to the German army which was in full flight at the time and we weren’t just up to that class. We might have been as good as individual soldiers, but we never had the numbers. They did have the numbers so it was inevitable that we would be overrun and it was.
Our troops fought bravely as they were always supposed to have fought and most of them did, in fact they all did usually. Some escaped on board ship, on board destroyers and we were in Tobruk at the time. That’s right we were back on the Mediterranean, that’s right we’d come out of Tobruk and it was the battle of [Cape] Matapan.
A sight that I don’t think that you’d see again as long as you lived, atom bombs and that sort of thing. It was the British fleet, ships from horizon to horizon, the little ships and the capital ships in the middle, all steaming abreast going forward to meet the Italians. I thought it was the Italian fleet. I was watching them from one of the high points of the Ulster Prince was the ship that we were on. She was about a four thousand tonner.
It held the battalion anyway. I thought, “My God, it’s the Italian fleet, we’re about to be sunk” when I saw it. There was a lamp flicking, but I couldn’t read it of course because I didn’t know Morse code. Anyway it turned out, they were telling us to go back. That was the British fleet and we were in the way of the fight with the Italian fleet. I think I told you that what actually happened there had a big bearing on what happened over
when the Americans were brought into the war at Pearl Harbor. The big damage was done to the Italian fleet by aerial torpedoes and we had the old Walrus machines, I don’t know if you remember they were biplanes, they weren’t very fast, but apparently they could direct their torpedoes quite well and they did terrible damage to the Italian fleet. The people that saw it were Japanese observers; they were on the British ships because they weren’t at war
you see. They took that notice very carefully and they went back and it was aerial torpedoes seemed to be the way to go and that’s exactly what they did and they played hell with the American fleet in Pearl Harbor.
When you arrived at Tobruk, what was your initial impression there?
It hadn’t been surrounded by that time. The Germans weren’t, they were still in Benghazi,
Germans and Italians. My feelings? Oh I don’t remember I had any feelings. It was a desert, right on the sea coast, it had a nice little harbour and plenty of sunken ships there. What it was, did I tell anything about that bomb I got all to myself?
I’ll tell you that now. We were in B Echelon and we stayed in B Echelon we went up to the front and came back. That sort of thing went on and in Tobruk the B Echelon was miles behind the front line, you couldn’t get very far behind the line because it was surrounded, but we were a fair way away from it. The only danger we had was there used to be a plane came over and he dropped six bombs,
but he wouldn’t drop them that way, he dropped them that way, one after the other. I don’t know what he was doing but in the moonlight night he used to come over and he used to use Tobruk to orient himself because he could see the white buildings and the slash in the side. And the buildings were all destroyed as a matter of interest, and of course he’d give himself one hundred and eight degrees from then on and go straight out into the what-you-call-it in the desert, there’d be
lights out there for him to see. The British ships came in occasionally and they fired at what they thought was the aerodrome out there, but it would be hit or by miss, I don’t know that they ever hit anything. This plane used to come over and it was bringing six bombs of which it would drop and if it was to the west it would turn that way and you’d hear them coming that way, if it had swung to the east because of it had to
it came from Italy and it would be a little bit out of kilter and used to orient himself on the gas thing on the sunken ships. This particular time you could always tell which way the bombs were going, this way that way or coming towards you. In the first time he dropped his six bombs, but he ran out of bombs before the bomb got
to me. We had a sanger, what you call a little bit of a trench dug and we used to stop yourself from shrapnel because they could rake the whole place with gunfire and there was a big “Bardia Bill” we used to call it, it used to fire six-inch shells over the water points and lob them very close to us, so you wanted to get underneath so you wouldn’t be hit with shrapnel. This particular time
when that one finished maybe a couple of days or a week later, another one came in. But this time the bombs didn’t’ stop, he dropped his six, one, two, three, four, five and I knew the sixth one was going to fall into my sanger. Well it did, it fell on the parapet and there was a sanger next to it. The chap there had seventy-three puncture wounds and he survived by the way.
It was the only time, don’t get the impression that I was a terribly brave soldier because I wasn’t, I was scared most of the time I was in action and I always was, but this time I truly was terrified. I knew that the bomb was going to land where I was and I thought it was curtains for me. I just went, I curled myself up into a ball and hoped for the best. Well, I didn’t have to wait, this thing landed all right.
It didn’t land in my trench but landed on the parapet and that was only a few feet away from me. It exploded, about a five hundred pounder. Gave the bloke in the next sanger, he got the brunt of it because the shrapnel of course goes the way the bomb is dropping, if the bomb is dropped that way a lot of the shrapnel goes that way, some of it comes backwards but it mainly goes that way. He was unfortunate in that he was directly in front of it, although he was in a trench, he, as I say,
he got seventy-two wounds, he was still alive. I actually as soon as the bomb exploded, of course cordite and dust and stones everywhere, I was over it, but I was absolutely terrified. I want to say this. Most people say that they are terrified, but I say they’ve never had it. Terror is different to being really scared, really frightened. It is a
feeling of nothing, that’s actually what it is. You go out, you black out, I think if you stayed a long while in terror you’d die. It only lasted about a second, less than a second as far as I was concerned. As soon as it exploded, the terror was gone. It was all over. That was the one and only time I experienced terror in the war. I experience frightened, I was frightened
a lot of times, but I was never terrified. I don’t think many people when they say they’re terrified, they don’t know what they’re talking about, what they mean is they are very, very frightened, but not terrified. Terror is a different thing. I think terror kills you. It would have killed me I’m certain had it lasted, but it didn’t. That was the only time I was really, what I’d call terrified in the war. The rest of the time I was
frightened out of my wits, not terrified, no, terrified is different.
Did you have any side effects from that bomb?
No. No, none. I don’t know why. I had many narrow escapes during the war at different places, particularly in New Guinea. I don’t know why I was spared. I was never scratched during the whole time I was at it. I put that down to inspiration from Divine Providence because I’ve sure prayed a lot, you’ve seen my
statues and things, I try to be very religious. Not always succeeding. I try.
Do you know the vibration of the bomb landing so close to you, that had nothing to do with the…?
No, not to my knowledge, although when I came back from the war they tell me, people that knew me, that Mum had to settle me down, I wasn’t married then. I wasn’t
conscious of that. They used to call it ‘static’. I’d blink a lot or my hands would shake a bit, they shake now when they come up here but that’s not Alzheimer’s, I think I’ve injured the elbow. I never suffered any effects from the war at all, except cancer. I suppose you get cancer from, not terror, but from worry.
I had cancer of the bowel, cancer of the prostate, cancer in the shoulder, and in that shoulder. I went through a period of cancer, cancer, cancer. I will say this, again I was very lucky, I had good surgeons and they got it all. I never had chemotherapy. I had some beautiful big lumps of cancer taken out of me, but never chemotherapy, so I was dead lucky they got the lot.
What kind of noise is involved in a bomb dropping that closely to you?
So what the Germans do, and so do the British, in the fins of the bomb the fins that direct a bomb face down, they put organ pipes and the organ pipes are made of very stiff cardboard and they’re about that long and they have, the same as an organ cut out, but they’ve got this thing here. Of course it makes a terrific noise, enormous actually, it screeches at the
top of its voice, you can just imagine it, because there is more than one bomb dropping at a time, there might be three or four. Although I said that they were different, the fact that the screeching goes on and the closer it gets the louder it gets. It’s quite frightening.
Is the screeching more frightening than when the bomb explodes?
When it explodes it’s all over, it’s finished and you’re either dead, wounded or
you never got hurt. In my case, I never got hurt, it ended straightaway. Any fear that you had for that particular time went away. I was more concerned with Bluey Telford, that was the fella in the next thing to me, I went over with him and I had some, not having any medical, I did have some methylated spirits and the methylated spirits in those days used to be coloured a sort of purple. I had an Italian water bottle full of it, I don’t know where I got it.
I thought, I could see that he was badly wounded I said, “Bluey stand still and I’ll pour some metho on you” and he said, “Don’t touch me with that,” he said, “or you’ll kill me”, which I would have of course. The pain would have been excruciating. So he got out of it. I still had my methylated spirits. It was all over as far as I was concerned that particular night. No it never worried me.
There is Tobruk, what was the medical assistance or evacuation like?
It must have been very good because the RAP, Regimental Aid Post, would look at them first and they would do the dressings and of course they’d go on to El Kantara down on the Canal and that was the big base hospital. I’ll tell you something about that. There was a man called, we had a doctor, we had quite a few doctors, I told you about the bloke that put the needles in our chest,
but it wasn’t him. This fellas name was Yates, Dr Yates, and he was a big tall gangly fella, I think he was part of the sea mob, and you could put anything over him, he was no physician, but my God what a surgeon. I’ll tell you how good he was, but you’d go to him and, “Yes, oh well you’d better have three or four days rest” you could get that sort of thing easily off him. He must
have been a damned good physician, but he didn’t want to show much strength there, he was mainly interested in surgery. He was the surgeon that attended to the wounded from JeraBub and when the ones that survived were taken down to Kantara hospital, they saw the work that he had done, the stitching and the bandaging that he himself had done, they enquired who it was and when they knew who it was, they took him straightaway out of
the battalion and put him down to the big base hospital in Kantara, he was too good for a battalion. He could only do minor things in a battalion whereas he could do big things down there. He became a famous surgeon and he died a tragic death. They picked him up in his garage, he’d been in a fight with another doctor apparently, that’s what it looked like, and the other doctor overpowered him, hit him,
killed him and tried to revive him by putting adrenalin into his heart, that’s how they picked the other doctor up. He squirted this adrenalin into him to revive him, didn’t survive, so he died a tragic death, which was a pity because he was a great surgeon. One of the really great ones.
That was long after the war?
No, oh yes, he was killed after the war, yes. He did marvellous work. I think he came from London,
Mary’s Hospital in London, either went there after the war or came from there, I can’t remember which it was. I knew his batman during the war, I can’t think of his name, he was a ratbag if ever there was one, but a good soldier and a good batman, he looked after the doctor like a baby. He committed suicide too after the war. He never got over the war.
He came to see me when we were living privately; he said, “Could you give us a few bob and something to eat?” I said, “I can give you something to eat, but I certainly can’t give you any money.” I said, “I haven’t got any myself”. I knew a sergeant cook in the Brisbane General, he was a sergeant cook in our unit, and he’s still alive and he’s got Alzheimer’s too as a matter of interest, but he
went to him and this chap said, “I can’t give you any food out of the hospital rations, I’d be sacked immediately.” But anyway he said, “Come out home and I’ll get something for you”, which he did. As I say, he took an overdose of sleeping pills and he never recovered from the war, he was always at war, he stayed in his war atmosphere, whereas most of us got over it and got into peacetime
living, but he didn’t. Some are like that. Not very many of them, but he was one. He took an overdose.
Bert, when that bomb missed you, but got Bluey, did he have anything to say to you afterwards about that?
