23 years, which was my age when I enlisted. We went to a place called Ocean Island in 1917, soon after my birth. A German raider had shelled the phosphate works on Ocean Island owned by the British-Australian Phosphate Company. And my father was sent up there to rebuild the crushers. We came back in ’20. Lived in Gawler until I was 8, 1925. And then we
moved to Adelaide where I stayed until I joined the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] in 1940. My mother’s family were early migrants in South Australia. People called Abbot, their great-grands. And they came from Yorkshire and arrived on a ship called Eden in 1838. So on both sides of my family we’ve got this Swedish intrusion: my mother’s
father and my own father. It’s interesting we’ve never discovered where they met because my maternal grandfather had nine children, one of whom died young. And we know that he went to Broken Hill as a miner and we know that my father went to Broken Hill. So we always guessed that they met in Broken Hill, and that’s how my father met my mother. It’s all guesswork but it’s a reasonable assumption.
So nothing much important about Adelaide. When we went there, we went into a War Service home owned by my uncle. I’d had three uncles who were in the First World War. All commissioned. But none of them got wounded, it was a good record. So one of them went to Paris to be the London representative of The Times in Paris and we took over his house in a suburb called
St Morris, where we lived until 1932. We went bust in the Depression. My father had died when I was 10 and we were hopelessly broke. We had to get clothing from our relatives and we used to go down the shop with ration tickets. And we had a difficult period then, in my life, after my father died. I was 10; my sisters were 12 and 14.
And we sort of got along. We had to leave the house. And over the next few years we went through a period of a number of various places. We got rooms and we let a flat and let a house here and there. And we all went to a school called Norwood High School, two sisters and I. And because we were bust, I used to go up in the morning and go to work for the baker’s cart. I’d walk a couple of miles to the baker’s shop and would
spend the morning earning two or three shillings on the baker’s cart. In the afternoon, I carted a tray around the football oval selling chocolates and ice creams. In the evenings, my sisters were usherettes in the local picture theatre. So we spent quite a busy Saturday. But that was necessary. At the age of 15, when I was doing the Leaving at Norwood High School, we had to leave school. My sisters had got a job, Mother hadn’t been well.
So I left school at the age of 15, about a month before my 16th birthday. We went to work for a company called J. Craven and Co. in Adelaide, one of the smaller department stores, where my two sisters worked. I suspected they took pity on them. Anyhow the three of us worked there. And I worked there until I went to the war in 1940. The intervening period was an interesting one from my point of view because
we didn’t have any money. I couldn’t afford to buy cricket bats and tennis racquets and so on and so forth and we did a lot of walking. And I became interested in amateur theatre in the Playbox in Adelaide. And I answered an advertisement from a man looking for people who might join the chorus of a musical show. So he accepted me and then I began to be interested in singing. He was a singing and music teacher. And I spent many years fooling around with them. It
was great fun and I met a lot of new people, and it somewhat relieved the boredom from my point of view. I used to go up the River Murray with my friends, shooting rabbits, friends I’d met in Cravens. And that was great fun. About once a quarter, we’d go up and fish and shoot along the River Murray. And then in 1935, when things
got desperate on the world stage, like many other young men I thought I’d better join the army. So for no other reason I decided to join the Light Horse, the 18th/23rd Light Horse. I knew absolutely nothing about horses. Anyhow I hired a broken down old horse and took it for a ride on a couple of weekends and went and enrolled in the 18th/23rd and they accepted me, which is quite extraordinary. Anyhow in the first year, we went to a place called
Salisbury, which is now the city north of Adelaide, the Salisbury level. I managed to fall off the horse once or twice so they banished me to the hay tent and that was my experience in the first year of camp. I learnt a lot. And luckily the next year they got rid of the horses and we were mechanised, we went into trucks. And we switched then from what was the standard gun, the Lewis gun to the Vickers and I became the number one Vickers gunner. It seemed to suit me. I liked the weapon.
And I was one of the leading gunners in the squadron. Then in the year 1938 we went over to a place called Goolwa for a camp, down near Mount Gambier in South Australia. And I found myself teaching all these old country boys who’d slung off on me and my horse riding, I found myself teaching them Vickers gun, which is quite amusing. So at the end of 1938 I pulled out of the militia because I’d
started taking singing lessons at the Adelaide Conservatorium and it wasn’t possible to do the militia and the Playbox and the Conservatorium at once. So I had to buy a piano. But at this stage, we didn’t have a home left. Both my sisters were married and I was boarding with some people in the city. So I used to go to singing lessons from Craven and Co., near North Terrace in Adelaide at the Conservatorium,
only about 400 yards away either at extended lunch or in the afternoon. And then go to a place called the Grange, a beach, where I was boarding with friends. And I did a lot of singing then, as much as I could. I sung at a few weddings and did a lot of choir work. I was very keen on it. At that stage I got a bit restless.
All my early contacts had been broken because I’d been moving around so much, and I’d enjoyed the Light Horse, so I thought, “Gee I might as well join up”. So I went down and enlisted on my 23rd birthday and they sent me away. They said, “Come back on the 22nd of July”, which I did. In the meantime I went to Melbourne to visit my sister who was married to a permanent air force man. I came back and I went down to Wayville.
And it was chockablock full of people like me who had just enlisted. And they put us up in pigpens over night and we all barked like dogs. There was a thing called Dog’s Disease [virus] running around, the most awful noise, and all of us were infected. That didn’t last long. We found ourselves allocated to a battalion called the 2/28th Battalion. It was the last one raised in the 2nd AIF. And we all trooped out and were allocated to companies. And on about
day three somebody said, “Hands up anybody who knows anything about Vickers guns?” So I put my hand up. “Hands up anybody who’s been an instructor or an NCO [Non Commissioned Officer]?” so I put my hand up. I hadn’t been an NCO. So anyhow, “Righto, you’re a corporal”. So that day I became a corporal and I was put in charge of doing a bit of training of the Vickers gun. And then to my absolute surprise I was called up one day by the adjutant, a man called Keith Bishop. And he said,
“The CO [Commanding Officer] wants to see you.” And the CO was later Sir Victor Windeyer, but anyway Victor was a marvellous man. He was a High Court judge. A very austere man, rather hesitant in his speaking. And I was scared stiff. I had no background, I was very naive and was unsophisticated. Anyhow he said to me, “Look, we like what we’ve seen of you. We’re going to send you to a school.” So then to my surprise I was sent off to the Officer
Training Course here at Randwick in New South Wales to be a Vickers gunner. Total surprise. I’d never imagined this would happen to me, but there I was. So we came across to Randwick and I stayed there on the course until October when I was recalled to the battalion, because the battalion was in a brigade of the 8th Division. We had the 8th Division colour patches on and we’d been warned for overseas.
So I arrived back to the battalion. And on arrival I was told that I’d been commissioned but I had no uniform, I had no badges of rank and they put some pips on my battledress for me. And there I was. And then I found myself commanding a platoon of infantry about which I knew less then nothing. And so for a few weeks we went to Woodside Camp. I was
put in as a sort of learner I suppose, a deputy platoon commander of the carrier platoon. We didn’t have any Bren carriers. We used to run around holding flags pretending we were vehicles. But it was great fun. So then we got warned for overseas movement, early November. We had two weeks leave and sent back. And the fellow that had been commanding the carrier platoon, a man called Le Mesurier from Adelaide, didn’t go to the Middle East. He stayed home for some reason
and I found myself commanding the Bren carrier platoon. Never having driven a vehicle, having no carriers and knowing absolutely nothing about carrier tactics, there I was. And so we left Adelaide on the 17th of November on the Stratheden and got to Perth, where we were off for six days. A German raider was flying around the Indian Ocean so the convoy, which was the Stratheden,
Strathmore, the Aquitania and a Polish ship called the Batori, we had six wonderful days in Perth. And then we went to Ceylon, Colombo, escorted by the Royal Navy Far East Fleet. We had long enough in Colombo to have a few lightweight uniforms made, 48 hours, and then again took off for Egypt and arrived at Aden I suppose
on the 15th of November. And we sailed along the [Suez] Canal to a placed called Kantara, where we stopped overnight. And we got off the ship on the 17th of November, caught a train and went to Palestine, where we got one of our early lessons from Victor Windeyer. We had one carriage at the end of the train that was for the officers and the rest for the troops. And we sort of happily unloaded our gear and reported to him. And he said,
“Gentlemen, during the rosters we’ll ride with the troops. I’ll see you in the morning.” So off we went and we rode in cattle trucks with the troops. It was a very good experience and taught us a rather nice lesson. Anyhow, that was Palestine. We stayed in Palestine training, doing nothing very important. I saw as much as I could. I went to Jerusalem once, Tel Aviv once, and we stayed near Gaza, a place called Dimorah, and it had been occupied by the Light Horse in the attack
on Gaza in 1917, I think it was. It was full of relics and interesting bits and pieces. Anyhow come early January, we were again told we were on the move. And I think it was about the 13th or 14th of February we got on the train. And we went to a place called Amariya, which is outside Alexandria. Here we spent a couple of days. And then
we went by truck up the coast road through Derna, Tobruk, to a place called Gazala, which is on the western side of Tobruk, where we spent two or three weeks training. I had another very interesting personal lesson there. It was three weeks at Gazala, then up to the way to Benghazi, which we never made, we stopped at a place called Tocra Pass.
We got there on the 2nd of April. And I was, with my machine guns to guard the pass, Maddalena Pass, to stop the Germans coming up. Anyhow on the early morning of the 4th we had to get out. So we rushed back to Tobruk. It was an absolute shambles. We got back without any air attack. Stopped at a place called Mechili on the 8th. Then on the 10th we had our first contact there. We were strafed and bombed. On the 10th we got back into Tobruk with the last battalion in.
So there we were. The next few days we were getting busy. We were digging holes and getting ammunition out. And I had no carriers. But on the 13th I got three carriers and that afternoon we went out on patrol to see what was happening. That day there was a big attack down in the south. The first German attack. We weren’t involved. But gradually I got hold of a whole platoon of carriers and we went every day
to see what was happening, to try and keep in touch with them. There were a lot of battalions to the west of us and German gunners and German tanks. It was about the 21st or the 22nd I took a patrol out and we surprised a lot of Italians in trucks, Bersalieri [Italian mountain light infantry] regiment. And they didn’t want to fight so we shot them up as well as we could and they stood up and they wanted to come in. So I sent two carriers to the back
and I put one at the back and one on each side. And we brought 770 Italians in that day. Anyhow it was a marvellous day for us. The Germans eventually chased us in with some tanks. But we got them inside. And then two or three days later, there was a company attack also in the same area that I accompanied with a section of carriers and that was very successful. We got another three or 400 Germans that day.
That almost finished the time we were, this is a place called Point 209, Ras el Medauuar. Until I think it was the 27th and Italian tanks came through, they were little tiny tanks and my platoon shot one up with an anti-tank rifle. And then General Morshead ordered the laying of the minefield between us and the hill. We were then in reserve and we pulled out Then on the
1st of May the battalion that took over from us the 2/24th, they were over-run by the Germans. We woke up in the morning, there were about 50 tanks. The hills were a long slope. On the other side of the minefield, there were about three tanks in the minefield, about these 50 tanks. And that was a pretty distressing morning for us. Anyhow the garrison artillery put them off and they never broke through. Then the battalion had to do a counter-attack a couple of days later. We didn’t have much time and my carriers
were supposed to right flank. It was a night attack. We were bombed on the start line. Anyhow the attack wasn’t successful. It was called off after about three hours. What it did do was to hold the Germans off. So after that, the battalion moved around the various parts of the perimeter, either in the front line or in reserve. We patrolled every day. Had a bit of success. We cut a few vehicles up and captured some people.