I struck him in Movement Control. The last twelve months of the war, our CO [Commanding Officer] said “You originals”, that we could never get out of the battalion you see, he said,
“You can go” and Jack, that’s my mate Jack Gavin, he said, “Genius, what are you going to do?” and I said, “I don’t know anybody, you know somebody who could claim us, I don’t know anybody that could claim us” because I worked in an obscure bank in an obscure country town. Important people just passed me by. He said, “What are we going to do?” We’re going on leave to go home after the first trip to New Guinea and then we were going back to
New Guinea. I said, “I think we just carry on, there’s nothing else we can do,” and I said, “Anyway the war is nearly over.” It wasn’t nearly over as a matter of interest, but within twelve months of it. “What are you going to do?” “Oh well we’d better go.” We got to Townsville and we got off and we were in to get a bun or something like that and we heard over the intercom, “Would Privates Gavin and Lilley report to Captain Wharton. Well we knew Tommy Wharton; he was an adjutant of the First Movement Control
and we met him on station and he knew both of us well. He said, “Would you like to join my unit?” and I remember saying to Tommy, “Where are you based?” and he said “Townsville” and I said, “That’ll do me”. He said, “Go home and have your leave and report back to Movement Control”. So I spent the last twelve months in Townsville and Cairns in Movement Control and riding a motorbike. I used to ride bikes in those days; I liked them too.
They made me a Don-R [motorcycle despatch rider]. I thoroughly enjoyed it all around Townsville and environs and Cairns.
Is that where you ran into Bluey again?
Yes. He was our warrant officer in Movement Control in Townsville. Now, Movement Control consisted of a lot of the…Tommy Wharton and Skipper Richards, he was a Colonel, they were both in the battalion and they took the opportunity to grab a lot of
fellas they knew in it. Blue was one of them. He was in charge of the stores in Movement Control.
What did Bluey have to say to you finally?
Oh I don’t know. “How are you going, Bluey?” He said, “Pretty good” and here he was dressed up to the nines, nice officer shoes and everything on. I was never particularly friendly with him, but he was a mate in the battalion.
We never associated much later. I did see him with a girl in, where was it, some southern place I was transferred to as a civilian, can’t think of it now. I saw him with a girl there, I suppose he married her too.
When you were in Tobruk in B Echelon, what was a typical day for you?
I was in charge of the rations for the cooks and the various cookhouses. You had to go and get the rations from a store, no, they delivered in Tobruk because we never had any transport at that place. You’d separate it all out to the four infantry units and one headquarters unit, so you had five
lots of rations to break up to give to the cooks. It was only bully beef anyway, or corned beef and some bread, because there was a bakehouse operating in Tobruk itself. Left by the Italians, probably blown to smithereens, it had ovens and they were able to supply us with bread. Sometimes they couldn’t supply us with bread and we went onto biscuits. I hated army biscuits, I didn’t like them at all, however we ate them. That’s all you spent your day doing that.
And dodging planes; when a raid would come on, you’d have to take cover straightaway.
Interviewee: Alfred Lilley Archive ID 1794 Tape 06
Well this particular time we were in Tobruk, I’ll call it Tobruk from now on because people chat me when I say To-bruk, but I always thought it was To-bruk. We were overlooking a water point at, I can’t think of it anyway, and we were up in the top of a bit of ridge and it was a stony sort of a place and you couldn’t dig there
but you had to get underground because of a night time when you wanted to sleep or of daytime when you wanted to get out of the way of planes, you had to get down below the ground because shrapnel could catch up above ground even though you were laying down. Seeing it was so hard to dig, Jack was a big fella, a bit tall fella, looked like Chips Rafferty as a matter of interest, and he was a West Australian and he was in cane cutting in Sarina when I first met him. I was
down there laying in the, I’d sleep up this way and he’d sleep up that way and our feet would come together. I used to have a habit that I like good food. The only place I could seek good food was reading about it, and I used to read the Woman’s Weekly and how they came a lot of them would make a round cake and put it in a square tin and
they had to cover up the spaces when the cake over and they’d use these Woman’s Weeklies. Of course you’d pull them out. I don’t know if you remember the first Woman’s Weekly was a big weekly about that big and it was a brownish sort of a thing and the only part I was interested in was the recipes for the food. I was always doing that, reading about this particular food and I heard this plane and I knew Jack wasn’t in the sanger,
I presumed he’d got cover somewhere else, but this German plane was low flying and coming very close, you could hear him coming close. He was obviously looking for something or he was going to strafe somebody. Jack was out there, he turned and ran for the what-do-you-call-it and jumped in. Well he jumped right on my shins, oh God they hurt too. You know soldier boots ,they had the steel thing on the heel,
I got hit with one of them and Jack was a man, a Catholic but not a practicing one I don’t think, and he was a fatalist, or he reckoned he was a fatalist. He’d always say, “If it’s got your number on it, you’ll get it. If it doesn’t have your number on, you won’t get it.” I’d say, “Yes Jack” because I was no fatalist. Jack jumped in and because my shins were hurting so much I said, “God Jack, what about this fatalism, what did you do that for? You jumped right on me”
You know what he said? He said, “You can’t afford to give these bastards a handicap, Bert” which I thought was a pretty good reply. It shut me up anyway. I’ve never forgotten that right to this day. That’s the sort of existence you lived, sort of hand in mouth stuff.
What were the general conditions like at Tobruk?
Not bad. Even in the front line, some of the front line it was an Italian cemented
trenches and they used to go out and in the night time they’d lay mines and they’d do little raids. The Italians, the Germans were very close to us about fifty or sixty yards to our front line and they had captured a bit of the perimeter, we used to call it ‘The Pimple’, it was just a little bit of a height.
They wanted that and they got it. We couldn’t dislodge it, we tried to and lost a lot of casualties, we didn’t do any good they were too strong for us. That was the only battle that we ever lost in the war as a matter of interest. The Italians were about four thousand yards away in a different sector and they used to have a searchlight on of a night time to see if anyone was patrolling. So, the Italians, they were not taken
as a very great risk, but the Germans were.
Did you hold the Germans in a totally different regard to the Italians?
Oh yeah. They were good soldiers, bet your life. The Italians, don’t think that the Italians weren’t good soldiers, when they wanted to be they could be, but they often didn’t want to be. I don’t blame them, Mussolini wasn’t much good to them, they didn’t like him very much anyway.
Did you hate your enemy or was there a respect?
I didn’t hate the Germans. They were very arrogant people,
I heard from troop trains that they were arrogant. I never confronted with a German I don’t think. I can’t remember anyone. Italians by the score. Yes they were very arrogant people, the Germans, and humourless. I’ve struck a lot of Germans since the war and you notice that very few Germans have a sense of humour, you can crack a joke with them, you’ll laugh but they won’t. That’s been my experience,
could be wrong. I don’t know what the hell I was going to say then. I hated the Japs, I absolutely detested them, I never hated the Germans. One fellow I did like in Germany was Rommel. He was their general and he was a humane man and a great hero too. He was in the plot against Hitler and Hitler hung all the people he could get,
he hung them on meat hooks. Rommel being Rommel, he was home at the time apparently and he sent two people and they said, “Here’s the position, we want you dead, you won’t commit suicide, but if you don’t we’ll kill your wife and son. Here’s some poison, you can go into the car and take it to save your wife and son.” He did.
He was a man amongst men. Really. A great general and a great human and a great man. I liked him very much, not that I ever met him, never ever did. He was a type of man that you couldn’t help but admire.
What did you think of your own officers?
Good. We had a couple of duds, but they were soon weeded out. We were very lucky. We always had good
officers. They were only civilians you know, trained during the war years, but they were good. They were brave and they were good officers. Before we attacked Cape Endaiadere, that’s where we lost all the casualties they made a lot of crop of new officers because we’d lost a lot in
the previous fighting in Milne Bay. They created a lot of fresh officers, most of them got killed in the battle of JeraBub, all our officers were wounded in Cape Endaiadere except the captain in charge of B Echelon, he was the only that didn’t get, not killed, but wounded. Most of them were killed.
What were the junior NCOs like?
All good soldiers, my word, we had. The AIF had good NCOs [Non Commissioned Officers], good officers, except one sergeant blew his toe off to get home, but he was the exception. They were all good, we were lucky in that respect.
Were there many cases of things like that, people self-inflict wounds to go home?
No, only one. That’s the only one that I knew in our battalion anyway. They call it an SIW, self inflicted wound, but you heard talks about them but I never, that was the only one I knew of, could personally talk about. I don’t think I heard of any.
A lot of blokes have talked about the sand, the dust, what can you tell us about that?
Oh, the dust. You ever been in a dust storm? Well I had been in one in Longreach and it’s a red haze on the horizon, covers the horizon almost as far as the eye can see and coming from Central Australia, it blows across in a leisurely sort of fashion and it takes about an afternoon to get there. But when it gets there it smothers the place. We were sent
home from school as I remember; they saw it coming. The next day when we went to school, it had a lot of verandahs on it this particular school, and they were all like, have you seen the bottom of a river, those ripples in the sand, well that’s what it’s like that’s how deep the sand was.
So you’d get big dust storms in Tobruk as well?
Oh yes big ones and very frequently. We liked them because the German planes couldn’t fly. You see the German planes were over us all the time, when
there was no sandstorm on, but when a sandstorm took place they were grounded, naturally, otherwise they would fill their carbies [carburettors] or engines up with dust. It was a sandstorm, but it was a dust storm too because the sand was dusty. They were all different coloured sands I’ve seen, some were red, some were black, some were sandy
coloured. All different.
What sort of problems would that cause you with all your stores and stuff?
Not much because our stuff was tinned. Oh, the bread I suppose they wouldn’t deliver bread in a sandstorm, from the bakehouse they used to deliver it. It was like in civilian days, running around delivering bread to the battalions.
Would the blokes ever get a hot meal from the cooks?
Oh yes. There was always a hot meal at midday. It was either bully beef stew or it was patties made of bully beef and onions. Always seemed to be plenty of onions around the place. That’s about all there was. The other thing there were no vegetables, but there were tons of Italian dried vegetables, they all had the same taste. They used to use them in the patties and you could hardly see them.
And their cigars, there were great big cases of cigars, but they all had weevil holes in them and to smoke a cigar you had to play it like an organ, put your hand over the holes so you could suck it. It tasted awful. The Italian cigarettes were no good. I didn’t like them anyway.
How many different ways can you cook bully beef?
Well the only two that I ever knew that the cooks ever did was a stew and a patty. There was nothing
really else you could do with it. Bully beef was best eaten with an onion cold. In New Guinea, we got bully beef; if you couldn’t get cold bully beef all the fat would be running through it. No wonder I got cancer after I left the army, I reckon I was building it up all during the war. However, I survived it.
What about the flies and the fleas?