And we used to keep an eye on the infantry patrols that went out. And that was (UNCLEAR) until mid-June there was to be an 8th Army attack. And I with my vehicles took all people of 18th Brigade out on reconnaissance, the brigadier, the battalion commanders and their people. But the attack never came off because it died on the frontier so we never went outside. Anyhow
I left Tobruk with jaundice in August and the battalion came out I think in October. I spent a couple of weeks in hospital at Kantara, then I rejoined the battalion in Palestine, a place called Julis. The battalion then went to Syria. I didn’t. I was posted at the training battalion because their reinforcements were not a very good standard. So I spent some time there. So when the battalion, the division, moved back to the desert in
June-July, I was still in Palestine and I rejoined them in early August. Then we did a lot of training prior to that, in preparing for the big battle. The only thing of interest to happen before then is that the corps artillery had done all its survey and it had used telegraph poles, which was about 1,000 yards outside us, the last one of the old telegraph line. One
of our chaps must have pinched it one night, the head cover, and there was a tremendous fuss. All the corps gunners in the artillery, the arms gunners were sent out three times on patrol to find the pole. They never found it but they had to do some more survey. El Alamein itself was interesting because on the 31st night we were under a battery of 5.5 guns, pretty noisy when it started. The first night was quite easy from our point of view. I had
the carriers loaded up with the supplies and we did a resupply run once the battalion was settled down. It was a reasonably easy attack from our point of view. We didn’t suffer many casualties. The rifle companies got through without a great deal of difficulty. In the morning though, we saw across to our right about a mile away a hill, which absolutely dominated the place. And our CO, this time a man called Hammer, have I skipped something?
the Germans made but the artillery were marvellous. And it was agreed we’d be relieved by the 2/17th Battalion. And we were then to do an attack the following night. We came up, we had a night’s rest. The following night the brigade had to do that right hook up to the coast. Led by the 2/23rd Battalion on tanks. They decided to copy our deal. And we were in trucks waiting behind, the 2/24th and ourselves.
And we knew about 1o'clock it had gone bad. There was a tremendous noise and all of a sudden everything went quiet. So we knew the whole thing had gone bad. And around about 1oclock in the morning we got called to a brigade conference. Torpy Whitehead was the brigadier and there’s some senior people from division there. I was there because the idea was because the night attack had gone wrong, the 24th and the 48th would do a daylight attack across to a place called Thompson’s Post,
which had been a thorn in our side for months. Anyhow the brigadier didn’t like it much and the battalion commanders didn’t like it much and I liked it even less. So in the middle of the night there was a great powwow. The division commander came down, the man from corps headquarters came down and they decided then that it couldn’t go on without tanks, and the tanks couldn’t make it in time so the whole thing was called off. Now I don’t know anywhere in the military history that meeting’s recorded but it was a
fascinating experience. We all drew a deep breath and about five in the morning we got the hell out of it before the daylight came. So that’s the way that particular encounter was called off. Oh look, on the night of the 25th we had an awful thing happen. A German shell hit one of the trucks,
our supply trucks, and five of them went up, company supply trucks with ammunition and mines. So my carriers and I spent all the night running a shuttle service. And we finally got enough and the soldiers got some head cover but it was a pretty awful night for us. And we were lucky that we managed to get enough stuff for them all by morning in time for them to counter-attack. So on the last night, we only had 200 and 30 odd people in the four companies. About half strength.
We got off to a bad start. We had to fight to secure the start line. And they turned right, went along the railway line going to the rear of the German position. And it was desperate and it had to be called off. In the end, we had only one officer left of the four companies, a Lieutenant Gregory from Sydney, and the 2/24th were in a similar way. They, on the way back, trod on an aerial bomb, a
booby-trap. And we finished up in the morning with very few of us left and I did a head count. We had 41 of us in our battalion. The 24th had about 70. And we were stuck across the railway line. And we didn’t know what was going to happen. And so the CO said to me, “Get on the blower to brigade and division and get some tanks up.” So I spoke to brigade and asked them to bring some artillery fire down. They didn’t
believe we were there but I convinced them we were. So then division promised to send some tanks. So regiment of tanks came up, the RTR [Royal Tank Regiment], about 45 of them, and they stayed with us all day. They walked out with six tanks and they saved the day for us. And then that night of course the brigade was relieved. We were relieved by an Adelaide battalion called the 2/43rd and they said to me, “How many trucks do you need?” I said, “We only want two trucks” and that gave them a
shock. We pulled out then, back to our original position, where I commanded a composite company of about 80 people, and we stayed there until the battle was over. But Trig 29 was very important because the whole outcome of the Battle of El Alamein depended on the retention of that hill. It gave us wonderful observation. So then of course we went to Palestine. We got the wounded back. We
came back to Australia. We got back to Australia early February. Disembarked some troops at Perth. The rest was at Adelaide. We went on three weeks leave and then went back to the Atherton Tablelands where we trained. At this stage I was a captain. I was a company second in command. We did amphibious training and jungle training up there. We walked ourselves into the ankles and we worked very hard indeed.
And finally, in August I think it was, we embarked. We did a lot of amphibious training at Cairns. And we embarked on a ship called the Henry T Allen – it used to be the President Hoover, one of the American President Line – where we sailed to Port Moresby. And we got dumped in Moresby on a plantation. It was terrible. It was a coconut plantation. Up to our ankles in water. We did a
trial landing on Goodenough Island, one of the Trobriands, which was great fun, but we got as wet as shags and we learnt a lot though about amphibious landing. Then we went to Buna and Gona where we sorted ourselves out. And then we loaded on landing ships, LSTs [Landing Ship Tanks] American-provided landing ships, heading for Lae. And we learnt on the water that Lae was to be our target. We were not involved in the landing.