Oh don’t talk about. The desert was the worst. In the daytime, you had the flies by the million. In the night time, you had the fleas by the million. What we used to do was there was plenty of that diesel, it was everywhere, we used to sprinkle our blankets with diesoline and get into it and that would keep the
fleas away until about two o’clock in the morning when the fumes would die down. If anyone had struck a match and thrown it on your bed you would have gone up in a shower of flame for sure. The fleas would back then and they’d bite you til daybreak.
So no smoking while you’re lying down eh?
Oh God no. Not unless you wanted to blow yourself up. You never get used to flies and fleas, you never get used to the
flea part anyway. It was bad and don’t forget the water was brackish; you couldn’t get a decent drink of water all the months you were there. Of course you’d get the tea that would be as strong as anything, because the brackish water made the tea very strong. When you’d come back to Alex and you’d get on to tea made with clean water you couldn’t drink it, it was too weak, you could never get it strong enough. But you got
used to it.
Where were they drawing that brackish water from?
Ground. Wells. Springs. At JeraBub they’d load us on trucks. We had, where we were, was a bit of a division it was about a yard deep, a couple of yards wide and a few yards long and there was a spring
underneath there with flowing water about that deep and it was flowing through all the time to a, as it turned out I didn’t know it at the time, turned out to a fertile place with reeds and stuff in it. They loaded us into this truck and we were coming back to Alex from Ikingi Maryut and the truck bogged. We hopped out, the wheels bogged and the wheels
touched water. That was in the desert. Just shows you doesn’t it, you can never be too sure. There was water there, you’d never think about it. The wheels went down about that far, they hit water.
What sort of rations of water were the blokes getting?
As much as you really wanted. Water bottle full every day and you had cups of tea and the cooks would take it up in dixies.
You were never short of water. No doubt the desert would be if you got out right into it, you’d run out of water pretty damned quick, but around the towns, no. There was always underground water.
As well as food, were you also looking after the other needs, like boots and uniforms?
No that was in B Echelon, but a different section. No I never looked after them at all.
How often were you being dive-bombed?
Oh God, there was a place called Pilastrino, it was a Turkish fort, all the forts in that country were built by the Turks and it was, as a fort it was more of less in the style of the western forts where they stood on a parapet and fired over the walls, well it was like that but it was made of stone. Pretty solid because the Arabs would be attacking them and they would be shooting the
steps. What was the question you asked?
How often the Germans would attack?
Dive bombers, oh God. In the beginning when they thought they could take the place, we would get about three or four raids a day. Not always, you wouldn’t always be in the target area. We were in Pilastrino of course they went for the fort and they dive bombed that almost incessantly for about
a week or a fortnight. Funny enough dive-bombing never caused any casualties. It caused a lot of noise and gave you a hell of a fright, but you got used to it. Now that might sound silly, but that’s true, because it didn’t create a lot of casualties. It did create some, but not a great deal. For the noise and that that went on. There was one chap that was there with us and was in the Intelligence Section, I happened to be a runner in
Battalion Headquarters at the time, and witnessed the whole thing. They used to have, when the dive-bombing raid finished it might be twenty planes in it, it might be ten or it might be more, depending on how many they had available. They used to plot where the bombs fell. He was, after it was over or when they thought it was over,
he was sent out to plot these bomb hits, which in the process of doing another dive-bombing came on straightaway. He hit the ground, but he was a bit unlucky. He must have had a few bombs land close by to him, but never hurt him. I heard someone say that it took his watch off and it cut a bit of shrapnel across here [points to neck]. He came back and he put in his
report, because I was there when he did it, and I heard him detailing it all and they said, “You’d better get your lunch now” and he went over to where there was some bully beef and that sort of thing, and he no sooner started to eat and he started to shake. He shook and he shook and he shook. He was a genuine shell shock. There were a few what we used to call ‘bomb happy’ used to get frightened of the bombing and
frightened of the shelling and that sort of thing. That’s different from the other because there was not sickness about it, but there is a sickness about shell shock and he was a bad case. He had to be sent back to base, they couldn’t do anything with him so they sent him back to Australia to discharge him. His name was Sert; he came from Mount Larcom. I knew him before the war because his people used to stay at the old man’s pub. I’d seen
him but didn’t really know him in the army. I heard when they had dances in the Gladstone or Mount Larcom or wherever it was, he was prone to get up in the hall and say, “Those men should be at the war, they shouldn’t be dancing around with women at a time like this”, which of course wasn’t wanted at all, not at that stage.
He died anyway. He never quite recovered from it. Shellshock is a terrible thing.
Do you know what sort of aircraft you were being attacked with?
Yeah, the Stukas. They were the ones with the gold wings and the wheels were down and they had a big bomb in the centre about a five hundred pounder and I think they had four fifty pound bombs in each wing. In Tobruk they used to fly around in a
circle and the first one would lead and swoop down like that and pick his target for the time and the other planes would follow him, then in the middle maybe a different target would be picked and they’d follow that. That’s the way they went. When you were on the ground, we were caught in one raid right out in the middle of the open one time, or on the road, and this plane came right down and you could,
the truck we were in was a Ford utility, they had a lot of them at the time, and they had two windows like, they weren’t straight across they were like that. I said to the officer driving, “Are you going to stop?’ “No, no” he said, “We’ll go through it.” I didn’t have any option, for me I would have left the thing, they could have it. Anyway, the next thing
we know, you could see, and this is true, you could look at this and you could see this damned dive bomber right in front of us and he filled both the windows and I didn’t wait any longer, I said, “I’m off.” I could see sangers at the edge of the road and that sort of thing with 2/12th blokes in it. I said, “You got any room?” One bloke said, “Yeah, in here quick” and I did. The officer left the truck too, he didn’t stay. He must have been able to stop it to have left it. Anyway it never got hit.
When it was over we went back to it. You see, they don’t last very long.
It sounds like you almost get blasé about it? He said, “No, I’ll drive through it”?
Yes you did. Even though you’re frightened of it, you do get blasé about it because, as I said, it doesn’t cause many casualties. That’s the extraordinary part of it. There’s a lot of noise and what have you, but not many casualties. That doesn’t say that if they found a concentration of troops
and bomb that they could cause a casualty.
Did they strafe as well with their machine guns?
Yes they, I believe they used to fire them, you couldn’t tell, you couldn’t hear it, there was that much noise going on and the anti-aircraft guns would be firing as well. You couldn’t hear it all. I believe they did fire their wing guns. See they don’t carry many, the fighter doesn’t carry many guns, he’s only got a few seconds shooting
because the ammunition is heavy. That’s why the Germans used these light bullets that were only that big, they weren’t very effective, but they were effective against a plane of course because they were explosive.
Was it after that incident that you were bombed in your sanger, how long after that did you get sick?
Oh a couple of months,
I suppose. Do you mean, did it make me sick?
I just wonder whether because they said eventually it was your spleen, I just wondered if concussion of the bomb might have ruptured your spleen?
No it didn’t. There was no rupture there. I wouldn’t doubt that it had some effect on me.
Did they ever work out what caused your spleen to have its problems?
No. It was jaundiced of course. I don’t know. I think they put it down
to the diet of the bully beef, there was too much fat in it, too consistent, too much of it. All right one meal a day for three or four weeks, but not for six or seven months.
What’s your strongest memory of being in Tobruk?
Getting out of it. They loaded us onto the destroyer the [HMS] Hastings, I’ll never forget that. Our officer was on the wharves,
“Get in line” and the naval officer said, “Get on the boat the best you can”. They didn’t want to wait there, you know. What was my memory? I suppose the dive-bombing would be my strongest memory. I once walked through a minefield, I didn’t know it at the time, but they told me later that I’d walked across the minefield and they
were waiting for me to be blown sky high, but I wasn’t. You sort of settled into a routine, you know, and carried on. You didn’t expect to live a long time, that’s for certain. You expected to be killed at any time, but it wasn’t weighing you down with anything, you sort of had it in the distant future and if anybody was going to be killed it was always the other bloke, never you, until it was.
How often did you pray, Bert?
I don’t think I ever stopped. Consistently.
How often was there church parade?
I used to go to church every morning because we had the Catholic chaplain with us and he’d have mass every morning when he could and I’d go there. The other one, we were always lucky. We always had the Catholic priest with us, even though there were different ones at
different times, but we always had the Salvation Army padre with us, Padre McElvene and he stayed with us all the time and he did a marvellous job. They were always very friendly with the priests too. In fact, he saved one priest’s life. The shelling was on, the priest never had a very big sanger and the padre did have one and he said, “Come on, there’s room over here” and just as he said that “bang” a shell landed right where he was so he was lucky he got out. Padre McElvene.
I struck his batman in Queen Street after the war. He said, “Have you heard the latest?” I said, “No, what?” and he said, “Padre McElvene’s in prison” and I said, “What rubbish.” I said, “A man like that couldn’t possibly go to prison.” He said, “He is.” I said, “Explain yourself, what do you mean?” He said, “He’s a prison chaplain”, which he was of course. He was a great man. He’s dead of course.
How were the Salvation Army chaplains different to the denominational priests?
Well I thought the army had overstepped the mark there I’ll be quite honest, they weren’t allowed to bury the dead to start with. They were regarded as a chaplain or a semi-chaplain, I was never aware that they would take a parade, but they must have because they had Protestant parades and we never had a
Protestant padre but he could have got him from another battalion. I thought that was wrong, I liked Padre McElvene I thought he was a good man, wonderful.
You talked about receiving cakes from home. What other sort of comfort packages did you get?
Oh we’d get balaclavas that would fit down here, we’d get socks,
and we’d get gloves, they were very handy in northern Syria, believe me, it was pretty cold. Other than that I never got anything, no. I can’t remember, I got plenty of letters, but I don’t remember getting any. A lot of fellas were farmers, particularly in Victoria, because we had a lot of Victorians with us as reinforcements, we started off all Queenslanders but we were just a mixture in the end because they were coming from everywhere.
They used to get, instead of putting Woman’s Weeklies into the cake tin from shifting, they used to put almonds, nuts off their trees and by gee those nuts were beautiful too I don’t mind telling you. They’d get a lot in a tin. Very good.
How often would you write home?
I’d write home probably
once a month, that’s all. I don’t know if I wrote home that much. I never sort of bothered to. They knew I was alive, I let them know I was alive but that’s about all I did let them know because you couldn’t put anything in your letter anyway, it was heavily censored. I know I sent them a letter from New Guinea to say that I’d be home on my birthday and all the rest of the
letter was cut out and they left that piece in because the enemy wouldn’t know when my birthday was anyway, and they left that in and they knew when I would be home.
Did you have a camera?
Yes I did. Did I take any photos? Yes I did. Have I got any now? No, not one.
Were you allowed to have a camera at the time?
Yes we were. The only things
I ever had confiscated. When we came back here, our kit bags were sent to some western town out here, it’s very cold place I can’t think of the name of it, but in it I had a knife. We were stationed at one time next to an anti-aircraft battery and there was a machine shop there and I always wanted a bayonet knife, bayonet cut down and made
into a knife. I don’t know why, I wasn’t intending to use it on anyone. I wanted it and he made me a beauty. I had it in the kit bag and it went out to this place. The kit bag was searched and they confiscated it. There was another piece I had in there, I was very interested in cars and bikes at the time, for a long while after the war too, but anyway on the tanks of the diesels, they were all diesels,
the Italians they had a thing about that long and about that round and it was a gauge, it was the petrol cap and a gauge and to get it you used to screw the top like that until it stopped, you’d pull it out and see where the thing stopped and how much petrol was in the tank. I had one of them and I had it in my kit bag and I don’t know what the fella thought it was, he must have thought it was a bomb or something. Anyway they confiscated that too. I don’t know why.
Was there any perks you had being in B Echelon looking after the supplies?
No. Not really. It meant that you always had a piece of bread to eat, if there was bread on or anything like that. Sometimes the cook would put on, one cook he used to be a cook for the governor here in Queensland and he was a great, he was a chef really and a really great cook. He cooked a cake up once I don’t know where he got the sultanas from,
but he cooked it up and it was lovely. Of course, you never got anything like that up in the desert.
So how long all up were you in the Middle East?
Well that’s something I don’t know, but I think it was about three years. I think it could be shorter, I don’t think it could be much shorter because I was twelve months in New Guinea and three in what-you-call-him and twelve months in a B Echelon so that made the five years.
Of course there were times off, but we were practicing drilling and that sort of thing.
How did they tell you blokes that you’d be returning to Australia?
I don’t know. They didn’t line us up or anything like that. The rumour was just spread around that we were going home.
Did it start as a rumour?
don’t think so, I think one of the officers purposely let it out, I’d say that was the way it started. In no time it was right around, everybody knew about it. That’s the way things go on. Stuff is disseminated amongst them.
Can you remember any other rumours or furphies?
There was always, we were going to do this, we were going to do that, we never ever did or rarely.
It was always something better than where we were. You couldn’t name anyone now, but there was so many of them. We had a couple; we had one fellow go mad in the battalion. Just went off his head, they sent him home. I suppose he recovered. I think he must have been on the verge and it set him off.
Did you ever see any allied aircraft in Tobruk?
Yes I saw one. One morning, as I always did, I got up early, and there was no shelling going on so I thought I’d go for a walk on the highland near us, it was on the coast and I could have a look at the sea. I liked to look at it occasionally. I heard an aeroplane and there was nothing I could do and I thought there’s nothing I can do I hope it’s not a Hun or Italian, no it was one of ours. He flew over very low and
tipped his wing. He could see me down there. I can’t remember seeing any others to be honest with you. You see we didn’t have many planes in the Middle East; the Germans had full control of the skies. I don’t know about down in Alexandria in those places where they were protecting them. For where we were concerned we never had any. I don’t remember, that’s the only plane I ever saw from memory.
How often would you go from B Echelon to the front lines?
Sometimes you’d be sent up there and stay up there for some time, particularly when they were a bit short of men. You’d go probably once or twice a month to the various lines with the transport driver and the staff sergeant
in charge of that particular cookhouse. You might go a bit more often. You usually didn’t go up until you were sent up. You were frequently sent up. Did I ever tell you about the time, yes I did tell you, the other guy and me spending three days and three nights on the front line at Simemi Creek, yes I did tell you that.
When was the first time you fired a shot in anger?
Well I think you’d say the first time I ever did that was when I fired at aircraft, missed them of course, but you fired at them. Sometimes I’d hit them I don’t know.
Was there an actual way you were taught to shoot at aircraft? It’s a hard thing?
Oh yes, you’ve got to line it up in front of you. You see there’s an aircraft unit, an anti-aircraft unit they’ve
got a Bren gun and they’re about three or four of them, maybe a dozen or more in it, and they would shoot at the aircraft because they were bombing. Whether they hit any or not, I don’t know. You had to carry it, if it was there you had to shoot there.
Did you feel that your training in Australia was adequate?
Yes. I thought it was. There’s not much training they can give you, except how to handle your weapons and shoot as straight as you possibly can and not be stupid. There’s not much else you can do. When you really think about it, war in the desert and in the what-you-call-it too, that was much worse because it was trees and everything, but where there were no trees,
it was much like a naval battle. The only thing that the enemy could do was to go around that way, he very seldom did he attack straight on or that way, because he’d be on the coast, but he could go, all Rommel could do was to circle behind and all our fellows could do, they adopted a different attitude in El Alamein, I wasn’t in that, but I believe they attacked straight on. Of course at that time, they had a heavy
presence of artillery and they did it that way and they won that battle. Rommel used to go around.
What about your gear, were you happy with your gear?
Oh yes we were, because we didn’t know any better I suppose. When you could see some of the other gear that people had, you realised that our people were a bit behind it. We were well supplied though, we had rifles
and plenty of ammunition, we had Bren guns, we had Vickers guns, we had two-inch mortars, we had three-inch mortars and that’s about all the weaponry that we had. That was enough. You couldn’t handle any more. We had Boyes guns, anti-tank, but they adopted a different attitude with tanks, they adopted a tank unit
and they used to jump on top of the tank and I don’t know what the hell they’d do when they got up there, but they didn’t do it very often. They tried it a couple of times, it didn’t seen to work very well.
Finally, what did you think of the rations?
They were adequate. You can terribly sick of bully beef. Doesn’t matter how it is. I could always eat bully beef if I could get an
onion, but there was one thing they used to put out, McConnachie’s M&V, meat and vegetables, and I didn’t like that.
That was even worse than bully beef was it?
Oh, can you just imagine eating a tinned stew breakfast, dinner and tea. You’d soon get sick of it. The Americans, that’s a funny thing in
New Guinea that’s when we first came on Americans rations when Eichelberger I think he was, not the same fellow in Europe, another one must have been a brother or cousin or a distant cousin, he was a general, he was in charge of the Americans, quite a good general too. They had American rations; the Americans made the classic mistake, they made a beautiful
ration and tinned it. They got the best chefs they could get in New York and these places before the war and they concocted these rations and when we first tried them they were absolutely beautiful, just like eating at The Ritz. But they were highly spiced. Did you know that you can’t eat a highly spiced meal too often? It’s not long before you get very sick of it. When we first went up to New Guinea the Americans were there, we couldn’t understand
they rushed us with bully beef to swap the tins of these beautiful rations they had. They wanted tins of bully beef to replace them. It wasn’t long before we wouldn’t swap them. Give a fortnight or three weeks and you just can’t eat a highly spiced meal often. I don’t care what anyone says. You can’t even do that at home.
Interviewee: Alfred Lilley Archive ID 1794 Tape 07
In all that time in Middle East, were there any spare moments or was it full on all the time?
Oh no, no. You only fight five per cent of the time in the army, that’s all you’re fighting for or in battle, except in Tobruk where we were in battle for months and months you were constantly on the alert. But in
New Guinea it was a quick enough short sort of thing, it might last a fortnight, the lead up to that might have been three and four months.
When you’re in the Middle East though, what kind of things were you doing in the spare moments?
Everybody in the battalion had something to do so you did that and then when you got leave I’d go to Alex or I’d go to Aleppo or big towns
that you could get to. I never, I regret it now, when we were in Palestine, I never visited any of the holy places, I wish I had, like the Dead Sea and the various ones. I went to one at Gaza, I can’t think of it. Go on, it’s eluded me, tonight some time I’ll think of it if I think about it at all.
But you visited places of interest.
Did you get much leave in those couple of years?
Yes you’d get quite a bit of leave. Not as much as you wanted, because you always wanted to go to town, but you’d get a couple days a month that you’d get and you could whip in and do something. Then you’d get AWL [Absent Without Leave] sometimes you’d go AWL, away without leave.
For which they smartly caught you and charged you, charged your five pounds and twenty-eight days. Now that was a very severe impost on a chap on seventeen and six a week. I was on seventeen and six a week because I allotted half my pay to my mother. A dollar seventy-five that’s all I was getting, I was getting a dollar? That’s what I was getting seventeen and six.
As I say if you didn’t go on leave for a while you had nothing to spend it on so it accumulated, you always had a little bit of a purse, not a very big one.
What kind of interaction was there with any of the locals?
Oh not very much. They were, we were
above ourselves really, we used to call them Wogs. The chances are that nine-tenths of them were probably better educated than we were. As far as we were concerned they were Wogs. That was it. Sometimes you’d strike somebody that you liked, I never ever did. They were different. In the coffee bars, their coffee was nice. It used to be
done on a primus, you wouldn’t believe it. It was a cup about that big, very sweet and it was brewed over a primus, this was in the cafes, brewed over a primus and in a metal thing about that long and it would hold just enough for one cup. It was very strong and very sweet, rather nice as a matter of fact. Before you had it they’d give you a cup of
water to drink. It was to clear anything out of your mouth to enjoy the coffee. That was nice. You never see it out here.
Did you have any coffee in your rations or was there only tea?
When we got onto the American rations, it was rather funny, they used to make, bound to be ‘Made in Australia’ just the same sweet highly spiced stuff.
The Americans didn’t like them and we didn’t like them either, but that’s when you had too much of them. Any coffee? It was supposed to be in the bottom of one of them where they had lollies and biscuits in it. A tin about that big and about that round, with a little note “Owing to the shortages of soluble coffee, we have had to substitute tea in lieu”. So no you never got much coffee. But you did
get plenty of coffee if you wanted it. It was mainly tea because there was stacks of tea, cases and cases of it.
Do you know of any of the men having girlfriends over there?
Oh yes, some of them married them. I didn’t. I was too shy I think, I wasn’t much into girls when I was growing up. I was twenty-one when I joined the war and I was twenty-two and twenty-three
and twenty-four in those days. I never had much to do with girls. You were mainly in man’s company. Looking back on my life I was in college for four years, they were all men, all boys, and I came out of that and then went into the army after a few years and they were all men
so I’m only, I grew up and aged with men, not women. With girls I was kind of shy with them. You asked me how I married my wife. Do you want me to tell you that?
Well as I say I was very shy. I must have been fairly good looking at that time; I say that without any boasting because I was never successful with women.
I used to pass my wife, I used to go home for lunch every day and she’d be going home for lunch riding her bike and she’d say “Hello Bert” and I’d say “Hello Belle”. That was as far as we ever went for about nine or ten months. Then she asked me one day, “Would you like to come down with the family and a few of the girls and the boys to Mossman
Beach and we’ll just have a day on the beach for Sunday?” and I said, “Yes I’d like it”, which I did. Somehow or other she and I got singled out for a walk along the beach picking up shells. We never spoke any romance or anything like that. I picked up a few shells for her and I gave them to her. I know that she threw them away when I wasn’t looking.