We were reserve brigade, so Lae was not very important for us. We tagged along. The only thing we did, I was 2IC [Second in Command] of B Company, we moved through a batch of bamboo that nearly killed us. Otherwise Lae was unimportant from a 48th Battalion point of view. The next job was Finschhafen, and in Finschhafen there was a breakdown of intelligence. They believed there were only 1,500 Japs. There were about
8,000 there. And so we were second brigade in. I was sent back to Buna to bring back resupply for the 20th Brigade that did the landing. So I came, the night I landed back at Scarlet Beach at Finschhafen, there was a hell of a fuss going on, because all of a sudden all of the machine guns out on the sea seemed to be firing at once, plus some 40 millimetre stuff. And it transpired that a
raiding party of Japanese had come in a landing craft intending to land on the beach at Lae. It was a fascinating night. I got all the troops down below and watched it myself. So we then went ashore at Finschhafen and we fooled around for some days around Finsch itself getting ready. And then on the 16th of November, I think it was, we went up to a place called Sattelberg, took over from the 2/17th Battalion.
(UNCLEAR) Our job was to capture Sattelberg. So after several days’ reconnaissance and preparation and patrolling we set off for Sattelberg. And we went along the road for a little way and we came to a place known as Green Hill and my company was told to capture it. So the first move on the battle was A Company would capture Green Hill. Little but successful operation.
Not too many casualties. Killed about 30 Japs, I suppose all together. And then one of the other companies, I think it was C Company, attacked the next day. Ultimately I think it was on day four, my A Company then set off up the track, again up towards Sattelberg. We were accompanied by a man named Sam Hordern. Sam had been the ringmaster at the Royal Sydney Show and the Hordern [Pavilion], a well-known New South Wales family.
Sam had a squadron of tanks supporting us and we got held up along the way. And the CO, then a man called Ainslie, of Ainslie’s Solicitors in Perth, told me on no account was I to go until the tanks got up and the engineers did some work for us, so we sat on the edge of a bamboo thicket. And the engineers said they were going to blow a thing called a fougasse; it was a firebomb of some sort. So in
the meantime another company, Don Company came up and the CO put me in command of the two company attack. The tanks had got bogged. Anyhow one of them came up. I was standing with Sam Hordern and Brocksopp, the other company commander, we were discussing what was happening and some bullets started to fly off the tank. There were some Japanese snipers. So we did a bit of a crouch behind the tank and finished our conference, made a plan of attack and the engineers set the fougasse off. Well it was the greatest disaster
because it was a barrel, I think a 20 litre barrel of oil with some petrol in it and explosive inside. Well it went, jumped 20 feet in the end and went off and nothing happened. Anyhow it was a start, so off we went and we captured that hill. It was quite a difficult fight but we got it. After two or three hours we got control of it. We lost about six people from my company. We killed about 50 Japanese.
And then the next day we started off again in the front and we were, then we relieved another company and we got to the foot of Sattelberg, which was taken and captured by B Company, and that’s when Tom Derrick did so well. The company had stopped short of the hill. Sattelberg was an exposed hill and there was a long slope. There were about 8 or 9 Japanese machine-gun posts. And I can’t think why but he got permission to stay overnight and Tom said, “Look
where the division stayed until the middle of next year. In the meantime, I got posted to Canungra as an instructor in the first half of 1945, training young officers out of Duntroon. It was an interesting experience. So I missed the landing at Tarakan. I caught up with Tarakan in August. We got caught in Morotai because there were no ships, no aeroplanes. Anyhow I finally caught up with the battalion at Tarakan
and that campaign of course finished mid-August and I was then a major. I didn’t have a job really. The war was over. We were all going home. We had what you call a five by two: if you had five years, two years overseas, married you got points for going home. I was single. I’d been five and two. No I didn’t want to go home at the time, I was happy to stay. And somebody offered us the option of going to Japan or Germany in the Occupation Force, so I opted for
Japan. I went to Japan as the second-in-command of the 66th Battalion, commanded by a fellow, a Lieutenant-Colonel George Colvin. And I went up to Japan with the 34th where I stayed for three years. The first year I stayed with the battalion. I sat on a War Crimes Commission in Yokohama in that month trying camp commandants. 1946 I was the second in command
and ran the technics school at a place called Matsuyama, a British Army training school. 1948 I was a Senior British officer on Shikoku, with nothing to do. Marvellous. So I used to go down to Kure once a month for brigade. So I managed to see all of Shikoku and I went to the places where the prisons had been. So then in 1948, I came home. The brigadier had said to me, “Look, why don’t you sit for Staff College Exam?” And I did.