I liked it. It didn’t make any difference. We said “Hello Bert” “Hello Belle” sort of thing. Then suddenly I was transferred – that was the first bank I worked for they used to transfer you by wire, just your surname “Lilley will go so and so”. They were a hard mob. Anyway I said I had to catch the Sunday morning white
car; it used to go from Mossman to Cairns. That was Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon about two o’clock I was up in my room in the pub packing my port, I only had one port, and there was a fella standing at the doorway, and I knew who it was. It was Belle’s brother, one of her brothers and he was wild. Never did find out. But he did say to me, “I’m buggered if I can understand it.” I wonder what I’ve
done and what he was talking about. I didn’t know what he was talking about. But he had to say something else and he did he went on further after a short pause, “Why every single girl in town has got their eyes on you” and I said “Wow, this is a fine time to tell me, it’s bloody Sunday morning almost”. I was leaving, not that it worried me because I knew them, we used to play ping-pong with them also with my wife, she wasn’t my wife at the time. So I knew them and I wasn’t terribly, some were very nice,
some were very pretty, there were some pretty girls up there. Not that they much worried, I was more interested in quite candidly with his sister, but too shy to do anything about it. Anyway, he carried on, “Belle’s downstairs, she’d like to talk to you, would you like to go down and talk with her?” I said, “All right”. So I went down, even on the way down the steps I thought, “I wonder what
she wants?” I was almost certain that she was going to give me a letter for someone in Raven [Ravenshoe], that was quite common to hand it to them, mainly a parcel because there wasn’t much money around in those days; to send a parcel through the post wasn’t exactly cheap. That’s what I thought it would be. I was hoping it wouldn’t be too big. She had no letter, no parcel, she was standing there in the doorway. Now Belle, I’ve got to explain she had beautiful features, a beautiful figure and a great dancer and her hair
was in long dark waves. She was a real beauty. She was there and she held out her hand and she said, “You’re off to Ravenshoe in the morning, Bert?” and I said, “Yes”. But to my surprise she held on to my hand and didn’t let it go and pulled me towards her and tucked it under her arm, now this is a fact. I think I nearly suffered shell shock to be quite honest.
I didn’t know what to do. Anyway I went along with it. I knew straightaway, I might have been shy but I wasn’t silly, this girl would be my wife if I asked her. A sudden feeling, you knew straightaway. She said, “Care to come for a walk?” I said, “Yes”. She held on to my arm under her arm and we walked around the four or five seats that Mossman had at that particular time.
We never discussed romance in any way whatsoever but I knew that she would marry me. I didn’t ask her. I said to her when I left, “Can I write to you?” she said, “Yes, I wish you would”. So I did and asked her to marry me and she said yes and we were married a month later. There you are.
That’s a beautiful story.
It’s a true story. It was all caused, I should have known her eleven
months before that, if I had any go in me at all I would’ve done, but I didn’t. As I say I was too shy. I wasn’t shy with her after she made it quite plain that she liked me. We had a beautiful marriage, she was absolutely marvellous. I just give you an idea, we’d been married a week and I used to walk to work of course and this particular morning she said, “Wait a minute Bert, I’d like to talk to you before
you go” I wondered what she wants, thinking all the time that I’d done something wrong. Anyway she didn’t and I waited for her to talk and she said, “I’ve been thinking over the past week” and she said, “I’ve decided that I won’t seek a position” because in those days you could get a job anywhere particularly with her build and looks she was certain for a job no matter where it was. Anyway she said, “No, I’ve decided
that I’m going to spend the rest of my life looking after you” and I thought “Boy, that’s not too bad” and she did better, she said “taking care of any children that God will give me to look after”. I thought, “Holy Mackerel, I’ve won the casket”. That was the sort of marriage we had, it was a beauty. We had fights, yeah plenty of them but never anything serious. We were married fifty-three years, twenty-one years of that she was sick with
Alzheimer’s. I looked after her for the first sixteen years and took her with me wherever I went and I was proud of her and she was just getting worse and worse and had to get her into a nursing home, which I did and then got into the hostel myself. I used to two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon with her. A lot of the time she was walking and then she couldn’t walk any more, she’d get in a wheelchair
and then she was comatose in bed and I’d sit alongside the bed. I did that for five years and loved every minute of it. I didn’t find it hard. People would say that was great to do that, I didn’t think there was anything great about it. I loved the woman. She was a beautiful woman. You’ve seen her photo. They don’t do her…she was better than that.
Were there any married men when you were in the Middle East?
Oh yes, scores of them. Stacks of them. I don’t know what they were doing married, I
wouldn’t have left my wife under any circumstance to go to war, not if I could avoid it. I thought war was for single people and I think it is. It’s for married people.
Men that had girlfriends over there, where would they have met those women?
Before they went to the war and afterwards when they came back from the war. There were a lot of unhappy marriages I might tell you too; things that didn’t work out quite well.
They weren’t the majority, but they were a few.
Did any of the men over there have girlfriends that were locals?
I wouldn’t know, I’m not going to say. I don’t know. It was none of my business anyway.
Did you ever know of anyone visiting houses of ill repute over there?
Oh yes. Of course.
Where were they mainly?
Oh. They were quite a number of them in all the towns nearby. See these people were poor and selling themselves was one way to get money. They weren’t all like that; there must have been some high class prostitutes about.
Was that pretty widely known that men were doing that?
Yes. They knew where they were, where the houses of ill repute were, if you like to call them that.
Yes they were visited and back here in Australia the same thing went on with the troops of course they were, they were just the same as normal humans. That’s what they were, human beings. Sex was part of their lives I suppose.
Was there, that you know of, any homosexuality?
No. Now not one single scrap did I ever know of anything, not in the battalion that I was in, no homosexuality.
As a matter of fact I had heard of a couple of cases that they joined first but they were kicked out straightaway. Our officers wouldn’t stand for it and that’s all there was in it and everybody knew it. It might have been subdued homosexuality, you wouldn’t find out anything about that. But none to my knowledge, no, never.
Coming home then after you left the Middle East, was there a welcome back when you got home?
No not really. There were people on the wharves and that sort of thing, but the only welcome we ever experienced, I think I told you of our experience in Sydney where they called us “five bob a day murderers”. That wasn’t far off the truth I suppose. When we came back from the Middle East we landed in Port Adelaide in South Australia and they put us in the Barossa Valley. We stayed there a few months and then came up through New South Wales
up to Woodford, that’s where they established a camp there. While we were coming up through central New South Wales it was a whole military train and they pulled up at various places and they gave us food. In one particular spot they pulled up and I was one of the last few people to get off the train to get into the thing because I wasn’t in any hurry. There
was hessian bagging all around the station and where we were going. There were certain places where the populous and I think the whole town was there to be quite honest with you. All I know is when I stepped into view, when they could see me, they started to clap like mad and wasn’t I embarrassed. I thought, “Oh my God” I couldn’t, I would have to call that a welcome.
When was it that you were in Sydney that people were calling you “five bob a day murderers”?
Between September and we were there I’d say two or three months after, six months after we joined the army. Don’t get the idea that everyone in Sydney called us “five bob a day murderers”. There were enough people in it to let us know that we weren’t at all popular. I think they were communists. Remember communist
Russia wasn’t in the war at that time and I’m pretty sure that they were, because there was a fair sprinkling of communism around in those days. Not like today, its absolutely taboo today because it’s been discredited so much. In those days it wasn’t discredited. There was a communist party in Australia. I would say that would be them.
The time that you spent back in Australia did you think that you would be heading off to New Guinea?
Oh yes, we knew that. We knew that was on and we weren’t looking forward to it either. Although we never knew, I had never been to New Guinea and I’d never seen rain like it, I’d seen rain the north, but I’d never seen anything like it, it came down in bucket and boatloads. Just pelted all the time. If we had to walk, which we usually did,
you walked in mud most of the time. You couldn’t drag, in the morning, one shoe after the other, it was ‘oh’ in the gluey mud. When it rained it was easy because the water filled up to about two or three inches it was easy to step straight into.
The trip home from the Middle East obviously the war was further into full swing when you’d gone over, were you scared at any point on that trip home?
Yes. We had many false alarms of Japanese ships because remember some of those ships had been sunk, our top ships. We knew the Japanese ships were patrolling in the area and waiting for troop ships, but they were able to dodge them. We
never had any brush with them in any way. When we went to New Guinea, it rained all the way up the Queensland coast and when we got beyond the Queensland coast, past Cape York, we ran into the open seas and we had a destroyer or probably a bit bigger than a destroyer, can’t think what their name is, and it used to
give us red warnings of Japanese ships in the area and that was going on four and five hours a day. They’d blow the all clear and an hour later up would go the red warning again and you didn’t know whether the Japanese were, they were in the vicinity but they didn’t try and sink us. They kept away from us. We finally landed in Milne Bay. There’s something I could tell you. In
Milne Bay the Japanese landed and they ran into a lot of trouble and one of our fellas got a VC [Victoria Cross] there. He was killed of course. The Japs and our fellas went to meet them and finally we struck them at KB Mission where we defeated them. But in
the meantime, a Japanese cruiser came into Milne Bay itself and the first thing it did, I was standing on the wharf, the Ann Chung was there, that was a ship that they were unloading. It turned its searchlight on the, it was a hospital ship one of our coastal ships, can’t think of the name, I thought,
“Oh God that’s the end of them” because it was loaded with wounded. Anyway the Japs aren’t all bad, I don’t think they are. He never did a thing to that ship, he just turned his searchlight, first of all he turned his searchlight on, the six inch gun on the Ann Chung and blew that out and fired a shot into and she turned over on her side and rested on the mud on its side. So he fixed the Ann Chung but
then he went out and cruised out of the river. The next night he came in and he fired a few shots at land where he thought the fighting was going on, where we were he missed us completely. He again turned his searchlight on the, I think it was the Manunda I’m not sure, but it turned into a hospital ship. Nice little boat. Didn’t do a thing and just let her alone and went out again. The next day there was an air raid on the
strip and the strip was say there and the bay was there and the Manunda was anchored in the bay there. Well an overshoot bomb, that’s what I’m sure it was, they never tried to bomb the thing, but the captain thought they did. This bomb was an overshoot, it should have landed on the strip, but didn’t. It landed pretty close to the hospital ship. That was enough for the captain, he thought he was being bombed, and I don’t blame him.
Naturally you would, but I don’t think it was intentional. He packed up his ship and went for his life, which was quite right. Save their lives. That just goes to show you that Japs are not all…there were decent people amongst them, like everybody else.
Do you recall hearing the news about Pearl Harbor?
Yes. The reason why the Japs, I think I told you I told someone here this morning
why they were so keen on it. At the battle of Matapan in the Mediterranean when the British defeated the Italian ships they never got out of the wharves I don’t think, because they defeated them with aerial torpedoes and the Japanese were on the British ships and they were observing us because we weren’t at war at the time. They saw this and they recognised that aerial torpedoes was the way to sink capital ships and they did that in Pearl Harbor.
That’s where they got their idea from.
What did you think when you heard about Pearl Harbor?
Happy to see at the time that Japan was everywhere they were winning right, left and centre. As a matter of fact, I’ll tell you quite candidly we were the first people to defeat the Japanese at KB Mission we defeated them there. They withdrew their troops and retired.
I remember General Slim who was, I remember reading about this, he told his troops in Burma he said, “Now there you are.” He said, “The Japanese have been defeated, they can be defeated. They’ve just been defeated by the Australians.” He did defeat them too. He was the only general that actually defeated the Japanese army in the field. He defeated them. There you are.
How long were you back in Australia before you went to New Guinea?
About a couple of months. We got leave for a fortnight and then came back. We were at Woodford. They used to get a three-ton load of beer every night, provided for the battalion, so the boys wouldn’t desert. They’d stay there and drink beer, which they did. They drank it of a night.
So during that time back in Australia, was the battalion reinforced?
Yes we were brought up to strength. The situation there was, I can tell you this because I happen to know it. The battalion strength is normally seven hundred and fifty people, we always when we came back to be brought up to strength they always gave us first line reinforcements, that was one hundred and fifty people and they made them Don Company, you had three rifle companies A, B and C and Headquarter Company. Then they created the Don Company and they put the
one hundred and forty reinforcements in there and they became part of the battalion. When we were in New Guinea after Milne Bay and Cape Endaiadere, the battalion received another six hundred reinforcements – that made fifteen hundred. Remember there were nine hundred of us sailed and we got another six hundred. When we got on the planes at Popondetta, there were seventy-two of us, out of fifteen hundred.
That’ll give you some idea of the casualties. Not all dead. A lot of them were wounded, but anyway they were casualties. That wasn’t nice, the casualties in New Guinea were very heavy.
Those reinforcements were they all AIF?
Yes they were all AIF; nobody went into the AIF that wasn’t AIF of some description. Most
of them came from ground staff of the air force, a lot of them were that. They were quickly trained. Do you know that in the next two battles that took place in Cape Endaiadere and Sanananda – I thought there was a battle in between? No that’s it. That’s where most of the people lost their lives in that particular battle were reinforcements.
Tragic but it was true.
What lead-up was there to New Guinea for you?
Just told us that we were going to New Guinea and what you do in tropical lands and the easiest way to get sick in a tropical land is to drink pure clean crystal clear water. That would make you as sick as you like. Well I didn’t take any attention to that, I thought, “Oh well”. Before the Japs landed, and even after they landed,
I used to go swimming in the running pool because I liked swimming and I wound up with an earache and oh boy did I have an earache. We had nothing to stop, only just salt. They used to give us a bag of salt to put on our ear. That ached for about six weeks. It was sore, my word it was.
Worst earache I ever had, worse than any toothache I ever had too.
What did the bag of salt do?
Heat. Warmth, like a hot-water bag. That’s all they could do. In the medical supplies we had nothing. I’ll give you another instance. We were in Cape Endaiadere, a fella called Fulwood and I were up in
listening post for three days and three nights with that Jap alongside us, the dead Jap. I got terribly thirsty, very thirsty and I thought, I said to Fully, “I’ve got no water in my water bottle, I’ve got to go out and get a drink” and there was a sump not very far away. I went out there and had a drink and oh
I’ve had diarrhoea in my time but I’ve never had diarrhoea like that. I don’t know what was in it, it certainly didn’t agree with my stomach. I had it about ten days and our own battalion RAP [Regimental Aid Post] all they could do was to give you Condies Crystals in a weak form so you could drink it and it tasted like mud, it was
awful. It was supposed to kill the germs in the bowel, but it never had any effect on me. A mate of mine came down and he said, I was laying there, he said, “Bert you’re not well?” and I said, “No I don’t feel well at all, in fact I think I’m dying”. He said, “I think you are too, but I tell you there’s an American RAP, they’ve dug it out of the bush and there’s an officer up there with an offsider, why don’t you go up and see what they can do for you?” So I struggled up
there and I got there and the American was there, he was a bloke with a bit of weight on him and he obviously didn’t want to be there and he said, “What do you want?’ and I said “I’ve got dysentery.” “You’ve got diarrhoea” and I said, “Oh yeah. Can you do anything for me?” He nodded to his mate, “Give him five”. He gave me five pills about the size of your thumbnail and he said, “Go back to your lines, get a water bottle and take the whole five at once,
don’t take one at a time”. Do you know I was cured in an hour, the pains all left me, I stopped motions and it cured. I don’t know what was in it that, but I was talking to some of my friends later, before we left the army, they said, “Bert you must have heroin in one of those pills” they said, “Otherwise you couldn’t have a cure that quick, it just couldn’t happen”. I went along with that belief because it was miraculous.
It stopped and I was suddenly healthy from an absolute misfit, a done out washed out, I became a normal human being again. So there was some magic in those pills anyhow. The Australian Army never heard of it. Never had it. The Americans had it, but that was common. The Australian Army was very poorly
supplied with medications. We had good doctors and that sort of thing in the base hospital but they couldn’t do much for you in the RAP.
Can I just backtrack, the three days and nights that you spent with the dead Japanese fellow there. I can’t even imagine what that would be like.
Oh nothing. I tell you this I did find this out.
The Japanese when they went into battle they dressed well because they thought they were going to heaven, maybe they did I don’t know. Anyhow this fellow was well dressed. A well dressed Japanese he was laying there and he laid there for the three days. I thought a shell would hit him and splatter him all over us, but it didn’t. He was certainly dead. Another case happened after we got back that
our Corporal Russ Wallace, became a solicitor in Mackay afterwards, Russ is dead too. In fact all my friends are dead. It’s a funny thing to say. When they had an opportunity to dress up, they always dressed up before battle so that they would be quite ready to go to heaven I think that was the idea, nobody told me that, but it looked very much like it. In this particular case I think it could have been Sanananda,
after Sanananda, it must have been Sanananda because there was a jeep road going around to Sanananda village itself and it consisted of little logs about that thick all packed together for a couple of mile, in the muddy conditions. I’m quite positive that’s where it was. I was sort of
resting in the sanger and not doing anything and I heard our corporal come down with about six of the fellas and they were quite agitated. I thought, “I wonder what the hell is going on here” it turns out that they were walking down this track, the Sanananda track, just a log track, and a Japanese about six foot tall,
thin stepped out of the bush. He had against him he held his helmet here and he was asking them to shoot him, they believe they went to heaven if they lost for their country. He wanted to be killed anyway. They said, “No, that wasn’t Australian’s way of doing things, we were civilised and didn’t do that sort of thing, it was murder”.
He wasn’t satisfied with that, so after a bit of an argument he reached under the helmet and he pulled out a grenade and the Japanese grenade doesn’t have a pin in like ours does – you pull it out and the spring sets off charge. The Japanese one you have to pull it out and hit at the top of the grenade for about,
give it two or three good solid hits against something and it will start to smoke and it would explode in a matter of seconds. Well he did this and instead of throwing the grenade at Russ and his section, he put in the hat again and held it against his chest like that and it exploded of course and killed him. Gave Russ and them a bit of
a shock because they didn’t expect that sort of thing to happen. It did happen and that was the end of it and they left him laying there and they came down and told us all about it. A couple of days later I thought I’d go for a walk and see if they’d done anything about the body. Well, I’m not a medical student and I don’t have any idea whatsoever, but do you people ever remember PKs [chewing gum] being packed in things one on top of the other?
Aspirins? Remember those? Well that was what his chest was like. I’ve never seen anything like it, it was all white and they were all packed on top of each other and they went down to about there. What it did was it took the complete skin, the front of his chest away from him and it exposed all his entrails. Quite a
surprise to me, I never thought I’d see anything like a Wrigley’s packet, that’s the way the chest was packed. It was right all the way around and of course it went around and around and it was very neatly packed, the explosion never disturbed them in any way, they were in a very neat formation, the way they were. White and about as big as your, the tubes were about as big as your little finger.
I thought that was rather interesting, many people wouldn’t have seen that.
What was the protocol with dead Japanese? Did you have to search them?
Oh well they would have if they became prisoners but very few of them wanted to become prisoners. Many of them were being defeated in that particular section that could swim, they swam out to sea with no hope of reaching land.
They just wanted to kill themselves that way, suicide in other words. There were some prisoners, yes. Half a dozen, there wouldn’t be any more. They neve surrendered, I don’t know how many were in that particular area, but there must have been quite a few of them. To get six prisoners out of that, they surrendered themselves sort of thing.
The battle was hopeless, it was over and they couldn’t win it. They either swam out to sea or did something to commit suicide. Different people altogether to what we were. I don’t think they were any braver than our soldiers; our soldiers were just as brave. There was another case that I heard of.
Interviewee: Alfred Lilley Archive ID 1794 Tape 08
You were just about to tell us another story? Can you remember what that one was?
We just finished talking about the Japanese fellow that committed suicide.
Sorry. That’s the type of memory I have. I can remember all these war things that happened and when I was a kid, but I don’t remember what I was talking about.
That’s all right. You were saying probably with New Guinea as opposed to the Middle East, B Echelon was the front anyway.
Yes they were. In the Middle East see there were trucks and that sort of thing. There were some places in the Middle East where we right smack up against it. New Guinea it was. New Guinea was a terrible place really, to fight in the worse possible country you could imagine. If you can imagine a place that pours rain at midday every day without
fail, maybe ten inches in the afternoon. Floods the place out, you’ve got to sleep there that night and you can’t dig a trench and it’s only full of water so you sleep in water. That’s the way it is. When we came out from New Guinea the first troops that came out were brought out from the front line back to Townsville.
The civilians in Townsville got the shock of their lives because they all weighed about six stone. They were thin and full of malaria. So the next lot of troops to come out was us, we were included in it, unfortunately I contracted malaria, it broke out on me. They took us to the mountains of Port Moresby in a nice old climate and they fed us steak and onions and what have you
and they fattened us up best they could and for about a fortnight or a month. Dropped them back in Townsville, Cairns or wherever it was. Politicians will do anything to stop criticism.
In that time period when you came back from the Middle East and you spent a few months in Australia before going to New Guinea, did you ever do jungle training?
No. I can’t remember it. Oh we were told about it and what to do and the rest of it.
Yes at that time Canungra had started and well and truly had started so the recruits would do it, but they never sent any experienced soldiers down because jungle warfare is much the same as desert warfare anyway, warfare’s warfare. The recruits all went through Canungra, it was pretty rigid sort of training too. Australian troops, I have to say, even
today they’re well trained. You can see by the way our casualties are so low in the particular wars they’re in. They never had any battle casualties in Borneo, I knew that fella, I knew him when he was a colonel. My son was a lieutenant-colonel and he was a brigadier. We met him at mass, and he introduced me to him.
Tall fellow about the same size as mine and he went over and did such a great job in Borneo that the Americans wanted to take him over there so he could look after their troops but he said no. Anyway, he’s head of the army now. Can’t think of his name either, but anyway he’s a big boy now.