I didn’t know whether I wanted to stay in the army or not. I transferred to the regular army or was given the option in April. Anyhow I got home and I was asked if I wanted to go to Staff College and I said, “Why not?” So I went to Staff College at Queenscliff. After six months I graduated there. I was sent to America to do the American Command and General Staff College. Coming back, I expected to go to Korea but finished up doing teaching at Staff College for two years. So
I had four-and-a-half years, I was glad to get away from it. I then went to Army Headquarters where I was Secretary of the Defence Planning Committee, Administrative Planning Committee, and pro-tem Assistant Secretary to the Chiefs of Staff. Chiefs of Staff were running Korea for all administration and I was the executive officer for that operation. I had a lot of fun. I was there for three years. I stayed a year longer than normal. Defence wanted me in the wind-up. Went to Korea
in the end of 1954 to help organise the withdrawal of the base from Korea back to Japan. And after those three years, I went over there to Sydney as a GSO1 [General Staff Officer Grade 1] of the 2nd Infantry Division. From there I went to Bangkok as the administrative planner of the SEATO [South East Asia Treaty Organisation] Headquarters in Bangkok for 1969 or ’59, ’60. Went to Melbourne
in ’59 and got married and took my wife back to Bangkok. 1961-63 I became commandant of the training centre at Canungra. And the general at Bangkok said to me that he’d like to get me for his director of military intelligence, John Wilton, who later on became Chief of Defence Staff. So after Canungra, I was posted to DMI [Director of Military Intelligence] in Canberra
and it was in the days of confrontation and Sukarno. An interesting period. I was on the National Intelligence Committee. I collapsed one night after a long meeting and I was carted off to hospital, a survivor for overworking a bit. So the next two years I spent at a thing called the Joint Planning Group, Colonel level. We were planning force structure for the years ahead. And Australia made one of its great mistakes. It was offered, asked, if we’d provide 500,000
pounds to help build an airport at Honiara and Treasury turned us down. We could have had a wonderful in on the, never mind. Anyhow after that, I was posted as Deputy Adjutant General and then in consultation with John Wilton we formed, we planned the structure of the Joint Intelligence Structure. And so from 1969, I became the Deputy Director Military of the Joint Intelligence Structure the provider
for all service intelligence. That was of course when Vietnam was on. That was a fascinating time. I visited there two or three times, and I’d made a number of visits overseas during my period as DMI, but Vietnam was interesting and it was a marvellous period. So then in 1971, I was offered, the Swiss offered me a job with a company called Ciba-Geigy – it was one of the
major chemical companies of the world. So I resigned from the army and joined Ciba-Geigy and stayed with them for 8 years. We had an agricultural division. And we bought a block of land in Queensland as a retirement ploy, for fun. And then a block next door became available so I found myself running a commercial operation and growing avocadoes, quite against the plan, against the clock.
That was fun. We stayed there until two years ago; sold at the end of 2002. In the meantime, I’d run an organisation called the 9th Division in Queensland RSL [Returned and Services League]. I’d also run a thing to save the Blackall Range from development. We had a thing called the Blackall Range
Development Group. We saved it from massive development. So that really, that was it. One or two interesting things happened that I’ll talk about perhaps in detail later. So I now became a civilian. I stopped working at 85. I laugh when I read things about people stopping work at 65.
Whyalla to try and overcome this. Anyhow he died when I was 10. And my grandfather was living in the house and I suppose we never learnt very much from my mother. She wasn’t bothered with us much really. We were getting a payment from her family, paying for his board. And with her, she did a little
odd jobs. She did some dressmaking and she worked in a local library part-time. And I used to go and sell chocolates and work and my sisters did the same. Between us, we managed to get by until my grandfather died. And then of course all that stopped and we had no money left at all. My maternal grandmother died a long while before. I never knew her. She said to her children, there were
8 survivors, “What you must do. Each of you must look after another one.” So each of her four senior children were told to look after the four junior ones. And we had a woman called Osmond, my aunt Ada Osmond who lived at Unley who was told to watch over us. And they were marvellous. They’d give you some hand-down clothes. They used to help Mother financially and she was a widow but well provided for, and
we got by. Mother and I used to take a collapsible stall out to one of the parks, Wattle Park, on the weekends and sell chocolates and ice creams and make a few bob. And we got by until we could no longer pay the rent. It was a War Service house. So then we managed to get a flat near the Norwood High School. A big, old, bluestone building where we lived and we got ration tickets.
And my job was to go down generally to the greengrocer’s or the baker’s or the grocer’s shop and get the rations. And we all did what we could. In fact that’s why we had to leave school. My older sister Elise, who’s on the way to 91, I’m the baby of the family, was the first to leave. And she got a job at this company J. Craven and Co. And then Joan, who’s the clever one of the family, got a scholarship to teachers’
college but we couldn’t afford to send her, so she left. And that left me at school. And so I left, it must have been 1932, when I was 15. So the three of us were working. Then Mother got sick. And my middle sister Joan had married an airman and she went to
Melbourne to live. And then I had to board. My other sister and I boarded with a friend in Adelaide in Wakeville Street for a while. And then we were all working. I had a few bob. I was working for Cravens and got my first suit at the age of 19 on part-time. And once we were working we were all right. Mother had got a job as the companion, somewhere near St Peters, and so we
all went our own way. It wasn’t very pleasant. Joan, my middle sister, got married in1937, went to Victoria, to Melbourne, in 1938 and came back to visit us in 1939 and went back by train to Melbourne on Black Friday, the 13th. All those bush fires came. So then
my other sister Elise got married next year, which left me sort of floating around. So I had a friend I’d made at Cravens, a man called Kelly, who lived at the Grange. I went up and…
go to the railway line and turn right and go backwards up to the German lines. And this was the trouble; the battalion who had occupied it before had not cleared all the enemy out. We had to fight to mark our start line out. So we got away, the battalion the 24th on the right and us on the left. And it went pretty well until about halfway through the battle when the German resistance became pretty fierce.
And there was some doubt about how far we could continue. The 24th Battalion was roughly keeping up with us on the right hand side and then ultimately the fire became so bad that our attack just collapsed. And as I was saying earlier the last people behind were the company commander and three of his men, dead on the enemy wire. They actually got through on the left to the wire. There were no troops left. So the CO is with them,
he’d been shot in the cheek, he ordered them back. And he told Charles Weir from the next battalion, we were going back and they came back too. So we pulled back. And I was up at the headquarters because I was wanting to find out when the carriers were coming up and they settled on this position beside the railway line, on a big mound, and the Germans were in force not very far ahead. We had no tanks.
It had been planned to attack without the tanks. And so I was in there talking to the CO. There were so few troops that everyone had to go and man a weapon, and the adjutant and the regimental sergeant major were out in the slit trenches. And he said to me: “Go and ring up brigade and get some artillery fire at this point”, which I did. They didn’t believe me at brigade, they said, “You’re not there.” I said, you know, “Just bring it down.” So they did. And then we asked for some tanks.
So division promised to send us some tanks and after two or three hours a regiment of tanks came up. They were not heavy battle tanks at all. They were things called cruiser tanks: light, fast vehicles. Anyhow they sat all day with us. At this stage I was out with the companies. And we had a slit trench like a ‘V’. And in one side was the adjutant,
a fellow called Bill Reid, a Captain Reid, and in the middle was a fellow called Frank Legge, a great ABC man who was later on a war correspondent, he was a regimental sergeant major and I was there. And a shell lobbed right in the top of the ‘V’ and it killed Reid and it half buried Legge. I got a few scratches and I wasn’t hurt and buried, so I managed to get Legge out and we knew that Reid was dead. So I went back
to tell the CO what had happened. And next he sent me out on a head count. So I did a head count. That’s where the famous figure of 41 comes from. That was a head count I did in the morning, some time mid-morning, and I must have been a bit shaken by this because when I got back there was Hammer sitting with a shell dressing around his face, blood dripping, and he said, “Zacka, go back to your dugout and we’ll have a cup of tea. I’ll be there in 10 minutes”. So he sent me off to my dugout,
got my batman or my driver to make a cup of tea. Then he sat down and had a cup of tea with tea pouring out of the hole in his cheek, and I think he’d picked that I was getting a bit shaky. Anyhow that’s history. We overcame that. So we hung on all day and the tanks were absolutely marvellous. I think they went up – they were the Royal Tank Regiment, I think they were the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment – and they went up with 45 tanks
and came out with 6. They lost that supporting us. Without them of course, we’d have been overrun, because the Germans had concentrated all their force to try and get in the back side of Trig 29. It was quite a day and we were under heavy fire all the time and ultimately, in the evening, they decided to pull us out. So the 24th Brigade, another brigade of the division, came up to relieve us.
And my carriers were never involved because we couldn’t get them up. There was too much hill and tank fire. So they stayed back all the time. I was the only one there, I think, with my batman. Anyhow when the 48th came up, the 43rd, they said, “How many trucks?” I said, “Two troop carriers will do.” And the 24th only had about 70 people left. They’d trodden on a booby trap. An aerial bomb had been booby-trapped and
they lost a lot of people. So we only had about 120 of us. And then we sort of formed around this thing called a blockhouse, which turned out into the Regimental Aid Post chockablock full of our wounded and the German wounded, and we stayed there all day helped by the tanks. The most wonderful thing that had happened that day was the troop of South African 6-pounder anti-tank guns. It was a wonderful weapon. It was new to us.
Prior to that we had two-pounders that had to get in very close. Anyhow these South African or Rhodesian troop came in. Open, flat country, in full sight of the Germans, they raced up and they put the guns in place. They were all killed by the end of the day but they knocked out about 20 tanks. They were all dead at the end of the day, but it was a wonderfully brave act. I’ve never seen anything quite as brave before and these things saved us, the other battalions.
So we were pulled out that night and we went back to our original position, which was called the Cutting or Hill of Jesus. And there we stayed until the battle was over. We regrouped and reformed one company from the battalion. So that was the end of the war for us. And afterwards I was put on a court of inquiry, had to find out the missing, so I travelled all over the desert in search of the missing people. We didn’t miss many. One of our officers I had seen been
hit through the stomach. And I put him in a slit trench with a rifle and the, you know somebody’s there; you put a rifle in the ground with a helmet on top. It means you’ve got a wounded man. Anyway we never found Henry. I think he was run over by the tanks. But it was a wonderful time. I spent four days wandering around the desert looking for people and looking for equipment, and got a wonderful view of the aftermath of a big battle. Interesting experience.
with lumps of wood. And they were the bunks. And we caught a ship to Tarakan from, no, from Tarakan to Morotai, where we stayed for quite some time and the soldiers got very restive – we’d all volunteered to go to Japan – because all our friends were going home. We got no news. It really did get restive. And around about Christmas
we had a mutiny. And the soldiers, there were three brigades, three battalions rather. Each of the three divisions made a battalion. 66th Battalion came from the 9th Division. I’d raised a lot of the troops on Tarakan for that. 65th [Battalion] came from 6th [Division] and 67th [Battalion] came from 7th Division. And so we were all on Tarakan awaiting orders and nobody told us. And the fellas were getting pretty browned off.
Christmas came and nothing. So one morning when the brigadier was away, the senior NCOs paraded the whole brigade on the parade ground and sent a message to my CO, a fellow called Colvin, that could they have a word with him. So he met them and they told him their grievances. So he told them to go home and he’d do what he could. It happened very peacefully. We sent the ringleaders home by aeroplane during the week.
It was strange. A very difficult situation. They had also mutinied in New Britain: they wanted to go home. You see the Americans owned the ships and they weren’t available. All the Americans had to go home and we had a force going to Japan and there was simply no transport available. The aeroplanes we used were mainly American. And the Government didn’t explain it properly. Anyhow, after Christmas, Chifley came out to see us. And a man called Forde, who was the Minister for Army. He was an insignificant little man if
ever I saw one. They came and told us something would happen and then in late January we got orders that we were going to Japan. And I discovered later, when I did some research in Defence, the Americans wanted us, the BCOF [British Commonwealth Occupation Forces] – there was a British, Indian, New Zealand army, navy and air force called BCOF – the Americans wanted us to go in the middle of Honshu and to have Americans on both sides of us
and our joint governments refused to accept. They said, “No, we’re not going to have that. We want an area of our own that we can control. We don’t want to have Americans on both sides. We have different cultures and different techniques.” So in the end MacArthur and the American Government gave way, and so early in January we got the OK to go to Japan. And we would have Honshu roughly from Yokohama right down to the Strait between
Honshu and Kyushu or Shikoku would be a British territory. So then the question was resolved. So we sailed for Japan in February on the Pachaug Victory and went through a cyclone, which was rather interesting, in the Philippine Sea. And we arrived at Japan in early February and we sailed up the coast and we saw snow on the mountains. Some of us
had not seen snow in our lives and we’d been in the jungle for years. It was very cold. We got out on the deck with our greatcoats and we watched it snow and we came to Kure harbour. And the navy were already there and we had an advance party and the first thing they did was quite wonderful, they tied us up and they brought a load of beer aboard and so the fellows got a bit happy. And we spent I think two days on the ship at Kure. That’s the great Japanese naval base.