Apparently a very, very good general.
Did you ever get a new issue of clothing before going up into the Pacific?
Oh yes we did. We got green clothes, they had to take the khaki ones off us from the desert and stain them with green stuff. Anyway it didn’t make much difference because the clothes became so sodden and almost falling off you.
Just about to the stage of falling off. We’d get an occasional shirt or something like that I suppose, I can’t remember ever getting another lot of issue.
Never issued with proper jungle greens?
Oh yes when we got back.
I’ve heard stories about when they dyed the khakis with all the rain up there it practically washed straight out.
It washed on to you. Yes. That’s right. In any case within a week or three weeks
they were sodden that you wouldn’t recognised them for what they were anyway. They were starting to disintegrate on you. I tell you another thing we got up there. I don’t know the name of it but it’s a matter of sores that start there, pusey sores and go under both armpits on both arms, little things. The only way we could do anything about it if we weren’t fighting at the time,
they have a name for it, I think it’s a pretty common thing out here too, it doesn’t get that bad that’s the final stages of it. They used to get a fellow with a needle to prick it, squeeze out the pus and some fellow would stand there with the methylated spirits and he’d put it on and the other chap would have a hat and he’d be fanning like mad and you were doing your best to stop
a yell. You could imagine how methylated spirits with half the arm exposed. That’s what I mean the Australian Army was in a hopeless position, there were things that the American army had, they’d combat that. Of course this spread like wildfire.
Besides seeing the American RAP, did you see any other Americans?
Oh yes. I knew a lot of, a couple of them. They used to work in the Pennsylvanian Railroad
and they were radar operators, I got to know them and they knew us pretty well. We spent some time doing nothing in that particular country. I met them again in Townsville, I was at Mass at the Cathedral there and these people said, “Hey Bert”; it was these two fellas; they’d come back too. I remember the first thing they said to me, “By gee, the girls are beautiful here aren’t they?”
They said, “Oh, you wouldn’t take any notice of them?” I said, “I don’t know, I suppose I do”. So I was looking as much as any soldier, but I was shy. They couldn’t understand it at all, it was all these beautiful women around, why I didn’t have a couple on each arm, but I didn’t. I was glad I didn’t too then.
One thing they did tell me, up in New Guinea the Americans for those people who were highly trained in radar they gave them a map of how to get over the mountains to get into Port Moresby. They pulled it out and showed me, they each had one of these maps. I think it was silk. As soon as I saw it I said, “Don’t ever show that
around” I said, “If that gets around to our troops there’ll be a bloody riot”. Why should they be given maps to get out of the country and give it away? In any case it didn’t take place because the Japanese were defeated. It shows you though.
When you landed at Milne Bay right at the start, how hairy was that landing?
No trouble at all because there
was no one there. The militia were there in full control and we just landed off the boat. There were no Japs. The Japs landed themselves maybe a month later. Could have been before then. They made a lot of inroads to start with and our fellows pulled them up and drove them back. They decided there was no future there, so they evacuated their troops. We saw the ships come in and we thought there were more or rather the headquarters
apparently thought that they were landing more troops, but they weren’t, they were evacuating the troops that were there. They never came back.
What was the condition of the militia guys when you got there?
They seemed all right. We never took much notice of them because we were kept separated from them. They fought a good battle from all I could hear. They fought well. They were good Australians. They were Australians just the same as we were. They might not have been as highly trained.
Blokes talk about the rivalry between the AIF and militia? You having been an ex-militia, what did you see of that?
I didn’t see anything about them. I thought they were cheeky buggers, the discipline was very lax, I thought it was. We were used to very heavy discipline, you didn’t step out of line; if you did they soon knocked you down. When we were marching back from Oro Bay
from going through, we hadn’t done Sanananda anyway, the first couple of battles. As we were marching down the road towards where we were going to camp, they were singing out, “We wouldn’t be treated like you fellas. You fellas take it too easy” and all that sort of rubbish as if we had any control of what was going on. That was one thing.
We’d just smile at it. We didn’t worry they’d find out if it was right or wrong. I think their discipline wasn’t nearly, wasn’t up to standard we were used to. I suppose they call oppressed, it wasn’t discipline we were oppressed, but we weren’t. We were quite well treated but if you stepped out of line the full weight of the force came down on you.
How did the conditions, the wet and everything else affect your job?
Ah. Made it quite difficult really. Although in a sense everything was in tins, the American rations were tinned and the bully beef was tinned and the biscuits, I don’t remember how they were, they must have come in big tins. They kept them dry somehow.
You had no trouble with the tins. Those American rations that we didn’t like in the end they were all in tins. Didn’t matter if they got wet because you handed out so much to each. What they did, they put three of you together, later on I don’t know what particular battle this was but we were being supported, we were supplied by air. They used to wrap the stuff up in blankets and they’d find a
patch in the jungle somewhere and they’d kick it out and of course it would hit the ground and bounce. They were any old shape when we got them. Any tins that were any good they used to give them to us to give them out. We had to give them out in threes, three people had to share a tin. That was the way it was and a packet of biscuits. You wouldn’t call it magnificent
but the fact was it kept you alive. That didn’t last for long. Later on, long after we left, they introduced things called ‘storpedoes’, the store torpedo sort of thing, and the things used to land without being destroyed.
Were they the long cylindrical tubes that had a little parachute on them?
I would imagine, I never saw one, but I would imagine that would be it, so that they delayed the landing.
I imagine that was what they would be it.
So did you have any part of all to do with the aerial biscuit bombers?
No. We just got the result.
Would you have to go out and collect them from the drop?
Yes. The troops would go out and collect them and we would see that they were one to three. You couldn’t be dead accurate with
it , some would want more sort of thing.
Looking across both the Middle East and the Pacific campaign, how accountable did you have to be for stores like that?
No. You were accountable for base camps in New Guinea and the same in, they gave you so much bread and so much of that sort of thing. It was up to you to have an equal distribution for the number of troops
in each one, which wasn’t very hard. The same in New Guinea but where there was service from the air well there was not much you could do about that, you’d have to hope for the best that they never got poisoned with the broken tins. Mainly they were consumed pretty quick.
How accurate were the drops?
Some were very accurate and got it and some dropped it in places we didn’t know where they were.
They could see them for the air but we couldn’t see them from the ground sort of thing. I suppose they had wireless communication, they must have had. I always used to think of the poor fellows up there with an open doorway and a low flying plane about fifty feet above the trees and they’re standing there kicking these things out with their feet and hanging on with their hands. How they never went out with the blooming things I don’t know.
It must have been a bit difficult. They never had any doorways on them anyway. Those biscuit bombers as they call them, they were Dougies; the old Dougie was a great workhorse. That was the thing that surprised me, when it was all over and we were coming back to Port Moresby and we were on Popondetta and we were being loaded into planes. We had to fly us through The Gap,
what they called The Gap, I always thought The Gap and the mountains would be straight, just go though like that. No. Nothing like that at all, it was like this [indicates winding] and you’d look out and you’d see the plane almost touch the wall, a stone wall miles above you and you think, “Oh God, how did he ever do it?” They got you through. It didn’t last all that long, a few minutes but it was a hairy few minutes.
Were there any air raids while you were up there?
Japanese? Oh yes particularly in Milne Bay when the Japs were strong, they destroyed a Liberator on the drome and various other things like that and they bombed a lot. As the war went on, their air raid was depleted and they were losing the war and they had one last
desperate fly and I think I told you about it. They had about fifteen to twenty Japanese planes came across – we could see them across the sea – two Lightnings swooped out of the sky and swooped onto them and underneath them and like that. They were going for about a minute and then suddenly two more Lightnings came on the scene and did the same thing and gave them hell. I can remember,
I honestly thought they were planes, things dropping into the sea, the splashes, I thought, “Gee whiz, they’re knocking them all out”, but I really think now they were jettisoning their bombs. We had all these splashes, they were jettisoning their bombs because they couldn’t manoeuvre with the bomb load and they turned back, but some didn’t. About six planes got through and gave us a giggle up. Not many casualties though.
Did you see any other allied aircraft besides the Lightning?
Not at that particular time. Yes we used to see aircraft and I think the pilot ended up in a very strange way. This is hearsay, but I did see we had a Wirraway and it was no match for the Zeros at all because it was hopelessly outclassed. He used to, we could see the observer dropping grenades on the Japs or
throwing Tommy guns over the side, pretty useless, but anyway he was causing the Japs a lot of trouble and apparently they must have downed him and captured him. They decided to execute him. This is all hearsay that was what I was told that happened. He was taken out and I did read a report by a Japanese they gave him a military funeral. They chopped their heads off.
They were only a couple of people that they captured. In this particular the Japanese gave them a guard of honour for the killing and they put their heads on the block and the big man with the sword came and chopped their heads off. That was for them. He said that he was astounded at the bravery of the Australians. They stood there, they stood there, they put their heads on the block and had it chopped off without a murmur. He said that really made a
hell of an impression on him and many others. I read that this fellow had written this report about it.
But you had seen his Wirraway and then…
I’d seen the Wirraway flying around above us and I’d seen the blokes leaning over the sides firing a sub-machine gun and also dropping grenades. Quite ineffective. It must have been a
constant irritant to the Japanese. When they did down the plane and capture the two, they chopped their heads off. That last part is hearsay except, it’s not hearsay I read what his fellow wrote in his paper afterwards. That was long after the war.
You spoke of the souvenirs that you picked up in the Middle East, did you get any in New Guinea?
No. I didn’t. All I could do was to carry out a
Thompson sub-machine gun onto the plane and get off it eventually. I had malaria at the time.
Before you got malaria, what were you taking to try and stop it?
Quinine and Atebrin. We never took Plasmatein to my knowledge we waited until we got it and then I was given three times a day Atebrin, Plasmin
and Quinine. The three of them, they cured it eventually after a long period, after I got out of the army I was still on Atebrin, quite yellow. We all turned yellow.
So at what stage did you know that the war was in our favour?
When we were in New Guinea you couldn’t admit it. What actually happened all these ships were sunk, practically all their ships, they had no ships to take supplies into
Japan and they were going to starve, there wasn’t the slightest doubt about it. I think they had already eaten all the dogs in the place and the cats. Much the same as Europe, the Dutch were under the same conditions when the Germans were there. They destroyed all their crops. The Japs were in a very bad way. I did hear, read a report,
they questioned Eisenhower at the time and why he didn’t land in and defeat them, and gave them a chance to surrender, which they did. Well he said, “It was calculated at that time had we landed in Japan we would have lost eight million troops”. Remember that the Japs were fanatical. Instead of that, he dropped the atom bomb. From our point of view, he did
the right thing, whereas from the human point of view whether he did the right thing of course is debatable. I think he did, if he’s right and he saved or rather if his calculation was right, he saved eight million troops, I think that’s well worth thinking about, isn’t it?