Japanese Naval Headquarters was there and their main naval construction shipyards were in Kure harbour. And then they took us by truck to a place called Kitachi, which had been an ordnance depot for the Japanese navy on the edge of the water and half way to Hiroshima. And these great big wooden things. I had the advance party from the battalion, so we went up on about day three and put ourselves up in these wooden huts and there was no heating.
The Americans had been there and they’d closed everything off. They’d filled the latrines in. Not a thing for us. So I got my chaps digging holes for latrines. And there was no coal either. We had a 44-gallon drum in each of these big barrack blocks. No coal for us. So I scouted around and we found some coal dumps down on the sea front and we found a handcart. So we got a few loads of coal up and we lit this great big 44-gallon drum heater and got to work getting ready for the
battalion, which arrived about a week later. So the arrival in Japan was not very elegant. But there was never any threat. I never had a bullet in the rifle when we arrived. We were told by the Americans that there would be no difficulty and we accepted that, and the Japanese accepted it without demur, they had to. And the Emperor had said, “Get on with it”, so we never had any security threat. But it took us a few weeks to get settled down in the Kitachi.
Then we used to take trips to Hiroshima every day. We were searching the district for weapons and stores. We found all the caves and we pulled weapons and things out, and we went crawling through Hiroshima. We stood on Ground Zero. The Japanese were making little humpies out of galvanised iron. Nobody told us it might have been radioactive.
Japan was so beaten up and there was very little work. We had a lot of people who worked for us. All the labourers and the housekeepers and the house-girls were Japanese. Fraternisation was banned but of course it went on anyhow. There was a great black-market in chocolates and cigarettes. And by and large we kept a fairly close look on major fraternisation, but it’s impossible to stop it all.
And so we got to know the Japanese and they got to know us. We saw more and more that the Japanese woman was a much different creature from the Japanese man. And the women were very highly regarded. In fact it is quite a matriarchal society in many ways. The Japanese men were big and tough and they had warriors, but the mums kept the place going. And so we got to learn quite a lot about the
Japanese. I travelled around a lot. I visited little workshops, village workshops and houses where they made furniture and lacquer work and so on. It was very interesting. Had time to do it. And we supported a monastery. There was a German-run monastery in Takamatsu with some German nuns and some Japanese nuns, run by a German parson. We used to
give them food and they were of course very grateful for that. We lived in an old palace that had been half burned out. And there we trained our troops in the usual kind of tactics and other things. And it was there we had a lot of Indians. An Indian brigade in Japan. And this was when independence was formed, at the end of whatever it was, the end of 1947. We had lots of talks with the Indians and they
were hopeful that it might work out. They must have been shocked when they got home and found out what had happened because we had both Hindu and Muslim people on staff. I’ve got a nice picture of some of the Indian staff in there. And at the end of ’47 we closed the school down. The British and Indian elements went home. The Australians and New Zealanders stayed in Japan. We were there for the long haul. And so we closed the school down. And then I was
sent to the northern part of Shikoku to a city called Takamatsu. And there I lived in even greater luxury in a flat in the top of a palace owned by a Count Isanatsu. The rest of the room was occupied by the American Military Government who actually ran the island and I was the liaison between BCOF headquarters and the American Military Government. I really had nothing to do, except I used to go in and visit our own people if we had some intelligence staff on the island.
And I visited all the camps where the prisons had been. That was a fascinating experience. Well that lasted until 1948. I used to go down to Kure once every two weeks to see brigade headquarters. And there was a big ferry that ran from Takamatsu to a city called Okayama. And I got on well with the captain. As soon as I got on board, I got green tea and had a special place. I used to enjoy talking to him through an interpreter. That was an interesting
year because I got a good look at the Japanese at home. The Japanese villages and the Japanese people away from the awful aspect of army. We used to go out on the beaches and I used to go out with the fishermen in the Inland Sea and catching little fish and eating raw fish. Catching whitebait and having a feed of whitebait on the beach. A lovely period for me. I literally had nothing to do other than study for the Staff College exam. So I studied for Staff College entry exam.
I’d attended a course for regular army in the middle of 1948 and been accepted as a captain. And so the brigadier decided I should go and do the Staff College entrance exam, which I did. I did very well at that. So I didn’t know what to do. Whether I’d stay. I still wasn’t certain. We arrived at Brisbane and I was met by a man, who said, “Do you want to go to Staff College? Well, you’ve passed the exam, would you like to go?” So one of my friends said to me,
“You’re mad not to go. It’s a wonderful course. A year’s training. It will be invaluable after the war.” So I said, “Yes, I’ll go.” So I became a student at Queenscliff, the Army Staff College at Queenscliff and I passed that. Then I had six months, again as a tactics instructor, in the Army Tactics School.
One thing that happened there was that I was asked to join a group of people: the Deputy Solicitor General, the Defence Legal Officer and myself. There’d been a fuss made in Vietnam during the war about people going to the army detention barracks at Holsworthy. A great big fuss made saying how brutal it was. We were told to investigate military law of the
three services and to come up with some recommendations and to look at the conditions of imprisonment of all the Services, all the Service establishments. So I took this team up to Vietnam. I took them to Singapore, I took them up into Malaysia, I took them to Darwin and I tracked around Australia looking at all these detention facilities.