When you think of the campaign you fought up in New Guinea, what stands out as the most significant memory?
Cape Endaiadere by a long way and also when the Japanese destroyer came in and sank the Ann Chung but didn’t sink the Manunda. I got a surprise to see that there were Japs in the army who were human beings. We looked upon them as animals, which of course is ridiculous. That’s what you thought at the time.
You can’t help those thoughts creeping in. When Japan declared war, I was in northern Syria and I was that wild, I would have loved to have strangled some bastard, him the Jap I mean, if I could get my hands on him. He’d have probably strangled me instead. I wasn’t thinking along those lines. I was quite annoyed with the Japs because they attacked Australia.
I wasn’t annoyed with the Germans or the Italians. I didn’t like them but I wasn’t annoyed with them, wasn’t crazy about them but I was with the Japanese.
Can you remember where you were when Darwin had been bombed?
No I don’t remember when Darwin was bombed, but I remember when Japan declared war, I was in northern Syria, Aleppo or Latakia, two northern parts of Syria.
When you reflect on your war years, does your Middle East campaign stand out as being completely separate from the…?
Oh yes entirely. There’s no similarity between them. In New Guinea you slept in water, if it came that you had to have a rest and you laid down, you lay down in water. There would be spent bullets hitting the water and you’d hear them go “plop”,
making a sort of squidgy sound, they were spent bullets. If they hit you they probably hurt you, probably have a nasty wound. There’s nothing you can do about it, normally in the Middle East you’d be underground and out of it. You couldn’t get away from bombing and not that we had a great deal of bombing; we did in Milne Bay we had a lot. We had some in
Sanananda, we had those bombs that came across it must have been Sanananda. We saw them; they dropped on where we were camped but not near us. There were only about a half dozen of them anyway.
So is the New Guinea to you worse?
Oh yes much worse, because you were sick with malaria half the time and one fella I think he was called McManus and was in one of the platoons and he was desperately ill and running a temperature of one hundred and six. He went to the RAP who gave him two aspirins and told him to go back to his lines.
That was the sort of medical treatment that was there in the battalion. Another time a fella called Glen Tacklock and I were assigned to stretcher bearing and we were picking up the wounded at Cape Endaiadere and they had stretchers laid alongside the jeep. We’d walk alongside with them, looking after them as best we could. I remember this
fellow was lying there and he said, he looked at me and he said, “I got my Blighty [trip home],” and I said, “Yes you’re right, you’ve got your Blighty.” Anyway Glen said to me later he said, “He got his Blighty all right.” He said, “Did you notice his vomit? “Yeah.” It was all full of blood, brownish, full of blood. In other words his stomach must have been perforated. He obviously would have died; you wouldn’t get that sort of treatment up there. Another
mate of mine, I can’t think of what happened to him, he got wounded, he was a Lebanese, what was his name? He got wounded and oh that’s right, it was a tin of bully beef. The bullet went through here [points to shoulder] and smacked into the bully beef he had it in his pack and of course
those sort of things will explode if a bullet hits them. Of course this thing exploded and blew all the flesh off his backbone, didn’t hurt the backbone apparently because he lived long after the war, he’s dead now of course. At the time I think he said something funny, I forget what it was. He was just sitting in his trench and this bullet came through and went through here
and smacked into the bully beef and it exploded. Took the skin off the back of his neck.
How did you see humour as serving Australian troops?
They were humorous. They enjoyed a joke and they often made fun of what was going on, not completely because they were quite serious, everybody was quite serious, you know, you’ve got to be serious. It’s not a laughing matter, put it that way.
So how did you end up getting out of New Guinea?
Were you evacuated because of your malaria?
Yes. I didn’t come out with the battalion. I came out later but I joined the battalion in Ravenshoe. Then we were sent on a fortnight’s leave and we got to Townsville, I told you that two fellas we knew came out and they claimed us and we never went back to the battalion. We just
went straight into Movement Control. I thoroughly enjoyed myself riding a motorbike around Townsville I can tell you. It was a nice break.
Was that your fun part of the war?
Yeah I wished the war had gone on forever but some bugger dropped an atom bomb on and it was stopped in an instant.
Can you remember how you heard about that?
Yes I don’t remember how, I was in Townsville that’s all, probably delivering some messages on a motorbike.
I do remember one thing about Townsville and don’t think, I’d like to tell you this without any sign of boasting. I used to deliver these signals as they called them to the American people on the wharves and they employed younger middle-aged Australian women,
about half a dozen or more, and it was a long corridor and there were offices going off each place and you had to go up about three to four steps and I used to go in there and see the clerk at the entrance and she’d sign my book and I’d disappear. This particular time I got there and I looked up and the steps were full of these women. I thought, “Hell, how
am I going to get up there?” I couldn’t walk past thing and they obviously intended to stay there and I heard one of them say, “Here comes our screen star”. This is the truth. They could have only been referring to me because there was nobody behind me, but what she did she must have taken a photograph of me and anyway they let me through and they were chiacking and joking and that sort of thing, which I was probably
joking back. The following week she gave me a snapshot about that big that she’d taken. I never take a good photograph but this particular time I took an absolute snazzler [picture perfect] and I knew what she was talking about the screen star, that was me and the photograph and explained it. She gave me the photograph and it’s one of those things I kept because I was so proud of the damned thing. It
made me look about a thousand times better than I did. I lost it and I think my eldest daughter has got it over in Western Australia. I’d like to get it back but I don’t think I ever will. I’ll never see it again. It really was, sometimes in life someone will take a photograph of you and it will be an absolute pearler [picture perfect]. You’ll never do it again. Everything apparently fitted in right. That was this particular photograph. I can remember that
as well as anything. I can remember the women on the steps.
Can you remember when you heard that Japan had surrendered?
I must have been in Cairns, I probably was because the Movement Control 2/1st they took them over to Borneo but they didn’t take any returned men at all, they took all new men. Their place was taken by the Australian Movement Control,
the militia group unit and the CO of that decided Townsville he didn’t want so he transferred to Cairns, which meant that I went up to Cairns with them and rode the motorbike all around Cairns. I can remember there were a mob of AWAS [Australian Women’s Army Service] working for the Australian in Cairns and I used to be rostered on to drive the truck home with the
seats in it to take the girls home. They were, would you believe it, in the same camp as the men, but they were in a separate hut and that sort of thing. No problems apparently. I had driven them home and there was always a fight to get in the front seat because it was padded you see and the others weren’t. This particular time, a girl
got into the front seat and she was sitting there and she, I had a habit of leaning on the wheel like that when I was stationery, I don’t know why I developed it but I did. I was doing that exact thing and she said to me, “Why don’t you give us a break?” I said, “What?” She said, “Why don’t you give us a break and take us out?” I said, “Oh.” She said, “We’d like to be taken a bit instead of staying in that house all the time.”
I said, “You’ll get over it”. Let it go at that. I had no intention of buying into that one, thank you very much. I never had enough money to buy ice cream, let alone take a woman out to the café or pictures. My experience with women was very limited.
How long after Japan surrendered did you stay in the army for?
I didn’t stay at all. Before the war was even declared as finished, I was discharged. They took us down on long service leave, anyone who had been in more than five years, I think it was, and I had been in six anyway. We were taken down and discharged from Redbank.
How did you feel about that?
Good, I went back to the bank,
that was the only job I had and the only job I could do. So I went back there not liking it very much. But I went there and stuck it until I married, by that time it was too late, then the National took us over and it was a different ballgame altogether.
So how do you look back on your war service?
I don’t regret it. It’s part of my life. I think it, I won’t say it made a man, I don’t think it made a man of me. I
was a sort of man when I went and I was still a sort of a man when I left it. I had a lot of experiences. You’ve heard what I’ve had.
In what way did it affect the rest of your life?
Well I met my wife and got married, that was a pretty big step. It never had any great difference on my life, because don’t forget in the last
twelve, eighteen months of the war I was in a peacetime situation, I just went from one to the other. If I had any inhibitions about the war, I lost them all in the eighteen months I was riding a motorbike around Townsville and Cairns. So I just went down there and got discharged and came back and went to work. That’s all there was in it.
What are your thoughts on Anzac Day?
I think it’s quite good, a good idea. I do think,
I think I told you this, I felt terribly disappointed the treatment that the Vietnam soldiers got. I thought that was disgraceful. That was a terrible blight on the Australian public. They didn’t treat them in the newspapers nicely, they didn’t treat them, didn’t give them any of the benefits of this sort of things. Now they’ve got it all, which they should. They were entitled to it right from the very beginning, but they never got it. Those poor people suffered from
Agent Orange and that made a big effect on their lives, their marriage, their children and all that sort of thing. It destroyed a lot. Finally killed them.
Have you always marched?
No. No. Only during, the only time I ever marched in Brisbane – I’ve marched in little country towns that I was in at various times – the only time I ever marched in Brisbane was during that
Vietnam when the Vietnam soldiers were being castigated and run down, that’s what the public was doing to them and that was a shocker. So at the time they needed some support so I went and marched.
What about the RSL [Returned and Services League]?
I’ve been in various RSL; I’m still in the RSL now in various country towns that I was in. Yes I joined and I’ve forgotten to renew my subscription and lost it of course.
Now to get into it, you’ve really got to show your discharge certificate and your war records, you’ve just got to do everything humanly possible to get in. Fortunately I was there. I’ve stayed in, I think I’d be scared to get out in case I couldn’t get back in again. I don’t know why because I don’t get, oh yes I did get a letter from the, I never got much of a pension because I was too
healthy. I could never do any good and finally by writing to them I got to a forty per cent pension. The last time I wrote I got to forty-five per cent and there I stopped, no I’ve had enough and the pension was enough. I did get a letter from the RSL sub-branch
written by the people that take people through to get their pension and they’re quite successful. So they wrote to me and they wrote the normal letter saying that they noticed that I’d made many applications and had always been knocked back, refused anything that I wanted. They noticed it was so noticeable
that it stuck out. They had two coming up from the Veterans Affairs; would I like to come along and see them. I thought, “Yes I would”. But in the midst of it I changed my mind. I changed purely simply because of a financial situation, it took me twelve dollars fifty to get to the RSL, I had to go up there and it took me twelve dollars coming back,
that’s twenty-five dollars, there was no chance that I’d do anything because I’d always failed before. I couldn’t see any point in it so I didn’t go. I’ve regretted it since; it was a mistake. I should have gone.
What is the one lasting thing that you’d like young Australians to know about World War II?
God that’s a hard one.
Well I think the best thing I can tell them is to join the army and learn to train well, and they are trained well today, because the better you’re trained the more chance you have of survival. There is no question about that. Look at the Australians to the Americans, the Americans lost about two-fifty to three hundred and I don’t think the Australians have lost one. That is all through training, I don’t care what anyone says. Knowing what to do and at the right time and be careful to be quite
vicious and successful; if you’re attacked, to fight back. Get trained well.