Vietnam was fascinating because the field hospital there was full of people with head wounds when I visited and they were nearly all Negroes, and they had a lot of head wounds. And the conditions under which they kept their prisoners were pretty fierce. It’s a hot climate you know in Vietnam and they had some steel containers, they had people in those. And that’s pretty brutal too. I’m not surprised.
I mustn’t say this. It’s not surprising how people can go from there to mistreating prisoners. Anyhow I showed them all that and I showed them how the Brits in Singapore kept their prisoners. And we went to every prison in this country. And then as a result of that, there was a rewrite of the military law, edited by my old friend Sir Victor Windeyer, who was then a general and on the High Court. The leading
CMF [Citizens’ Military Force] general in the country. So there was a major rewrite of military law. We changed a few things. The navy, for example, used to pretend that everything had to be like Nelson was and that a naval captain or a naval commander of an establishment on shore could give the same treatment to a sailor as he could on board ship. Now in the army we were not allowed to put, a commanding officer couldn’t put a man in detention where he lost his pay.
He could give him seven days or 14 days confined to barracks, but he didn’t lose his money and his wife didn’t lose her allowance. The navy put a guy in for 28 days in prison on shore, in training and we thought this was absolutely ludicrous. We made a big fuss about that and we made the navy change its…they were pretending it was still Nelson. You know, all sorts of little things like that. Because they’d always been done, nobody had bothered to
change it. So I felt that was a worthwhile exercise. We managed to make some reasonable changes. And the whole of the manual of military law was rewritten under Victor Windeyer’s direction. That was very interesting. And other than that we did some studies on the provision of officers for the New Guinea army post war. And we were concerned about the practice of getting all the
brightest people in New Guinea into the army because we had high standards. We had to make certain that all the cleverest ones didn’t find themselves in the services and running the country. That was another thing we did in A [Adjutant-General’s] Branch. And then I got posted. We started this Joint Defence Structure. I did a lot of work with General Wilton who was the Chief of Defence Staff. I’d had many contacts with him during the years. And so we sat down and we created a Joint Intelligence Structure
we put to the Chiefs of Staff. We got that approved in 1969, I think, and we took most of the strategic intelligence elements from the three Services and put them in a joint structure. We took civilian people and put them, so we had a structure that comprised of all of the national level strategic intelligence both military and non-military under the one headquarters.
And it was a great improvement. So we established that in 1969. And I did a lot of travelling. I went to Vietnam several times. And we went to Singapore. We had conferences in Singapore on a regular basis, in Hawaii, and we had a big conference in Washington with the CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] on what we were going to do about our intelligence from China. We had an agreement there, our joint intelligence people, my chairman
and I represented the services, went across and we did a deal with the Americans that if we provided them intelligence for South East Asia, particularly Indonesia, they would give us more information on China. So for the first time we found ourselves looking at these very top-secret photographs that had been taken over China from the satellites. They are now common knowledge but they weren’t then.
We had a good deal. We had a nice quid pro quo from that. It was successful from our point of view and we also got a lot more intelligence from Vietnam as a result of this conferencing in Washington. We got feted by the Chief of the CIA and we got fed in what they call Blair House, where they put up all the important visitors, and we had a rather nice time. We came home through
Hawaii and did some more dealing on a lower level with the people in Hawaii. That was a very interesting trip. And some time in London looking at the London things like MI5 and MI6 and the London Intercept Units. It was all in all a very interesting trip we made. We got a much better view of what was happening worldwide, only because we’d become joint. If we’d been single [service],we wouldn’t have been able to do that.
We made several visits to Vietnam. We were very concerned about Vietnam. Of course we were then engaged in it and I’d been asked as an intelligence officer back in 1965 whether I thought it was possible we could win the war in Vietnam. And I said, “I don’t know.” I thought so because what was happening was that after Dien Biên Phu,
one and a quarter million people had walked out of North Vietnam into South Vietnam because they didn’t want to be under a communist government. We thought that there was some justification in this, that that number of Vietnamese was worth supporting. And so our opinion was rightly or wrongly, that the war was winnable. It was worthwhile intervening. We were only one voice of course. But
it didn’t turn out that way because in a way the wrong war was fought. The Americans, if I can be critical, tried to fight a second Korean War. They had massed tanks and armour, aircraft in a mass battle. Vietnam was never going to be like that. And they tried to train the Vietnamese army, South Vietnamese Army, to fight a Korean War. So the South Vietnamese never
really learned to cope with an insurgent war. Had no police force. The country had only just been formed after the Paris Conference. And they had a difficult time. I was sorry for them. It didn’t work out. So we had a great involvement in that. We had daily briefings of the Prime Minister and the Defence Department and odd briefings of Cabinet.
I think we made a pretty good organisation in the end. It was my proposal to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. Everywhere had a thing called the Joint Intelligence Staff. Their job was to take the information and to do a draft study and produce a paper for those of us who were in the National Committee to examine. They did the donkey work [research and preparation].
So I suggested to Malcolm, whom I knew quite well, that we should move that out of Defence into the Prime Minister’s Department. And so a year or two later, you get the National Intelligence Staff moving from Defence into the Prime Minister’s Department, where in my view they were better able to take an objective
national view away from the pressures of purely defence. It hasn’t worked out because you know that there’s been some difficulty. Lately they’ve been complaining that the DIO, the Defence Intelligence Organisation, gets it wrong. I don’t know if they do or not. I thought we had a good organisation. It worked fairly well. So in 1971, Ciba-Geigy offered me a nice job and I resigned from the army. I got let off.
I worked for them for eight and a half years.